Did you know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to bring joy and peace into our hearts? Then why do I leave church each week dragging and bleary eyed? I barely make it through after-church-lunch before collapsing into my bed. Those three hours are easily the most intensely trying part of my week. Wrestling kids, taking out screaming babies (oh, but we don’t want her to get used to going out in the hall, so bring her back in. . . back out. . . back in. . . ), “just one piece of bread! Put that handful back!”, sharing time handouts, crying toddlers not wanting to stay in nursery. . . And the most exhausting part of it all is facing it with an artificial smile that makes me look totally together and unaware of the spit up all over my front, while I casually chat with other people surrounded by screaming children. And that is just at church. What about the daily obligations of being perfect? It wears people out.
Growing up in such a comprehensive culture, church impacts every part of our lives. But the joy and peace is usually squashed to death by the unrealistic expectations that we adopt thinking that they are part and parcel of the LDS doctrine. Good news! They aren’t!!! Most of the things that we do because we think it is part of being a faithful member of the Church are self-imposed, based comparisons with those around us. A helpful exercise is to think–would I still think this was important if I lived in Siberia, or Peru, or Tokyo?
So here are two lists: the first details doctrines that are important to have as the foundation of your life, your expectations, where to spend your energy. The second is a list of cultural activities that have become intertwined into the Rocky Mountain LDS culture (and spread throughout the world, thanks to graduate school programs). They are not the doctrine. And if you are feeling worn down by everything that feels like an obligation, don’t blame God for the ones you’ve chosen yourself. But good for you, if you want to do them.
Doctrines (these things matter to God and to you)
- Faith in Christ
- Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
- Temple Ordinances
- Weekly Sacrament
- Priesthood power
- Prophet and apostles
- Divine Nature
- Family is central to the Plan
- Temple Marriage
- Scriptures are God’s Word
- Plan of Salvation (we are here for a reason)
- Christ came and will come again
- Restoration of the true gospel
- Love and serve others
If we focus our lives, energy and time on these doctrines, we will feel the promised peace and comfort from Christ. When we focus on the cultural things that weigh us down, these doctrines get lost. Here are some examples:
- I should have lots of children
- I should have them really close together
- Poverty is a virtue, I shouldn’t want a nice life.
- Everyone has large, beautiful houses, I should have one too.
- Home schooling is the best choice.
- Only homemade bread, pasta, jam, tortillas, yogurt, granola are acceptable.
- I should have flawless hair and makeup.
- I should run a marathon.
- The most amazing moms have home births.
- I have to breastfeed my babies.
- I should not work.
- Cloth diapers are the best for the baby and the planet.
Good for you, if you do these things. If you can do them while feeling peace and joy from the gospel and not let them consume every bit of your energy. But they aren’t required. God doesn’t care if you run a marathon or not. He wants you to work if that is what is best for your family. The energy required to home school might drain your spiritual energy to read and pray daily, even if you feel like it is the best choice. Just because other people enjoy doing them doesn’t mean that you need to.
What I have found as I have looked more closely at my life and my daily energy consumption, is that when I focus on reading my scriptures and praying, getting to the temple regularly, going to church, being kind and loving to my family; when those things are in order, He inspires me to do something more–and it is always something that I come to enjoy. Running can be a wonderful release of stress and give great health benefits. But only do it if you enjoy it! Playing volleyball or doing kick boxing can do the same thing. So can yoga. Fill your life with the extra things that you love , one thing at a time and don’t compare yourself with others. Live your own life.