Saturday, April 23, 2005

balance

A Balanced Life

Brent L. Top, “A Balanced Life,” Ensign, Apr. 2005, 26

A few years ago, while on vacation, our family encountered some problems with our car. Great was our relief when the mechanic informed us the problems were not serious; all that was needed was a minor adjustment to the carburetor that would allow for a more balanced mix of gasoline and oxygen.
In the years since, I have had many opportunities to see that a proper balance is important not only in machinery maintenance but also in our own lives. A periodic tune-up of our personal priorities and a regular inspection of the direction and desired destination of our lives help insure us against temporal, emotional, and spiritual breakdowns.
Keeping the daily demands of life in balance is one of the great tasks of mortality. All of us may feel pulled in different directions at some time or another. We may even carry to an extreme our efforts to live gospel principles faithfully, thus upsetting the delicate balance of our lives and intruding upon our personal peace and family harmony.
My wife, Wendy, experienced this difficult situation. For years she had nearly exhausted herself, thinking she had to be the perfect wife and mother, the perfect Church member, the perfect neighbor and citizen. Instead of feeling joy, she often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Her frustration was further exacerbated when well-intentioned leaders and friends seemed to indicate that if she had enough faith, she would be able to accomplish all these things. Only after a personal crisis of depression and anxiety was she able to understand fully the source of her suffering. It was a painful time not only for her but for our entire family. We have grown stronger and learned many lessons as a result. But perhaps we could have been spared much of the pain if we had more clearly perceived the need to maintain temporal and spiritual balance.
When I served as a bishop, I discovered that my wife’s experience was not unique. Likewise, Elder Dean L. Larsen, an emeritus member of the Seventy, observed, “I seem to be encountering more and more frequently in my circulation among the membership of the Church, people who are honestly trying to avoid sin, who are really doing their best, as they understand, to live in accordance with the principles of the gospel but who are unhappy, frustrated, and disillusioned to a considerable degree.” 1
King Benjamin warned his people about going to extremes, even in doing good: “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
Maintaining Temporal Balance
The imbalance between the temporal and the spiritual is an age-old problem that seems to be growing worse in our day of increasing materialism. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “Perhaps none need the principle of balance in their lives more than those who are driven toward accumulating ‘things’ in this world.” 2 Moreover, numerous good and honorable causes beckon for our time and energy. Whether selfishly or unselfishly, we may get and spend, hurry and scurry, come and go, and later discover that we have laid waste our emotional and spiritual strength and given our hearts away to things that matter very little in the end. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, paraphrasing Isaiah, warned, “Do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy” (2 Ne. 9:51; see Isa. 55:2).
It is easy to feel that to magnify our callings we need to be continually serving, leading, or counseling. However, it may be that we render more significant service and develop more substantive spirituality by having fewer meetings and activities. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) urged the Saints to return to what he characterized as “quiet, sane living.” 3 More recently Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “Remember, don’t magnify the work to be done—simplify it.” 4 Our lives are out of balance if we allow outward busyness to supplant inner goodness.
In striking a temporal balance, we are often forced to make hard choices between many good and desirable things. For example, varied educational and cultural experiences can be valuable in promoting talents and growth in our children. Church and community service opportunities may provide us with rich and rewarding experiences. But even when considering such noble causes and activities, we must, as Elder Ballard counseled, “remember [that] too much of anything in life can throw us off balance. At the same time, too little of the important things can do the same thing.” 5 It may be that the worst thing we can give our children is the opportunity to participate in an additional sport, music lesson, or other activity that demands money and time away from the family. Teaching our children how to live “quiet, sane,” and balanced lives may be one of the most vital things we can do for them in these frenzied last days.
Sometimes we fail to resist many of the demands placed upon our time because we are afraid such an action might be selfish. Yet the Savior Himself would sometimes withdraw temporarily from the pressing needs of the multitudes (see, for example, Luke 5:16). Surely this helped Him serve others with renewed strength.
To preserve the temporal balance of our lives, we may need to say no to those activities for which we do not have time, resources, or energy. We need not feel guilty or selfish in periodically pulling back to regroup, for there is a strength that comes from sometimes just being home with loved ones.
Maintaining Spiritual Balance
Just as temporal imbalance can affect our emotional and spiritual peace, so can spiritual imbalance have a detrimental effect on every aspect of our lives. To maintain a proper spiritual balance, we must remember that the Lord does not expect us to achieve perfection while in mortality. The unrealistic expectation that we must be perfect in all we do right now actually retards true gospel living and stifles spirituality. When we fall short of our preconceived notions of perfection, we tend to browbeat ourselves with undeserved self-criticism and guilt or to exhaust ourselves with unrealistic efforts to work our way to perfection.
King Benjamin’s counsel not to run faster than we have strength is as significant spiritually as it is temporally, perhaps more so. A key phrase in King Benjamin’s counsel is “be diligent” (see Mosiah 4:27). We must remember that much spiritual growth does not occur suddenly but rather through time and experience. The encouraging message of the gospel is that God does not often require us to perform sensational or extraordinary deeds but rather to try to do better today than we did yesterday. He is mindful of our desires, our determination, and our direction as well as of our deeds.
To maintain spiritual balance, we must frequently take inventory of our spiritual progress. Honest assessment of the desires of our hearts and the direction of our lives can aid us in overcoming feelings of inadequacy. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provided us with this inspiring counsel:
“We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.
“… We can contemplate how far we have already come in the climb along the pathway to perfection; it is usually much farther than we acknowledge. …
“… We can make quiet but more honest inventories of our strengths. … Most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming ‘outside auditors.’ He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.” 6
One of the barriers to spiritual balance is “pseudo-self-reliance.” Robert L. Millet identified the danger of relying too much on our own limited abilities. He said that some Church members who are blocked in their progress and weighed down with guilt “seek to double their effort—to work harder. If the present pace does not eradicate the problem, they decide to run faster. Too often what follows is a type of spiritual diminishing returns—exhaustion and additional frustration. The answer to all problems is not necessarily more and harder work, particularly in regard to spiritual matters. The answer is often to learn our limits and do what we can, then turn to the Lord for assistance.” 7
Applying the Atonement
While my wife was struggling to escape from the cycle of faithful works followed by frustration and discouragement, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to her that what she was demanding of herself was not pleasing to the Lord because she was not allowing the Atonement to operate fully in her life. It is not a sign of weakness to avail ourselves of the Atonement. Rather, it shows courage, faith, and gratitude. The Atonement allows us not only to repent of sin but also to receive an outpouring of the Savior’s grace, which strengthens us when we simply do not have the power to overcome our human weaknesses. It allows the Savior to share our burdens and compensate for our many inadequacies (see Matt. 11:28–30; Ether 12:27).
There is no peace for those whose lives are out of balance temporally or spiritually. They can become tossed to and fro by the winds of discouragement and the storms of frustration. Yet just as the Savior stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee (see Matt. 8:26), He can bless our lives with His calming, comforting, and guiding influence if we will slow down, run only as fast as we have strength, and yet “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ” (2 Ne. 31:20).
Gospel topics: agency, Atonement, obedience, priorities, spirituality
Notes
1. “My Peace I Give unto You,” AMCAP Journal, 1986, 12–13.
2. “Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance,” Ensign, May 1987, 14.
3. “Glimpses of Heaven,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, 39.
4. “The Doctrinal Foundation of the Auxiliaries,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004, 8.
5. Ensign, May 1987, 16.
6. “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 14.
7. Life in Christ (1990), 47–48.

perfectionism examined

As demonstrated in a previous post, I am a perfectionist. It takes great effort and planning for me to have occasional fun mom moments. I'm not exactly the spontaneous type. When J is home alone with the kids, he is a much better mom than I am. He comforts me by saying that this is probably because he isn't with them all day, and if he were, he'd probably run in to the same challenges I face. I don't know.

O.k., here is the down side of being a perfectionist:

-I don't like to start projects for fear I won't do them right or won't have time to finish them.

-I sometimes obsess about things like maintaining my weight, cooking healthy foods, or exercising.

-I tend to not feel happy unless everything (my house, my appearance, my yard) is just right.

-A big one: I feel excessive guilt about not doing everything I "should" be doing. And these "shoulds" are all encompassing and never ending.

-I always feel like I "should" be doing something different, even if I'm doing something necessary and good, like reading to my children (I should be cleaning), mopping my floors (I should be reading my scriptures), posting on my blog (I should be making up Lidia's rooster costume). You get the picture.

-I communicate and demonstrate all of the above to my children. I am filling their little sacks
with rocks that will be as heavy and burdensome as the ones I've hefted all these years.

As you can see, I'm also perfectionist about being a perfectionist. I know that being a perfectionist is not ideal, so I must change it. Well, the real reason I'd like to change is that this perfectionism makes me and others unhappy. Also, it is not Christlike. To be a perfectionist is at least somewhat believing that we can save ourselves. It is negating Christ and his Atonement. When Christ said, "Be ye therefore perfect," I know he didn't mean for me to pursue it this way.

There is a wonderful article in this month's Ensign called, "A Balanced Life." I love this article. I've discussed it with several other women who, like me, have perfectionist tendencies. I think I will post it.

my cool neighbor

We moved into this neighborhood one year ago. A few weeks later, we found out that our neighbors, a friendly retired couple, were moving. I, of course, immediately began stressing. I'd heard some frightening weird-neighbor stories from people in our ward. We had always had positive experiences with our neighbors, but even on our own street in our former neighborhood, not everyone could say the same. Some good friends of ours just down the street had neighbors across the street who stayed up late drinking and smoking in their front yard. My friends assumed these people stayed in their own yard, but in the morning my friends would often find butts and empty beer cans on their lawn! These same poor friends had Jr. high age kids on either side of them who played loud music outside and had lots of questionable-looking friends over to play basketball after school. The family next door to my friends stole a bicycle from some other neighbors. So everything was quiet and peaceful at our end of the street, but at our friends' end: a den of iniquity.

Anyway. I started praying that no weirdos would move in. Then I thought I'd better show that I was willing to except the challenges and visitudes of earth life, so I prayed that I would have the patience and fortitude to cope with any weirdos who might move in. Then I prayed that as long as the weirdos would not pose any physical or moral harm to my family, I would be able to accept them and warmly welcome them to the neighborhood. Do you see the growth I experienced here? J wondered why I was worrying myself with the weirdness of others when I had my own generous portion of weirdness to consider...

Anyway. I needn't have worried, I needn't have feared. Or maybe those prayers found Listening Ears, who knows. We soon found out that a "nice little family" was moving in. They had a 2 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. Soon I made the acquaintace of my cool neighbor, Dina. Dina is Italian. She's a great cook. My kids die for her spaghetti sauce. Her daughter Erin, now three, is Bertie's fast friend. Many times the first thing Bertie says when she wakes up is, "I want to play with my Erin." Whenever they must part ways Erin and Bertie give each other a little hug. Even my older children enjoy playing with Erin and Carl and of course Roxie, the long-suffering black lab. Last summer we spent many hot days hanging out in the neighbors' front yard playing in the sprinklers and kiddie pool.

One reason I love to hang out with Dina, besides her great sense of humor, is that she is not a perfectionist. She does not care about doing things "the right way," nor does she even think there is such a thing. She just does stuff. She plunges right in, fearlessly. And really, what does she have to fear, since failure only brings a shrug and a laugh? I love the easy-going attitude Dina has toward her own imperfections as well as others'. There are other things I admire about her, such as her good parenting. She reads lots of parenting books and tries hard to discipline her children respectfully and with love. But really, it is what Dina is not that I find so refreshing at this time in my life, that she is not, as I said, a perfectionist. I suppose this frees her to be many other good things, if you want to see it that way. Dina is the ultimate fun mom. She gets out paints all the time. She doesn't care if you make a mess. She laughs away mistakes and messes as if she were swatting at flies.

I like being around Dina because I feel relaxed in her presence. I don't feel like she is judging me or trying to figure out if she is as good as I am or whatever it is I sometimes feel with other women. I thank Heavenly Father for sending me this friend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

pool! sprinklers! Europe!

I had wanted to post this yesterday but didn't get the chance. We've had incredibly warm Spring weather! Leaves are out! My azalea has bloomed!

Yesterday I think it must have been close to 80 F. Spring fever took hold of my neighbor and she got her kiddie pool and sprinklers out. The kids put on bathing suits and had a blast. I kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe this is April 18!"

Today there was a lot of rain and it looks like we'll get more. J just told me yesterday that a couple of weeks ago they said there would be no more frost. I wish I'd known that--I would have planted my tomatoes and basil already. Maybe tomorrow.

Now here is some news: I'm going to Europe! I'll be accompanying J on a business trip. He has customers in Stutgart, Germany and Lyon, France. I'm not sure if we're flying in to Paris or Frankfurt. We'll be there 9 days in early May. J's parents are coming to take care of the kids. I'm a little nervous about that, but I'm trying to get over it. I keep telling myself the kids will be fine.

I wish I knew French. I have always wanted to learn French. The only reason I didn't take it in high school is that college-bound kids were encouraged to take four years of Latin, and the French teacher had the reputation of being, um, difficult.

Speaking of the French, here's the laugh of the day:

Go to Google and type in "French Military Victories" and then hit "I'm feeling Lucky."

Monday, April 04, 2005

funny and true

The Rude Science of Experimental Parenting
By Tiffany Lewis

A while back, I was telling a former college roommate about my son’s unusual habit of going to bed with random objects. Each night he falls asleep clutching the beloved item of the day. Yesterday it was my guitar capo and a ruler. In the past he has requested to sleep with the tape measure, the alarm clock, the camera, the vacuum hose, the tongs, a birthday candle, my credit cards, the dustpan and the broom. (I drew the line at the broom.) There is often more debris in his bed than there is boy.

After listening to me, my friend observed, “That sounds familiar. Remember your own bed in college?” Until that moment I’d forgotten, but suddenly the memory came flooding back. My entire semester lived on my bed. Books, papers, notes, and binders were stacked a foot high along the wall. There was a 6-inch-wide swath of mattress reserved on the edge, and that is where I perched for bedtime. I had to sleep on my side to fit.

Looking back, I can’t remember why I didn’t just clear off the books at bedtime. Perhaps I thought the knowledge from those scattered pages would seep into my brain while I slept. Maybe I felt comfort in knowing that if I wanted to read Dante at 3 a.m., he was right there, digging into my shoulder blades.

Whatever the reason, this revived memory only strengthened my argument for Reason #452 on why it’s hard to be a parent.

Like it or not, our children are going to be just like us.

And in all the wrong ways.

We thrill when we spot for the first time Daddy’s adorable blue eyes and our own cute chin. We cringe when we recognize that adorable temper and exasperating inability to finish projects.

“You need to be more patient,” I’ve said to my son more than once, impatiently.

“Such a daredevil!” I say to my 1-year-old, conveniently forgetting that when I was little I ate poisonous mushrooms and dove head-first off the bunk bed.

If my children turn out to be slobs, I have no one to blame but myself and the perpetual pile of papers on my desk. If my kids request ice cream for dinner, it’s because they watched me eat pie for breakfast. Sometimes I wish my kids would run more and read less, but what can I expect when I’m glued to the couch all afternoon reading Pride and Prejudice?

My older son has been terrified of swimming from the first time his toes touched water. The other day my husband tried to shake free of Jackson’s vice-like grip long enough to teach him how to kick his legs. Our son screamed in agony. With a sigh, my husband gave up.

“Oh, Jackson,” he said, “you’re just too much like your daddy.”

We want so much for our children to be better than we are, to rise above our imperfections and be, well, perfect. Isn’t each generation supposed to come new and improved, like the latest upgraded minivan? When do they transcend to that higher plane?

Because all I see standing before me is a mini-me, telling his little brother, “Addison, don’t you dare!” I can’t imagine where he learned that phrase.

As parents, we want to put our best foot forward. But sometimes it takes a lot of two-stepping just to find that best foot. Raising kids and conquering each phase of development is a rude science of experimental parenting. We seem to learn most often through our own gross errors. I had to spank, shout, nag, and bribe my way through the biting phase, only to realize that the best way to handle it was to ignore it. When the pushing phase came along, I tried to ignore it, and had all-out mutiny. And the surefire methods for one child never work for the next.

Sometimes parenting resembles a wild game of pin-the-obedience on the toddler. We scramble around blindfolded searching for the right method, while our children our rally at our heels, mimicking our every faulty move.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up trying to improve my kids. Both of my children have inherited my hopeless sweet tooth. Like a dutiful parent, I went out early week and bought Easter candy, then put it in a convenient location where I could snack on it all week long. On Friday I surveyed the depleted inventory and decided my kids were going to grow up more nutrition-minded than their mother. This (at least for them) was going to be a candy-free Easter.

The next morning, after the health-conscious Easter bunny arrived, my older son ran around collecting plastic eggs. With great gusto he opened the first egg to reveal … a little shriveled prune. Now, to be fair, my kids really like dried fruit, so he was mildly excited. He quickly ate it and turned to the next egg, out of which spilled a handful of raisins. He continued to open the eggs: prunes, raisins, more raisins, more prunes. By this time a look of mild confusion crossed his face. He’s not even 3, but I could sense his little mind knew Easter bunnies weren’t supposed to bring dried fruit: they were supposed to bring jelly beans and chocolate eggs and sugar-coated marshmallows.

With a belly full of sugar-free fare, he looked around in desperation. “More eggs?” he asked hopefully. I realized that my hypocritical attempt at improvement had failed, especially when he caught me later eating a handful of jelly beans — his jelly beans.

If I had to measure my parenting in days, or even weeks, I’d consign myself to failure. I have to think long term. All I can do is try to improve myself, little by little, so that I can be a better example and role model. Because as someone pointed out recently, parenting is as much about grooming grown-ups as it is about raising good children. In the process, we’re raising ourselves. And maybe in the end our children teach us more than we’ll ever teach them.

Which is really okay. My son can have the capo and the ruler. Tonight, I’m sleeping with the raisins.