The Mother Well

[ 6 ] Comments

by RI Editors

profileOur friend and frequent guest author Stephanie Dibb Sorensen joins us this busy week of publicity for her book Covenant Motherhood to share some thoughts that sparked her writing what has become for many the ideal Mother’s Day gift of peace.

In November 2009, I had three small children, ages 6, 5, and 3. I had spent about a year in an intense personal journey to gain a better testimony of my role as a mother. One early morning at the gym, my friend and I had a discussion about the pressures of womanhood and motherhood as we huffed and puffed on the treadmill. My mind sifted through scriptures and I began to put together some thoughts that would later become important ingredients in the book I would eventually write. Many experiences like this one polished my understanding of my divine role. Here is what I learned on the treadmill that day.

Women are pulled in so many directions, our expectations dictated by an ever-demanding society and our own overactive sense of self-judgment. We are bombarded with thousands of skills, ideas, practices, habits, philosophies, and even possessions that are somehow advertised as necessary pieces of the puzzle that is the fulfilled modern woman. Give me a break. Even when we can see through all the smoke and mirrors and try hard to focus our priorities on what we know really matters, we hear spoken and unspoken messages suggesting we should really be doing more with our lives. Making a difference. Making a name for ourselves. We’re told we can be better mothers if we fulfill ourselves in myriad areas of our lives and focus first on our own needs (“Spoil yourself. You deserve it.”)

m-russell-ballard-10Elder Ballard has taught:

Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.

His message refers, I think, mostly to our spiritual reservoirs and certainly also to allowing ourselves opportunity to develop talents and interests. However, society has twisted and abused this point to mean that women should do everything and anything we want to do or are capable of doing, or we’ll have nothing valuable to offer. Here is what a couple Bible stories taught me about the simple glory of being the best kind of mom and woman I can be.

From Matthew 26:

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.

But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.

Now, this woman brought the finest she had and shared it with the Savior. The disciples called it a “waste,” suggesting she should give it to the poor or use it in a way to do so much more good in the world. The Savior rebuked them and reminded them that He was a worthy recipient of her good works. Think of this in terms of taking all our education, our precious time, our talents and resources that could maybe make us powerful or famous or of great influence elsewhere in the world, and yet, we wipe noses and wash feet.

first cold

Like the disciples, others may say or we may ask ourselves, “Don’t you wish you could do more with your life?” Think of the Savior’s assertion just one chapter earlier that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The same account in Luke tells us that she was also a sinner. She was not perfect by any means, but the Savior accepted and honored her offering, deemed it better than any other way she could have spent herself, and he accepted her.

From Luke 10:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Martha was trying hard to do what was right, but she also tried to impose her version of what-should-be-done onto Mary. She even complained to the Savior that Mary should be doing more. He gently pointed out that by simply focusing on Him, Mary’s doing less was actually doing more; a personal relationship with Him was – and still is – the good part.

Society and even well-meaning friends, family and peers may try to impose upon us their standards for our success, but what the Savior measures us by is solely our attention and response to personal revelation from Him as we act out our part in life (credit tabitha). He, and He alone, sets the only rules that matter. We can try to meet everyone else’s expectations, and even our exaggerated own, until we are blue in the face, but it’s not supposed to be that hard, and we might just end up missing out on the needful good part.

So in a world of mixed messages and voices that tell us we are never enough, I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, who asks so little of me by comparison. I feel bold enough to say that what I often see as mundane He will (and does) crown with glory. He loves my children even more than I do, and my heart is enough for Him.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Stephanie’s book, Covenant Motherhood, is available through Covenant Communications.


6 Responses to The Mother Well

  1. Michelle says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for all that you are doing to be a voice for these truths, Stephanie.

  2. Monica Lynn says:

    Wow! That is a beautiful thought to connect the woman’s offering of washing the Savior’s feet with fine ointment to our serving our children with all of our talents, skills, and education. Such a powerful message that whatever we spend on our children is valuable and that anything we have that is being “unused” is not wasted when we forgo other things to focus a bit more on our families. Thank you!

  3. Laura S. says:

    I recently went to a doctor (who I think fancies herself a psychologist, and I’m sure was really trying to be helpful) who had this whole idea twisted into such a mess. Part of what she said was true, which was that I needed to take care of myself rather than to always take care of everyone else at my own expense –I see the wisdom in that, it is exactly what Elder Ballard was talking about. She knew that when women are stressed beyond their capacity to handle it, they are less able to take care of those around them and it often reveals itself in the form of real physical ailments or unhealthy numbing behaviors (like eating too much ice cream or chocolate). She preached a myriad of cognitive distortions that lead to stress and how to overcome them such as letting go of perfectionism, not caring what other people think, stopping the negative self-talk, plus practicing more mindfulness, more gratitude, and participating in activities that truly relieve stress rather than just numb and create more of it. She even mentioned prayer and meditation. I immediately began making connections with true principles and doctrine taught to us in the Church, listing things in my head that helped me relieve stress and feel rejuvenated like meaningful service (in and out of the home), cultivating talents, wholesome recreation, and Temple worship. I truly looked forward to starting to make changes in my own thinking and actions, focusing more on doing things that truly uplifted me and recognizing the things that gave temporary relief, but dragged me down in the end.
    At the conclusion of our discussion, however, I happened to mention my desire to add to our family, since my real reason in coming was to find out if my health was up to the challenge.
    She looked at me like I was crazy (the same look she had when I mentioned I had three boys 5, 3, and 1). She threw up her hands and said that having more children would be completely counterintuitive to what we had been talking about. She didn’t believe that anyone could really have the ability to make the changes necessary to begin this “journey” to a more fulfilled life while adding to their stress by having more children. After all, wasn’t my bucket already full with the 3 I had? (–as if people had children for themselves.) It was an eye opener, to say the least, to see how the world views motherhood (or at least how Satan wants us to view it) as if it were something to check off our bucket list and then move on to bigger more important things. In fact, she even viewed this desire of mine as a form of self-sabotage.
    I wish I had been able to explain better the feelings of my heart, and I wish I had had the words and eloquence to help her understand like you have done both here and in your book. In the end, I took what good I could from our discussion, and I’m grateful for the help that she rendered, but we had to agree to disagree on a few things.

    I think there is a fine line that mothers walk when we set to the important and necessary task of replenishing ourselves. Satan wants nothing more than to pull us back to where we feel overworked and under-appreciated or to push us over the edge where we begin indulging in selfish thoughts and neglecting home and family to pursue personal aspirations and worldly accolades. Two discerning factors include how we feel toward our children: do we resent them? feel that they are a burden or an obstacle to true happiness? And how we feel toward God: are we avoiding Him, are his words uplifting or condemning, do we feel unworthy of His love? If we can answer yes to any of these questions, there is something wrong.
    I think that the answer lies in allowing ourselves to feel God’s love for us and our children. Doing things that help us remember that in all our imperfections, our childrens’ imperfections, He still loves us. We should also love ourselves enough to give ourselves a break, to let go of worldly judgements and imagined measuring sticks, and to do the things that truly help us feel and be our best, so that we can more fully love our Children as He does.

    • templegoer says:

      Laura I am concerned that we might think that the well mother is inexhaustible.

      I believe your doctor’s advice may well be based on what she considers to be in the best interests of your mind and body-she is doing her job. Clearly there are times in our lives when our service and love need to be selfless and endless, times when we have to prioritise the needs of others. These times will come without our inviting then into our lives.
      As a severe migraine sufferer, I have come to realise that there are things that it is really better that I do not do. Stay up all night might be one of them. I am happy to pay the price of sitting up all night with a sick child, but not to volunteer to finish costumes for a pageant or staff the youth’s night walk.

      Many years ago a physician told me that I needed a break away from my children, and that would be the best thing he could do for my health. That really was not possible, but it was shortly after this that I developed migraine, which has severely affected our family life and my ability to parent my children. I wonder now if I should have obeyed that advice.

      My desire for my final child against medical advice has resulted in a lovely young man who now graces our home, my life would have been less rich without him. But the price our family has paid has been terrible, and the consequences for the health, both physical and mental of each family member has been so high that I have wondered how selfish that desire may have been.

      I made that choice for them, and I wonder about my right to have done that. I would say to my daughters to think very carefully before having a child when there are strong indicators that doing so might negatively impact on the mother’s health. The trauma of what happened to me consequently has affected all of us, and he carries the guilt of that with him. A mother’s wellness is not inexhaustible, and we might consider it our first duty to survive in a well enough state to continue to parent.

      • Laura says:

        I agree that if our health (mental physical and emotional) isn’t good enough that we will lack the capacity to take care of our kids as well as we would like. And I agree that sometimes the pressures that come from family, the Mormon culture, and even our own expectations lead some to have more kids than they can handle (or at more frequent intervals than is wise for them). On the other side pressures and influences from the world tell us that that as individuals our worth is diminished if we merely stay at home to pop out babies, and that children must be neglected if there are more than two or three.
        That’s why it is so important to discern what the Lord wants us to do personally. The answer is not always what we want, especially when we are limited in what we think are righteous desires, and sometimes the Lord says otherwise and our choices can be perplexing to physicians. They can even be perplexing to us when we are called to suffer after doing everything according to His will.
        No matter what kind of earthly suffering we go through, no one should feel guilty as long as we are confident we are acting on the promptings of the Spirit.
        I guess I should have made it more clear that I had felt that the Lord wanted us to add to our family, and the doctor appointment was part of the “studying it out” process of my personal revelation. Not that it would change my decision, but so that I would know what I could be getting myself into, if that makes any sense.
        I would suggest that you tell your daughters to *pray* very carefully before having a child if there are strong indicators that doing so may negatively impact their health. There have been many cases of mothers (my own mother included) being told by doctors that they shouldn’t or couldn’t have more children but the Lord had other things in mind and things turned out fine.
        As it turns out for me, the Dr. gave me a clean bill of health. She also acknowledged her biases considering that she has chosen to be a working mother of an only child. We each choose the path that seems best for us, and part of what she preaches is that being true to ourselves will bring us the most happiness. I can mostly agree with that. In my role as a stay-at-home mother I feel I am being true to myself (as well as being in line with my what I feel is my divine destiny and the will of the Lord for me), however I also think that practicing what she talked about –recognizing where my own cognitive distortions lie and learning how to take care of myself even in little ways (or in other words making sure my own well is full)– can make a huge improvement in how I go about it all.

  4. Angie says:

    I love these insights, especially the Matthew 26 analogy. All sorts of resonating going on in my heart right now. Thank you!

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