I don’t know about you, but for me there are days when I struggle. I mean, really, I struggle.
I feel simultaneously over-and-under-whelmed. There is so much for me to do. I’ve got normal chores like laundry, dishes, bathrooms, tidying up the house, cleaning kids rooms, watering the plants, etc. Then there are other chores that ought to be done: organizing closets, cleaning drawers, dusting shelves and blinds, straightening up my garage. And then there are the chores that I’d really like to do: painting my house, putting some tile in the threshold between my bathroom and bedroom (right now, it is just a gap that’s about a 1’x3′ of nothing. Exposed carpet padding and floor. Really attractive), starting a garden.
So far, that’s just the chores. Then there’s exercise, prayer, scripture study, journaling, spending time with kids, making photo albums, blogging, writing, practicing the piano, getting my sunbeam lesson ready, making dinner.
Then there are these goals that I’d really like to do – paint, learn to surf, learn Italian, learn French. Write a book for my brother. Finish my New Testament Study Companions. Finish my brother’s quilt.
Are you feeling overwhelmed yet?
And then, there’s the under-whelmed feeling. I mean, I’m not a single mom anymore. I don’t have to work and support my family anymore. I have a husband who provides me with an excellent life. I have the luxury to get bored. I have the luxury to drop everything and bake cookies. I can make the choice to waste a good half hour on Pinterest without getting into much “trouble”. I don’t have to get dressed up or even shower if I don’t want to. I don’t even have to leave my house. On the other hand, I can spend the day out – doing errands, going to the gym. Whatever. I have a lot of freedom in my life. And I truly know that I’m blessed. This freedom, this lack of accountability on my duties can feel a little “under-whelming”. I mean, who cares about me and my life? I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck.
Another source of “struggling” for me–as of late–has been a little bit of “loneliness.” I’ve moved a lot in the last few years. While the moves have been for the better, moving so much makes it hard to make good, close friendships. I’ve meet friendly people everywhere I’ve lived, but it’s hard when we’re moving around so often. You know how it is.
While I’m not overly extroverted, I’m also not really introverted. In the tests I take, I always find myself right in the middle. In some ways, this sounds nice. But what it means to me is that I need balance. Too much stimulation with friends and activities, and I go crazy. Not enough…and I go crazy. Sure, I have kids, but you know that it isn’t the same as adult conversation. I start to feel a little lonely, and then I’m left by myself with my thoughts, which-when I’m feeling overwhelmed/underwhelmed-aren’t really good thoughts.
I have discovered that I have really negative “mental tapes.” Mental tapes are the things that we say to ourselves over and over again. Often, they are created when we are children…My mental tapes usually have to do with how I’m a failure, and, therefore, worthless. I know that this is a lie, but still seem to say them a lot.
So…when the balance in my life is just right – when I’m neither too over or underwhelmed; or when I’m stimulated but not over-stimulated, then things are great. But how often are life’s conditions “perfect”? Even when things haven’t been “perfect” in life, I’ve been able to at least keep some things in “control.” Either I’m so overwhelmed that I don’t have time to feel “underwhelmed” and bored. Or, I have friends, and then can spend more time ignoring how I’m feeling. In any case, I’m usually able to “control” my feelings by ignoring them and paying attention to some other pressing need.
Right now, because of the aforementioned conditions One and Two, I find myself exposed to these negative mental tapes that I’ve been able to control/hide for a long time. The thing is, they are getting the best of me. It might sound absurd, but it happening. In some ways, I hate myself for feeling so down in the dumps and frustrated with myself when life is so good. In other ways, I’m realizing that this “down time” in life is a good time for me to do a true reckoning of my Spirit. I’m beginning to see that I need to address the mental tapes I have and the underlying factors causing them.
Well, I have been praying for help, and since my mental tapes have a lot to do with failure/worthlessness, I realized that I need to do a better accounting of the good I do. But I didn’t really have my finger on what it was that I wanted to do.
A while later, I was listening to an past conference talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard – Be Anxiously Engaged and I was struck by the idea of being able to answer yes to the question: “Have I done any good in the world today?” I knew that even though I wasn’t going out and feeding thousands of hungry orphans, I was doing good every day. I had a feeling that I needed to do a better job recognizing it.
Finally, I came across the following quote on managing our “vexing feelings of inadequacy”:
“We can make quiet by more honest inventories of our strengths. Most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming ‘outside auditors.’ He who in the first estate was thrust down delights in having us put ourselves down. Self contempt is of Satan; there is none of it heaven.” – Neal A. Maxwell (quoted in Weakness is Not a Sin, by Wendy Ulrich, emphasis added.)
This was Me exactly!!! I realized, I’m not a honest bookkeeper. I let Satan influence my thoughts via deeply trenched negative mental tapes. Self contempt!? Try self-loathing! And of course it’s of Satan. When I get on the self-contempt/loathing train, I’m ineffective, sad, and moody. When it gets really bad, I’ll feel so discouraged about all of my goals/expectations that I’ll often do things that will have obvious and direct negative effects. For example, if I’m feeling really upset about my weight, I’ll start to get so down about it, I figure that the only thing left to do is eat a bunch of cake. Which, as you know, ends up making the problem worse. It’s a cycle. A pretty stupid cycle, but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who does stuff like this.
So – on to the point of this whole blog post…
Have I done Any Good Journal Idea
I decided that I needed to become a better “bookkeeper.” I bought myself a cute journal, and have dedicated it to recording the good I’ve done every day. Every night, I ask myself, Have I done any good in the world today? And I mean this question in it’s simplest sense. I don’t mean to ask myself if I’ve done something that someone else would consider “service.” I mean good. Have I done any good??? And the thing is, usually the answer is yes. For most of us, usually the answer is a loud yes. Yes, I’ve done some good! Yes, you’ve done some good! But most of us don’t usually take the time to recognize the good. We don’t usually take the time to feel the happiness that comes as a bi-product of doing good. Instead, it is so easy to focus on all of the good things that “we haven’t done” yet. I might have done 1,000,000 things, but if there is something I haven’t done, I focus on that one undone thing so much that I end up convincing myself that I’m worthless because I’m not perfect. (What a lie!!!)
So…it’s time to change mental tapes. It’s time to be an honest bookkeeper. It’s time to be like the virtuous woman – who
“perceiveth that her merchandise is good:” – Proverbs 31:18
Or like the Lord who
“saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31
As I’ve begun writing this journal each night, I’ve noticed that I’m able to take greater joy in even what seems mundane.
Have I done any good? Yes. I changed diapers. Imagine what the life of my little one would be like if I hadn’t. I’m doing something that is pretty much despicable. All because there is a little boy who needs my help. He can’t thank me. He fights me the whole time I change him. Yet faithfully, I change his diaper. It may not seem like a big deal, but this is service. I’m serving one of God’s children, and even though it isn’t glamorous in the least, I can take joy in the fact that I’ve dedicated a part of my day doing something that is literally crappy. I can take joy in the fact that Heavenly Father is pleased with my offering to Him, no matter how simple it is.
I’m noticing that when I take time to perceive that what I’m doing is good, then I’m happier. I notice that I’m not failing, but truly helping to build God’s kingdom in the way that I’m capable of doing. And that what I’m offering is good. I add value and I have value. When I take time to recognize my worth, I begin to feel it, too.
So…if you’re in a bit of a “rut”…try out the Have I Done Any Good? Journal idea. Let me know how it goes, too!