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.


25 thoughts on “Coping and Mothering: Overcoming Discouragement

  1. I’ve spent the last several years neck-deep in my own challenges and just as things seem to be lifting a little, I see the suffering and struggles of other people I love and I think that breaks my heart more than then things I’m dealing with. The advice in that Conference talk you listened to is spot on. Implementing can be tricky, but that is where relief/help is found. I know for myself how powerful it is to consciously change my attitude. This Christmas was difficult because it was the first time I wouldn’t have my kids with me on Christmas Eve & Christmas morning. Just thinking about it was really getting me down. Then I was reading somewhere and saw the phrase “resist self-pity” and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head–here was the way to fix my problem! I needed to change how I was looking at my situation. Through the course of the holidays, it was really reinforced in me that although I don’t have things the way I would really want right now, I have SO MUCH! There is so much in my life that is good and beyond what I deserve–but I couldn’t see that when I was allowing myself to be consumed by self-pity.

    I also agree with the advice to use these experiences to draw closer to the Savior. Sometimes He is the only one I can talk to or trust to give me good advice or help or to ease the pain in my heart. I don’t always know what my kids need, but He does and as I seek to keep the Spirit with me, He can give me what I need “in the very hour”. It’s amazing.

  2. Oh, dear. As a mother at the other end of the tunnel you are facing, I give you hundreds of hugs. I also want to give you the gift of vision. In a very short time, that dear, sweet, bothersome tyke will be married and gone. While you are in the midst of it all, it seems endless and overwhelming. But that is the adversary’s illusion. In the blink of an eye, you will have no more opportunities to “help with milk or TV buttons or questions.” Will she remember you as kind or harsh? Will you look back with joy or regret? I know your feelings all too well, but you have yet to experience regret of the consequences to a child because mother “los[t] patience quickly” and too often. Certainly, it is hard to heal and mother at the same time, but we only get one chance to be a child’s mommy. Please, oh, please, don’t get angry over my words but take them to heart. Discouragement and impatience are the adversary’s tools to tear down your relationship. Your attitude and free-agency are your defense. If you look into the face of that little child, you will see the very face of God.

    • Ginger, I know you’re right, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s something I’m trying to figure out the best I can, and I suspect lots of other moms are too. My mom job is the most important, but I get pulled in lots of different directions, and I’m just working to get it right.

      • Amen. :-/ It’s easy to know that being a mom is the most important, and so much harder to really do it right. And really hard not to get discouraged when you screw up. I can’t tell you how many times I think my kids would be better off with a mom who never gets mad. But a mom who says sorry is just as (if not more!) important!

        This post reminds me of that hymn, Lord, I Would Follow Thee – “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”

        I have been on both ends of this for the past several months – both having my own “secret pain” that no one knows about – and watching the “secret pain” of others and not being able to do anything about it, and feeling that need to just sit in bed and heal from all the hurt of the world that we (mostly as women) inevitably take upon ourselves (even though we know the Savior already did that for all of us).

        And when you can see it, it’s hard to deal with – but I think you really pointed it out right – you have to give the Savior what is His – all the pain in the world. It isn’t ours to bear. It’s His. Have faith in the atonement, and give the pain and sorrow to Him, and, just like you said, ask Him what we can do, now that we’ve given Him the pain and sorrow.

        Thanks for this great reminder.

        And really – being able to say you’re sorry and you were wrong will go a lot farther with kids than never messing up. They need to know that we’re human, too, so that when they screw up they won’t be so afraid to come tell us 🙂 because they will. Because they are human, too.

  3. I think a lot more people than we realize have a secret deep dark pain. What makes it so hard is when it’s “secret” and you don’t know, so it’s hard to help in any way. You can help so much just by letting your friends know that you are there and care- that’s huge when you hurt. You are very lucky to not have your own pain, and I hope it stays that way for you because it stinks. But things all work out and get better eventually.
    Thanks for your post.

  4. My throat hurts as I’ve read your post today. Trying not to cry and remember to pray that my heart shall not break on the rocks of grief. I wonder how many feel that they aren’t where they wanted to be (either through choices that they made or have been handed to them) in life. I will quietly re-read this post followed by your last Friday Friend post to remind myself that although I can hand over my despair to the Lord, I need to make every attempt to overcome the trial’s that I face with graciousness, patience, endurance and happiness. Thank you for your reminders….

  5. What a wonderful post. And I’ve definitely felt that, with all the pain around me, what did I do to be spared that pain? A dear friend of mine said to me “Maybe that IS your trial in life. Maybe you need to learn how to be humble in happy times. Sometimes that is the hardest of all.” But it does just make your heart ache to see friends and family hurt. Thanks for the thoughts!

  6. Thank you for that post. I can really relate. Sometimes things are really rough for those you love so much you juSt wish you could take all their hardships away. I quote “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.” really hit home to me. I have never heard it before so
    thank you. My heart & prayers will be with you.


  7. When people say they have a relativly “normal life” I kinda chuckle…..because it just simply isn’t true. Everyone has trials….they may seem lighter compared to others, but I bet ya, that someone is looking at your trials the same way you may be looking at others. “Oh, they have huge deep dark heartaches that make my issues look like a peice of cake.” they may say.

    There is a difference between feeling empathy for a friend who is struggling and feeling co-dependence for a friend who is struggling. And the difference between the two is how we let others trials effect our own life choices. The Savior is the only one who can heal us….and for us to think or wish that we could help our friends feel “whole” again, is so prideful and selfish. Feeling tired and stressed out because of what someone else is going through is counter productive to our own relationship with that friend and with the Savior. It’s exactly what satan loves. The gift that keeps on giving…..thinking we can handle everyone’s problems, while causing our own spirit to minimalize the Savior’s atoning power in our lives.

    The Savior can only heal our hearts when we come to Him. And untill that happens, I firmly believe he isn’t sitting around stressing out as to why they aren’t letting Him ease their burdens. He is full of love, patiently waiting and using his energies to help those who are ready for His healing. I pray that your friends feel the Savior’s loving arms around them as they learn to give their burdens to Him. But until that time, continue to set the example of focusing on improving your relationship with the Savior and your eternal family.

    Hugs all around. 🙂

  8. Thank you for this post today. We have been going through a rough spot with a family member and it really helped me to read Elder Christensen’s 3 steps to take when trying to overcome discouragement. It doesn’t really take away the rough things that are happening, but helps me to change my attitude because there is nothing I can do about someone else’s actions.

  9. This same thing has been very much on my mind lately. 1–i feel like my life is some kind of piece of cake compared to other’s problems. i mean, i have mine too, but mine are like pesky gnats compared to other’s wasp’s nests. And i too, can get swamped with an almost guilty feeling for my abundant blessings and a terrible ache to HELP, somehow! 2–I have also learned at several points in my life that the Savior’s Atonement can help with so much and I wish that I could persuade some of my friends to believe me and really try it, but I know that they won’t until they are ready. It is for so much more than just repenting of our own sins. It also helps with taking away the pain that others have caused us, and even the pain that others are going through that we feel too. As a teenager I was often overwhelmed by the terrible state of the world and the struggles that so many people in third world countries (and down the street!) were going through. It would depress me completely and I could cry for a long time just thinking of starving children. But I finally learned to give it to my Savior. It has been the biggest help for depression and anxiety for me. I know that some people really do need drugs and therapy but I do feel that it would be needed in a lot fewer cases if people really used the atonement and really believed. I tried to explain this to a friend recently; that years and years of counseling wouldn’t help her deal with her deadbeat father if she didn’t first forgive him and let the Savior take the burden of the pain off of her. I know this one first hand. and i have to continue to do it over and over again too. But it helps every time. Anyway, sorry to be long winded and probably not making much sense, but i also wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying your blog since i recently discovered it and much appreciate the Spiritual tone you write with.

  10. So true…all of it. I think of Enoch refusing to be comforted and the Lord’s instruction to him to be comforted. When I read that, I think of when my own children are hurting, and how much I want to take their pain away (which is more and more difficult the older they get). I know the Lord’s heart must have been hurting for Enoch, and through the Atonement, He is able to take that pain away…something we can’t do as earthly parents…and he was telling Enoch to let him take that pain away. What you said about the pain being not ours, but His, is so true. And the other scripture you shared also includes council from our Father, “If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful” (D&C 136:29). In our times of sorrow, I’m always amazed how there are tender mercies…little pockets of joy in the middle of incredible, intense pain, and those bursts of joy tell us He’s there and He cares. The pain doesn’t go away, but our burdens become lighter.

  11. I’ve been feeling some of the same things as of late. We have a lot of family and friends that are dealing with some heavy, heavy things. (And I think part of my attitude might be that whole January thing, too.) The first two verses of the hymn, “Be Still, My Soul” keep running through my head. It must mean that I should take the words to heart–which, as you said, is sometimes easier said than done. But, it’s true–all grief and pain, not just ours, but those of our loved ones as well, can be swallowed up by the atonement. Everything has a joyful end.

    “1. Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
    With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
    Leave to thy God to order and provide;
    In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
    Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
    Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

    “2. Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
    To guide the future as he has the past.
    Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
    All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
    Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
    His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.”


  12. The experience I have had lately is almost the opposite. Yes, I have lots of problems in my life at the moment (especially families health), but a few days ago I was JOLTED into reality when I read a fellow Bloggers story. A wonderful Lds woman (Lisa) lost her beautiful 10 year old son just a few months ago after nursing him his whole life. Her husband and their other 3 children finally got to visit his grave for the first time; and that night her husband died suddenly from a heart attack. This happened just over a week ago and a wonderful fellow Blogger brought it to our attention and we are trying to spread the word and help this wonderful family. It has made me count my many blessings. This is Lisa’s blog spot and this is the fantastic site that has been set up to help her. We are Sisters in Zion and we help one another. This is why my problems in life seem managable.

    • Oh, I agree, because it’s easy to count your blessings when you see what’s happening around you, but when the person who’s experiencing that blog post is your dear friend or family member, you have deep mourning too, and that makes life just a little less manageable unless you really tap into the Savior and his healing. (Sorry, that was a really long sentence.)

  13. I too, really, needed to hear this. Thank you for sharing.
    Also, for the iPod/car dilemma – pretty inexpensive is an accessory that looks like a cassette tape – plugs into the headphone spot – put the cassette in … Problem solved.

  14. Last fall a friend of mine started posting a “Thankful Thing” every Thursday in her workout log. We check up on each other every few days, so I copied her idea and started posting the thing also and have kept it up because trying to come up with a new thing every day has really helped me seek out the joyful things instead of focusing on the bad stuff. I don’t know if this will help the Januaries, but it is helping me. : )

  15. I read this the other day when you first posted it. I have been thinking about it a lot since then. One of my downfalls (which I’m working on) is that I get so worried and sad about other people and their worries and sadness. I had to stop myself. It was making me so discouraged. I still care about people deeply but I have to realize that there is a great blessing of having the Atonement in our lives and he can continuously heal people through the Atonement. Your thoughts and others have helped me still be compassionate, but helped me to not let the world’s sadness sink into my life so much that I can’t deal with my own little problems. I love people but have to watch myself from ‘taking on’ their problems. Don’t know if any of that made sense but thanks for sharing this post and thanks for being a great writer!

  16. Pingback: More Mother's Day Videos and Links | Mormon Women - About LDS Life and Belief

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