Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"It's Just Too Hard" : a rebuke, a problem, a lesson, and a goal

This last Sunday things were a little bittersweet: the choir sang (and did a fabulous job!) but I wasn't in it, which made me a little sad; Sunday School was spot on, but I probably talked too much so I felt a little embarrassed; and Relief Society was, well, where I got rebuked.

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.


Becca Jones said...

Wow. You looked stressed at church, but I didn't know what to do!

I'm sorry you feel overwhelmed. God doesn't expect handouts in relief society, crafts for enrichment, or cards at Visiting Teaching. In fact, I just want to see you and be near you and have your friendship--that is, in itself, a joyous and wonderful gift for me. The times you've stood and talked to me have been deeply meaningful for me. So it makes me sad that this has been a bad year for you, too.

I think we sometimes forget that depression is a disease. Just like cancer. Do we expect people with cancer to sing in the choir and bring cards when they visit teach? NO. Do we expect them to work on the really important, eternal things? Yah, I guess we do. But so few things are eternal--family. Your relationship with God. I can't think of any more.

We've sure struggled with the mental disorder issue here, too--it's taken years for us to accept that ADHD is like diabetes--you don't expect diabetics to tough it out. Mental disorders are just as physical as diabetes is. And learning to control it--and working on that constantly--is an important, long-term job.

I'm glad you're doing it.

If you ever feel down, come visit my house. You'll feel lots better--my house is a wreck, life is chaos, and we get little done (and that usually late).

<3 for you!

Lacey said...

I always find so much inspiration in your posts. What a revelation! Thanks you for sharing. And, just for the record, I think you're doing great. The balancing act of life is always tricky, but it sounds like your really trying hard to make the best choices for you and your family. And that's what's important. :)

Heathie said...

I love you Laura!
I feel like as members, we spend so much (too much!) time and resources on fluff and filler. Gifts and cutesy little cards on LDS-themed stationary--it's unnecessary! And honestly, those things don't last. (All those cards and things my young women leaders put so much effort into: In the TRASH!) They don't mean nearly as much as a docrtinally based lesson, a listening ear, and a sincere desire to serve the gals you visit. That is what visiting teaching is about. That's my soap box speach for the day.
Pretty much amen to Becca's first few paragraphs.

Heathie said...

(And sorry about all those misspellings and typos!)

Charlotte said...

What a beautiful, soul baring post! I totally know that feeling of not ever being able to do enough and yet thinking we're supposed to try - or at least look like we are. But as you smartly point out (and Becca reiterates) there is a difference between doing what what you are "supposed" to do and what needs to be done and what people really need - i.e. nobody needs all the VT cards & fancy meals & whatnot. Of course the thought that people just need *you* is a scary one too. Sometimes I feel like there's not even enough me for me much less anyone else.

What I wish most for you is that you could feel God's love for you as strongly as you felt His gentle rebuke.

And while I'm wishing... I wish you would talk to me on the phone again. I miss you! The afternoons are long without you in my ear:)

Love you!!

smdc said...

I'll say it again... thank you for being able to verbalize exactly what I feel depression is, does, and makes of me. I don't comment often, but I am grateful for your bravery. It makes me feel less...alone.

Sharon Anne said...

It's interesting I happened onto your blog, I was googling apple chips, and I got you - go figure :-)

All I can think to say first are the lyrics to a song from the 60's, you are surely too young to remember, but here they go...

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.

"59th St. Bridge Song" lyrics, by artists Simon and Garfunkel."

Granted, you felt a nudge from the Spirit, but Satan also chimes in on our short-comings to overwhelm us. Believe me, I've got it down to a science, LOL!

You are a young mom, I've raised 4 to adulthood; I still wonder how I managed it as well as I have.

I too suffer diagnosed moderate to severe depression, in addition to Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

How have I got to this point? Well... yes my genetics, but also heaps of S-T-R-E-S-S, piled high upon myself and the expectations of others.

I'd sure love to see you back up a bit, particularly on "perceived" expectations from so-called LDS and RS social norms.

I am now learning to forgive myself for being only ABLE to do what I can, and stop labeling myself so harshly for what I've literally come to disable myself (I've learned only recently) from "much" of my own doing.

I'd so hate for you to get to the point that your body and immune system starts eventually tackling you, as hard as you try with your schedule.

Most Warmly,
Sharon Anne

P.S. I have improved so much lately (learning marvelous new skills) many which - I never had at your stage in life. I'd love to share them (privately, not publically). Or if you ever need a sympathetic ear, you can contact me through my cooking blog/website above. Plus I have my own "seeking/sharing" inspiration blog too.

Many Blessings!

hobbster said...

wow! You have said just what I feel. I have recently weaned myself off of depression medicine and now I am thinking I still need something because I can't seem to handle even the little thinks anymore. I feel the gentle rebuke almost daily and I am so very greatful for the scriptures that you have included in your post. I can't say that all my "problems" will go away now that I have read your post but I can more clearly understand them. Thank you and God bless you.