Motivation, faith, hope, love, and how they are lost.
Today’s post is inspired by two recent occurrences as well as long thought and observation. The metaphor was suggested by a talk in a recent stake priesthood meeting. I confess I do not remember which speaker it was—probably either Jeffrey Waite of Kevin Cheney. In either case, he compared our faith and trust in God to a fire and spoke of the need to find and tend those fires that were going out. The other was a question Jason Mars asked at a department fireside chat today: “how do you stay motivated?”
Faith, hope, love, motivation, desire—all are often compared to fires. Each, when present, seems to sustain itself, and when absent seems difficult to rekindle. Each can be sparked, needs nurtured and fed, and sometimes surprises us by going out or flaring up at unexpected moments. The flame in the soul is a wonderful but sometimes fickle thing.
Thanks to a very hands-on boy scout leader in my youth, I’ve built a lot of fires in my day, including some that were built up and banked down repeatedly over several days. One of the skills I’ve developed through this experience is the ability to tell early on if a fire roaring fire will burn long or short and how much of the wood it contains will remain unburnt when the last ember dies. Sometimes I look at a brightly-burning fire and discern that, due to the placement of even a single log, the end of the fire will be a smoldering pile of shared wood rather than a healthy bed of glowing coals.
Once we notice that a fire is emitting less heat and light than it ought it is very difficult to repair. While the flames are high we can move things around without destroying the fire. But once they settle into a disappointing smolder, the outside of each log is choked with charred remains of the early flame and there is little hope of finding sufficient heat to rekindle it properly.
In a good furnace, or with a steady supply of wood, these issues are not a problem. But for a campfire built and then burnt, attention must be given throughout to make sure that the settling fire does snuff its own fervor.
Since I was 15 I have spent a concerted effort trying to understand others. And, over time, I have learned to see that sometimes people’s desires are structured for a fitful, early death. Their energy burns bright and hot, but instead of reaching to kindle the good wood it is directed out into the air. By the time they realize they are feeling glum and insipid they have wrapped the correct actions they could take in so many bad habits of thought and attitude that repairing the problem seems nearly impossible.
It’s a lot more troubling when I see this in people than when I see it in fires. It’s not my faith I’m meddling with. If I’m wrong I might ruin something far more precious and irreplaceable than a simple campfire dinner. Also, it’s harder to see; often once I notice it, hope is already starting to wane. And, while I’ve been watching people for many years meddling in their lives is a more recent hobby.
How do you tell someone who is struggling to stay motivated in the day-to-day grind that their goals went a little sideways a year ago? How do you convince someone who is burning themselves out on tasks they know are right but not longer feel good about doing that they ought to look again at the motivation behind their objectives? What can you do with a person so charred and depressed that they won’t believe even the most honest and eloquent praise?
There are days when I’m tending my own fires when I wonder what flames are aimed wrong, that I wonder if one day I’ll find myself spiraling toward a smoldering death while surrounded by good wood I can’t seem to kindle. It’s days like that that I take long pre-dawn walks and ponder and meditate; it’s weeks like that that I pray like it matters and set aside my Wodehouse and Scott for Aurelius and Aristotle and an extra dose of scripture. It’s moments like that that I turn to the Creator of Hope and ask how my fire needs fixed. And that habit, I suspect, is why my flame has never gone out.