Sunday, April 25, 2010

Revisiting 'Mothers Who Know'

In October 2007, I sat listening to General Conference, excited to listen to Sister Julie Beck's talk. I had loved so many of her talks before, I loved that she uses her normal speaking voice, not a high-pitched "Primary" speaking voice when giving talks, I loved her haircut and her choice of clothing. I'd felt myself inspired by her words in the past.

So it was with great shock that I found myself listening to 'Mothers Who Know,' a talk that's pretty famous (and infamous) in Mormon circles now. I felt my chest tightening, my breath becoming more shallow. I felt tears come to my eyes. And not in a good way.

My imperfections are many, but the imperfections I have dwelt on most in my life have been those dealing with homemaking and mothering. I've found much solace in the idea that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that we should do the best we can with what we've been given. I've been given some pretty strong gifts, and I've done a lot to strengthen those. I've also been given some strong weaknesses, and I have spent hours on my knees, days fasting, and time in the temple begging Heavenly Father to make me stronger in these areas. I haven't seen much improvement.

Let's just say first off that my house is not a disaster zone (most of the time.) Meals get prepared, laundry gets folded, dishes get done. But the toy closet is scary. The laundry room...also scary. Closets and cupboards range from mostly organized to total chaos. I lose things. I forget things. Our clothes are not usually laid out before church. We're often late. The kids go to bed later than I'd like and have baths less often than I'd like. I don't sign the daily reading schedule. I forget to send back permission slips. The kitchen floor hasn't been mopped in a while.

But I have always WANTED to be different. I've wanted to have perfect routines, to have a place for everything and everything in its place. David is a very organized and clean soul, and I've always wished that I could keep our home in a way that gave him more peace. The biggest hardship to me is that I know what my strengths are. I used to be able to use them daily in school, in my teaching and accompanying. It's been incredibly hard to feel on a daily basis that my main responsibilities now lie in the places I am the least talented. It's like I trained all my life to be a doctor, and then one day I wake up and someone says, "Oh, here's your new job. You'll be a lawyer and you need to be in court in an hour. Oh, and your client's life is in your hands. Better do the best you can." It's daunting. More than daunting, it's depression-inducing.

So Julie Beck said, "Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a “house of order,” and women should pattern their homes after the Lord’s house (see D&C 109). Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work."

And what I heard was, "You are not enough. You will never be enough. You are failing in the most important area possible." I felt a punch in the stomach.

I read it again later when it was posted on the internet, thinking that I must have overreacted.

I felt the same pain. The same judgment. The same overwhelming feeling: That I wasn't enough and I'd never be enough. I told a friend (my visiting teacher) about how it made me feel: that despite being a prized daughter of God with important gifts bestowed upon me, I would be judged most on the things I lack.

The next time she came to visit teach, she said she'd prayed and prayed and prayed and felt like she was supposed to talk to me about 'Mothers Who Know'.

I cried through the whole discussion.

Finally, I decided that I needed to shelve it. Let it go. And in the next conference, Elder Ballard spoke to young mothers. His talk, 'Daughters of God,' was balm to my soul. He said, "We need to remember that the full commitment of motherhood and of putting children first can be difficult. Through my own four-generation experience in our family, and through discussions with mothers of young children throughout the Church, I know something of a mother’s emotions that accompany her commitment to be at home with young children. There are moments of great joy and incredible fulfillment, but there are also moments of a sense of inadequacy, monotony, and frustration." Once again, I cried, but this time it was with relief. I felt understood and blessed.

In fact, it was in response to this talk that David and I made the final decision for me to stop teaching piano so that I could spend more time with our children in those precious after-school hours.

Fast forward to now...

I've spent time pondering and fasting and praying. I want to walk in Christ's footsteps better. I want to follow the path that Heavenly Father knows will help me and others around me find the most joy. And I've found myself drawn back to 'Mothers Who Know.' Sometimes I respond extremely negatively to something I read or hear because it's just plain wrong. But sometimes I have the same reaction to something that is true but that is hard to accept, something that needs revisiting and a softened heart.

And today, when I read the talk again, I was able to sift through the elements that I find troublesome to find the truths.

It's OK to reach for ideals and fall short. After all, we are asked to emulate Christ in all of our actions. I think it's safe to say that none of us manages to do this. We struggle, we try, we fail, we repent, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.

I'll only be a mother with small children in my home for a few more years. I only have a little while more to teach them, to train them, to love them. I AM inadequate to this task. I AM an imperfect mother.

But I can continue to reach for the ideal. Too often in the last couple of years, I've stopped trying. Family scripture study too difficult? Oh well. We'll just read once a week or so. Family Home Evening is tricky to schedule? OK. We'll have ice cream and call it good. Feeling irritated? I'll just say something sarcastic or snarky instead of biting my tongue.

Now of course I'm the first one to say "Let it go" when something is crazymaking. But scriptures? Prayer? FHE? Teaching about how to use gospel truths to make life better? NOT crazymaking. Vital.

So I'm going to try to stay calm about my weaknesses and keep reaching for the ideal, RECOGNIZING that we'll fall short. It's accepting the impossibility of it that makes me feel calmer. I think I realize now that if I do my best (even if my best is a weak effort) to do what Heavenly Father asks me to do, He can make up the difference.

So this week I'm going to get the scriptures out every day. We'll have an FHE that I actually plan ahead. I'll keep trying to get organized. I'll pray for my children.

And I'll wait for grace to make up for what I lack.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

For Times of Trouble

I've read this talk before (Elder Holland again. What can I say?), and have loved it before. But it hit me with new power today. Discouragement has been a companion of mine for a while now, especially discouragement over my plentiful weaknesses. Somehow I've stopped trusting that the Atonement is enough to make up for my failings. I know intellectually that this is not the case. I could give a lovely Relief Society lesson on the blessings of the Atonement and how Christ's sacrifice makes it possible to be renewed, to give our weaknesses to Him who paid for them. But the application of this principle? I just haven't been able to figure out how to apply the truth to my life.

But Elder Holland reminds me that despair and discouragement can have their root in the whisperings of the adversary:
There is, of course, one source of despair more serious than all the rest. It is linked with poor preparation of a far more serious order. It is the opposite of sanctification. It is the most destructive discouragement in time or eternity. It is transgression against God. It is depression embedded in sin.

Here your most crucial challenge, once recognizing the seriousness of your mistakes, will be to believe that you can change, that there can be a different you. To disbelieve that is clearly a Satanic device designed to discourage and defeat you. When you get home tonight, you fall on your knees and thank your Father in Heaven that you belong to a church and have grasped a gospel that promise repentance to those who will pay the price. Repentance is not a foreboding word. It is, following faith, the most encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. Repentance is simply the scriptural invitation for growth and improvement and progress and renewal. You can change! You can be anything you want to be in righteousness.

If there is one lament I cannot abide—and I hear it from adults as well as students—it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that is one that discourages me. Though not a swearing man, I am always sorely tempted to try my hand when hearing that. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.” I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and call it psychology. And I use the word sin again to cover a vast range of habits, some seemingly innocent enough, which nevertheless bring discouragement and doubt and despair.

You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. That’s another Satanic sucker-punch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change”—and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. Even if you have serious amends to make, it is not likely that you would qualify for the term “the vilest of sinners” which is Mormon’s phrase in describing these young men. Yet as Alma recounts his own experience in the 36th chapter of the book which bears his name, it appears to have been as instantaneous as it was stunning.

Do not misunderstand. Repentance is not easy or painless or convenient. It is a bitter cup from hell. But only Satan who dwells there would have you think that a necessary and required acknowledgement is more distasteful than permanent residence. Only he would say, “You can’t change. You won’t change. It’s too long and too hard to change. Give up. Give in. Don’t repent. You are just the way you are.” That, my friends, is a lie born of desperation. Don’t fall for it.

So what does this say to me? It's spring, the season of renewal and rebirth. Elder Holland says I can change "anything you want to change and you can do it very fast." Is it true?

My challenges, the source of my all comes down to self-control or my lack thereof. I am ready to go to sleep earlier, to waste less time, to stop procrastinating, to stop eating seven cookies in one sitting, to go for a run whether or not someone's waiting for me, to live by my word, to look inward and feel at peace, rather than infuriated. These weaknesses are keeping me from being the instrument in God's hands that I really truly want to be.

So how do I become more? This is what Elder Holland suggests:
Immerse yourself in the scriptures. You will find your own experiences described there. You will find spirit and strength there. You will find solutions and counsel. Nephi says, “The words of Christ will tell you all things [that] you should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).

Pray earnestly and fast with purpose and devotion. Some difficulties, like devils, come not out “save by fasting and by prayer.”

Serve others. The heavenly paradox is that only in so doing can you save yourself.

Be patient. As Robert Frost said, with many things the only way out is through. Keep moving. Keep trying.

Have faith. “Has the day of miracles ceased?

“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?

“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men.” (Moro. 7:35–37.)

I'm going to keep working, keep trying. I'm going to study the scriptures. I'm going to fast weekly for the next few weeks. I've done it in the past when I've needed extra spiritual strength, and it is a sweet way to grow closer to Heavenly Father, and a wonderful way to grow stronger. I'm going to choose to have faith that Heavenly Father can make my weaknesses strengths so that I can serve Him better. I'm finding that choosing to have faith is both easier and harder than I ever thought it would be. Sometimes I make the very conscious choice to say, "I have faith. I believe that Heavenly Father can help me change" and to really believe it.

And I'll try to be patient with myself.

That may be the hardest thing of all.

The battle with my weaknesses is very personal. I would keep all of this in my journal, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one struggling. There's a flood of despair covering the earth right now. The antidote? It's where it always is and where it always has the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. Whatever your battle is, whether it is anger, jealousy, unkindness, greed, self-control, dishonesty, despair or any of the myriad ways Satan drags us down, the cure resides in Christ.

So I'll let you know if my experiment pays off. Studying the scriptures, fasting and prayer, serving others, patience and the choice to have faith...Here goes. I'm ready to hope again.