The Superman Complex…
When I was a boy, my father taught my brothers, sisters, and I the value of hard work. There was plenty of time for play, but we also put in a lot of hours of labor. When we were not working in the yard, in the orchard or with the animals, we were with Dad in the shop, or on a factory floor building sprinklers. Although we did a lot of work together, we each gravitated toward different areas or expertise in the duties assigned to us. I liked working in the garden, taking care of the hogs, and most of all, putting up and maintaining all kinds of fences. I came to really enjoy the solitude of working alone, which had its advantages in terms of job satisfaction, and the speed at which I liked to work. It also had its disadvantages, as although I became very strong and able, over time I would regret doing things alone when I should have sought assistance. At times, I would hurt myself or damage a piece of equipment because I insisted on doing things myself. My father would try to teach me that I should work smart. That is why we have tools, and we can always ask for help. But I was pretty stubborn.
As I said, I became very strong and capable of completing a lot of tasks. I became very self-reliant, which is also a positive quality. As a boy, I was a champion wrestler, an athletic runner, waterskier, snow-skier, hiker, boxer, and arm wrestler. Digging post holes through layers of decomposed granite and chasing pigs can really build muscle and promote agility.
Later I began to lift weights, and although I was only about 135 pounds, I could out-benchpress most of the jocks at the school (multiple repetitions of 300 pounds). I really used to enjoy showing off and catching the really big guys offguard. It was kind of comical to get up from the bench, walk away, and then observe out of the corner of my eye guys measuring the weight I had been lifting.
I think I kind of got a sort of Superman complex. I started thinking that I could accomplish things better alone than I could with help, and felt a little heroic in the thought, almost as if I was rescuing someone else from having to do something. It should be no surprise that at the powderpuff football game I dressed up as Superman and was the mascot for the senior team.
My voice teacher often commented on my tendency to muscle through things. I remember him telling me about the importance of using a lever when moving a big rock or stump. He compared that to the way I would force my voice to conform to what I wanted it to do, rather than allow it to just naturally perform. He told me that if I don’t use a lever to move a large stone, I may hurt my body, and I will do the same to my voice if I use brute force.
My overdoing it continued into adult life. Again, I mislead myself into believing I could do just about anything, because I had the strength to do so much. In the missionary training center that I attended in the weeks prior to my service in Paraguay, where tens of thousands of missionaries go each year to train in language and other skills, I broke a long-standing one-arm push-up record, 96 push-ups. That record held for at least a decade.
When I point out my physical strength and ability to accomplish tasks on my own it may sound as if I am bragging, but frankly I am a bit embarrassed. There was a price to pay for my lack of wise action. Working smart is not always muscling through alone, for that matter, it is rarely muscling through alone. My dad would often kid me about having more muscle between my ears than brains, and he had a point. The perception of my strength was much more in my mind, than in my arms, or back, as I would come to learn.
All those tasks that I did without using a lever, or the jack on the front of my powerboat trailer, or the extra hand of a friend or work associate, put a lot of wear and tear on the small frame of my body. I remember thinking, “Why spend all this time cranking this handle when I can just pick up the tongue of this trailer and place it on the back of my truck hitch.” I operated like that until I was about 34 years-old and had to endure my first major surgery, a laminectomy on my lower back. My back has ached and my performance has been hindered ever since.
It should come as no surprise that the day I broke the camel’s back, so to speak, I was showing off by doing a flip off a high bar onto a hard surface. I stuck the landing, but sent a shockwave through my back that pained me for many months before I was finally able to have surgery. I spent months running my company from bed, when I could get upstairs to use my bed. I was in such bad shape that when my first daughter was born, I spent most of the labor in a bed next to my wife instead of on my feet. When just days before my surgery my mother passed away, I had to lie on the funeral home couch to help plan the service, and use a cane and heavy medication to participate in her funeral and burial. A sore price was paid for the reckless abuse of my bones and joints over many years, a price unnecessary if I had been more wise to work smart and seek assistance.
In the aftermath of injury and age, I have learned to use that hand-crank, levers, lifts, dollies, and the hands of willing helpers to accomplish work that needs to be done. I used to look at that cane as something that made me look weak, but now I use it when I need it to help support me. It is better to gratefully lean on a cane, than to lose your balance and end up in a shoulder surgery. Been there as well.
We have all kinds of tools and devices that help us to be more productive, with less energy expended, and fewer risks taken. I think of the invention of the wheel, and in my ponderings I have to wonder what ever possessed me to heft things beyond my physical tolerances when I could have carried at least twice as much more safely in a wheelbarrow, or on a dolly.
I think of the carrying pole, or yoke, invented long ago for the purpose of carrying buckets of water, other commodities, or milk, as the milkmaids of previous centuries in Europe are so well known for using. As anybody who has carried large filled buckets for even short distances knows, it can really be a back breaker. The benefit of the shoulder pole is that it allows you to distribute equal weight in balance across your shoulders, not only permitting you to carry twice as much, but to do so without that painful leaning forward or sideways angle that can cause so much discomfort and injury. Nevertheless, carrying burdens alone still has its limits, even with invention.
The yoke developed for oxen can be used on a single animal, but those developed for pairs, oxen working in tandem, can pull in balance significantly more weight than one single animal. When designed and fitted properly a yoke can harness the full potential and power of a pair of oxen, optimizing their tandem performance and making tasks of more than twice the burden for one much more easily achieved. But the true marvel of the yoke for oxen is that a smaller and weaker animal can be yoked to one more capable and still complete a task that the smaller animal would not be otherwise suited to do.
In like fashion, when we use the tools at our disposal, and more importantly, when we help one another to bear burdens, to accomplish tasks that are more easily completed with two or more, we work smart, and make the impossible more probable. If working together we can accomplish more, as imperfect as we are, how much more can be done if we do so yoked with perfection, yoked with the Savior Jesus Christ.
“You come unto Christ to be yoked with Him and with His power, so that you’re not pulling life’s load alone.”
President Russell M. Nelson
President Russell M. Nelson taught, “You come unto Christ to be yoked with Him and with His power, so that you’re not pulling life’s load alone. You’re pulling life’s load yoked with the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and suddenly your problems, no matter how serious they are, become lighter” (Ensign Magazine, June 2005).
The Savior Jesus Christ invited, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Why would we ever want to carry burdens alone? Although I have always been a big fan of Superman, and I look back upon those days of seemingly inexhaustible and youthful strength with some nostalgia, there is no sense in muscling our way to accomplishment when it can be more wisely and safely done using every means at our avail. A Superman complex is just what it is, a complex. There is no reason in basing our behavior on the false notion that we are stronger than the sum of our parts and should go it alone. Nevertheless, with help, and specifically the Savior’s help, our burdens can be lightened and even lifted that we may overcome any and all obstacles blocking our happiness and hopeful return to the presence of Heavenly Father.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
May we come unto Christ, yoke ourselves by covenant and obedience to Him, and allow Him to bear the burdens that we cannot endure or overcome alone. We all accomplish so much more together. We are here for one another to help and to guide that we might accomplish all that is possible, and find our way home to the Lord. While I still enjoy the solitude at times of working my way through, I recognize now that even in solitude it is always better and more rewarding to be in communion with our Redeemer in all we do. Let us work smart, lift together, and take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ, “For [His] yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.