Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pass, Fail, Complete.

Our oven is at least 15 years old. Just last year, the timer started randomly going off in the middle of the night, beeping continuously for hours. My painfully keen ear would hear it around 3 or 4 in the morning and I'd have to get out of bed, go downstairs, and angrily punch the "Clear" button. This went on for weeks, until it started happening even more frequently. It seemed to get worse right after we used the oven, going off two or three times during dinner. Then one day, when the timer had gone off for the third time during our meal, my husband reached back behind the oven, and unplugged it. We couldn't believe it had taken us this long to figure this out. Our cabinets had a gap just barely big enough for us to reach back and plug it in when we needed it. Now here we are one year later, doing just fine with our old lady oven.

I think my life as a mother is, sometimes, like my oven. I make a lot of mistakes, daily. No matter how many times I make a goal to stop yelling, I will succeed for a time, but inevitably I mess up. And I yell and act irrationally. And then I am flooded with guilt. I apologize. I repent. I journal and ask myself the same question: Why do I keep coming back to this point? That beeper keeps going off; sometimes it seems justified and I get why I feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere. But the beeping always returns, no matter how many times I reach out and push the "Clear/Restart" button.

Sometimes I think I'm just plain crazy and that I should just fill a prescription of some kind to numb my emotions. Sometimes I think I'm depressed, or have anxiety, or a severe hormonal imbalance (pretty sure all of those come with motherhood anyway...). But what to do? Where's my plug to STOP the blaring beeping mistakes I make on a daily basis?

When I was a missionary, I heard a quote that has stuck in my mind ever since: "Time will pass, will you?" Just writing it down tends to give me anxiety. But at the time, it was a good reminder that every day in the mission field was an opportunity to "pass"--to do my best and work hard to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. But now as a mom, I automatically sift my actions into a "pass" or "fail" column and believe that they somehow cancel each other out. Every time I fail, it cancels a previous success. (Timer goes off again).

I've been at war with a little emotion called "anger." I read in Five Love Languages for Children that "The greatest enemy towards encouraging our children is anger" and "Parents who have not learned to control their own anger can't teach their own children how to do so." [BEEP BEEP BEEP!]

How can I be a good mother to my children when I still have so much to learn? This morning I happened to read Matthew 5, the very end of which says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Of course I leaned in on the word, "perfect" (faint BEEP BEEP) and found that the word itself was translated from the Greek teleios, which means, "complete." The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means "to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish."

After speaking with some trusted friends about this, I started to see how both my mistakes AND my successes ADD to my progression. They don't cancel each other out at all! I have to "unplug" my natural tendency to feel shame when I "lose it" and to fall into the destructive cycle of beating myself up. I am human and I will always feel anger, because it is an emotion. And when I don't handle it well, it becomes an opportunity to learn how to handle it better NEXT TIME. My failures give weight and understanding to my successes.

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one." (2 Nephi 2:11)

Life is not a pass or fail. It is a process of falling, standing and waving out an apology, tuning out the beeps of shame and hopelessness, and trying again, knowing we'll fall, but we'll be stronger for it. Scraped knees never were anything to be ashamed of.

I've seen signs that say, "Sorry for the mess, but we live here." I want to put a sign on my forehead, and my kids' foreheads, that say, "Sorry for the mistakes, but I'm human." Every time I pause before reacting, think before judging, and hug before blaming, or talk softly instead of blowing up, I am gaining an ounce of trust from my children. And thus, our challenges and head-butts, failures and awful tear-filled "we're late for school and why on earth are your shoes in the backyard and your coat is missing and you never got socks on like I asked and what do you mean you don't want to eat your eggs??" kind of mornings are drops in the bucket. They mean something. They don't cancel out the good, they just make it mean so much more.

And. When my children see me apologize sincerely and try harder next time, hopefully, just hopefully, I am showing them that they too do not need to be perfect, just on the path to "complete."
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  1. Just reading about that beeping gives me anxiety. :) I can't believe how many times I've missed the simple solution to life's troubles because I'm too busy freaking out. Thank you for being so real and for all your desires of goodness.