Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's talk about - Hard times and Grace

Recently I was at a Relief Society Saturday get together.  It was great, with good food, good company, and uplifting and thought provoking messages, both in the key note address (about the temple) and in the smaller classes. One of the classes I attended was about Discipleship of Christ, and around half way through the twenty five minute class the teacher asked if anyone had any questions or comments, since it had been kind of quiet.  I had a burning one, that had blazed since the beginning of class - even since I heard of the class title, and although I hadn't planned on asking it necessarily, an open invitation for questions was just too much for me to keep quiet.

Unfortunately in my question I made the mistake of mentioning struggling with balance in motherhood and disciplehood of following Christ, and specifically mentioned as one area of balance keeping a clean house along with parenting, performing religious duties, etc.  I was on the spur trying to come up with specifics so my question wouldn't sound vague, but because I mentioned housekeeping, most of the advice (which the class was very enthusiastic about - all the answers took up almost all the time that was left ) was about housekeeping, motherhood, work/life balance.  Now, there is nothing wrong with a few tips and tricks, a few ideas about priorities, reminders that our children get just wasn't actually the question that I meant to, but failed to ask.

So here I am writing my question down, having had time to think about it, and then I will lay out what I have thought of as answers, upon pondering it.

It seems in my life that the more that I am trying to do to live the Gospel (ie, specifically in my case as I have had more children - which my belief in eternal families, the importance of giving our Heavenly Parent's children physical bodies has directly impacted my family size) I feel like the farther I am away from actually being a disciple in Christ - the less Christlike I feel. When I was in college, I was a master at scripture study - it was one of the things that I impressed Avram with as I was getting to know him.  I used to be a very patient person, and up until I had three kids I felt like being a patient mother was one of my virtues.  I have had nine years since I graduated from college, since I got married.  I have had eight years of being a mother. I feel like I should perhaps be able to look back on the last decade, and see myself slowly, but surely getting better - becoming more Christlike.  I know I keep adding more plates that I need to keep spinning, but it feels like instead of becoming an expert plate spinner, I am slowly regressing backwards until all I have is shards of plates broken on the floor.  Now, keep my previous post in mind, so you know, I am not exactly the most chipper right now, but at it's core - how come my trying to follow Christ in the large in my life has left me feeling like I am further than ever away from him in the details?  Why do I struggle with scripture study now - not just in time, because let's face it, I have time, but in desire, in effort? Shouldn't I feel like I am leveling up in life, and not slowly drowning in muck?  Why do I struggle so much with patience and my children?  Why do I yell so much?  Why can I have the theory down pat - okay, love others, pray to be kind, show love, and yet once I am right in the throes of it not do any of this?

Alright, so my thoughts on this after weeks of pondering this and thinking on this question.

Well, number one, let's not forget that I have spent the last five years  with three pregnancies and three bouts of depression, so you know, I may not have the most perspective on my own life right at this moment, and any time that I feel like I am failing as a person, it may just be my skewed perspective talking and not reality at all. But even so - even if it is a skewed reality I am seeing, it is still my day-to-day reality in the moment.

A point to keep in mind I was reminded of while I was reading  from April's Conference of this year and Elder Neil L. Anderson's talk really stood out to me, specifically this part,

"Not all the whirlwinds in life are of your own making. Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.

As a young boy, President Boyd K. Packer suffered from the crippling disease of polio. When Elder Dallin H. Oaks was seven years old, his father died suddenly. When Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women general presidency was a teenager, her parents divorced. Challenges will come to you, but as you trust in God, they will strengthen your faith.

In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return."

In the second paragraph I could add, "Thora had five kids in eight years, had post partum depression with other health problems three times, all while being married to a student and living on a graduate student's stipend."  It helped me remember that although feel like I am mostly leveling down, and that I am dropping far more plates than spinning, in reality I cannot always see how I am getting stronger.  A tree that is bending over in a hurricane does not look strong - it is being blown to its almost its breaking point, and yet in doing so it is also getting stronger.  So the first thing to remember is that although I feel like I am failing at being a disciple of Christ, I am in the whirlwind of my life, one of the busiest, hardest seasons of it, and if the strength I am spiritually gaining now may seem too little, it is because I am bent over in the hurricane, and as time passes I will be all the stronger and better for it.

Another thing I have been thinking a lot about with this is Grace.  As Athena hit three months, and the ppd started seriously affecting me, I talked to Avram a lot about how much I was struggling.  After one particularly long session, he gently told me that what he thought I needed more of was grace.  Now, at the time I got angry at him, because I felt like he was telling me yet another thing that I should be doing and wasn't, yet another way that I wasn't measuring up and yet another thing that I didn't have - yet another way that I was failing in not just mother hood, but in also in following Christ.  After calming down, and after a later conversation, where I tried to express this and we talked over what he had meant, and then after pondering it for the months following, I have come to have an entirely different view of grace.

Grace is the unearned, freely given enabling power of Christ to help us.  It's not an attribute like patience or an activity like hard work that you can learn and develop through personal accomplishment, it is divine power. I can't fail in having it - because it's not my grace at all - it's His grace that he gives to me.  Grace for me and my life in the here and now is realizing, and perhaps it has taken the grueling day to day job of motherhood in these last several years for me to finally realize this, that I need Christ, that I cannot do it on my own.  I have always known about the atonement for repenting of sins, but I am finally coming to understand the atonement for when we try, we try hard, we try with all we have be better, and it just doesn't make it.  I am an independent person - I like to be able to do things for myself.  I don't like feeling vulnerable in front of others, I don't like being vulnerable with myself.  But my life, my inability to succeed at even the simple goals I have currently (Raise children. Don't go crazy) has forced to realize that I cannot succeed at life, I cannot do it, without Grace.  And with grace, what succeeding means may not be what I want it to mean, and definitely not what the worlds means by success.  For today, it means that I keep praying when I mess up. It means telling my children about love and repentance and Christ's grace, so that when I fail (every day), they too can depend on it to make up the shortcomings in their life.

Tonight we made chocolate chip cookies, and despite using an oft-used, well-loved recipe the cookies spread out into thin, crispy flat-as-a-pancake cookies, and not the loftly crispy-edged, soft interiors that I usually, even with this same recipe, know and love. At the same time as baking the cookies, I was looking through the newest collection of books from the library and read the copy for one called The Prodigal, a ragamuffin story (which despite what I am about to say, am interested to read it - it is by Brennan Manning, and a companion to his The Ragamuffin Gospel, a book about, you guessed it, Grace).  It is a novel about a mega church preacher who has an affair, and loses everything - his wife, child, church, book royalties, and in the bottom of his alcoholic life finally discovers Jesus in his failures, not in his successes.  As I read the copy, I told Avram that what I really need is a novel that talks about someone who doesn't have an affair, or commit any big sin - I am pretty good at not having affairs, or killing people, or general debauchery, and whatnot.  I am generally trying, and always have, to be a good person - I have never stolen, tried never to lie, and have never even illegally downloaded music or somesuch.  And yet, I fail.  A lot.  My life feels like my poor chocolate chip cookies tonight - I feel like I am trying to follow the instructions I have been given, I have tried to be good and to follow Christ my whole life - I have tried to learn and grow and become a disciple of Christ, and yet I feel more like a crispy, hard, yucky chocolate chip cookie than ever.

What about Grace for the good girls who fail?  For people who try and try again, and still feel like they aren't making it?  I cannot speak for others, but for myself, as difficult as these last five years in specific have been, years where I have felt stretched thin like too little butter over too much bread - it is these years where I have been led to ask the hard questions.  Questions of faith, of meaning.  It is these years where I have told God exactly how I feel (which in one memorable moment after Enoch was when I was depressed, lying in bed and crying while praying, and asking, if this is the plan of happiness, then why don't I feel happy!?). It is also these years that I have found the most profound answers to my hard questions. These are the years that I have had my strongest personal revelation ever while doing an endowment session in the temple, where God told me that my sacrifices were sufficient unto him. It is these years where I have learned the most about grace, because I cannot do it on my own any more.  When I felt good enough, I didn't feel lacking.  When I wasn't lacking, I wasn't looking for help - I could not even see my own need.  Now I see my need every day, every hour, and as such, I have at times felt that because I lack, that I cannot come before the mercy seat.  And yet, as I have fully felt that need, I have learned more about mercy, more about grace than I ever did when I was doing better in my life.  Sometimes what I have seen as the greatest failures in my own life, I believe have directly led to my greatest successes in God's eyes - because he doesn't need someone who flawlessly balances housework with scripture study with patience with child care with motherhood.  He needs someone who is accepting His grace. And that, no matter where I am, no matter how many dropped plates I have, I can do.  And in the end, discipleship in Christ is all about accepting grace.

So - discipleship in Christ can be summed up as - it is hard. Life is hard.  Following Christ does not make it easy, but through the whirlwinds of Christ I can be strengthened through his Grace - and that will not lessen the wind, but it will enable me to bend into it and not break. Even though  I feel like I am getting worse and not better as life's trials come, I need to remember that these are the winds that are here, and that bending into them does not mean that I am getting worse as a person, but stronger in the long run. Sometimes the best way we can walk in Christ's footsteps is by crawling on our knees.


  1. You made me think of this song. If you haven't heard it before, it's worth listening to.

  2. I recently had a powerful personal revelation about grace. I am not sure how meaningful it will be to others, but it was pretty life-changing to me. For a long time I have been confused about grace. I knew it was enabling power, but I was confused about when it would be given. I pictured God zapping me with super strength at key moments. I wondered why I didn't feel it all the time, or ever. What seemed like key moments to me never felt miraculously easier. I figured if hard moments were hard, I must not have any grace with me. I was finally crying and praying about this one day, about why don't I have any grace, and how do I access it? Because I need help! And a voice in my head said, "You already have it. I made you that way." Which sounds really cheesy. But I thought about it, and now I think that grace (at least the aspect I am talking about) manifests itself most often in the getting through of hard times. It's still hard, and it feels awful, and slow. But you survive it because of grace, which is always there with you and makes it possible to keep slogging through.
    There are other aspects of grace I have heard people talk about that seem more like the "zapping with super strength" variety. I have not experienced that yet. What I have experienced is the daily, constant, enabling power to get through my life. Thanks to my experience above, now I feel more at peace knowing it is always with me because it is "built in". I am so grateful I know that now.

    Also, at a Q&A with Elder Anderson I went to once, a woman asked how she can find time for personal scripture study when she has lots of young children. I will never forget his answer. He said not to worry about reading your scriptures! When you are raising children, there will be times when it is very difficult to do that. Don't worry. You will get back into the scriptures someday.

    I am currently in the same boat as you with reading scriptures -except I have never been good at it! Haha. Sometimes I feel bad, but then I remember what he said. Other times I remember other speakers who encourage me to try harder, and I do that for a while. Both are good things to do!

  3. Thanks for the thoughts. The best lesson I've heard on grace recently came from a math professor, giving teaching advice:
    From the post: Your accomplishments are not what make you a worthy human being. And grace gives you dignity you don't have to earn. And much more.... Lots of thoughts in my head around this topic.