What to Do When You Have a Flop

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the basement of this house.

Yesterday we visited Tooele, Utah, a small town about an hour west of Salt Lake. We lived there for several months in 1980. I had a summer job there, an embarrassingly stupid job. I mean it. I don’t use the word stupid very often, but that job, that summer, deserves this special adjective.

I cannot even talk about it. My face just glows red when I think about it. If you are curious about it, please ask my wife. She’ll tell you about it—when I’m not around. Please spare me this.

I’m grateful for that summer, though. It taught me a needed lesson. Or it was the beginning of a long lesson, a life lesson. How can I be ungrateful for an experience that quietly changed my life?

When I was thinking about taking that job in the spring of that year, I prayed about it. I thought long and hard, and prayed about it some more. It felt good. It felt like a good choice. We talked about it as a couple. We decided together to give it a go.

But it was a disaster. Un. Miti. Gated. Disaster.

And I felt like a flop. The kind of flop that stings, like making-a-belly-flop-in-the-pool-and-when-you-come-up-for-air-everyone-is-laughing-at-you kind of a flop. I had, up until then, made plenty of mistakes in my life, but this was like my first big flop. Olympic. From the 10-meter platform.

It is actually kind of funny now. Many miles and years are between me and my first big flop. I have perspective. I have peace. But I still find it hard to talk about how I was toppled in Tooele.

The job didn’t go well, that’s for sure. But worse than that, I kind of had a falling out with my Heavenly Father. I was mad. It put some distance between us. So I was a little lost for a time. Not quit-praying, quit-going-to-church lost, but at a loss—at a loss in answering this question: What if you feel inspired to do something and it doesn’t work out? 

Up until that time—I was 22 years old—my life had gone along rather swimmingly. I had made my share of boo boos, but I had no big, embarrassing flops. I struggled with that. I have had several seismic failures since then, and none of those match the financial desert I faced from 2009–2010. But these fail-flops have taught me something extremely important.

Natural consequences follow choices and the lack of choices. Nothing can be more instructive. No lessons can be more effective. I have lived through all my trials, so far. Lived to retell this story, to help someone learn from my mistakes. (Mortality equals education through trials.)

Do you want to know what I learned? Here it is.

When things don’t work out, even when you are inspired to take a course of action, only you can fix it. Don’t blame God, your mother, your spouse, or even yourself. Observe. Change. Fix it. Get over it.

A Tooele landmark I remember.

Yes, you can blame others. Or you can blame your circumstances. But if you do, you are just giving away your power to someone or something else. You waste precious time when you play the blame game. Blame is just your lazy brain tricking you. Tricking you into spending less of your energy to survive—surviving, but surviving in misery.

Blaming yourself and getting down on yourself doesn’t help either. Take responsibility, but don’t castigate yourself. That will slow you down and send you into hiding, the first impulse after shame sets in (see Genesis 3:8).  The devil uses shame to tempt you to run away from God; turn around and head the opposite direction. Run towards Him, acknowledging your weakness and a desire to change. The shame will soon leave. 

The opposition players, seen and unseen, those guys in the midnight black jerseys, those who stand, ever vigilant, in your way, they are there to help you, to fit you for the battle of life. They may look like your enemies or even think they are your enemies, but God allowed them to be part of the plan.

My choices or lack of choices led to my Tooele topple. Not God, not my wife, not any of my friends, not even my enemies. Yes, a lack of wisdom and experience on my part figures in prominently, but the lesson I’ve gotten is that it is ultimately on my shoulders. Never stop praying. The Lord certainly helps, if you ask. Sometimes He waits for a season, until you get the lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, and endurance. He is also not going to trump your agency.

He is not going to help or save you without your permission, without your will. Nor will the devil damn you without your permission and will. It is really up to you. Never stop asking for help, but IT IS ON YOU TO FIX ALL WITHIN YOUR POWER TO FIX. (Yes, we can’t fix everything on our own, but we must take full responsibility for our part of the solution. Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels at full throttle, axle deep in mud.)

Observe. Change. Fix it. Get over it.

You’ll be happier if you do. Much happier.

P.S. One good thing we got from Tooele was our first dog, Brandy. We had her for 13 years. 

James Taylor and a Bit of Heaven

© Photo by Russ Peterson. All rights reserved.

My wife and I saw James Taylor Friday night, in concert with the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was a little bit of heaven for us. Here are some reasons why.

James Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James, was released in 1970, the year I turned 13. I remember listening to “Fire and Rain.” A lot. My good friend Tom had the album—yes, album, as in vinyl, as in record player—and we would listen to it in his cool basement. “Fire and Rain,” which Taylor sang beautifully on Friday night, was one of my coming-of-age songs, but 43 years later, I understand these words much better than I did then.

    Won’t you look down upon me Jesus?
    You’ve gotta help me take a stand.
    You just got to see me through another day.

Those words didn’t make me cry when I was 13 like they do now. Life will do that to you.

Taylor’s last hit single as a soloist, “Up on the Roof,” came out in 1979, the year we were married, and since then it has been a favorite of ours. (The Drifters took the same song to the top of the charts in 1963.) The song evokes memories of being on the road before and after we were married. We lived 70 miles apart while engaged and moved away to college a few days after our wedding in a brown Volkswagen Rabbit pulling the smallest U-Haul trailer you have ever seen.

The last time we saw James Taylor in concert was in 1986 when he came to the Marriott Center at BYU. We had been married 7 years and had two young daughters.

Just a week ago, Cristi and I started our adventure as “empty nesters.” We are coming to terms with our new life, but we have each other. It is a wonderful thing to be married to your best friend and soul-mate. We still like to go out on dates.

On our date Friday, Cristi leaned over to me and whispered, “I never expected to be at a James Taylor concert with President Monson!” Yes, President Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was there with his daughter, only a dozen or so rows ahead of us.

As you can see, James Taylor has helped me mark some milestones in my life. His songs have helped me engrave a few memories on my heart. Thank you, James, for coming to town and bringing a bit of heaven with you.

Keep Us from Temptations Free

After sacrament meeting this morning, my wife and I sat on the bench and talked quietly about the meaning of part of a line in the closing hymn, “Lord, We Ask Thee Ere We Part.”

Here are the words:

Keep us from temptations free.

Will we ever, while on this fallen planet, be free from temptation? Free from the whisperings of greed, pride, and the flesh?

Not a chance.

If you and I ask God to remove all temptation from our lives, what is the answer going to be? It’s going to be, “No.” What are we here for, anyway?

After talking about it, this is the way Cristi and I see that line from hymn 153 now: We cannot remain free from temptations, but we can be free from their effects.

I am comforted by this realization in two ways: (1) temptation is, in and of itself, only an invitation to sin, and (2) temptation, in and of itself, is not sin.

In other words, just because I run into a temptation on the doesn’t mean I have to invite it over for dinner. Neither do you.

Even though I encounter them, I can stay free from them.

Was Jesus tempted? Yes.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15.)

Why was he tempted?

For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18.)

How did he deal with temptation?

He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. (D&C 20:22.) 

Christ was tempted just as we are but he did not heed them or allow them any power in his life. Why? Because he was not deceived by them. We are, though. That is why we are counseled to pray always.

Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work. (D&C 10:5.)

How do we overcome temptation?

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:6–7.)

Be humble. Be ready. When temptations come, resist them. Do not entertain them. Challenge them. Preach a sermon to the devil and his bellow-servants. Explain to yourself why temptations make no long-term sense. Above all else, pray, that is, include your Heavenly Father in the conversation. If there is anything a devil does not like, it is detection and resistance.

We can be from temptations free.

But keep watching. They’ll be back.