All posts by Tania Alden

About Tania Alden

Tania is a wife, mother, artist, and South African American (in that order). Born in the USA she spent her formative years in Westville, South Africa, only returning to America to attend Bryn Athyn College. Tania and her husband Micah now live in Bryn Athyn with their small and delightful daughter. Tania loves to share memories and discussions, especially when they are centered on South Africa, parenting, art, the movie "Gladiator," and spiritual life.

Restoring Trust

This is a strange time to be living in. For many it is a devastating time. But even for those who have not lost income, faced health scares or, at worst, lost loved ones to the current pandemic, it’s a hard time in which to feel good about life. I find it is all too easy to get lost in a sort of depression: a heaviness and listlessness, a sadness and unarticulated anxiety for the future. And that’s not a place I want to remain in. But what helps alleviate it? 

I was recently reminded of one of my favourite stories from the Old Testament. 

“And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  (2 Kings 6:15-17)

I love this story for the simple yet profound power in the words “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Even in this time of isolation and distance, uncertainty and loss, we are surrounded by the invisible forces of Good, forces too great to number. And we are strengthened by the multitudes of people rising up to offer help in any way it is needed. 

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Asking For Help

I would imagine many people have a reaction to this article just from reading the title. Asking for help. Anyone out there like doing that? For myself the phrase immediately brings up a combination of guilt surge, doubt in my ability to even do it, and irritation that it’s needed. And maybe most of all: the rueful and frustrated acknowledgement that asking for help works where often nothing else does. 

This evening I remembered with a sudden panic that I had to write this article before tomorrow morning. I looked around the toy-strewn room, the dirt dusted floor, at the kids beginning to whine for dinner, I leapt ahead to the gathering I was hosting tomorrow night and how I could not possibly get things as ready as I had hoped. I felt myself sliding into *justified* anger at my husband for not sharing my increasingly frantic feelings. And then I did something that is (for me) remarkable: 

I said to my husband: “Hey, once the kids are in bed can you vacuum while I write this article?” 

And his response: a smile and an easy, “ok.” 

Easy as that (in retrospect). 

The other day I was talking to my mom about life and what was feeling hard, and in a moment of brutal honesty I said that the feeling toward my husband was: “why aren’t you taking care of me in all the ways I haven’t asked?” And then we both burst out laughing, because it’s so silly, because it’s so true. 

It’s one thing to know I need help, to want it very desperately. But to actually ask for it? How weak. How vulnerable. And this goes for everything from help with household chores, to asking for a chance to talk, or a hug, a safe space to cry. In asking for help, I have to admit that I actually can’t do it on my own, and I have to give someone power over me. Power to reject, dismiss, overlook, misunderstand: power to hurt. I am quite happy to take help as my just due when it is offered. (And I then feel quite at liberty to critique it when it isn’t exactly what I hoped for). But when I actually ask for it–I then have to wait and be willing to receive what is given back. And that is scary. 

Recently my husband and I watched “The Call to Courage” by Brenè Brown on Netflix (a great couples activity by the way–it sparked a powerful conversation for us). One of her main points is that courage and vulnerability are not opposites, but inextricably tied together. Vulnerability is not a moment of weakness, a failing, but a choice to enter knowingly into a place of “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” And this requires great courage. 

To me there are few things more vulnerable than admitting I haven’t got it all in hand, and that I need help from someone else. Knowing that it is really vulnerability that I fear doesn’t make asking for help any easier, but it reminds me that it’s hard for everyone. And it reminds me that, tempting as it is to believe, martyrdom is not the same as courage. Letting my guard down and letting someone in takes so much more courage than crashing on in silence. 

It’s pretty clear that when I do bring myself to ask for help, the results speak for themselves, as was so simply and perfectly demonstrated to me tonight. And yet despite the evidence, despite the success stories, I still fear it. The potential for rejection when we make ourselves vulnerable is potent. 

The hells want me to believe I can’t win: I don’t get what I need without asking, but asking is too great a risk of hurt and humiliation. While I was thinking about these ideas a line from Exodus kept popping into my head: “Little by little I will drive them out.” Ah yes, big changes take time. And AH, YES–the Lord is the one doing the work. Learning how to ask for help from others is ultimately all practice in learning how to ask for help from Him. 

“Hey, can you give me a new heart while I try to keep my temper with my children?”

And His response: a smile, and an easy, “ok.” 

“Little by little I will drive them out from before you until you have increased, and you inherit the land.”
Exodus 23:30

A Living Understanding

Like most mothers, I spend a lot of time thinking about my children and how to best equip them for life in this world and the next. And some of the biggest questions I spend time on are: how do you raise children to love the Lord? To trust Him? To maintain faith in the face of an increasingly secular world? To seek the Lord’s help in times of trouble?

In my reading for a doctrinal class I came across this passage:

“God flows into what everyone knows about God, bringing about an acknowledgement of God, and at the same time imparting His love for mankind… if a person receives both the first and the second, the inflow reaches his will and comes from there into his understanding, so occupying his whole mind. Then he makes an inward acknowledgement of God, which bring to life what he knows about God, so that his condition resembles a garden in springtime.” True Christian Religion 457:2

And there is it! A perfect, compact answer to how to attain faith in the Lord. That “inward acknowledgement” that brings the Lord to life in our understanding; that is what I want for my children more than anything. And of course, the Lord has a perfect system for how this happens. And it starts with “what everyone knows about God.”

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The Point of Art

Over the past year I’ve tried several times to put into words the point of art. Or to put it another way, why is art more than just a hobby? What is its greater or spiritual use? I don’t think I have THE answer, or if there even is one, but I wanted to share some thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours!

I know in my gut that art has a profound use and that the world would be pretty bleak without it. Art undoubtedly adds aesthetically to the world, but is that it? It’s not exactly an insignificant role (think of how Heaven is described in the Writings: bursting with beauty of all kinds), but I think there’s more. Creating art or being an artist can easily look and feel like a luxurious hobby next to more “useful” or worthy occupations (doctors, teachers, ministers, counsellors, orphanage managers… to name a few of my most easily guilt-tripping ones). Now comparing the use of relative jobs is a losing game from the beginning, especially in a world which focuses on monetary and external value. Still, this question of arts’ USE is one I’ve pondered and enjoyed seeking to find a satisfying answer to.

While thinking about this question, I came upon this psalm, a jubilant celebration of the Lord’s creation.

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.”
Psalm 104:24-25

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