The Rebuke I was having a hard time paying attention to the lesson--probably because I hadn't done the reading or bothered to bring my book--and my mind wandered so I can't give you the context of the rebuke or what it had to do with anything, but here's the basic gist of what the teacher said: Just because something is hard doesn't mean you get to throw your hands up and say, "I'm done." Especially when it comes to Church stuff. God doesn't approve of quitting.
It struck me because that is exactly what I have done these last few weeks. I've just said, "I'm done," because it was too hard. Too hard to keep up with Christmas blither-blather. Too hard to do my visiting teaching. Too hard to reach out to others. Too hard. Walking away felt necessary and it felt right.
However, the teacher's comment made me panic a little. See, in Mormon culture, saying something is too hard is never an acceptable answer. I think a lot of members consider it doctrine. After all, don't we all sort of know scriptures that say something about strengthening our shoulders and being made equal to our burdens? In my mind, I always figured that meant that no matter what I was asked I was meant to say yes because, if I was righteous, God would make it all work out.
The Problem Things don't always work out. In fact, most of the time things don't work out. Especially not when "working out" is defined as being perfect and awe-inspiring and Ensign article worthy. I mean, I felt I had to forgo the visiting teaching this month because I couldn't find the time or money to make a cute, coordinated gift and card. Visiting teaching, after all, isn't just about showing up. It's about proving you care--which usually means coordinated gift and card. Or three course meal. Or both! That's when you know God is helping it all work out: things look good and appear seamless and come easily.
There's an even bigger problem of all this "working out" business, though. The implication that if things don't work out I am somehow less righteous or less worthy than others. That's why just showing up for Visiting Teaching isn't enough. The cute card and three course meal prove my righteousness and worthiness. They prove that God approves of me. Of course, if it doesn't work out then I am in big, cosmic trouble.
Hence my panic in Relief Society. There were a number of small but hard (for me) things that I had walked away from because it was simply too much. But the very act of walking away was damning because it was tantamount to saying, "I don't believe God can make this all work out and therefore I don't believe I am righteous or worthy. Because I can't do everything I am good for nothing."
(Side note: This kind of black and white thinking is a hallmark of my depression and is incorrect. When I am feeling low, not only do I have trouble making decisions but there are only two alternatives: 1) necessary but completely impossible perfection and 2) abject failure with cosmic implications. Even though there are clear lines between good evil, not every thing in life is all or nothing. There is a middle ground and it is Jesus Christ.)
As I mulled over how good I had originally felt about my giving-up-stuff decision and my real sadness about missing out on things like singing with the choir and going visiting teacher and my panicky, irrational guilt fest, something occurred to me: a fabulous and glowing middle ground of rational thought! God never meant for me to do everything. He meant for me to do only the things He wanted me to do--which, in the big picture, means using my agency to make choices, experience the consequences, and learn. As Joseph Smith said (the link is a little inexact, you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it),
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”
The Lesson I had taken on too much this year and in the process of trying to weed out the good, better, and best, I had given up some things that would have been better to hold on to. BUT,and this is part of the lesson too, things really were too hard this year. Besides being pregnant and trying to sell our house and having to take J off all dairy and having some other family issues pop up, I'm depressed. That really and truly does make things too hard. God gets that. He knows the reasons behind the choices I make and He understands.
The REAL Rebuke Of course, He also knows my eternal potential and He isn't going to fail to remind me that I have a lot of growing to do. Heavenly Father isn't mean but there is a germ of truth inside all my panicky thinking. There is a lot that God expects me to accomplish; He's not okay with my being lazy. God gets my reasons but He also isn't going to take them as an excuse. This is balanced by the fact that He also knows this life is a process of learning and He deliberately doles out weaknesses in order to teach. Ether 12:27 and 2 Corinthians 12:9 make that very clear. It is quite possible that God meant for me to get in over my head so I would have to learn to lean on Him. Striving for perfection on my own negates Christ's atonement and is not in harmony with God's plan. What better way to bring me to back to Him than through weakness? (Side note: Please don't think I think I am speaking for God here. His reasons are His and are probably much grander than I understand. These are just the parts He made clear to me.)
The Goal As with most rebukes from the Holy Spirit, this one came with a suggested goal: Takes this time to get my life in order so that I can be available to do what needs to be done (i.e. what God wants). I think I've only been patching up issues instead of delving into them and finding a long term solution--which will always eventually lead to chaos. I need to figure out why J screams and cries instead of sleeping, so that he and I can finally, after two-and-a-half years, get some sleep. I need to figure out what can be done to solve the reoccurring family issues. I need to avoid extremes or experiments with my depression treatments (just like spirituality, antidepressants are not a black and white scenario). I need to find what makes me stable and accept the fact that I have a mood disorder and it will always need monitoring. (I swear I have to face up to that last one at least once every month--probably when I'm picking up my Rx refill.) I need to get my life to a place where I can , at the very least, do my visiting teaching (with or without a coordinated card!) and actually attend all my Sunday meetings.
Of course, one thing I have learned by this point is that this will not be the only time I'll have to scale it back and regroup. There will be other times when life will overwhelm me and threaten to fall apart but hopefully when that next time comes I'll remember to avoid the black and white, perfectionist thinking of it all. Perfection is God's job. My job is to keep on making progress.