Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Your Prayers Don't Work

I’m a praying person. A very loud and passionate praying person. Me and the Divine can really get into it. Actually, it’s usually me yelling, upset and angry for the majority of it, followed by sad and desperate, followed by ready to listen. I don’t believe in formalities with a being who supposedly sent me here to figure stuff out and has invited me to “come unto Him” when life has got me down. No, if He (or She) wants me to give them due attention, they don’t get to pick and choose how that attention comes. If I have to wait my own kids through a tantrum, so does the Divine. 

Anyway, here’s my problem. Facebook has become this maelstrom of polarized sides clashing more than usual lately. Because the world is full of people doing nasty things to each other—just as it always has, only it’s getting more and more media attention. And it’s making people afraid and ignorant and making them consider really stupid things, making them SAY really stupid things. And of course political season is coming into swing, which means adding a big dash of crazy to what is already a primordial ooze of ridiculousness. And I have all these words I want to say but it feels like talking into the white noise. Like really, how can you talk to people who are panicked?

Anyway, whenever some kind of ugly thing happens and people are hurt or killed, people are posting about praying. They pray for this or that person. They pray for a country. They pray for a people. They pray for leaders. They pray for the world. Whatever. It’s become the universally accepted way to mourn terrible things. Just say you’re praying and everyone puts on their sad look and nods in agreement. Then we all go back to our Christmas shopping. Then we go watch a Jesus movie. Then we go to church and talk more about praying. Hell, I don’t even know if you ARE praying. But it doesn’t much matter to me. Either way it’s not working.

It’s not working because we just won’t DO anything different. We act as if praying is the fix. That somehow the Divine is going to wave a magic wand and disburse goodness and fix everything. Or maybe you’re one of those people that believes God is in control of everything and is going to rain more terror and suffering down on us for our own good because only HE can comprehend the purpose and place of your suffering. I really don’t know how to help you if you are one of those people… God help you. But I digress.

Your prayers aren’t working. They’re in that white noise I mentioned. And the more this crap happens, the more commonplace it becomes. And the more commonplace it becomes, the more you accept it. And then your prayers become a cultural practice rather than an actual form of communication.

I get it, too. I get why your prayers are being ignored. You ever had your kid come whine at you for like the tenth time because Sammy hit them or stole their toy or called them a name? And you’re like, in the middle of important adulting stuff, and you pat them on the head or give them a hug or say, “You’re okay” except you’re barely present because what you really want is for them to shut the crap up and get along. I mean, they KNOW what to do. How many times have you told them? They KNOW that if they would just stop trying to control every aspect of the imaginary game they’re playing and let Sammy have a say in how things go down, Sammy wouldn’t have lashed out. They KNOW they haven’t cared about that toy until Sammy picked it up… On and on. You’ve told them. You’ve explained it. And instead of like, GETTING why it is that Sammy is being ugly, they come to you and start whining. So you pat them on the back and tell them to go figure it out.

That’s the Divine. He or she has TOLD you what to do differently. You KNOW how this works. There are some seven billion people on the planet and if even a comparative handful of those people did like, one extra good deed each day, it would DRAMATICALLY change things. You KNOW if you would just be an example, people would actually CHOOSE to do what you do.

But no. You’re going to sit at home and pray for all those people who make bad choices and cause fear the world over. Pray for them. And pray. And DO nothing.

So stop praying. God is sick of you crying over things you can do your part to fix. Start DOING. Start BEING the answer to someone’s prayer. Don’t say a prayer unless you intend to act, unless you intend to follow through on an answer. If you are too lazy to change, then say it out loud. Say it to everyone you know. And then just see if you don’t figure out how to fix that part of yourself. Just say it: “I’m too lazy to change small things in my life. I suck. I need to be better.” I prescribe three times a day, out loud, to someone else.

Next time you see something on the news, on facebook, etc, then stop, let that horror and fear and disgust and sorrow work in you longer than a few seconds. Let it penetrate further than simply changing your Facebook profile picture to the flag of France. Let it sink in. If you’re wondering why people are doing the things they’re doing to others, don’t just wonder. Know that it’s because you failed to change the world, one little act of kindness at a time. It’s on YOU, not God, not a government, not a religion or someone’s mental illness. There isn’t a magic pill people. It’s everyone, individually, spreading more kindness, caring more. 

I’ll be accountable here. I decided to do two things differently after the shooting in San Bernardino:
  1. Call myself out, out loud, to another person, when I feel disgruntled about something stupid, that I take for granted. The other day, for example, we were staying in a hotel and the shower had a really low head. And the thing wouldn’t angle very far so you had to stand really close to the wall. My first thought was one of complaint. "Who the heck installed this thing? Way to think ahead people." And then I stopped and thought, “Oh my GOSH. I have clean water spraying on me. And it’s hot. And I can stand here as long as I want. And I’m annoyed at the HEIGHT it’s pouring out? WTH is wrong with me?” And then I told my husband about my stupid first-world complaint. 
  2. I will no longer passively “put up with” Brad’s obsessive need to recycle. I will participate, fully. I will not get upset when I find his granola bar wrappers lying around and secretly throw them away. I will put them in the bag he keeps for those things that we send off. I will look around me as often as I can remember, particularly at conventions, to grab the things that can be recycled.

Those are the things I decided to do better. I will combat the ugliness of the past few weeks with these small things that I know I can change and have made excuses for in the past.

You're not helpless. Prayer isn't "all you can do" no matter what the thing is you're praying for. Go do something. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Failing at Motherhood

One of the most common questions in my travels is this: "How did you become a writer?"
It seems like a generic question with a simple answer, but to me, it is the question I want to answer most. It's the story of the hurdle I am most proud of overcoming. This is the story of me at my worst and how it motivated me to become my best.

It starts with motherhood.

What I know for sure about being a mother:

We are guilt-ridden. We are never as much as we want to be because we know, at the end of a long and trying day, that there is still more we could have given up for them. We could have been more patient. We could have given up the next chapter in the book we’re reading to play pretend even though we didn’t want to. We could have showed our son how to cut up an apple instead of letting our impatience get the better of us and doing it ourselves so we can get back to whatever. We could have taken the extra time to make our kids put the toys back in an organized fashion rather than letting them throw all the puzzle pieces in the same bag—you know they’ll never build those puzzles again with the pieces mixed up like that. You could have found something to occupy your son rather than falling back on the electronic device he was begging to play.

We mothers spend lots of time asking ourselves if we SHOULD sacrifice more. How much of YOU do you give up for THEM?

The common theme I’ve found as I’ve lived my life as a mother for the past 10 years is that being a mother means sacrificing yourself in entirety. It means that when the choice arises between you and them, you choose them. It means delaying your own wants in the interest of theirs.

I found myself, for the first 4 or 5 years of motherhood, trying to live by this standard. My reasoning was thus: Motherhood is the most important work I can do. Which means it will be the most fulfilling. Which means I will be fulfilled. Which means I will be happy.

Somewhere between cleaning poop finger paintings, getting screamed at for giving a child the wrong spoon, and beating myself up for letting my son watch TV for more than a couple hours, I realized I hated this.

I hated this.

But it wasn’t the standard that I blamed. I didn’t blame the mouths that taught me of the divinity of motherhood and it’s promise of happiness. Like a good mother I blamed myself. Clearly I wasn’t doing a good enough job. If I was, I wouldn’t be so disenfranchised.

I tried harder. I fought harder to love this thing. Less TV for the kids. I WILL mop the kitchen floor every night if it kills me so my kids grow up to be clean people and not slobs. I will read parenting books on how to be better at discipline so I don’t lose my temper so much. We need to eat healthier—I will learn about food, and we will be the healthiest family on the block. My kids will turn their noses up at candy when I’m done with them. I gave more. I sacrificed more. I immersed myself more deeply, watching mothers around me and analyzing their methods. I was going to make this work. I did the things. I endured more things. There are days like this, they said, but at the end of the day it will be worth it. They said the good would outweigh the bad.

God, I hate this.

I hated it. I suffered from insomnia. I was always afraid of waking up in the middle of the night—even to go to the bathroom—because my brain took it as the signal to come alive. It would go and go, thinking about the molecules of my life. The to-do list, the to-worry about list, the daily list of failures, and the daily resolutions for tomorrow. And probably most telling, the pondering list—those things you wonder about life that your day-to-day doesn’t allow you the luxury of exploring. 

Day after day, month after month, year after year. No amount of cuddles and “mom, I love you” could change the fact that I loved them less and less. You read me right. No matter how hard I was trying, I was failing. They were daily reminders that I failed to love motherhood. I failed to tap into whatever divine part of me was made to be a mother. I was not becoming who I was meant to be. I was failing my maker and ultimately myself, and though the me of six years ago would not have recognized this, would have vehemently denied this, I loved my children less. Because you can’t love something you resent.

One evening in 2009 signals the very hour my life began to change. I was at a church activity. The topic: talents. I was in charge of the event, and I had assigned a few women to stand and give a short talk about their talents and how they used them to grow closer to God.

One young mother started off exactly the way I would have: “I didn’t think I had many talents. I mean I can sew and cook and stuff, but I don’t really think of those as talents.”

Yep. That was me.

She continued, “So I asked myself what I love instead. What do I love doing? Well I love watching my kids play. I mean I really love watching them. I could stand by the doorway of the playroom and watch them for hours. And I realized that’s actually my talent, being a mother.”

I stand by the assertion that she was not lying. Even then, when my idea of motherhood was so skewed, I never once thought she wasn’t being 100% genuine. Thinking about and recognizing her talents had obviously been a process of self-exploration. 

So I was left with a fact that would change my perception of everything: Motherhood is a talent.

It was not my talent. No way in heck did I enjoy watching my kids play to that degree. 

But suddenly it was okay that I didn’t. What I once saw as a flaw suddenly became a personality trait. This, I could work with.

This was the beginning of my transition to a writer. Where once there was only one door, now there were many. I could be anything. The question of sacrifice was no longer so hard. I knew that in order to be happy I had to be something other than a mother. I had to have my own time. My kids couldn’t have all of me if I was going to be happy and productive. 

I took myself back, and suddenly there was more to give. All of the energy I’d spent trying to be something I wasn’t was funneled directly into developing myself. I did what I loved, and it made me love myself. It made me excited to stay up late, to wake up early. It made me never care about sleeping again. It made me wonder more about the world around me. It made me ask questions. And it brought my children back to me. I watched them with curiosity and found that within their tiny microcosm of 4 were all the elements that make up the strange dynamic of humanity. They taught me about people, and I loved them for it.

Now here we are, 10 years into parenthood, and I work more than ever. They have less of my undivided attention than ever before. I spend a lot of my time telling my kids to occupy themselves because I don’t have time for whatever the demand of the hour is. They wander convention floors of anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 people with little supervision. They play a lot of games because I can’t take them bouncing off of walls and breaking everything in the RV for more than half and hour. I make them rush, rush, rush through their schoolwork because I have stuff to do. I yell at them too much. I spank Iyov more than I’d like because I just don’t have the energy after everything else to be creative or patient. We drag them from one place to the next. We make them walk miles. Routines with us are generally unheard of. We are with a different church congregation every weekend, and I told my littlest she did NOT get to hang out in relief society with me even though she is nervous with the new people every week. I forced her get over it because I had to. They make friends every week. They leave those same friends every week. They always have food, but they’ve lived for weeks on PB&J and cheese quesadillas at times. They’ve slept in weather below freezing many nights. They’ve been left alone in situations lots of people would consider bad parenting. They’ve seen us destitute. They’ve seen us stranded. They’ve seen us unable to provide for ourselves. They’ve seen us shop for groceries in other people’s pantries. In the past year we haven’t bought them anything. Anything they have acquired was either from other people or it was something they worked our table to earn money for.

They’ve seen a lot of things that people think kids should be protected from. I am likely the example of what my past self would have considered a neglectful mother.

But I don’t listen to that person anymore. She didn’t know what she was talking about. 

Look, I have no designs of “perfection.” I think the idea is a farce. I don’t have an “ideal childhood” I strive to bring them. I still don’t know what the heck I’m doing with them most of the time. And quite often I ask Heavenly Father what the devil He was thinking, giving me kids when He knew this was going to be my life. I don’t have time for them, at least not the kind of time our culture expects I should give them. They aren’t sheltered. They aren’t worshipped. We don’t revolve our life around them. At. All. Their innocence is not protected. We bring the world to them without filters and spend most of our parenting time trying to make sure they open their eyes.

But we’ve seen our daughter leave money at the feet of a sleeping homeless man without an ounce of prompting.

We’ve seen our oldest son give our youngest son a pep talk to keep working at our table when it’s really busy because he knows we need the help.

We’ve seen our youngest help our neighbor keep track of customers and impress everyone she meets with her ability to articulate her life.

We’ve seen our youngest son drop to his knees without invitation and matter-of-factly deliver a prayer to help us get our RV started.

We’ve seen every single one of our kids thrive. They are fearless and involved even if we’re not purposely involving them.

We demand a lot more of them than people probably think we should and can reasonably expect. I have no doubt that when they grow up, they’ll have challenges. No doubt those challenges will come from whatever they lacked while living this life as my children—the children of a woman without the talent to mother and with a calling that was often placed above their immediate desires. They will lack. I can’t be their everything, no matter how much of myself I give. And I refuse to be. But they’ll also have a lot that most don’t. You can’t give kids everything. You can’t measure your parenting out to deliver a particular child in the end. You can only live your life to it’s fullest. You can only SHOW them how you do that. You can’t do it for them. You can’t make it for them. Just be more and waste less time worrying what being will cost them. Worry less about what you're screwing up so you can spend more time on what you're building.

I became a writer by letting go of ideals. I let go of the word “deserve.” I let go of all my expectations and instead decided I’d be happy. I’d make sure they saw me being happy. Pursuing my happiness is the one thing I know I can consistently do. It’s the only thing I know I’m going to always WANT to do. So that’s what I decided I’d always give them.

My kids often tell Brad and I that we are the best mom and dad in the world. For most of our year, we'd be frank and honest with how we saw it, "Not really, guys. Other parents are a lot more attentive. A lot more available. A lot more patient. We do our best, but we'll probably never be the best parents ever."

They kept saying it. We kept denying it. But all the while people kept coming up to us after conventions, practically every weekend, often more than one person, and tell us how great this or that child of ours was, how impressed they are with their social skills, their manners, what have you.

We were just glad they hadn't gotten us kicked out.  Considering how much we fight with them, how insanely HARD it is to have kids along for something like the Colorworld Book Tour, we marveled that we were somehow managing to raise decent people.

I've thought about this a lot lately, what it means to be a good parent today, and I realized I'd been letting society dictate those standards again, to shame me, and inevitably to shame them and the life they lead that will make them. So now when my kids say I'm the best mom ever, I say thank-you and square my shoulders, proud of the life we've given them and looking forward to the insanely unique people they will grow to be.