A few weeks ago we went to the Bronx Zoo. We got a late start and the zoo was so big that after several hours of seeing animals and exhibits we decided that, rather than drag eight tired and hungry people through the rest of the attractions (which were numerous), it would be wiser to come back another time to see the rest of the attractions. Since our family is so big, it is often cheaper to purchase family memberships to places like this rather than individual day tickets. This was no exception, so we left the zoo, looking forward to a future weekend in which we could see the rest of the sights.
That future weekend arrived this morning and I woke up in a bad mood. I had been up late working on homework for my new classes and I was tired. Children who are excited for a family field trip have no sympathy for moms who are taking college classes for the first time in over 15 years.
I was especially annoyed because I have homework due on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I can’t finish my Saturday work until after class late on Thursday nights. I had worked hard and long on Friday so I could get everything done and enjoy our Saturday afternoon at the Zoo, and evening at the General Women’s Broadcast. On Friday everything was wonderful. On Friday the kids and I cleaned the house, Matt came home early, I had a good run, and I spent several hours reading talks, writing papers, and otherwise immersing myself in the Gospel Principles that are directing my new educational pursuits. Friday was a good day.
Friday night, after the kids went to bed, I sat down to complete my final assignment. It was time to articulate what I had learned in one of my classes during the week. I sat in front of my computer to write the many epiphanies and insights that had flooded my heart and mind over the previous several days.
I don’t think “stupor of thought” can adequately express the complete lack of inspiration I felt. For three hours I sat on my couch, writing and erasing, quoting and erasing, reading over my notes, and praying for enlightenment. I moved upstairs, hoping that the change in scene would help. It didn’t and at 11:30 pm I finally gave up. I’ll just have to find the time to do it tomorrow. I thought. Maybe I can write while we drive to the zoo, or maybe I’ll have some strike of brilliance during the broadcast.
So, I woke up grumpy. I had a long day ahead of me with the prospect of an even longer evening and night. I knew one thing for sure: By 11:59pm, if I didn’t have my paper written, I was going to fail this assignment. That’s a recipe for one distracted and short tempered mama. So you can imagine the kinds of things my husband and children heard this morning as we were trying to get out the door.
“Why isn’t this room clean yet? Where are your shoes? I told you not to put chocolate chips in the pancake batter! Not everyone likes them! Why is this car always trashed? Will you empty the dishwasher already? Someone throw some food at Henry! How are you still not dressed?”
Then it happened. The inspiration I was waiting for. As I was cleaning out the car, I realized that even with with all of my admiration and love for Nephi, when times get tough, I behave far more like Laman and Lemuel.
I never thought my stroke of brilliance would happen while I was doing everything wrong, being exactly who I didn’t want to be. Maybe it wasn’t so much “brilliance” as much as an uncomfortable call to repentance.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said “murmuring is half-suppressed resentment“. I think that sums up my feelings this morning nicely. It’s a hard thing to realize how responsible I am for my own feelings and the way I respond to my unmet expectations. It is always so much easier to blame other people for my anger and frustration than to go through the work necessary to process and release those emotions. I was agitating my own prideful resentment, causing it to fester and grow. Like a blister in a new pair of shoes. Soon it was all I could think about. The Lord’s gentle rebuke is never easy to process, but it’s all I needed to allow the poison out of my soul. “Cutting truth does hurt, but its lancing can drain off pride.” (Neal A. Maxwell, Murmur Not).
I wish I could say that mornings like this one were unique, but they aren’t. Some days I can totally deal with two boxes of cereal being dumped all over my floor. I can stop long enough to take a picture and sweep it up, all the while thinking how much I love my precocious little boys. Other days things like that bring me to my knees. I get tired and frustrated with myself. On those days, the shame I feel is palpable. It’s as if there is a rule written on my heart that says, “You are not allowed to cry. You are not allowed to show weakness or suffering. You, Courtney, are far too fortunate to allow any feeling other than happiness and contentment to enter your heart.” Even though I know that this earthly life is supposed to test and try us, I sometimes feel as if “enduring to the end” means that I’m supposed to handle all of those trials with a smile and a shrug–like a paper towel commercial.
But sometimes this mortal experience is too much for me. Sometimes my inner (and outer) demons become so heavy and burdensome that I can’t keep that smile painted on any longer. What about then? Am I allowed to feel the pain then? Am I allowed to cry out and not be accused of murmuring, being selfish, or stirring up contention?
There was a time when I thought the answer to that was “no”. There was a time in which I foolishly thought the only way to handle pain was to “fake it until you make it”. To be sure, there are times in which going through the motions can help you stay balanced when you are a little wobbly, but when you have your legs knocked out from underneath you, moving forward isn’t an option.
Elder Maxwell, said, “The pleading of one filled with faith…is not murmuring. This is not the murmuring of a superficial follower who is quick to complain and slow to endure.”
There are times in my life that I have cried out in anguish, pleading with the Lord to ease my burden. In those sacred moments I have felt a love and tenderness that surpass all human understanding. Those times in which I have felt closest to my Savior are not when my life is full of sunshine and lollipops, but when I am filled with such heartache and sorrow that I am quite literally brought to my knees.
One of the most poignant passages in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 4:16-35. Nephi’s raw confession is filled with intensely powerful emotions, including depression, fear, shame, grief, anger, and feelings of weakness that you and I can only imagine. Yet Nephi is never considered a murmurer. So what is the difference?
Elder Maxwell again sheds light on this subject:
Of course there are ways provided–formal and informal–for expressing legitimate concerns and complaints, and for doing so productively. These avenues often go unused, especially if one’s real desire is to parade his discontent. Letting off steam always produces more heat than light. (emphasis added)
So it comes down to this. Who do I turn to when I am feeling those negative emotions? Do I turn inward and lean on my own understanding? Do I claim victimhood and allow those emotional sores to fester and rot? Do I allow myself to spiral into a cycle of rage that will neither bring me comfort nor peace; only a bizarre sense of satisfaction at the misery I leave in my wake? Or do I turn to that tender Friend who feels my pain as I do and will comfort me if only I will allow Him to do so?
Elder Bednar, another true Apostle of Jesus Christ has said:
There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
It sounds so much easier than it is. There are times when I think I’m turning to my Savior, but I’m only just going through the motions. My vain prayers don’t bring me any comfort because I’m not really seeking it. It’s only when I have been completely honest with Him and myself, and have surrendered to my own nothingness that I have tasted of his love (Mosiah 4:11). It is those times in which I can understand with complete clarity Alma’s exclamation “there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains… on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:21)
I have felt the miracle of Christ’s Atonement in my life. He has lifted me out of a pit of despair and will continue to carry me through to the end so long as I lean on Him.
The entire spectrum of emotional pain is part of the human experience. When I was a child I had incredibly painful cramps in my legs whenever I went through a growth spirt. As an adult my “growing pains” are very different. My physical body may have completed it’s growth, but my divine nature ensures that my soul will never finish progressing. When I find myself saying, “O wretched [woman] that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities…And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.” (2 Nephi 4:17,19), my challenge is to follow Nephi’s example and say, “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions” (2 Nephi 4:19-20).
I used to be afraid to be honest with my Father. I used to think that my prayers needed to look and sound a certain way in order to show proper respect. When I realized I needed to be real with Him, I was terrified to be that vulnerable, but He held my heart together as I took down my defenses one by one, and it was only then, in that moment, that I was able to feel the full measure of my Savior’s Atoning sacrifice. And what was left of me was not the pitiable piece of trash I always felt that I was, but a powerful and beautiful daughter of God. Our Father wants all of us, warts and all. He wants our pain. He wants our anger. He wants all of our weaknesses. “In any genuine surrendering to God, one says, ‘I will give away all my sins to know thee’. To whom shall we give our sins [sorrows, and anguish]? Only Jesus is both willing and able to take them!” (Neal A. Maxwell, Murmur Not).