It is part of regular religious practice to think about what we should be DOING more of: praying, serving the poor, visiting the sick, giving more offerings, voting more carefully, using resources more wisely. Sometimes we also think of things that we are doing that we shouldn't be doing (though it is way more pleasant to make a list of things other people are doing that they shouldn't be doing): gossiping, drinking too much, sleeping around, eating too much, spending too much, abuse, selfish behavior in general. There is nothing wrong with this, and as someone who loves to make lists (in case you hadn't noticed), I always pay attention to things like this because they are easy to pay attention. Do this, don't do this. Check, check, I got that.
But what about our call to BECOME different than we were before? What about repenting and changing so that we are more like Christ? What about giving up the person we used to be so that we can become a better person in the future? Is this all about doing? Or is it about BEING?
For a long time, I thought that the way to become a better person was to change my habits, to focus on the DOING part of my life. If I wanted to be kinder, then I simply had to find ways to be kind. I had to give more offerings. I had to serve in a soup kitchen. I had to visit the sick. I had to get other people to donate to a cause. And certainly, these are good things to do. Often doing things can help move us to BEING different than we were before because our minds and hearts often follow along with our feet and our hands.
What about when they don't? What about when DOING falls short of helping us to BE better? How do we focus on BEING instead of DOING without making a list?
When I was in therapy for depression a few years ago, my therapist suggested that one thing I needed to do was to spend a few minutes every day doing nothing. She suggested that I turn off all music, television, internet, that I find a place to go away from other family members and simply sit in quiet. This wasn't a suggestion to pray, by the way. Or to read scripture. Or to think about God. It was a suggestion NOT to think, not to DO. And it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. To BE without DOING--what did that even mean?
I'm still not sure I've mastered this (if that is what I should be aiming at), but I do at least try to do it more often. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed with life, I will find a place of absolute stillness and simply try to BE. We are called to DO things to help others, and I have no intention of giving up on that entirely, but I'm not at all convinced that running ourselves out doing more and more is what God or Christ intended when we were asked to become meek and humble, more like a child, and to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.
I remember when I was younger and had honestly never had to deal with death, my best friend's dear grandmother died and I felt very uncomfortable as I sat with her in her bedroom, listening to her weep. I wanted to be able to say the right thing. I wanted to get up and make something for her. But of course, I knew that I couldn't take away her pain. Eventually, she could see how uncomfortable I was and invited me to leave. I wasn't helping her, so I did that.
When my own daughter died many years later, I found myself watching people around me dealing with that same discomfort. They didn't know what to say or do. In Mormonism, the women's organization (the Relief Society) often has people sign up to bring meals. We had SO many meals that I spent an hour every day trying to repackage and freeze things so I wasn't wasting the kindness of others. I couldn't eat for several days and threw up everything I tried to eat, so it was really challenging for me to see more food as an act of kindness. It seemed like people weren't bothering to find out what was really going on with me. They wanted to DO what was easy for them to offer rather than actually BEING with me.
The people whom I appreciated the most were people who wrote cards or were willing to come and sit with me as I talked about what had happened. I was astonished to realize how simple this was. Just saying "I'm sorry" to me in the halls at church meant more to me than any concrete gift. People didn't need to DO anything. They needed to BE with me instead. People who tried to stretch themselves to understand what I was going through were people I truly needed. People who gave me pat answers to try to teach me something were people I avoided.
It was years later when I began to wonder if God feels the same way if He sees us running around so hard, building temples in His name, fighting lawsuits for religious freedom, proclaiming the gospel to try to convert others--and wishes we would simply sit with Him for a while instead. Sit and BE, without needing any more than that. BE kind rather than DOING kind things. BE good rather than accumulating a list of good things we've done. BE like Him instead of trying to DO what He did.
I'm a long way from saying I've achieved this, but I'm far enough into it that I'm skeptical of the idea of achieving anything. If I give up all my lists and checkmarks, then where am I? Maybe I'm just where I'm supposed to BE.