Guilt: The Motherload

responsiblewoman

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

Recovery, and one tiny deep thought.

My birthday is over.  You people are awesome.  I now have to figure out a way to burn about 4,327 calories.  Oh, the brutal gluttony.  I’ll do the giveaway drawing this weekend when I calculate the Haiku winners, too.  (If you got so wrapped up in the joy of wishing me a happy birthday and telling me about yourself that you forgot to actually enter the computer game giveaway, go back there and enlist yourself in the drawing . . . if you meant to in the first place.)

Excuse me while I write down a few things that I need to print out and hang on my forehead for tomorrow.

1.  No.  (answer to the question, “Can I have a snack?”)

2.  No.  (answer the question, “Can I watch a TV show?”)

3. Not yet.  (answer to the question, “Can we go to the swimming pool now?”)

For the record, sometimes the answer to those questions is “YES,” but just not when they’re asking over and over and over again.

And this may seem random, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.  Why do we so often assume that we are not worthy of greatness?  Elder Maxwell always talked about “not shrinking,” and I think we moms do it way too much.  We kind of crawl into spiritual fetal position instead of spreading our spiritual wings.  I wish we were better at claiming and embracing how great we are.  Marianne Williamson wrote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

So shine on, ladies, and don’t be afraid to be as good as you really are.  Because you really are.  Really.

Shut up!

smileI consider myself a fairly confident person overall, but I do have my struggles with self-doubt.  Something about spending the last week at my parents’ home has triggered some pondering in me.  And then when I set goals of things I know I want to be better at, that voice starts a-talkin’.  It says things like this:

When your children sometimes exhibit “unacceptable” behavior, that means you have failed as a mother.

Remember those 12 pounds you’ve gained slowly over the last couple years?  Well, take a good look in the mirror and you can see exactly where they are.  Ha!  Take that, fat girl.

Plus you haven’t exercised once this week.  That means you have no self-discipline and these 12 pounds aren’t going anywhere… they’re probably just the beginning.

Your house would barely qualify as a tool shed in this neighborhood.

When you go to church today and see people from your past, they might look at you and the phrase “worse for the wear” may come to mind.  Sure, smile and be polite, but you know they’re thinking you’ve let yourself go.

Stop making so many comments (two!) in Sunday School.  You’re just a visitor, for pete’s sake.  This is probably why your bishop made you the Primary president… because you just can’t keep your mouth shut in Sunday School and Relief Society.

Plus maybe the stuff you’re saying is dumb and people don’t care anyway.

And then in the mix of all that befuddlement, the Relief Society teacher quoted something she said came from Elder Holland’s talk, “Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence.”  Simply the mention of that title jolted me.  I immediately felt a sense of comfort and acceptance.  My perspective changed and I became accutely aware that the voice I’d been listening to did NOT come from my Heavenly Father.  His voice does not make me feel small or unimportant.  So I jotted down the name of the talk in my notes and came home and studied it.  I just wanted to share a few quotes that have refueled my spirit today:

“Certainly don’t give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.

“…  I acknowledge the reality of opposition and adversity, but I bear witness of the God of glory, of the redeeming Son of God, of light and hope and a bright future. I promise you that God lives and loves you, each one of you, and that He has set bounds and limits to the opposing powers of darkness. I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the victor over death and hell and the fallen one who schemes there. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and it has been restored.  “Fear ye not.” And when the second and third and fourth blows come, “fear ye not. … The Lord shall fight for you.”  Cast not away therefore your confidence.”

So, I’m telling that voice of self doubt to shut up.  There are lots of things about me that it clearly does not understand.  Things like this:

  16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
  17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;
 
“Though we may see ourselves as weak and simple, we all share a noble heritage and can develop a faith that is equal to that of remarkable, faithful women who have gone before us. We have a vital role to play in helping build the kingdom of God and preparing for the Lord’s coming. In fact, the Lord cannot accomplish His work without the help of His daughters.”
smile2So, stick a sock in it, voice of doubt.  I’ve got a lot of important things to do and be, and I simply don’t have time for your nonsense.  Nice try, though.
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Don’t be shy… try your hand at the limerick contest.  TWO days left.  Come on, it’ll be fun.
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