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The Christmas season is traditionally hard for women, because they bear the brunt of most of the preparations. But what may be harder is the lull after the storm when we are most likely to second-guess our decisions and recognize the many things we truly wanted to do but didn’t get done. “Brother Walker is alone and I really should have done something special for him,” we may lament. Or we may chastise ourselves with thoughts such as, “I didn’t respond to the plea on Meridian Magazine to help an African family; I should have figured out a way to make that a priority.”
We are so aware of the limitations we have in regard to time, energy, and resources. I read somewhere that because time is measured only in mortality, we are never really comfortable with its constraints. The word “deadline” (and isn’t Christmas a real-true deadline?) seems replete with pressure. We have to get something finished by a certain moment or it is “too late.” No matter what else is going on, no matter how many other demands are pressing in at us, the deadline looms. Never mind that some deadlines are phony, unimportant, or self-imposed.
How Many Deadlines are Self-Imposed?
Many of us set up false expectations for ourselves and feel “driven” by internal deadlines that are unrealistic. We push ourselves beyond our limits, forgetting the scripture in Mosiah 4:27: ”And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Consequently, we end up exhausted or even sick. We may put too much value on quantity of accomplishments–getting more done. So many times my downfall is buying in to a pervasive sense of shame that I can’t do more, work longer hours, serve more people. I put a lot of pressure on myself, set all kinds of phony “deadlines,” and lament my limitations.
Perhaps there is only one deadline in this life that is real: filling our life’s mission before we die. Even that deadline may not be as final as it may seem, since our opportunities to learn, grow, and progress, continue in the spirit world. (See my article “When Does the Second Estate End.”)
One of the things that will make heaven heavenly, for sure, will be NO DEADLINES and none of the kind of limitations of time, energy, and resources that we experience here.
How Can We Avoid the Negatives of Limitations?
Through the years I’ve learned two ways we can transcend the pressures of limits and deadlines and live more peacefully right here and right now:
1. Take the Holy Spirit as our guide. Only the Lord knows which of all the thousands of “worthy causes” out there should be part of our stewardship. Only the Lord knows which of all the suffering people we personally can or should attempt to help. Only the Lord knows the true extent of our limitations. Only He can grant us the enabling power to do more than we can do on our own strength.
One thing I know for sure: the Lord does not desire to run us ragged, run us into the ground, or burden us down with more than we can possibly do. He is not the author of stress and depression. He is not the one whispering in our minds that no matter how much we do it is never enough. His is not the chastising voice saying that the things we DID accomplish don’t count and the things we DIDN’T do stand as witnesses against us.
When we take the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are led to charity, the pure love of Christ (for ourselves as well as for others), which brings a whole rainbow spectrum of color into our black-in-white world. It helps us see that our goal should not so much be to do great things as to do whatever we do with great love. The tiniest task accomplished with love can make more difference than the loftiest accomplishment done without it.
2. Keep a gratitude focus in our thoughts. In Relief Society last Sunday our lesson was based on President Monsen’s talk, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” (see Ensign, November, 2010, pp. 87-90). I was impressed with the fact that his message applies in every area of our lives, not just material lack. He said, “We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. Said, the Greek philosopher Epictetus, ‘He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has’”
If I’m thinking, “Thank you, dear Lord, that I had the strength and means to make Christmas a time when a few people I love felt more cared about,” I feel very different than when I’m thinking, “How can I be happy when I recognize all I lack and how little I did compared to what I should have done.”
Shifting our focus away from what we lack to what we have includes focusing on what we have done rather than what we haven’t done because of lack of time, energy, or resources. We can choose to recognize the blessing of contributing to the well-being of any one person in our circle of influence.
President Monsen said, “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude . . . Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.” (pp. 87, 88)
Counting our blessings is one of the most energizing and uplifting of exercises. Gratitude is the foundation of all the other virtues. If we don’t recognize and give thanks for what the Lord has given us and has promised us, we aren’t likely to find the motivation to achieve any spiritual goal. Progress depends on gratitude. Gratitude is the greatest motivator in the world. When Ed Pinegar was a mission president and was praying for the key to motivate his missionaries, the Lord told him that gratitude was the key: Those whose hearts were full of gratitude for the gospel and the Atonement couldn’t restrain themselves from sharing it. Those who didn’t feel that gratitude were impervious to external motivations because they weren’t motivated internally.
Gratitude changes everything. When I thank the Lord for the ability to use my limited energy in ways that please Him, the light is bright in my soul. When I focus, instead on all the things I wish I could do if I just had a higher level of health and strength, it is easy for the adversary to pull my thoughts to the negative.
Gratitude squelches envy, increases patience, and gives birth to joy. When I open my heart to gratitude, the real reason we’ve been celebrating comes rushing in to fill all the empty places and to give me the motivation to praise the Lord.
Gratitude motivates me to seek the Spirit because I’m so grateful that I’ve been given the understanding of its importance. Gratitude motivates me to do whatever the Lord wants me to do with that understanding. Gratitude turns my mind from lack to love, from fear to faith, from turmoil to peace.
Looking Forward to the New Year
As we stand at the brink of a new year, the pages of our calendars and journals are blank and full of possibilities. As we begin this monumental year of 2011, we are ebbing ever closer to the Millennial era.
Instead of making long lists of New Year’s resolutions, I suggest we focus on the two very basic goals I’ve mentioned above: 1. Make it our personal spiritual quest to take the Holy Spirit as our guide—which will lead us to charity, and 2. Focus our thoughts on gratitude. That’s the best recipe I can imagine for beating the post-Christmas blues!
Author’s note: Visit me at my web site darlaisackson.com and learn more about my books, Trust God No Matter What and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On.