Outside looking in:
That first night my nose and cheek pressed against the cold block wall. I turned over and back and over again. The cinderblocks were bright white and surprisingly clean. As I shifted on my squeaky twin bed I felt a lump in my throat. I was sharing a room for the first time in my life. With a stranger. Not only did I choose to do so willingly, but I actually paid for this. I believe my exact thoughts were, why did I come here?
I was a nervous freshman at BYU who felt so different than the people walking around campus. A fraud. My internal dialogue gossiped inside my own head. I thought who am I?….I didn’t pray with my family, and I’d never even read the Book of Mormon straight through. And plus, my idea of fun was not cramming together in a tunnel to sing hymns. Nerds. I felt restless.
An Inner Calm:
That first week I walked into my Book of Mormon class. The teacher was tall with broad shoulders. He wore a suit that actually fit and his shirt was crisp and white. He smiled, locked eyes with every student and shook each hand. Double handed style. I remember thinking, I like this guy.
What that class and teacher did for me is too overwhelming to simply say in words. But that is exactly where the enlightenment came – words.
One of the first things we did was memorize part of a talk by Ezra Taft Benson: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of the people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
The teacher said he wanted to work from the inside out that semester. He was laying the groundwork and practicing what he preached. Little by little, the internal message cracked my heart open. The authenticity of this message and the teacher’s vision lead to different words running through my heart and mind about where I belonged and what I believed.
He challenged us to read every day. To write every day. To ponder every day. To be still every day. And to do it imperfectly. To just try. To change our habits. These ideas were my bricks. Foundations. Necessary and sure. Concrete and true. An intent only working from the inside out could create.
My religion changed in this class to an uplifting hope instead of a damning fear.
These words became a mantra of sorts. The phrase from the outside in would echo in my head during walks to class, or when I felt like a small unnoticeable dot in the sea of Cougars.
I had fought and still fight against working from the outside in. The enticement of profiles and of trying to be and look and project and do and open and seem causes narcissistic fits of disappointment.
I have come back to this quote time and time again, and it is usually in those very fits of disappointment where I have lost my center of gravity. Where the words, and His words have become mere acquaintances instead of kindred friends.
The twisting and turning and coming head to head with brick walls and self-doubts originates from looking at things from the outside in. From counterfeits and false intents. But it is all so easy and alluring.
But what happens on the inside eventually manifests on the outside. The light. Or the dark. When your insides turn on you, look in look in look in. Look into His words. Look into your purpose. Look into your questions. Look into your self. Frankly this is the only way I’ve found peace in the windy outside that blows opinions, heartbreak, and fear.
So when you feel like you’re in that slum, look in.
What does looking in mean to you? How does one work from the outside in? What keeps that inner calm and focus when all around us we receive messages seeping into our inner thoughts?