Thursday, June 23, 2016

Joyful Service in Our Homes

The work and service that we do in our homes can be some of the most stressful and physically and emotionally demanding work that we do. It can be mundane, repetitive, tiring, and thankless. It can be downright exhausting.
I remember a particular exhausting time in my life: We had just moved to Texas from BYU where I had just finished my masters degree (and writing my thesis with 2 nursing babies and a one year old). Too say that I was "spent" from that experience is an understatement--but that's another story... I graduated on a Friday and we drove our U-Haul down to Texas over the weekend so that Karl could start school on Monday. Karl was just starting graduate school (MBA) and because of the demanding program, he was not able to work his first year. We were dirt poor. We had maxed out all our school loans and there was no money left after tuition. All three of my babies were in diapers…cloth diapers (that I washed myself) because we couldn’t afford disposable diapers. The financial stresses were very real. Our Christmas budget for all three kids was $10 and that was a stretch. I remember my 3 year old being invited to a birthday party. I started crying because we couldn't afford to buy a gift (home-made play dough saved me). Because there was no extra money, we were on WIC so that I could buy milk and cereal for my babies. Taking care of 3 babies was hard and I was constantly exhausted. And then, to our surprise, we found out that we were expecting again. Now I was doing all these things, but I was even more exhausted because I was pregnant. When #4 (Dallin) was born, my oldest (Ben) was 3, and the twins (my first set of twins) were one. Let me restate that: We had a 3-year-old, two 1 year olds, and a newborn. It was at this point, that I realized what it meant to be truly exhausted. Karl wasn’t able to take off more
Four kids 3 and under
than a day or two of school. I didn’t have any relatives around to help…so there I was, with a brand new baby, a weak and recovering post-pregnant body, two 1-year olds (who were literally into everything), and a hyper, active and busy 3-year old and I had no choice but to go on. I had to keep cooking, feeding, nursing, washing, cleaning, and caring and it just never ended… I would fall exhausted into my bed each night (after sweeping and mopping the kitchen to ward off the Texas cockroaches), just to wake up countless times with my newborn, and then had to be up at the crack of dawn because of my early rising 3-year-old (who would climb out of his bed and up on mine, and bounce on me until I got up and made him breakfast.  I remember wondering why my stomach and my insides were hurting…and it dawned on me that it was my body just aching from fatigue and exhaustion.

Christmas Picture 1996--Little did we know that this
was only half of our family!
So, like I said, “service in the home” can be physically demanding. It can also be extremely emotionally demanding.  What constitutes service in the home? There are a lot of different ways we serve in the home. There’s the household to take care of: dishes, laundry, picking up toys, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning bathrooms, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, repairing the leaky faucet, sorting laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and more dishes, and more laundry and more cooking, and more cleaning…it doesn’t ever end. And then there’s the people: Staying up late with sick kids, changing diapers, helping with homework, driving kids all over the planet to get to their various activities, taking injured kids to the ER, helping a spouse with a project, taking care of an elderly parent, waiting up for a teenager to return home from a date, worrying about and praying for a child or relative who is making poor decisions,  listening to 9-year-old knock-knock jokes for hours, going out of your way to show your love for your spouse, oh, and it doesn’t stop there. There’s also the occasional sick dog, chicken, goat or other furry or feathery or scaly friend that needs attention and care. The list is literally never ending. We will never, ever be caught up. We will never get it done and it will never be as good as we want it to be. No wonder it’s easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed…and no wonder we sometimes have a hard time feeling joy.
Some days it seems so stinking hard to find the joy in the piles of dirty clothes, the cranky kids and the endless lists of things to do? How do we lift ourselves out of the mundane to see the glorious big picture?
And what is this big picture???? The big picture, of course, is that you and I are children of a loving and caring Heavenly Father who have been placed on this earth IN FAMILIES so that we might develop Christlike characteristics through serving and loving those around us. Families are crucial to the Lord’s plan. This service in our homes (for our families) is THE most important, noble, powerful and influential work that we will ever do in this life. And all of the little (seemingly mundane) chores and responsibilities are the building blocks that shape our families. We read in Alma Chapter 37 verse 6-7 that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means (doing the dishes, making a dinner, listening to a problem) the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” The work we do in our homes for our families is important! There is nothing more important!
But How do we get from feeling stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, sad, impatient and maybe even angry to being able to serve our families with charity and joy?
It isn’t always easy. On top of all the little things, there are often big things. There are so many who are battling depression, who are struggling with grief, who have fragile marriages or broken families, whose children are wayward, who have serious health issues and huge financial stresses—these are serious, hard, difficult issues. And many of these issues are not easily “fixable”. Sometimes, we just can’t make the situation go away. And, in the case of serious depression, our perception maybe be altered, making it difficult to feel peace, love, joy or any of the fruits of the Spirit. These situations require huge amounts of faith…faith to continue doing what you know in your head or what you once knew in your head (but can no longer feel in your heart) to be the right thing…trusting that your righteous actions will lead to eventual joy and peace. Mental illness does not make joy impossible, but it can sometimes delay our ability to feel the joy.
In any case, the questions remains: Is joyful service possible even when life is tough? And How do we see the big picture? We CAN find joy…But it takes effort. And it takes humility, gratitude and love.
First, we need a good dose of humility so that we can admit that our own view of life is ALWAYS limited. We need humility to admit that the Lord ALWAYS knows what is best for us. He is the source of truth and light. And in order for us to be filled with that light and truth, we have to humble ourselves and have the faith to admit that we are wrong, that we don’t see things, situations, or other people, as they really are. That includes the misconception of thinking of ourselves, our families and our homes as ‘not-good’ enough.  As we trust in Him and replace our misconceptions with His light and truth, we will see ourselves, our family members and our homes through His eyes. We will see ourselves as beloved sons and daughters of the God. We will understand our worth and the value and worth of our families. The mundane will become honorable and noble. We will be filled with gratitude for the privilege of being a part of a family.
That leads us into the importance of gratitude: There is nothing quite so magical and attitude-changing as gratitude. Have you ever had one of those totally THANKFUL days? Where you wake up and think: I’m so grateful that I have a comfortable, warm bed to sleep in! Then you haul your body out of bed and think: I’m so grateful that I have a body that mostly works—even if something doesn’t work on my body…there are WAY more working parts than there are unworking parts!! Then you get in the shower and praise the invention of hot water heaters and indoor plumbing. How amazing is it that you can turn a dial and be drenched in warm water! What a blessing! And then you come downstairs to your dirty kitchen and think: “I am so grateful that I HAVE a kitchen and that there is food in the kitchen (and on the counters and on the floor).” So, maybe you’re not that grateful for the cheerios on the floor… but really truly THINK ABOUT IT! There are so, so, so many people in this world who don’t have a kitchen to clean, who don’t have food to eat, who would give anything to have our dirty kitchen with its food (even the food that’s on the floor).  If we just open our eyes, we will see that there is so, so, so much good all around us. There are SO, SO many things that could go wrong each day that don’t go wrong. The same goes for the people in our lives. When we are grateful for what they ARE and stop focusing on what they are not, then our love and appreciation for them will grow. But it’s not enough to just count our blessings, it’s also crucial that we acknowledge the GIVER of those blessings, as we do this we are filled with a deep sense of love and awe for our Father in Heaven.
And that brings us to charity (or love). As we exercise humility to see ourselves, others and our situations through the Lord’s eyes, and as we recognize our many, many, many blessings and acknowledge our loving Father in Heaven as the Giver of those blessings, our hearts are filled with charity. We are filled with love for our Heavenly Father and our Savior. In turn, we are able to comprehend their great love for us. This love softens our hearts so that we are, in turn, filled with love for others. This perfect love expresses itself in a feeling of peace and joy. And this joy changes everything. It changes the mundane chore into something glorious. This joy that comes from humility, gratitude and love will change our perception of the people around us. It changes the way we serve. And ultimately it changes and transforms us. This joy isn’t dependent on our situation, on having enough money or things, on our health, our body size, our family size or house size… this joy is simply a result of allowing God’s love into our hearts.

I think about those exhausting years as a young mother of young children (as opposed to my current status as an old mother of young children), It’s funny how I don’t remember feeling miserable at the time (tired, yes). I mostly remember feeling incredibly blessed. No, it wasn’t always fun and I wasn’t always “happy”, but I cherished my role as a wife and mother. I was grateful for the little things. And, yes, I sometimes complained and I was by no means perfect in my joyful service. But, when I look back, those were some of the best years ever. I remember feeling joy. And, even today, with all the additional challenges of life—I still don’t love to cook, do dishes or laundry. I can think of a million other things that I’d rather do—And, no, I am not the not the best homemaker, wife or mom, but I love and I value what I do and I’m trying hard to be better…and I know that as I put the Lord first and humble myself, as I count my blessings and show my love to my family, that I can and will continue to find joy as I serve at home. 

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