Long, Draining Lessons

teenagers-studyingOne of the basic ideas taught in the LDS church is that mortal life exists because there are lessons that can only be fully learned by experience. To me, this explains many of the possible reasons why God doesn’t reach down, remove the suffering of the innocent, punish the wicked, and just “set things straight.”

Many people have written many powerful, uplifting words about the “big things”: sudden illness, death, extreme loss (divorce, job, etc.), isolation and rejection, and other things that suddenly turn life as we have known it completely upside down, leaving us to wonder if we will ever find a way to pick up the pieces and move on. Yes, Heavenly Father is intimately aware of us in those times, and He is only a heartfelt, earnest prayer away. Even in those deep, dark times, He is ready to comfort anyone who is willing to listen to His guidance and follow His instructions.

For me, however, some of the deeper trials are less visible to anyone who looks at my life. After all, having survived divorce and single motherhood, I now have a fabulously loving husband, more disposable income than I have ever enjoyed before in my life, a job doing something I truly love, friends, and a strong testimony that the things I believe are ultimately true. Yet, those same blessings can also be my trials.

To have all of these wonderful things (and more) in my life, I find that I have to devote a lot of time to maintenance. The house has to be cleaned, workouts have to be completed, lesson plans and professional learning need my attention, church callings require my time and efforts, friends need contact, etc. Without balance, my blessings can become nothing more than draining chores. I have to stretch to make time for my husband, and dreams like writing music aren’t even on the back burner — they’re waiting on the counter, and I’m hoping I can get to them “before they spoil.”

Compounding the issue is that I’ve prayed for guidance to simplify my life and asked what elements I should just let go. The answer has been to keep all of it and stop worrying.

What? Seriously? By the end of the week I am so physically and emotionally exhausted that I can feel how close I am to my breaking point, and I’m just supposed to keep going? If God really loves me, wouldn’t he realize that I need a chance to take a break? Wouldn’t he want me to have time to stop and enjoy life? Am I being punished for something?

You see, for me, it is easier to humble myself and recognize that God is helping me grow when it seems like my whole world has suddenly crashed and burned. These long term, daily grinding, mundane routines just look like me making poor choices and using God as an excuse. Surely I could fix it, right?

But what if Heavenly Father really is (as He has promised) intimately aware of how worn down I am, how discouraged I feel, and how much I long to be able to rest and take a break? When life feels more like torture than joy, what could He possibly be teaching me?

  1. Walk by faith. I have many times born witness that I know, through spiritual means, that Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, know me and love me. I have testified that they both are only looking out for the eternal best for each one of us. If so, then following the principle, as He has advised, of doing what I can each day and leaving the rest in His hands will work. All will be well.
  2. Endurance: To borrow imagery from one of my hobbies, to be able to run 15 miles and hour (a 4-minute mile) for even two minutes would be incredibly amazing. But I would instantly recognize someone as being a far superior athlete if they could maintain that pace over the course of a 26-mile marathon. So it is with spiritual things: to be able to walk with faith and “stay strong” during those sudden, traumatic events that life throws at me is amazing, but to be able to sustain that faith and dedication throughout every moment of my life — good and bad, joyful and painful — shows a much deeper spiritual maturity.
  3. Temperance: Every human being experiences emotions, and the strong ones have been historically been called passions. Because these passions are powerful, I have found it is easy to live life simply reacting to them. Of course, this leaves me susceptible to handing over my power of choice to anyone or anything that can arouse strong feelings in me. Temperance preserves my God-given power of choice. I learn to use my emotions as feedback from the world around me, but I step back far enough to be able to decide how I will handle it. If I am angry, I can refrain from yelling or typing something I will deeply regret, and instead think about the core issue that is causing the emotion. I might even be able to choose to just let it go, if I decide that I can live with it and that leaving the core issue alone is best for another person.

So, I stand by my oft-stated beliefs that there is a God in heaven, that He really and truly knows each and every person on this earth intimately, and He honestly loves and wants the eternal best for each one of us. This also means that I affirm that even bad things, deep and dark trials, and mundane routines are given and allowed in our lives to teach us. I also suggest that a better choice than adopting a “why me” attitude is to choose to look for the lessons that God wants to teach, making it our business to learn them. I have found learning the lessons brings joy.  After all,

Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25)