Guilt: The Motherload


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


40 thoughts on “Guilt: The Motherload

  1. Every time I do something and feel proud of myself instead of beating myself up about the things I’m NOT doing, I imagine myself giving Satan a mean right hook.

    Is that weird?

  2. First of all, my OBGYN has a framed print of that picture in his office. It has always sort of comforted & challenged me at the same time.

    Also, I’ve really been struggling with this same topic lately. As I try to balance my busy schedule as a college student, and the lives of my 3 Wild Boys and their Wild Dad…phew! There are many days where I feel guilty about what I haven’t done. I’m wondering if you’d mind if I print out this post…I’d love to use it for my own personal study time. I am excited just imagining how much more peaceful I’ll feel as I implement these ideas. 🙂

    Thank you so much for this post.

  3. You have such great insight and direction, thank you so much for sharing it. For me, I wish there was a better connection between what I know and what I do! That is truly the hard part.

  4. “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.”

    This is what I needed to hear. It is so tough to find a balance and to know if I’m doing good things. In fact, if I’m doing the best things. And to keep my own vessel full.

    I also love what she said about shifts.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    PS: I think that because you followed the Spirit and asked this question, you were able to help thousands of other women. Wow.

  5. You’re awesome. And so is Sister Beck. I knew a woman in PR who was all about service. She zipped around that tropical island in her un-airconditioned van, just doing, doing, doing.

    Trouble was, she dragged her four home-schooled kids with her everywhere she went. And can I tell you, those kids were MISERABLE. They’d arrive at the “serv-ee’s” house hot, thirsty, tired, and feeling totally neglected. Before you knew it, the one being served was serving this woman’s kids — all while Sister Servicepants assured her that there were “just fine”.

    I always felt she needed a lesson in priorities, and the appropriate place for guilt.

  6. Guilt’s a major party kill. I have an over active sense of guilt and tend to feel it on a regular basis.

    It’s nice to meet you and thought I’d leave a note since I’d stopped by.

  7. Recently-Sunday to exact-I went to the bishop about this exact feeling. Although, mine has to do my 18 year old son who has recently been kicked out of the house, I have been feeling guilt! During the week as I go through life, enjoying the peace and love that now envelopes my home.

    But then, I go to church. The guilt starts weighing heavy on my shoulders. I miss him. I want him home! I get a long awaited phone call and the guilt quickly leaves. The struggle that I have with this guilt is. . .this is not how he sould have left our home–but it was needed. The bishop was there to reasure me that I shouldn’t feel guilty. That this time away from our home is a test. A test to see if he will remain strong to what HE has said about going on a mission.

    Oh how I wish I could have been at that fireside! I love Sister Beck. I love to hear her speak! She is definately a “Mother Who Knows”. I love all of her bullet points especially #1 and #8. #8 gives me hope and reminds me that if I put the Lord first–I mean #1 He will help all the rest fall into place.

  8. Steph, at preliminary glance-over, I really need to read this today. I can’t right now, since the little one needs me, but I’ll be back! lolol

  9. The most important one for me is praying for miracles and giving thanks for the ones do that occur. I’ve made a list of goals for the next 10 years of my life. I’m finding it incredible that so many of them are coming to pass with very little effort on my part. People are bought into my life, experiences fall into place and opportunities arise that are “coincidental.”

    Larry H. Miller said “how many coincidences does it take to convince you that it’s not a coincidence?”

    I call them “tender mercies” but they do qualify for the word “miracles,” as well, and I am supremely grateful for them and say so each night in my prayers.

  10. I read this in my reader and thought I was reading a Segullah post. I got a little confused when I clicked over. ;o)

    This post was fantastic and a direct answer to prayer for me and my most recent post. That three-column to do list is a FANTASTIC idea. Thank you so, so much Stephanie. This really was an answer to prayer.

  11. I’ve been putting off posting about the weekend Sister Beck came here, not because I don’t want to write about it, just because I want to REALLY write about it, and with sickness and whatnot, I haven’t had the time to do it as well as I want to. But soon… hopefully before Saturday so I can push for people to watch the R.S. Broadcast on Saturday night. She is remarkable and had such wonderful things to say! Thank you for your post… I often feel guilt when I feel like I’ve been prompted to do something… make something for someone, send a card, whatever, and then for whatever reason, it falls to the bottom of my list and never happens. How can that happen? If it really is a prompting from the Lord, why is not at the top of my list? It’s hard, hard to do it all, and be the instrument in the Lord’s hands that I would love to be. But at the same time, sometimes I’m just so tired! I love the three column list too. I think I’ll have to start doing that. 🙂

  12. First of all, I love reading your posts because I feel like you so often articulate feelings I have but am unable to articulate myself. So, thanks for that.
    Second of all, thanks for sharing your insights and Sister Beck’s insights. I am a master-guilt-feeler, but ever since I joined the church I have slowly, over time, felt the atonement begin to heal me of it. It is still a daily battle, so I appreciate your encouragement. Thanks, thanks!

  13. I love the 3-column to-do list idea!! It reminds me of a talk I listened to on CD once. Not sure who was speaking, but it was the same general idea. She writes her to-do list, then puts “A” next to the essentials, “B” next to the should-dos, and “C” next to the wish list items.

    I’m more of a spill-my-brain-out-before-I-can-categorize person, so thanks for writing this. I had totally forgotten that talk! I’m definitely going to implement the A-B-C test! (Kind of like the rough-draft to the 3-column to-do list.) 🙂

  14. Wow–thanks for the fabulous post! I think I really needed to hear the 3 shift thing right now. For some reason I have the expectation that I can homeschool four kids all day long, be fresh for the public school kid when he gets home in the afternoon, make a nutritious meal to eat with the whole family, and then be productive and/or spend quality time with my husband in the evening. Now that I’ve typed that all out it *does* sound ridiculous…

  15. I’ve been living on a steady diet of guilt this past month – I can’t put properly into words how grateful I am you wrote this and shared these insights with us. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for this post. In addition to these thoughts, I think the word “should” is damaging. It places undue pressure on us and contributes to our overwhelmed feelings. I have noticed my guilt level decrease since I have tried to eliminate the word “should” from my thoughts (decrease, not disappear!).

  17. Wow!!! I was pointed to this post by the other Cindy (I am her grown-up daughter). Thank you so much for including your notes from Sister Beck’s response – what a powerful list, and exactly what I need to hear this year.

  18. I’m crying while reading this. I’ve already read my scriptures today, but reading Julie Beck’s response to the question of guilt is like scripture as well.

    As a newly called Primary President in my ward, I feel the crushing weight of responsibility all the while trying to balance it with being a full-time mom and a part-time writer. The points you make are excellent.

    PS: Have you considered approaching Mormon Mommy Blogs as a guest blogger and having them put up this post on the “blog” site? You should. It has struck a chord with many women so far, and could touch so many more!! And maybe even The Ensign.

  19. Oh how I wish I could have been at this fireside. BUT, I am overly grateful to you and for your kindness in sharing all you learned. I think I shall print this post and refer to it often. There were so many gems in this. I particularly like the 3 to do list idea, the different shifts of the day approach and her definition of good guilt and bad guilt. Thank you for living your life in such a way that you are close to the Spirit and can share what you learn with all of us!

  20. I love this post. It resonates deeply within me. For the 1st time in 7 years I am not pregnant or have small children at home or going to therapy or being a MOPS Coordinator. My almost 7 year old is in 1st and my 4 year old is in preK everyday in order to get speech/autistic services and I feel guilty now at times being a stay at home mom. I started looking for things to do. The reality is I do a lot – I am a pastor’s wife, I am a friend, I am a mom that wants to be involved in her girl’s school, I like to work out, I can keep a clean house and I am not tied to a strict therapy schedule until after school. But I was looking for things to fill my time. Who needs 6 hours alone a day? But God told me I did. He specifically is calling me to solitude so I can center and be with him and get out of the stasis mode I’ve had myself in since the birth of my kids.

    We do do do – and while all things are permissable and may be “good” they are not always beneficial in our lives. Sometimes we need to be rather than do. For instance Sabbath. God created sabbath for man. Be not just do…

    Again I love your post.

  21. Ok. Finally got to read it. This is a great post. I’m so glad you shared what she said–I have some ideas from it.

    (and i loved your description of accomplishing something–the getting one room picked up, etc…makes me feel not alone!!)

  22. Do you mind if I post the list you have from Sister Beck? Because this post corresponds so perfectly with one I did just the other day, I would love to share it. I will of course and link and give credit where it is due, to both you and Sister Beck. I just wanted to make sure it was okay before I assumed too much.

  23. I have often looked at that photo with an equal measure of hope and dread! LOL! I loved your post and even the title expressed some of the weight that I have carried around as a mother. I love what Sister Beck said about knowing the difference between what was encouragement, and what was unproductive guilt. Thank you! I’m working on having a peaceful heart, and this goes in line with what I am learning. God bless mothers.

  24. Wow. There are so many good points you brought up, and for me what’s really interesting is to see how the message here really resonates with so many people. I love that you articulated these points really well. I just might do what a lot of people have done here and print this out and study it a bit more–it’d be very . . . insightful to see what the scriptures have to say about this very topic. I always think of Mary and Martha when I think of the roles/burdens of women.

  25. What a great post. Thank you so much.

    I love Sister Beck. What a treat to be able to participate in a question and answer session with her. Your question was wonderful. Thank you for posting the summary of her answers. We as women are always so hard on ourselves. Although I know longer have any children at home, I love the idea of choosing the “shift” to focus on–what a great idea.

    I will be back to read more.

  26. Thank you for this. So often, I feel like I must be the only one. You know, the only mother who doesn’t participate in the fundraiser at school, the only mom who doesn’t have her house perfectly decorated, the only mom whose toddler is playing in the toilet while she’s on the phone sceduling yet another surgery for said toddler, the only mom who has to pick through baskets of laundry to find something clean to wear that day. Its good to know first, that I’m not the only one; and second, that I’m not the only one who feels crushed by the guilt at times. I love hearing that the most important things- the “must dos”- involve nurturing ourselves so that we can nurture others. I’m going to be working on that idea.

  27. Is that a direct quote from Sister Beck, about influence? The one at the end of your list? I get that this is copyrighted, but if she said it can I quote her as saying it? Or you if you said it?
    Regardless–I felt the spirit so close as I read this and feel that with all the craziness in our home today (babysitting so my bro. and sis. in law could attend the temple sealing of my other bro and sis in law–yeah we got stuck 🙂 with the kids, ages 7,6,4,4,3,3,18 months, and 4 months) this has put me in the right frame of mind for the broadcast tonight. Thanks for taking the time to uplift others.

  28. Pingback: Tribute to Sister Julie B. Beck « Diapers and Divinity

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