A hard knot of anger and discouragement accompanied me to my church meetings yesterday morning. Burning bright in my recent memory were the images of two of my three children cowering. On two separate occasions in the past 48 hours, each had witnessed Mother’s fury–one because he had thrown a fit in public (my fit, in response, took place in the privacy of our car) and the other because she absolutely insisted on wearing something to church that I said didn’t match (and instead wore something that I absolutely insisted did match). I could have been yelling at myself when I said, “I’m so tired of your stubborn attitude!” Unless you’re a bully or a masochist, you draw no pleasure from the sight of someone cowering before you.
Even my husband, I realized as I sat on a church pew and refused to make eye contact with anyone, had received an unfair helping of my anger this week.
As I settled into my feelings of justified anger at myself, I decided I didn’t want any more good things to come into my life because I would just find a way to mistreat those things and people too. Why in the world am I having another child? Did I think I was going to get it right this time when I’m clearly so good at getting it wrong? Great, another life I’m going to screw up. I felt angry at God that he kept giving me opportunities to screw up.
I wondered if there was an honorable way to have my primary roles in life–that of wife and mother–rescinded so that someone else could take over and get it right before the damage I’d done became irreversible. When the man on the pew ahead of me turned around after the meeting to shake my hand and heartily congratulate me on such a delightful family (my toddler had kicked him repeatedly), I shrugged and offered a grumpy, “You can have them any time.”
I had read some potentially helpful words during the week in a church magazine and then in a scripture assignment. They both had to do with the atonement of Jesus Christ, or in other words, the gift that Christ offers us because he paid for all of our sins, weaknesses, pains, and sorrows when he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then gave his life on the cross. His resurrection completes that gift because he overcame death and provided a way for us to eventually do the same.
I decided that gift didn’t apply to me at the moment because what I was experiencing was a good sharp kick in the rear from my conscience saying, “You screwed up. You should feel terrible. Let that terrible feeling keep you from screwing up again.” Anyone who saw my miserable expression could see that this behavior modification strategy was working wonders. And I didn’t really care if pregnancy hormones, poor sleep, family stress, and mental health issues were magnifying that voice. I deserved every punishing bit of it.
I busied myself through the second hour of church (we believe that eternity begins with countless meetings).
And then the third and final hour arrived. My last duty of the church day was playing piano for the opening and closing of the combined men’s and women’s meeting while the group sang hymns all about coming to Jesus to rest from our burdens. I refused to take any of the words to heart. They were meant for someone else. Someone who wasn’t ruining the lives of innocent children and an amazing husband.
And then the torture began. The already stuffy room was crowded since usually only the women met in there, and now men in their suits from last century had joined us. I was trapped in one corner of the room at the piano, but I had a whole bench to myself while everyone else squeezed uncomfortably close to one another in padded folding chairs. I not only occupied the hardest seat in the room, it was also the hottest seat. Everyone faced me in order to see our presenter, who in turn, blocked my only exit. He was ready to lead our discussion about Jesus Christ as our advocate, as the one who pleaded our cause, and I was trapped.
I dutifully scrolled to the scripture verses I’d read ahead of time. I planned to stay aloof, perhaps share a couple observations from my reading and remain otherwise unaffected by the discussion. I didn’t need anyone watching my heart soften since that usually involves tears.
I had sat through a meeting a couple years before in which this presenter, who is our stake president (the leader over several congregations in our town who receives divine inspiration on behalf of everyone in those congregations), had set aside his prepared comments and said he felt strongly that one person in our congregation needed to hear what he would say next. He shared a story I’d heard many times before (and I admit, had scoffed at because I thought it sounded unbelievable that a person would get up after falling down so many times in a race–isn’t there a point when you realize you just aren’t made for racing and you just quit?)
But the stake president had been speaking to me. His words could have been meant for anyone, and yet they hit me powerfully and personally. I had had a particularly rough week with my son–who miraculously sat through the meeting like an angel that day so I could actually listen to this talk–and I didn’t think I could brush myself off and try one more time. I had fallen flat on my face over and over as his mother and figured my case was hopeless. My son and I would never feel close or harmonious. I thanked both my son and our stake president after the meeting for being answers to my silent prayer.
So now whenever our stake president is going to speak to us, I know that behind the scenes the Lord has let him know if I’m needing a particular message that day. And I knew that today I needed help, but I silently pleaded that he wouldn’t go there. That his words wouldn’t have the desired effect or else I’d be crying in front of everyone and trying to play the piano through blinding tears. Also, I had no Kleenex handy. My toddler had used them all up spitting out food she gagged on a few minutes before the mother-son tantrum.
But apparently Jesus wasn’t pleading the “no public tears” cause for me.
Earlier in the week, I had started into an article relating to the first mortal parents, Adam and Eve. I got as far as “sin, misery, and children help create the context for learning what joy means—a process made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (from Sept 2015 Ensign). Because of having kids, I concluded, I was now much more prone to mess up and be unhappy. Great.
I hadn’t gotten any farther into the article because someone had started crying outside the bathroom door.
Now it was my turn to cry. Someone had pointed out in our discussion that the one accusing us is not God, but Satan. In Revelations 12:10, he is called our accuser. I had never heard that before. And the Spirit (the Lord’s quiet voice that communicates with his children) said to me, “A guilty conscience is not who is accusing you, and I am not accusing you.”
The sudden sweetness of that comfort brought tears to my eyes, and I found myself wiping tears with the sleeve of my cardigan and hoping that I had met my tears quota for the day.
More tears threatened when our presenter said something about Christ being our advocate on a daily basis as we make the same mistakes over, and over, and over again and think we can’t possibly qualify for the Lord’s help anymore. [Stop saying things I can identify with!]
I had a few minutes to compose myself while we watched a video I had seen twice before. I knew the line that always got to me, and I was determined to look past it to the moment when the just-rescued brother and his rescuer flop down in exhaustion. I always think, “Please, for the sake of my nervous disposition, get away from the edge of that cliff!” A little humor usually eases the tug of the Spirit on my heart.
By the end of the video, I was wiping more tears. Darn it.
As the clock wound down to noon, and the end of the meeting drew near, I became seriously fascinated by the doily-like table cloth on the table between me and our presenter: How many holes did this particular line have? And was the pattern consistent between this segment and the next? Despite my efforts to distract myself, I could hear our presenter saying those dangerous words: “I know the time is short, but I feel strongly that I need to share one last thing with you.”
But I’ve almost made it through! You’re about to disrupt the calm in my storm!
And then he said the words I had resisted all this time. That I’ve resisted over and over again as an imperfect and rather normal mother: “The atonement of Jesus Christ is so much farther reaching than we sometimes realize. Not only does it cover all of our sins and mistakes;” [please just say now that it covers our pains and sicknesses so I can hold my tears in and play the piano..please don’t say] “it also provides healing for those who are hurt by our mistakes and sins.”
In an instant, the images of my children cowering before me transformed into ones of forgiveness and rebuilding. My time had come to shine. I did not need to cower before my accuser any longer. No one was going to stand between my children and the love I have for them.
I don’t know how I got through the closing hymn. Some nice older gentleman tried to tell me afterward how much I was improving at the piano, and I nodded my thanks while gathering up my things and trying to flee the room while two other well-meaning people tried to ask me if I was alright. One even asked me if I had a cold because my nose was red and runny. Oh, dear, sweet friend, if I try to explain my “cold,” my whole face will crumble into a cascade of tears and slime. Just assume I have allergies and hand me a tissue.
It may not seem like much, but today I tried to finally listen to what my kids said to me. I tried to look in their eyes instead of busily attending to endless tasks. I still lost my temper and put myself in time-out. I still felt completely inadequate as a wife and mother. But I no longer felt hopeless. And that helped recharge my humor a little, my vision for the future, and I even went shopping with my daughter and let her inform me on her fashion sense so I could be less stubborn about matching clothes my way.
If it matters to her, it matters to me. And if it matters to us, it matters to our Savior. Just be glad I didn’t title this post “Shopping with Jesus.” I have never been a big fan of this parable of the bike as it relates to the atonement; and this video of the little girl working so hard to get her bike and then riding it home without a helmet didn’t really improve my opinion. But that’s where I come up short and Jesus is still there ready to ease my mind…and my nervous disposition.
(I must be on a Simon and Garfunkel kick. Enjoy Bridge Over Troubled Water, courtesy of YouTube.)