Will Is Not Enough
Here we are a month into the New Year and there are far more treadmills open at the gym than 3 weeks ago. I think I saw a resolution graveyard by the door of the donut shop too. It’s disheartening how herculean it is to keep goals alive. We seem to think that making up our minds to change or improve is enough to make it happen. We set resolutions, sectioning the long range goals into medium and short range, make charts, set reminders on our phone, and ask our friends to hold us accountable. Still, there they go.
For pretty much all of my mothering career I have wanted to stop yelling at my kids. Constantly I berated myself, recommitted, begged for reminders, looked for tricks and pled with my children to be angels so I wouldn’t yell. None of it worked. No matter how much willpower I thought I had, no matter how much steel in my resolve I could not stop yelling at my children. I loved them didn’t I? I knew that parenting without yelling was a better way. It seemed simply beyond me. I prayed that in some future day Christ would heal the wounds in my children’s hearts from my yelling, as I thought about how contorted my face must be and how the veins bulge in my forehead when reaching that pitch reserved only for my children.
Forced to focus on other areas of myself that needed improvement, I set it down at my Savior’s feet and walked away covered in shame. It made working on those other issues more difficult, to know that I couldn’t master something I wanted so much, but could not conquer.
One year later I know what it feels like to not yell at my children. Not that I’m perfect, there are bad days that I yell; it seems to remind me how much I dislike it. My answer for how to not yell at my children wasn’t found in focusing on not yelling at my children. It wasn’t found in perfecting my children either. I found peace for my tongue not through willpower, but by admitting how very little in my life was in my power.
I relaxed my clenched fingers and let go of the idol of perfection I was building. When I humbled myself, not only through admitting defeat against my temper, but also in several other areas of my life, then I was ready. I became a blank slate on which Christ could write the most simple answer and I would take it because I had nowhere else to go. Much like the man who was told mud would heal his eyes, I became willing to get my hands dirty and walk around with mud on my face.
Before this low place I thought praying often throughout the day was for those who were too weak to manage their lives. Now I didn’t care, I needed God more than my pride. I prayed in desperation every night and morning, and more, when I had never been able to before.
Walking around with mud on my face I had to live the advice: care more what God thinks of you than what others think. Letting go of the opinions of others opened a new vista of choices. Some of those choices made people close to me unhappy. So be it. My mud-caked eye was on God, no one else.
I journaled every day, sometimes twice a day. This resulted in the blessing, and curse, of seeing my emotions and my thoughts more clearly. The ugly parts could no longer be hidden.
My children saw the ugly in me when I yelled. My husband saw the ugly in me when I gave him a cold shoulder when he came home from work. My Relief Society sisters saw the ugly in me when I grudgingly served with a critical attitude. I covered those things up with excuses and justifications: the kids were acting badly, my husband didn’t call to say he’d be late, this person didn’t need my service as much as I needed the time. Despite how others acted, bad or good, I always had a choice.
I never hid the ugly parts from anyone but myself. In hiding them from myself I hid the solution. The only person who can change me is me. The change in my choice wasn’t to stop yelling, it was my choice to be honest with myself and God. Until I had done that, trying to stop yelling was window dressing on a cardboard cutout.
Conversion and progression is not about willing myself into a perfect mold. (Whatever perfect is anyway. Part of that newfound humility was admitting that I don’t have a clue what perfection looks like.) Progression is moving forward into eternity. The only way to do it is with my hand in Christ’s, clinging so tightly that I will never let go and he will never doubt my dependence on him.
Not yelling at my kids is more a symptom of my renewed conversion than it is effort on my part. I stopped yelling at my kids when I was deeply honest, including holding my sins in front of my face until pride fell away. Humility wasn’t heavy and dark, but light because of Christ. I need him literally every hour. When I forget- I skip a prayer, or think I don’t need to journal because I’ve got a handle on my emotions, or begin to think about taking a treat to a meeting so people will like me – I fall again, right in the mud. My eyes are washed clean and I’m reminded of my place beside Christ, holding his hand in deep waters.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.
-Oceans by Hillside UNITED
Much of the personal progression I talk about in this post was accomplished through working the steps of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program and attending weekly meetings. This program is like a guide to using the atonement, one which every person in the church can benefit from; even if they have never seen the bottom of a beer can or known the shame of pornography use.