Spiritual Strength

Sometimes, I feel like I really struggle with "authenticity". I think because I was raised to be a very private sort of person but I think my natural woman likes to be more open and more willing to share but those two things butt heads and it makes it hard for me a lot of times to share what's really on my mind. I say this, though, as a preface to this post because I want to share some of the spiritual struggles I've been having the last few months and just hope that I can spit it all out in a way that not only makes sense but semi-accurately captures the feelings I've been having. And I don't know, if anyone still reads these posts, maybe it can help you out if you've been feeling the same.

Since around last summer I feel like I've been in a spiritual rut. I got lazy with daily prayer, hadn't really picked up the Book of Mormon in a hot minute either, was having a hard time feeling comfortable in garments in the middle of a scorching summer while being very pregnant, not to mention trying to find clothes that covered my bump AND garments and didn't make me feel even more hot and/or ugly, and I felt like I was constantly bombarded on social media with friends and just other women who had given up on wearing garments all together. 

Now, I know wearing garments and your commitment to that is personal and honestly the choice to wear them has to come from within and your own personal testimony. But seeing so many women just not wear them was really getting into my head and making me start to question why I was wearing them. It would be so much easier to just give up on them too. I would be more comfortable and I wouldn't have to think about my clothing choices as much. I mean, if other women could still hold on to their faith, be active church goers, etc and not wear garments...why couldn't I?

I think that's where/when I started drifting off into my spiritual rut. Instead of focusing on my own faith and testimony I was focusing on the faith and testimony of others, which, to be frank, was none of my business. This constant comparison game I was playing with my level of commitment and the commitment of others slowly started to chip away at my spiritual strength. By the time Noah was born I had walked myself right into a spiritual desert. Where once there had been green, grassy valleys, trees, and flowing rivers of faith there was now only dry crackling dirt. 

Fast forward a few months of struggling to find my way back to my grassy valleys of faith, and most days struggling to even have the desire to find my way back, and it was the new year. I was taking stock of the last year and what I would like to do with this new year and all I could think about was how stuck I felt with where my faith was at. I made it a goal for the year to strengthen my faith in the Gospel, and all the covenants I've made as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

Well, a week into doing absolutely nothing to move forward in strengthening my faith I found myself sitting in my car on a Saturday night thinking about how I had a Sunday School lesson to plan for the next day and it was absolutely overwhelming me. I was sitting there just telling God, "I can't do this. It's too much. I can't be a new mom AND a Sunday School teacher. It's taking me all I've got just to get me and my baby ready in time for 9am church and half the time we aren't even on time. I want to give up on my calling, Heavenly Father. I'm going to give up on it. Tomorrow I'm going to talk to my bishop and tell him I can't handle the calling anymore." As I was sitting there thinking these things it dawned on me that I was sitting in a brand new car, breathing in that delicious brand new car smell. What a huge blessing. Then I thought of my sweet Noah and how healthy and strong he is. Another blessing. I then thought of the fact that I was just returning from the mall where I had just purchased something or other for myself. Another blessing. And all I could then think about was how selfish I was being. I was so willing and happy to accept blessings and selfishly demand more all the time, and yet I couldn't even give Heavenly Father enough time to plan a lesson. So, I went home that night, planned my lesson and decided that I'd continue on with my calling. 

Yet another week went by, though, and, beyond saying half hearted nightly prayers, I still hadn't made a single change in my daily habits to strengthen my faith. I found myself on a Friday afternoon in full on shabby PJ mode, with all the intention of making some time later that night to plan my Sunday School lesson, when Mitch called to remind me that we were feeding the missionaries in an hour, and we would be feeding TWO companionships (four missionaries in total). This put me in a tizzy because I realized that I now had an hour to get myself dressed and semi-presentable, cook a large enough dinner to feed FIVE hungry guys and myself, and tend to a now very fussy Noah. All thoughts of planning a lesson had gone out the window and at some point during the chaos of prepping dinner while soothing Noah and trying to hide my dirty hair under a hat I stopped in the middle of the kitchen to just cry in frustration/anger. Why was I doing this to myself? I didn't have to do any of this. I didn't have to feed missionaries. I didn't have to plan lessons. I didn't have to wake my baby and myself up earlier than necessary on Sundays to make it to church at 9am. I just plain old didn't have to do any of it.  

In my moment of frustration I just stood there thinking, "Heavenly Father, I'm hanging on by a thread here. I'm so close to giving up on everything. Life would just be easier if I gave up on my faith. If I just let it all go and let it float off into the distance like a balloon drifting off into the sky. I wouldn't have all these commitments and responsibilities and I could just spend Sundays sleeping in with my baby, snuggling, and doing just whatever. I'm hanging on with all I've got but I don't know if I want to anymore. Give me something. Anything." 

Well, needless to say, I finished cooking dinner, Noah eventually calmed down, I got some clothes on and we fed the missionaries. Did I feel spiritually reassured? Not particularly, yet, but the world didn't come crashing down around me like I felt like it might in my moment of frustration. 

That Sunday I had an awesome spiritual experience, though. I had been feeling throughout the week that I needed to read this talk but had been ignoring the prompting and telling myself I'd read it later. Well, during sacrament, the feeling came again so I decided I'd finally listen and give it a read. As I read, I came across these lines from the hymn, Who's on the Lord's Side?, "Who's on the Lord's side, who? Now is the time to show." Those lines hit me like a ton of bricks. Was I on the Lord's side? Was I showing it? Honestly, if I looked at the way I'd been feeling over the last few months the answer was no. I was not on the Lord's side and I wasn't showing it. Did I want to be, though? YES. Something about those lines just struck a chord in me and reminded that no matter how much "easier" it would be to just give up on church going, callings, garment wearing, and just faith in general, the covenants I had made in the temple, that came with the promise of being with my Mitchel and sweet Noah for eternity, were much too beautiful and important for me to ever let go of. 

It's like President Monson once said, "The saving ordinances we receive in the temple that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high are worth every sacrifice and every effort".

I left church that Sunday feeling more comforted and ready to continue on even if my faith still wasn't where I wanted it to be. That Tuesday one of my visiting teachers stopped by to visit. I had completely forgotten that we had agreed to meet up so the visit felt very much unexpected. We chatted briefly, she shared the message for the month and per-usual she asked me if there was anything she could help me with. I was just going to say my usual "no thanks" but I felt like I should share some of the struggles I'd been having. 

In a very unlike me manner, I opened up about how I had been feeling like my calling and church going had been feeling like a burden, how by the time I had gotten house-work, work-work, and caring for my Noah done I felt like I had zero time or energy left in me to give to God. 

Instead of judging me or just telling me to keep trying, she surprised me by telling me that she had been feeling the same way when she had first been called as Relief Society president a few months back. She shared some of the experiences she had had in the last few months and her testimony of how when we put God and the Gospel first in our lives all the other things that seem to stress us out just seem to fall into place. And a lot of times they fall into place a lot easier. 

Maybe that sounds simple or cheesy, but in that moment that's exactly what I needed to hear. Before leaving she invited me to give it a shot. To try putting God first and see how all the other things on my plate would fall into place with more ease. 

Well, that week I prioritized planning my lesson over other things, and coincidental or not, that week I really did have more spare time than usual. When Sunday morning rolled around, though, waking Noah and myself up in time to get ready for 9 o'clock church wasn't any easier and I found myself once again grumbling and just feeling like going to church was so hard. 

As we're sitting in sacrament, me feeling shabby, disheveled, and tired and Noah fussing up a storm I started getting those "this is too much" feelings again. My parents, who are in our ward, offered to hold him for me during sacrament and I started paying closer attention to the talks being given. I can't remember quite what was said anymore but it really touched me. I think my mom could see that I was feeling a little overwhelmed so she offered to take care of Noah for me for the remainder of church so I could give my lesson, and actually be present during Relief Society. 

Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible to be mentally/spiritually present during church when you have a baby but it is a little more of a challenge so my mom's offer couldn't have been more appreciated. I gave my lesson without interruption, and was reminded why I love Relief Society. During the lesson one of the sisters shared how she too had been struggling lately and feeling overwhelmed with motherhood but as she had prayed throughout the week she had felt reassured that there was no greater or more fulfilling role she could have in her life than her role as a mother. Something about hearing her share her feelings and testimony really struck a chord with me and helped me realize that I wasn't alone in my feelings. I had a room full of sisters who were also mothers who could relate, and give me encouragement. It also made me realize that unlike the sister who had turned to God in her moment of frustration I had been turning away. I had been letting simple tasks overwhelm me to the point of wanting to give up and just throw in the towel.

Sometimes giving up seems like the easier choice but when you think about how The Savior has promised that if we endure to the end, faithfully living the gospel, He will hold us guiltless before the Father at the Final Judgment giving up really isn't the easier choice. How awesome and simple is that promise? All we have to do is hang on to the end, living the gospel, which promises us an eternal family, and we'll be guiltless. Really, when you pause to think about it, it really is an awesome thing! Is it hard to remember sometimes? Heck yeah. But it's awesome all the same. And honestly, when I think about it that way, I'll take giving up on some free time and sleep every week for the chance at eternity with my husband and baby. 

Now, I know this post is already super long and maybe all these thoughts and experiences aren't even making any sort of sense but I just wanted to wrap it all up by sharing some quotes that really spoke to me. The first was shared on the Q.Noor instagram account and really helped me realize that I didn't need to feel embarrassed by the questions, doubts, and difficulties I had been having with my faith. I could use them to help drive me forward and strengthen me. "I think we all feel some tension between our religious convictions and the secular times in which we live. In one way or another, modernism invades and unsettles our thinking, perhaps our thinking about our fields, perhaps our personal beliefs. What I hope we all realize is that this tension is not to be suppressed or regretted. Unanswerable as some questions are, we need not lament the discomfort they bring. The strain of believing in unbelieving times, is not a handicap or a burden. It is a stimulus and a prod. It is precisely out of such strains that creative work issues forth. And we can take satisfaction in knowing that we are in this together." -Richard Lyman Bushman

These next couple quotes are from a book that Mitch got me for Christmas called, "When Heaven Feels Distant" by Tyler J. Griffen. Before I share these quotes I just want to say that I am so super grateful for a husband that instead of judging me for my struggles does his best to quietly help me. During these past few months I shared with Mitch all of these feelings and every step of the way he was a comfort to me, and offered a hand to hold. And it seems like it's becoming a trend in our marriage for Mitch to hear my struggles and answer with a book. Maybe that seems kind of strange but I really love that he does it. It shows me that he cares, he's listening, and offering me advice in the best way he knows how, through a book. Which, coincidentally, is the best way I receive/absorb advice. 

Anyhow, here are the quotes. "Elder M. Rusell Ballard taught, "We are on the old ship Zion...God is at the helm and will stay there." The test is to stay in the boat with the Lord, rather than assume we can do better by abandoning ship and trying to swim to safety on our own. Human tendency causes us to panic and become overwhelmed when difficulties mount. Often, our knee-jerk response is to question God's motives, concern, and love for us as we ask, "Why does the Master sleep?" Just as He was near His disciples throughout the tempest, He is never far from us, especially when our personal storms rage. Jesus's presence protected them from drowning, but it did not protect them from getting soaked and stretched to their limits."

"Like Jesus, rarely are mothers or fathers asked, "How can I help you? What do you need?" And yet, despite limited opportunities to have quiet connection with the Lord, they still find ways to address the myriad demands life requires of them. Could it be that considering our limited time, energy, and abilities, these feeding-the-5,000 moments are in fact heaven's way of connecting with us?"

Both those quotes described perfectly everything I had been feeling these past few months. I feel ready and refreshed to keep going. To keep enduring to the end. To not give up and take the "easy" way out by quitting. 

If you made it all the way to this point in my post I congratulate you, haha, and I hope something in here spoke to you if you've been feeling in anyway the same way I was.

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