Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
A couple of days ago I was reading to my boys. It seems like they can never get enough of me reading to them. I was the same way as a child.
We chose Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. I have always loved the pretty watercolor illustrations and the simple, down-to-earth prose of this book, but this time one of the stories in the book really stood out to me.
Let me go back for a second and give a little background. This is a frame story about Stillwater--a panda--and three children who he becomes friends with: Addy, Michael and Karl. Stillwater shows up in the children's backyard one day and then, in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights fashion he shares a different zen story with each child. (Only he doesn't tell one thousand and one stories, he only shares three).
One of the stories, a variation on a well known Buddhist tale, tells about two monks. They come to a river where a woman is waiting to cross. Without hesitation the older of the two monks carries the woman across the river and sets her down. She does not thank him, but treats him rudely and continues on her travels. After several miles the younger monk finally breaks his silence and says:
"I cannot believe that old woman! You kindly carried her across the muddy river, on your very own back, and not only did she not offer thanks, but she actually was quite rude to you!"
The master calmly and quietly turned to his student, and offered this observation: "I put the women down some time ago. Why are you still carrying her?"I don't consider myself to be one who holds grudges (for long anyway), but I was thinking about personal slights I have received which I have continued to carry around with me and let weigh me down. I try not to harbor hard feelings towards the people who hurt me. I'm pretty good at excusing others' bad behavior and attributing it to whatever.
Yet I have, in the past, let hurtful or rude things people have said to me affect my self-worth. I guess I always kind of felt like if someone said something negative about me there must be some truth in it. I don't necessarily feel that now, but I have. Why do we do this to ourselves? Think the worst, judge ourselves harshly, think we aren't good enough. I know I am not the only one.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that even now I still sometimes have insecurities which stem from hurts I received long, long ago. I worry that I am being a nuisance or that I am putting myself where I am not wanted. I worry that I am being annoying or that I am not good enough/pretty enough/thin enough/funny enough for people to like me for me. I worry that I've said the wrong thing or behaved the wrong way. Silly, isn't it? I've always cared far too much about what people think of me. I still struggle with that occasionally even though I know in my heart and my head that it really only matters what God thinks of me.
I am an adult. It is time to set those burdens down. It's not always as easy as it sounds, but I have come to understand that through the Atonement of my Savior Jesus Christ, my hurts can be soothed and through His grace I can be not only good enough, but I can become perfect. He helps me carry the burden across the river, but He also helps me know when it is time to set it down and move forward (see Matthew 11: 28-30). Because of Him, I feel like I can stand up straighter and hold my head higher. And I feel lighter. So much lighter.