I consider myself a practical woman. I don’t expect to be an all-encompassing superhero. I scoff at the idea of quilting my own bedding, growing and canning my own vegetables, keeping my home in magazine-ready condition, scrapbooking in any form that includes more than sliding photos into plastic pockets, making recipes with more than four or five ingredients, and teaching all my children to play classical musical instruments. Now I don’t scoff at most of these endeavors individually; in fact, I’ve dabbled in some of them and tried to learn new things. But the concept that I should be doing all of them (or even several of them) in my life in order to be a “whole” woman is absolutely preposterous. Holding yourself to a standard like that is emotional suicide.
However, I have a firm testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I want to be the best person I can be. Sometimes I look at my world, and the acquaintances I have, and other people near and far that I know and love, and I have a thousand ideas of things I wish I could do to help them– to do good deeds, to better fulfill my own responsibilities, callings, and commitments, to be a servant in the Christian sense, and to make the world a better place. And then I have days where feeding my children and picking up one room and restocking the toilet paper in all the bathrooms is all I get done. A lot of days are like that. But in the back of my mind is a long to-do list of things to be and deeds to carry out. And once they sit on that list for a while, they start to feel heavy to me. They gnaw at me. They turn into a feeling. They become guilt.
I want to make clear that intellectually I know that’s not right. I know that my work with my family is the most important work I can do. But I struggle sometimes with realistic expectations about what else I should be accomplishing. It’s difficult to gauge how much of that is my own wishful thinking, how much of it is inspired direction from the Lord, and how much of it is simply my fears about what someone else might expect of me or how I might be judged by others. During my daily devotional time on Saturday (otherwise knows as a shower), I thought about this question and the thought that occurred to me and sort of clarified this issue for me is that the Lord does not expect more from me than what I have already covenanted with him– my simple promises that I made at baptism and when I renew those promises while taking the Sacrament or worshipping in the temple. He doesn’t hold me to a standard higher than that. I felt like this was a right answer and I had it on my mind most of the day.
That night, I attended a fireside by Sister Julie Beck, the General Relief Society President. She was in town doing some training and invited all the local women to come and meet with her in the evening. I love Sister Beck. I’ve posted several times before about her and her messages to women, and how those messages have helped me in many ways. She shared her testimony at the beginning of the meeting and then opened up the rest of the meeting for questions and answers. Even though I felt like I had received an answer to my question that morning in the shower, I kept feeling prompted to ask my question out loud. So toward the end of the meeting, I barely raised my hand in front of my chest, her eyes fixed on me and she called on me. My best guess is that there were an excess of 2,000 women in attendance. An usher wriggled his way through the crowd and brought me the microphone.
“You’ve touched on this a little bit in some of your other answers, how we go to church and read scriptures and learn so many things we can do, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. I would like your insight on the role of guilt in an LDS woman’s life. I know there is good guilt and bad guilt, but what role should guilt play and what role should it not play?”
I want to share some of her answers. Part of it was in direct response to my question, and part of it came up throughout the rest of the meeting, but they all gave me greater clarity and direction, and feeling the Spirit as she shared these things confirmed for me that God was behind this advice.
- Any thought that tells you “You are not good enough” is from Satan. If the thought tells you “You can do better, and I’ll help you,” it is from Heavenly Father.
- There will never be enough of you to do all your heart wants to do.
- Pray, eliminate your distractions, and follow the Spirit.
- We impose things on ourselves that the Lord would never impose.
- Be an example of joyful gospel living.
- Beg for miracles every morning. Recognize and give thanks for them every night.
- Navigate this experience you’ve been given with dignity, faith, hope and charity.
- She recommended a three-column to-do list every day: #1) The essentials (short list of things that are eternally important: Pray, read scriptures, maybe some days the list will include temple or service or family time), #2) Should do (feed children, clean clothes, go to work, etc.), #3) Nice to do (wish list). Whatever you do, make sure the essentials happen, and work hard on your should list, and you’ll be surprised how often you get around to things on your “nice to do” list. She also said that women cannot work all three shifts in a day. We can do one well, one pretty well, and we need one shift to rest and take care of ourselves. She recommended deciding which shift was the most important time of the day when we need to be at our very best (for her it was the afternoon into the evening when kids came home from school and prepared for bed, etc.), and then use the other shifts to help us prepare for and get ready for the important shift (maybe prepare dinner in the morning, rest well at night, etc.).
- Women are leaders. “Influence is ultimate leadership.”
Anyway, I walked away from that meeting with a greater understanding of how much good simply doing the essentials in our life can do, and does do. When we do them, we ARE changing the world for good. I also sensed that God is much more proud of what we ARE doing than he is worried about what we’re NOT doing. And I also learned (again) that I need to pray harder and more sincerely to get specific direction each day, and to let the Spirit help me navigate my priorities. I felt the confirmation that He will help me with that if I give him the opportunity. And I learned to give myself permission to ignore the guilt and embrace the important accomplishment of simple obedience. Guilt is totally overrated.
Image credit: “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen