For a stake conference this week, I was asked to speak about how my personal circumstances inform how I implement the more home-centered, church-supported balance the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is adopting this year (so if you’re not a member of the Church, this will read very much as inside baseball).
For context, I’m a divorced mother of two children, ages six and two. I’m the custodial parent, but every other weekend
I’m lucky enough to be self-employed and work from home, which for me means I have the flexibility to be a stay-at-home mom and I have an astounding lack of work-life boundaries. Seriously, I am very grateful, but a word I often use to describe how I feel is harried. I feel harried by the pack of hounds that are my responsibilities, and they’re constantly nipping at my heels while I try to keep just a few inches ahead. Sometimes, when I’m particularly harried, gospel things don’t seem urgent. They’re always important, but when I get tunnel vision trying to outrun the hounds, I often can’t see farther than the next meal or deadline or load of laundry. So while some breathed a sigh of relief for two-hour church, I felt dismay and mourned the loss of yet another support in my efforts to raise valiant spirit children of our Heavenly Parents.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea is great. It’s great. It’s great. If I say it again, will I sound convincing? Really, though, I can look at the principles behind the change, and I agree with all of it. The home should be the center of gospel learning, and the home should be an environment where families are learning together and where we have conversations in which we can learn, explore, and be vulnerable with each other. The fact that there’s a curriculum to guide us in creating that sort of environment is wonderful.
But I had my hands full with some semblance of daily scripture study and a weak stab at an FHE every week or two. Or four.
So it should come as no surprise, really, that in the few weeks we’ve had to try this out, I’ve already forgotten once. A couple other weeks we did the bare minimum, reading and discussing only the ten or eleven verses The Friend listed in its progress chart.
Surprisingly, even in that small amount of time, I’ve seen progress. My son is more eager to ask questions during our regular scripture study. My daughter has seen a picture of the First Vision and said, “There is Jesus, there is
So even when I feel like I’m barely managing to make the minimum investment, I’ve seen the dividends, and it makes me want to do better. But that desire doesn’t take away the harried feeling, so as I approach the new curriculum, I have several principles I use to guide me.
1. Take Care of Myself
The first principle is to take care of myself—my knowledge, my faith, my center. Although it’s easy for me to get hyperfocused on being a good mother and ensuring my kids have what they need, I have things that I need if I’m going to progress and have a solid foundation. As I’ve been told many times, you can’t draw water from an empty well, and I need to take the time to refill.
So I try to put in the time on my own. I read the scriptures for each week—when I remember—read through the questions, and spend some time writing things out, which helps me grasp things better. I try to read with my physical scriptures whenever possible because I know my brain studies better that way. Maybe for you, it’s easier to read electronic copies where you can easily follow links for cross-references, or maybe listening works better than eyeball reading.
I recommend that you figure out what works for you—separate from your spouse, your siblings, your parents, whatever—and take responsibility for studying in the ways that are best for your learning. Listen to the Holy Ghost as he prompts you to methods and means that help you increase your knowledge, shore up your faith, and refocus your center.
Myself Time to Find My Balance
Speaking of centers, my second principle is to give myself time to find my balance. Finding the new balance between home and church has reminded me a lot of learning a particular kick at the self-defense gym I go to. In this kick, every part of your body has a job: the kicking leg has particular movements, the foot on your base leg needs to pivot, your hips have to roll over, your hands have a role, and you’ve got to make sure you’re looking at your target. When you get it all right, you make solid contact with the target, keep your balance during the kick and during recovery, and you keep yourself safe while striking. But it can go wrong in dozens of ways.
I can only focus on so much at once. Usually I can, at most, think about two of the many aspects any given time I practice. But as I get closer to mastering one part, the other parts get a little easier. As I learn to pivot my base foot, rotating my hips gets easier. When I rotate the hips, I can make stronger contact with my kicking leg.
This new curriculum is similar. There are a lot of moving pieces. There’s the logistics of getting people in the same room, or at least in contact, right after church or hours or days afterward. You’ve got to find what study methods work best for you and the sorts of questions you and yours need to be answering right now; you’ve got to try to keep your mind in the right headspace for learning and your heart ready for receiving guidance, and so much more.
But we can give ourselves time to find our balance. Maybe this week—or month, or year—we focus on only one or two aspects. As we get better at those, the other pieces will get easier too. We’ll start to find our balance, and it will get easier. And I can be patient and give myself time while that learning process unfolds.
3. Start with Little Things
Since I’m giving myself time to find my balance, I focus a lot on my third principle, which is to start with small things. For me, one of those things is keeping my manual in the kitchen, where I see it often and I frequently have snatches of down time. We also use the color-by-number tracking chart that was in January’s issue of The Friend, because my kids love coloring and art, so it’s a big motivator for them. We keep it pinned up next to our calendar so we can see how the picture is progressing. I also try to read ahead on weekends when I don’t have my kids so I have more awareness of the topics that are coming up.
Maybe for you, the little things are finding a regular time for the curriculum or assigning one family member to be in charge of leading discussion each week. Pick a little thing or two and work on them. Line upon line.1
4. Rely on My Community
Something else that helps me is actually getting help from others, which is why my fourth principle is continuing to rely on and expanding my reliance on my community. Part of the reason why I wasn’t happy to lose the third hour of church was because I was losing some of the help I’d come to rely on from other adults. But I don’t have to stop asking for help just because church is shorter. Some of the other single adults in my ward recommended trying out a once-a-month study group. We’ve done it once so far, and it was wonderful to have my kids around a gospel discussion that wasn’t in church and wasn’t just with Mom. If you don’t think you can do this on your own, then don’t do it alone.
5. Remain Flexible
My fifth principle is to stay flexible. A lot of people I’ve talked to are setting up a structure and hard-and-fast routine, which I’m super jealous of because I’m crazy about routines. So far, I don’t have one. I can’t rely on the extra hour on Sunday, because then I only have every other Sunday to involve my kids. During the week, we’re at the mercy of the hounds that harry me and how fast I’m up to running that day. We don’t yet have a set time, a predetermined method, or a steady record of completion.
And that’s okay! I’m going to stay flexible, because my situation demands it, and as my children grow, they’ll demand it too.
Give Myself Credit for What I Accomplish
Speaking of things that are okay, it’s also okay to give yourself credit for the things you accomplish, which is my final principle. With each effort I make, I try to acknowledge what went right. When Gordon B. Hinckley was the first counselor in the First Presidency, he said these words about a different challenge, but I find them relevant: “I do not ask that you reach beyond your capacity. Please don’t nag yourself with thoughts of failure. Do not set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. Simply do what you can do, in the best way you know how, and the Lord will accept your effort.”2
A couple years ago, I gave up mom guilt for Lent. Which sounds a little self-serving, but hear me out. Guilt that serves a purpose should point out things we have done wrong and can do better. But I realized that a lot of my guilt about being an insufficient mother stemmed from some sort of misguided pride that somehow, if I could find the perfect balance, I was capable of doing it all. But there is no world in which I am actually that awesome. I can’t do it all. I can only do what I can do and give what I can give. Sometimes that’s a widow’s mite, and if that’s all I have to give, I shouldn’t feel ashamed that it isn’t more.
There have been many times when all I’ve had to offer the Lord in my efforts to be a righteous mother is a widow’s mite.3 But I still try to make my meager offering. If this curriculum change had occurred two years ago, I’m not sure I could have handled it. I was so overwhelmed, so lost, so weak from dragging myself through the pain of my divorce. I’m grateful the change didn’t hit me until I’d—more or less—found my feet. But I know some of you here today are in the midst of heavy storms, and this may seem insurmountable.
There’s a song about a storm that makes me cry every time I sing along with it. It’s not a church song, and I don’t know what the writers intended when they wrote it, but when I sing along with it, I’m singing to Christ. I’m singing of the complete helplessness I’ve felt and the new hope I’m getting better at having. I won’t inflict my singing voice on you, but I want to read some of the words:
How long have I been in this storm
So overwhelmed by the ocean’s shapeless form?
Water’s getting harder to tread
With these waves crashing over my head. […]
I know you didn’t bring me out here to drown.
So why am I ten feet under and upside down?
Barely surviving has become my purpose
‘Cause I’m so used to living underneath the surface.
If I could just see you
Everything would be all right
If I’d see you,
This darkness would turn to light.
And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall […]
I know everything will be all right.
I know everything is all right.4
If you are ten feet under and upside down, I know how you feel. I also know that He didn’t bring you out here to drown. The Lord does not give us all our trials. Some are self-inflicted, some are inflicted by others, and some come simply from living life on life’s terms. But through the Atonement, the Lord can sanctify any trial for our good. He can also do more than, as President Hinckley said, accept our small efforts. If all you have is a widow’s mite, give it. Try. Then trust. We will see Him in our lives, whether through increased capacity or through kind neighbors and friends, and our darkness will turn to light. Christ can sanctify our efforts to make them and us more holy. And through His sanctifying power, we can walk on water
- 2 Nephi 28:30
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Rise to the Stature of the Divine within You.” October 1989 General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Mark 12:41–44
- “Storm,” track 12 on Lifehouse, Who We Are, Geffen, 2007. You can hear the band perform the song here.