This is a really good post. You should read it.

While walking the treadmill at the gym with my good friend Shantel the other day, we had a conversation about two things that are frequent themes on my blog:  the often misunderstood, nevertheless eternal importance of motherhood and the sometimes crushing sense of underachievement we women tend to drag around with us.  Amidst the pathetic huffing and puffing, our conversation turned to the scriptures.  I can’t speak for Shantel (who usually knows everything already), but I had a major lightbulb moment.

I’m hoping I can share it well because the principles are awesome. (Hence, the incredibly demure title of this post.)

Women are pulled in so many directions, our expectations dictated by an ever-demanding society and our own overactive sense of self-judgment.  We are bombarded with thousands of skills, ideas, practices, habits, philosophies, and even possessions that are somehow advertised as necessary pieces of the puzzle that is the “fulfilled modern woman.”  Give me a break.  Even when we can see through all the smoke and mirrors and try hard to focus our priorities on what we know really matters, we hear spoken and unspoken messages suggesting we should really be doing more with our lives.  Making a difference.  Making a name for ourselves.  We’re told we can be better mothers if we fulfill ourselves in myriad areas of our lives (like a career, for example) and focus on our own needs (“Spoil yourself.  You deserve it.”).  Elder Ballard taught recently:
“Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.”
His message refers, I think, mostly to our spiritual reservoirs and certainly also to allowing ourselves opportunity to develop talents and interests.  However, society has twisted and abused this point to mean that women should do everything and anything we want to do or are capable of doing, or we’ll have nothing valuable to offer.  Anyway, all of that was more of a rant than the actual lesson I learned.  Here is what a couple Bible stories taught me about the simple glory of being a stay-at-home mom, or at least the best kind of mom and woman I can be.

Marys_Anointing_of_Jesus_small From Matthew 26:

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.

Now, this woman brought the finest she had and shared it with the Savior.  The disciples called it a “waste,” suggesting she should give it to the poor or use it in a way to do so much more good in the world.  The Savior rebukes them and reminds them that He is a worthy recipient of her good works.  Think of this in terms of taking all our education, our precious time, our talents and resources that could maybe make us powerful or famous or of great influence elsewhere in the world, and yet, we wipe noses and wash feet.  Like the disciples, others may say or we may ask ourselves, “Don’t you wish you could do more with your life?”  Think of the Savior’s assertion just one chapter earlier that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  The same account in Luke tells us that she was also a sinner.  She was not perfect by any means, but the Savior accepted and honored her offering, deemed it better than any other way she could have spent herself, and he accepted her.

GREENE_Nathan_Martha_and_MaryFrom Luke 10:

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Martha was trying hard to do what was right, but she also tried to impose her version of what-should-be-done onto Mary.  She even complained to the Savior that Mary should be doing more.  He gently pointed out that by simply focusing on Him, Mary’s “doing less” was actually doing more; a personal relationship with Him was– and still is– the good part.  Society and even well-meaning friends, family and peers may try to impose upon us their standards for our success, but what the Savior measures us by is solely our attention and response to personal revelation from Him as we act out our part in life.  He, and He alone, sets the only “rules” that matter.  We can try to meet everyone else’s expectations, and even our exaggerated own, until we are blue in the face, but it’s not supposed to be that hard, and we might just end up missing out on the needful good part.
So in a world of mixed messages and voices that tell us we are never enough, I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, who asks so little of me by comparison.  I feel bold enough to say that what I often see as mundane He will (and does) crown with glory.  He loves my children even more than I do, and my heart is enough for Him.  And really, that’s all that matters.

I’m not done yet. Or, continuation on a theme.

Your comments on Tuesday’s post made me feel happy and sad all at the same time.   Happy because Sister Beck’s words gave you comfort.  Sad because I wish we women weren’t so hard on ourselves. The devil is so tricky, twisting the freeing doctrines of the gospel and making us feel suffocated by them. He convinces us we’re not good enough if we don’t do it all.

Anyway, just as a continuation of yesterday’s theme, I wanted to share this excerpt from a VERY cool talk I just found today by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Read it. It’s worth your time. (Here’s a link to the whole article.)

My dear sisters, both young and not so young, speaking to you for a few minutes tonight is a distinct honor for me. I pray that the Lord will bless me that my remarks will be helpful to each one of you.

I am aware that you are a very diverse audience. Tonight I see beautiful young and innocent faces, shining with a zest for living. I also see white-haired grandmothers, who radiate a genuine love for the Lord. Undoubtedly some of you are newly baptized members, while others have spent their lifetime in faithful service to the Church. Among you are those who are married and those who are single, those who are divorced and raising your children alone, and those who are widows.

Many of you are healthy and happy and are in tune spiritually, while others bear the burdens of poor health and loneliness and may be struggling to find peace of mind.

Some of you very likely are striving to be “super-moms.” You feel a need to spend time with your husband and children. You want to be sure to have family prayer, read the scriptures, and have family home evening. You also feel the need help children with homework and music lessons; keep your home presentable; prepare nutritious meals; keep clothes clean and mended; chauffeur children and possibly their friends to school and to a variety of lessons, practices, and games; and keep everyone in the family on schedule, making sure they are where they should be when they should be there. And that is all within your family and home. It makes me weary just reviewing all of this! It doesn’t include PTA, volunteer service, or caring for family members who are ill or aged. You feel the need to protect you family from the many evil influences in the world such as suggestive television, films, and videos; alcohol; drugs; and pornography. You are committed to and faithfully fulfill you Church callings. In addition, many of you must earn a living because financial pressures are real and cannot be ignored. If anything is left or neglected, you may feel that you have failed.

To you who feel harried and overwhelmed and who wonder whether you ever will be able to run fast enough to catch the departing train you think you should be on, I suggest that you learn to deal with each day as it comes, doing the best you can, without feelings of guilt or inadequacy. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, sisters, that may say it all:

“God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind, I will never die!”

Remember, sisters, we all have our own challenges to work out while passing the tests of mortality, and we probably often think ours are the most difficult. Recognize limitations; no one can do everything. When you have done the best you can, be satisfied and don’t look back and second-guess, wondering how you could have done more. Be at peace within yourselves. Rather than berate yourself for what you didn’t do, congratulate yourself for what you did.

And sometimes, yes, we do need to better (usually only in those few essential items that we tend to overlook while we’re trying to save the world), but that voice from Heavenly Father that is meant to encourage change says, “You can do better, and I will help you.”  He does help.  I have felt His help to shape me in loving ways so many times.  So let’s give ourselves a break, ladies, and stick as close to Him as we can; He’ll pull it all into focus for us and nudge us in just the right ways.

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