Coping and Mothering: Overcoming Discouragement

I went to lunch several months ago with some friends.  During a side conversation, one friend said to me, “That’s the worst part about growing up: learning about everyone’s problems.”  I don’t even really remember the context of our discussion, but her comment has stuck with me.  It’s so true.  As a child, we have a very limited view of the world at large, and most of my memories are happy and carefree.  As we grow older and our view of the world around us expands, we are exposed to more and more pain, suffering, and sadness– sometimes our own, but often in the lives of others too.

Over the last several weeks, Matt and I have been struggling with watching people we know and love go through some really hard things.  Not just one or two friends, but several.  There are marriage troubles, there are health issues, there are fears and anxieties.  It has made us heavy-hearted, and frankly, a little discouraged.  We want to fix things and we just can’t.  We want to help, but feel so helpless.  It kind of makes us want to hide from the whole scary world so we don’t fall into the same pits, but where and how?  We start to wonder if everyone else on the planet has some deep, dark secret pain going on, and maybe we’re the only people who have “normal” trials, like bad days at work or budget woes or struggling to keep up with the demands of busy lives.  (Does anyone else feel like that sometimes?)  It of course puts your own trials into startling perspective, but it leaves you feeling a vicarious pain for what everyone else seems to be going through.  And even though your own life is relatively “easy,” it’s not easy to watch the pain that’s happening around you.  It hurts.

I’ve noticed it’s difficult to brush those feelings aside and deal with the matters at hand, like helping children with homework or finding socks or making dinner.  They have no idea about the hard things going on in the lives of friends and family.  You certainly don’t want to make it their burden either, but it’s hard to put on a happy face and go on like nothing’s wrong.  This morning, after I got the boys off to school, I tried to get Natalie occupied with her own activities so that I could just crawl back into bed and think.  Rest.  Decompress.  She kept coming into my room every 5 minutes to ask for help with milk or TV buttons or questions.  I was losing patience quickly.  It’s really hard to heal and mother at the same time.  I wasn’t very kind.

I don’t have any real answers to this.  I’m still working through it, but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about and learning about in the meantime.  Yesterday, I had a rare opportunity to be in the car by myself in between some carpooling drop-offs and pick-ups.  I wanted something to listen to in the car that would help me focus my thoughts, and I remembered that I had an old general conference CD set somewhere.  I scanned the bookshelf in the office, found it, and grabbed it.  I really wish I had some kind of system in my car where I could just hook up my iPod and listen to whatever I want whenever I want, but I don’t.  And it seems really dumb to invest in that kind of stereo equipment when my van is pushing 160K miles.  Anyway, I had general conference CDs from 1998, and I popped them in and listened while I drove.

This morning I had to go to the dentist, and the CD was still in when I turned on the car.  I heard the end of one talk that was nice.  They had all been nice, but nothing had jumped out at me so far.  Then I heard this talk:  “Overcoming Discouragement” by Elder Val R. Christensen.  Here are some of the things that I learned:

Many of us face significant challenges. Even the great prophet Enoch experienced sadness when he viewed the wickedness of the world: “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look” (Moses 7:44).

There are at least three steps to take when striving to overcome discouragement:

  1. You can work on changing your attitude toward the problem. Even though you can’t change the circumstances in which you work or live, you can always change your attitude.
  2. You can receive help from those who are close to you—your family, friends, and ward members, those who love you the most.
  3. You can develop a more powerful and complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even before he started explaining his three points, I knew that there was truth in them.  I felt the Spirit– enlightenment and hope.

By looking at a problem in a different way, it may be possible to reduce discouragement. I have been impressed with the pioneer story told about Zina Young. After experiencing the death of parents, crop failure, and sickness, she was encouraged with a spiritual experience that changed her attitude. While attempting to seek divine help, she heard her mother’s voice: “Zina, any sailor can steer on a smooth sea, when rocks appear, sail around them.” A prayer came quickly: “O Father in heaven, help me to be a good sailor, that my heart shall not break on the rocks of grief” (“Mother,” The Young Woman’s Journal, Jan. 1911, 45). It is often difficult to change circumstances, but a positive attitude can help lift discouragement.

One morning, several days ago, I got some bad news from one of my friends I’ve been worried about.  I lay in bed in the quiet early hours of the morning and my heart just hurt.  I could feel a real, tangible sadness.  While I thought about that pain, I was reminded of something I’ve taught many times before in a lesson about the Atonement.

“I believe, to use an insurance phrase, we must pay the deductible. We must experience sorrow enough, suffering enough, guilt enough so we are conscious and appreciative of the heavier burden borne by the Savior.” (Elder J. Richard Clarke, in Conference Report April 1993, 10)

In that moment, I kind of got it.  What I was feeling was just the tiniest piece of what the Savior felt when He took upon himself the pains of the world.  It was pain from sin, but also every kind of sorrow.  It is His pain.  Not mine.  Not hers.  It’s His.  He bought it with a price and I need to give it back to Him. I don’t need to keep it.  So, I determined then that all I can do is hand the burden back and then pay close attention to what He wants me to do.  He can show me how to help and how to move on.  So in the several days since, whenever I’ve felt the weight of sadness, I try to replay this same scenario in my mind and let it go.  Here’s another snippet from Elder Christensen’s talk:

I’ve talked about changing attitudes and receiving help from others. Now, let me mention the need to put more trust and faith in the Lord. I once talked to a woman who received help with her discouragement. While waiting for a temple session to begin, she picked up a Book of Mormon to read a verse. Her eyes fixed upon Alma 34:3: “And as ye have desired of my beloved brother that he should make known unto you what ye should do, because of your afflictions; and he hath spoken somewhat unto you to prepare your minds; yea, and he hath exhorted you unto faith and to patience.” The scripture in Alma was an answer to her prayer. The message was simple: the problem she faced was going to take a long time to solve. If we place a little more patience in the process and a greater amount of faith in the Lord, our challenges will find their way toward successful conclusions.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read this: “If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful” (D&C 136:29).

Some of these things will take time to work themselves out.  I have faith that some of them really will work out just fine, but it may take a while.  There may be long periods of down before the up figures itself out.  So that’s what I’m working on right now: finding joy and optimism despite sad things happening around me.  When the talk was over, I turned to Natalie in the back seat and said, “Natalie, I’m sorry I wasn’t very nice to you this morning when I was in bed.  I was frustrated because I just wanted some rest, but I still should have been kind.  I’m sorry.”  She, being the epitome of childlike forgiveness, simply smiled and asked what was for lunch.

Anyway, I’m sorry if this post doesn’t have a cute little conclusion that makes it all better. I’m still working on it, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far, and hopefully it can be helpful to someone who’s dealing with or feeling some of the same things.

GCBC Week 18: “The Importance of a Name” by Elder M. Russell Ballard

[Thank you to Becca for creating this image]

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the “Mormon Moment” in the media.  It’s great when our doctrines and beliefs get more attention and become better understood.  One thing that we have a responsibility to do is to make sure that we respresent well the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and help people know what our church means.  Elder Ballard points out that the name of the church encompasses the heart of our doctrine and our identity, and he reminds us to use that name to teach people about who we are.

The Importance of a Name M. Russell Ballard

“Let us develop the habit … of making it clear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the name by which the Lord Himself has directed that we be known.”

Share your thoughts or insights in the comments below.

To anyone who is checking out GCBC for the first time, the goal is to read one General Conference talk a week and discuss it together as an on-line “book club.” If you want to learn more, go here, and join the discussion here each week.

An open note to my children (to be read every January)

Dearest children,

I probably owe you an apology. I do not like January. This stems in part from my deep-seeded disdain for cold weather.

I love Christmas time. But when it’s over, it’s all downhill for a little while.

I’m sorry this means there must be a significant decline in presents, vacation days, and festivities in general.
I’m sorry this means we have to return to routines like chores and homework and early bedtimes.
I’m sorry this means the period of un-rationed goodies is over (unless you’re me).

Another reason I don’t like January is we always get sick in January. Right now I can only breathe out of one nostril. During this past week alone, our house has been graced with coughing, fever, vomit, diarrhea, croup, congestion, and oh, another urinary tract infection.

Dirty dishes and dirty laundry piles sit a little longer in January. You may want to get used to me saying things like, “Who wants to make macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight?”

While some moms see January as an opportunity to rekindle their love affair with the gym, your mom sees January as an opportunity to eat Toaster Strudels and Reese’s peanut butter cups for lunch.

I just want to reassure you that I still love you. I wish I had any desire to play Princess Chutes and Ladders with you, but I don’t. I’m afraid that January is the one month out of the year that if you want to spend quality time with your mother, you probably need to start reading Pride & Prejudice, or take a sudden interest in Latin music, or save up your allowance for a trip to Europe or a warm location of your choice (or even better, my choice.).

I have no idea why you were so lucky to be born into my care, but I promise I’ll try harder to wade my way through January and be the kind of mom you deserve.  Remember that I’m a pretty rockin’ mom in the summertime.

Feel free to print out this picture and tape it on a Popsicle stick and wave it in my face as needed.

When you do, I will try really hard to count to ten in my brain and get over it.

Much love,

Your mother

P.S. Your dad is a rock star in January because he steps it up a lot, and he’s not nearly as irritable as I am.  I love him all year, but especially in January.

P.P.S.  I’m really not as pathetic as this letter makes me sound.  I do plenty of good stuff in January too.  Let’s just say that the ratio of good stuff is a little more sparse than usual, and I’m keenly aware of it.

P.P.P.S.  Would it be presumptuous of me to alter President Monson’s quote to say “Courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow [next month]‘”?

Need to get out more?

Personally, I go back and forth between needing to get out more and wondering if we should go in public less.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I just wanted to remind you of a really cool, legitimate reason to get out and mingle with, you know, adults.

All of my grandparents have passed away.  (I know it seems like I just abruptly changed subjects, but stick with me.)  I have a book about their lives that was written from memories of their children– my dad and his siblings.  I am amazed by their lives, but there’s one part that always makes me get a little choked up when I read about it.  My grandparents had nine children and not a lot of money.  I bet it was a hard living, and it must have been, because at one point my grandma had what was called at the time a “nervous breakdown.”  She was temporarily institutionalized and received the modern treatments that were acceptable then, like electro-shock therapy.  (Have you seen A Beautiful Mind? The thought makes me shiver.)  No one knows much about what that was like for her.  She returned home and resumed all her responsibilities and life went on.  I knew her as a loving, talented, spunky grandmother that made great pies and good hugs.  I loved her and I miss her.

And now here I am, two generations later, raising three little children of my own in the suburbs.  And some days I feel like I might “lose it” too.  The noise, the to-do lists, the finances, the responsibilities, the laundry, the cooking, the carpooling, the [fill in the blank with etceteras... you know what I'm talking about].  I think of her often and how much better I have it than she did, and I wish, just wish I knew more about her real feelings and what life was like for her as a young and inexperienced mother.  How did she make it past those dark moments and just move forward and become so . . . majestic and wonderful?

And in part, my friends, that’s the reason I blog.  I hope that by writing down my stories, my own truth, that someday my daughters or granddaughters will read it and sigh.  Sigh for relief, sigh for camaraderie, sigh for hope.  You know, feel a connection that gives them strength.  I really believe that stories have that kind of power.

So. (Tangent complete.)

There’s this conference coming up that celebrates the power of story.  Even simple stories, like the day-in-day-out details of our families and our ideas and our feelings.  Like our BLOGS.

It’s called the Story @ Home Conference, co-sponsored by FamilySearch, Cherish Bound, and the Casual Blogger Community. The conference is March 9-10, 2012 at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  Two days of workshops, lectures, and entertainment, all about telling your stories, tracing and creating your family history, and all the wonderful technologies available to make it easy and fun.  And the December discount package is still available!  Some people I know and admire will be presenting there, so I know it will be worthwhile. Check out the website, and make yourself a date to get out of the house and learn more about telling your own story.

Facebook link
Conference link
Conference registration link

The Beauty Paradox

As promised, I’ve gathered my notes and tried to type up a summary of the fireside I recently taught (for both women and young women) called “The Beauty Paradox: The Surprising Relationship between Righteousness, Self-Image and Power.”  The links to my quotes, references and study materials are all listed at the bottom of this post.  Sorry, but there was no way to do this briefly and do it justice.  Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a while.

There is opposition in all things.

For everything good and powerful and designed to bring happiness, Satan creates a counterfeit.  He sets easy traps, and when we fall into them, we cannot enjoy what we wanted in the first place . . . the real deal.

Even when it comes to beauty.

People have many different opinions about beauty and modesty and self-image.  Even among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found that some take modesty standards more seriously than others.  Some think that standards must be more closely followed and enforced, and some think that we should just teach general doctrines about the body and divine nature and stay away from specific standards.  Some think that women and young women should not be held responsible for what men think about their clothing choices, and others would argue that females should be taught to dress themselves modestly with a better understanding of the inner workings of the male psyche.  All these (and other) different approaches have valid points, but they make it quite difficult to teach principles of beauty and modesty without some serious inspiration.  Luckily, my inspiration came one morning during my daily devotional time, otherwise known as a shower.  After many weeks of study, the previous evening I had studied a talk by Sister Elaine Dalton where she taught about the principle of “deep beauty.”  The ideas began to flow, and I literally wrote them with my finger on the foggy shower door in hopes of not forgetting them.  When I finished, I wrote it all down as quickly as I could.  This is what came into my mind that helped me organize all the principles I had been reading and pondering:

I know it looks crazy, but it truly gave me the direction I was seeking.  I’ll start at the top, then left column, then right column.

Dictionary.com defines Beauty as:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from [1] sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), [2] a meaningful design or pattern, or [3] something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

The first of the three defined sources of beauty-satisfaction is what makes up SURFACE beauty.  The last two fit more meaningfully in the category of DEEP beauty.  Surface beauty is the element of beauty that Satan has latched onto and the world-at-large has bought into.  Deep beauty is what God sees as beautiful and wants us to strive for.

Surface beauty is measured by outward appearances: usually by clothing, body, and makeup/hair.  These are the elements of beauty most embraced by our media culture and most flaunted by those who try to copy it.

Clothing: (It’s important to distinguish that from here on out, any advice to young woman can and should apply to adult women as well, and vice versa.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to mothers about their daughters and asked them to teach the following:

“Our daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues.

For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”

Notice that he talked about sending the wrong message to young men.  A Catholic blogger recently wrote an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which he lamented the prevailing trend to abandon “pretty” in favor of “hot.”

“Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.”

I remember talking to some young men that I taught in seminary and asking them if it was hard to fulfill and focus on their priesthood duties at the sacrament table if there were women and young women in the congregation that were immodestly/provocatively dressed.  They vigorously nodded their heads to the affirmative, and the young women in the room were surprised by their answer. Now, some may be on different sides of the argument about how responsible a woman should be for the way a man views her.  Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can probably agree on a few simple principles as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family.  When the Lord sets forth the divine roles of women and men with regards to families, he proclaims that men are to “provide” and to “protect.”  I think it’s very interesting that these same concepts are mentioned by the blogger as being naturally inspired by the virtuous and modest appearance of women.  The proclamation also states that within our divinely appointed gender roles and interactions with one another, husbands and wives — and I think it’s safe to extend it to men and women in general — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”  We can, and should, help one another to be our very best selves and to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Proclamation.  While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves. Modesty in dress is one way we can do that. Continue reading