Thursday, March 24, 2016

Trying Too Hard

I've been a little erratic lately; I have moments when I'm very busy and energetic and have big aspirations and then I have moments of frustration and extreme exhaustion. I bounce back and forth between joy and satisfaction with what I am doing and hopelessness over what I'm not.

I was taught to always do my best. It's a philosophy that was heavily ingrained throughout my childhood and adolescent years. It served me very well when I first left home- in college, I did great in my coursework ad graduated with high honors. In each of the jobs I've held, my employers and supervisors were always very impressed with my efforts. When given a challenge, I have always tried my hardest and it has been a rewarding cycle. It was hard and it was tiring and sometimes I wondered if it was worth it, but the end always justified the means- the late-night projects yielded a good grade by the end of the semester. The hard work earned a fantastic reference or a pay raise or even just a compliment. It has been easy to try my hardest when I had concrete roles with specific expectations and visible results.

My roles have changed. I'm no longer a student. I'm no longer and employee. I'm a wife and mother. I'm a Latter-day Saint with a calling that requires a lot of time and energy. These roles aren't just not-concrete- they are endless in depth and breadth. Anyone can tell you that there are a million different ways to be a good wife, a good mother or a good Mormon. The problem is, I want to be all of them. I want to be the best at everything.

I've never really considered myself a perfectionist. I don't concern myself a lot with my appearance and I'm alright with a few controlled areas of my life that are messy and chaotic. But I do feel this constant propulsion to make things happen. I plan, I prepare, I execute and then I set about planning the next thing, but then I get so worn. I run out of energy and time before I can carry out all of the plans that I've concocted. I want to do everything, but there are just too many things!!!! As my scope of both possibility and responsibility have multiplied a hundred fold in the 5 years since college, my determination to excel at everything hasn't.

I'm struggling to accept that doing your best doesn't mean doing everything. Also recognizing that trying my best isn't the same as being the best. There's an element of competition and comparing that really doesn't jive with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I was pondering this, I realized that as my roles have shifted, my internal paradigm needs to adjust as well. As I read Dallin H. Oaks' talk "Good, Better Best", this line caught my attention:

"It is good to ... fulfill all of our duties. But if this is to qualify as “best,” it should be done with love and without arrogance."
This called me to question: Why do I try so hard? I'm afraid that the answer wasn't very pretty.

I try to do everything I can the best that I can because it brings me pleasure. It's satisfying and makes me feel constructive and worthwhile. To put it succinctly, most of the work I do is with arrogance and without love. I do love my family and those I am called to serve, but that love hasn't been the biggest factor in determining how I prioritize my time and energy.

I need to fully embrace, without bitterness, the fact that what matters most is what I do for others. I'm not saying that I should be selfless to the point of ignoring my own needs or well being. I just need to stop trying to be the best at everything I do and instead focus my attention on trying my best to meet the needs of those around me. Not the service that I want to perform, but the service that others need from me. More attention on others, a lot less on chasing after my own sense of fulfillment.

It's hard to let go of the things that don't really matter- a perfectly clean house, a meal made entirely from scratch, attending every single formal or informal event I hear about, being super frugal. It's hard because such things are tied to my pride. I like the self-esteem boost that comes from a compliment on something I worked hard at. I feel empowered when I can do things that are challenging, even when they're completely unnecessary. I feel a sense of importance when I'm involved in everything and everybody around me. Unfortunately, that's what the Lord needs. He cares about my feelings, but He could do without the ego.

Matthew 10:39 says, "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." So, as I look forward to Easter, my greatest prayer is that I can learn to lose my life. I pray that I can stop putting so much effort into every little thing so that I can begin putting a lot more effort into the few things that matter.

My girls may not be wearing homemade Easter dresses this Sunday. We might just buy an egg-dying kit at the store instead of fussing for hours to color eggs using natural ingredients. My house will probably be a little messy when I have company over for Easter dinner. I might even break down and buy condensed cream soup for the first time in years to make scalloped potatoes. But it doesn't really matter. I need to stop trying too hard to be everything for my own purposes and start trying to just be something for the Lord's purposes.

And finally, since this was a rather somber message and I can't stand being so serious...

Enjoy this funny picture of Micah and Angela doing yoga.
Angela was VERY good at "happy baby" pose.

And this shot of Natalie climbing on Micah as he tried to clean up a spill.

I seriously can't express how much effort it takes to get things done around here with all the constant  "help"

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