As I sat in the congregation that Sunday morning, I felt completely out of place; more like a fish out of water than a guppy swimming peacefully with his school of friends, family, and peers. With every word that was spoken and testimony that was born, my heart fell further into dismay. It was Stake Conference, I had my family by my side and the pews were filled to overflow, yet I felt isolated and alone.
Several months prior, the landscape of my family life began to take some major changes. Beginning with a job loss and career change for my husband, the total impact to our family’s life seemed to hit when my, newly licensed, daughter was involved in a car wreck. According to the emergency personnel involved, her escape from serious physical injury was a miracle. Though there were significant financial and emotional ramifications, our family was instantly reminded of the value of each day that we spend in this life together.
That car wreck seemed to be the catalyst to a series of unrelated events that would prove to be the most trying months of our married and parenting years. For several months, my husband and I could scarcely get one traumatic event managed before another trial came our way. The events ranged from financial and health concerns to wavering testimonies and emotional upheaval, I found myself with just enough energy to walk numbly from day to day.
In my mind, I knew that everyone had their own unique challenges. I knew it because I knew what my family was going through. I knew it because I knew the struggles of my sisters and their families. I knew it because of the tears I had shared with my friends and those people I associated with in my community. I knew it because the spirit tried desperately to remind me that I wasn’t alone in my trials and concerns.
However, sitting in the congregation that Sunday morning, nothing that “I knew” seemed to matter because in THAT very moment, my heart had failed me and I felt alone and despondent. Never mind what I thought I knew, I FELT lost, confused and forgotten.
Our area leaders had chosen to focus on strengthening the family as the theme for our conference. A young family had been asked to demonstrate how a family council might be held in our homes. Family home evening, scripture study, parent date nights, sports and activities, and plans for a fun family outing were all on the agenda for this family. As I listened to this family and the promises made by our leaders if we would follow this counsel, I found myself fighting to hold on to my heart, my confidence as a parent, and my testimony of these core practices that I had believed in for years.
I sat in the congregation feeling more despondent than hopeful; I could feel my world shrinking as I looked around and saw perfection in everyone else and complete failure in myself. I had done these things. I had faithfully tried my hardest and given, what I thought was my very best. I had tried to put my family first, I had followed the counsel of my leaders- we had read our scriptures, said our prayers, attended our meetings; so why, then, had I failed? Why was I sitting here feeling so alone when I had tried so hard? I had felt so peaceful in those hard days as a young mom when I had chosen according to my Father’s will for me? None of it made sense and I found myself angry, hurt, and jealous beyond measure.
Nights on end were spent in prayer as I poured my heart out to a Heavenly Father that I was not sure was still listening. I replayed the decisions of my early parenting years and pondered what I could have done differently. One night, alone and barely holding onto my life jacket, I had a tiny glimmer of recognition of the peace that had filled my heart all along. I was sad, I felt alone and I didn’t know what the future held- but I actually had peace. Through it all, I had felt peace and I had been carried when normally I could not have found strength to take another step. Alone in my bedroom that night, I recalled many peaceful moments sitting in the celestial room of the temple; moments where I was quietly instructed on the plan of salvation and the eternal importance of the gift of agency. Though I had appreciated and moments, I had not fully comprehended any of them until this night. I recognized that in the pain and heartache I was feeling, I was being taught some important principles that I had not previously fully understood.
I learned the principle of unconditional love: In my early parenting years, I had wondered how I would feel if my children’s choices were ever to be in contradiction to the principles and values taught in our home. I had wondered if I could love them if their choices took them off the path that I had shown them. Through my entire life, I had allowed my own sins to cloud my interpretation of the love Heavenly Father has for me, often convincing myself that God only loves the perfect. In a way that I had never understood before, I now understand the Savior’s unconditional love for us. I understand that He does not see our sins when He looks upon us. I know this, because when I look upon my children, I do not see their sins, I see their potential, their beauty, and their strength. I am not sure I could have understood this the way I do without living this as a parent. The question “what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9-10) has a deeper meaning to me now than simply a parable about a parent who wants to give good gifts. As my children ask for my understanding and my patience through their choices, I desire to give them far more love, understanding and patience than they seek. I see my children defined, not by their past choices, but by the hope of their future.
I learned Christ-like Compassion: A few weeks after Stake Conference, I had the opportunity to serve as a camp cook with ten amazing women whom I had never met before. As we chatted daily, we each shared stories of the struggles we were having with our children. At one point, someone asked the question we had all pondered diligently, ‘what are we to learn from these experiences?’ Instantly, I knew we were learning compassion; we were learning the pure love of Christ. My heart was overcome with the knowledge that through my own personal choices and experiences, I had become more understanding of those people who had struggled as I had. Through recognizing “the beam that is in mine eye”, I could see clearly the mote in my brothers eye (Mathew 7:3). It is with that ability to ‘see clearly’, that I can truly recognize what my brother needs and how to serve and love my brother with pure and Christ-like compassion.
And I learned to Let Go: I came to understand one of the most God-like traits that we see as a foundational principle of the Plan of Salvation. In order for the child to execute their freedom to choose, the parent must be willing to let go. We know our Father had to let go as He sent Adam and Eve into the Garden; He had to watch them choose for themselves mortality over eternity in the Garden. Throughout this year, I have developed a new appreciation for the father of the prodigal son. I am certain, that as a righteous father, he was intimately aware of the risks involved with allowing his son to leave the safety of home with his portion of the inheritance. He knew, because he KNEW his son and he had seen and mourned the prior choices the son had made. So, with everything he knew, he exercised faith in his own Father and in the foundation he had tried to establish in his home; he trusted he had done his best and he let his son go.
Humbly, I sat in my room and poured out my gratitude for this crazy and chaotic life I was living. In complete release to God’s love, I felt my Savior quietly whisper an assurance to my heart that all that I had done, all that I had given- every scripture I read with bouncing children at my side, every family home evening lesson I felt had been a circus, every minute spent in the temple had qualified me for the peace I felt right now. My heart filled with the pure knowledge, deep within my soul, that not one of my children would be lost for long. I absolutely KNEW that not only was I not alone, I was being carried on the wings of angels who were being guided by my Savior to get me safely home snuggled with my husband and children for eternity. Simple obedience to scripture study, family prayer, Sabbath day attendance, and family home evening did not qualify me for a perfect life. However, at this time, my testimony is firm and sure that obedience to those simple principles have qualified my family for Heavenly Father’s watchful and mindful attention to the needs of my heart in THIS moment. Because of prior obedience to these principles, my relationship is sure and there is not doubt Whose hands are guiding my path, no matter how rocky the terrain becomes.
These challenges aren’t over for my family, the raging storms have barely subsided, but a pattern of scripture study formed years ago has become my key to daily tender mercies from my Savior. Through the challenges of this year, I understand why my Savior can be compassionate to me, a sinner. I understand how He still loves me despite my many, and daily, follies. And I understand, with only minute comprehension, the love that goes into our Father letting us go into this dark and dreary world to exercise our gift of agency, with only the hope that we will bear one another’s burdens and return safely to His waiting arms.
In my own efforts to let go and allow my children to travel their own paths, I have been given the keys to understanding our Heavenly Father’s unconditional love and compassion for each of us. Years of regrets and needless insecurities for my own spotted past have been washed away in the process of loving my own children at this time. The tiny glimmer of understanding of Christ’s infinite compassion and love has allowed me to trust my Savior and my Father in my ups and my downs, which has allowed me to let go of the bondage of Satan’s lies that only the perfect have place in God’s kingdom. With all that I am, inside and out, I can now testify with a surety that our efforts as parents may seem for a moment to be wasted attempts and sorry failures, but these efforts qualify us for His companionship and the ministering of angels for ourselves and those we love most.