It’s mid-July but I feel to share with you a draft I never published. I wrote it back in February, but it didn’t feel right to publish it then. I didn’t know why, but I saved the draft and knew that when the time was right, I would know. After that, I completely forgot about it…until tonight. Tonight, I happened upon it as I was going through some old drafts and instantly felt that tonight, for whatever reason, the time is right. So maybe these words are for you and maybe they’re just for me, but either way, here’s a little thought I’d love to share with you…
The day I opened my brand new planner and wrote out all of my dreams and goals for 2018, I was full of fire and excitement for the year ahead. And for a few weeks, hope ran high and I witnessed new windows and doors of opportunity opening left and right. I had fortuitous contacts with professional people, engaged meaningful family time like holidays and basketball games, I followed through with my daily exercise regime, heartwarming service opportunities came my way, and words were flowing into my writing.
And then. (Famous last words.)
Then reality struck me both externally and internally.
One morning I forced my sleepy eyelids open in the winter darkness that only mid-February knows and wanted more than anything else just to roll back over and fall asleep for maybe five more years.
You know that moment when you wake up and for one split second, you feel absolute joy just for being alive? But then the memories of yesterday and all the bad moments of every single yesterday come crashing on top of you like a tidal wave? That’s what happened to me and it wasn’t the first time.
This waking up with a heavy heart is a pattern I have noticed gradually develop ever since I grew up and left home. It comes and goes. Sometimes it happens often, and other times it’s only once in a blue moon. And the worst part? I can never predict exactly when this black cloud will come to visit me.
I laid there that morning in bed and my hot tears kept me company as the morning thoughts of sadness and hurt and discouragement came rushing in. Sometimes unkind words leave me reeling, and take me days to feel normal again. Other times a lie whispered to my mind is not pushed out quickly enough and it ruminates causing wreckage that takes days to clean up. I know the source. And it is not our Heavenly Father.
The day progressed like it usually does–I get up anyway and force myself through the day. I try to be happy for my kids and my husband, but they always see through my facade. And it’s okay, because they love me anyway, but on these days I have anything but compassion for myself. I pray and read my scriptures, hoping for a miracle. But it doesn’t come. So I get up and go to work. I teach my children school, but my mind is not present–it’s wandering through a land of negativity. I see beautiful things, like sweet children’s smiles and fiery sunsets and yet I feel not even a spark of joy. I taste sweet, nourishing food, but it seems flavorless. I hear music and kind voices (especially when I share with someone the struggles I am facing), and yet even the miraculous power of sound does not heal my bad days. In fact, nothing does. I walk through bad days like this quite angry at myself. How dare I feel so negative and sad when abundant blessings surround me? Why can’t I snap out of this? I have experienced postpartum depression before, and this most certainly is not chronic depression. It’s just a bad day. But to me, it’s a complete and utter waste of a day. I accomplish nothing important other than getting through the day. And that is perhaps the greatest trial of all. Because deep down I believe that all of my time must be full and savored and precious. There simply isn’t enough time on earth for a bad day, according to me.
Fast forward to a few days later when I wake up…feeling the exact same way (very dismal). But today, I decide, WILL be different. I am going to pray harder than I ever have before, study my scriptures more purposefully than I ever have before, and ask with all the fervency I can muster that the Lord will protect me from the onslaught of the adversary’s discouragement. And I do. And for a few hours, I feel incredible. The day flows and my spirit soars as I soak up all the inspiration from my Church meetings. That is, until it’s the last hour of Church, and I stand up to give the lesson. I do this every month, and nothing out of the ordinary happens. But this day is different. As we’re approaching the end, the lesson starts to crumble so unexpectedly and I sit down when it’s over feeling so dejected and horrible.
All I can do is go home and cry and my sweet husband holds me and offers his loving kindness. He suggests I go take some time by myself to pray and ask the Lord to give me the peace I seek. So I retreat to my bathroom and kneel on the cold, hard tile and ask why. Why didn’t the armor hold up against the adversary’s attacks? Why am I so weak and fragile and such an emotional mess all the time? I never stop striving to rid myself of my emotional weaknesses, and yet, they never go away completely. They only leave for a while before the next attack comes around.
I wish I could say my answer came at that moment, and that my problems faded, but it didn’t. The Lord is intent on developing my patience, perhaps even more than my emotional resilience.
But the next day, I open my journal and start writing. And I find that the answer I’ve been hoping for comes through my own pen:
“I’m afraid of my wonder-days because I keep getting clobbered with all these hard things–I wonder if I’ve deceived myself…Maybe it’s okay to have bad days and bad times after all. Maybe there’s wonder there too…even if we can only see it in hindsight.”
You see, for over two years I have clung tightly to a quote that promised me such hope:
“Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life — you make it.” (-President Thomas S. Monson)
And so I set about trying to do just that. I wrote this quote on a little card in my very best calligraphy and devoted a large portion of the book I was writing to this principle of creating a life of meaning, a life that is full of deep joy. I gave my best effort to keeping all dismal discouragement at bay. I even started this really neat experiment related to this quote and tried to live it out. But it was quite the epic fail and I’m glad I didn’t invite anyone else along to try it out with me.
But on this Monday, February 12, to be exact, something shifted within me. Here is more of what I wrote in my journal:
“I thought I could completely create my own happiness…but clearly my best efforts even coupled with all the right things–prayer, scriptures, maintaining a positive attitude, and the like, are not enough. But maybe these bad days have a purpose. Maybe they will give me a new perspective on how to live a wonder-filled life and yet still make allowances for bad days. Maybe the trick is to stop setting my expectations so stinkin’ high!”
And that is the day I came up with a phrase to guide me.
You may remember Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s beautiful talk, “Come What May, and Love It.” It stands out in my mind, not only because of the humorous, heartwarming stories, but because the message sticks to your heart. But there again, I had taken this phrase too far. I told myself I should be able to LOVE every single thing that happened to me. No matter what hardship came, I tried to find the good in it and ultimately come to love it.
But I have to be honest. There are some bad days that I don’t love in the slightest. Not even one little bit. Eventually, years down the road, I am sometimes given a glimpse of why I needed to pass through those hardships, but even then, I can’t say I love my trials. It was just one more way for me to set my expectations too high and watch them get dashed over and over again. I would beat myself up for every day that I didn’t learn to truly “love.”
But February 12th, the Spirit whispered a new phrase to my heart and I hope Elder Wirthlin doesn’t mind if I borrowed his phrase and made it my own. (Bonus: it even rhymes! 😉 I wrote it in my planner for days to cement the meaning deep in my heart:
“Come what may, and that’s okay!”
I smiled happier than I had in days. This phrase, inspired by the Holy Ghost, has now been guiding my days. That doesn’t mean that I have stopped creating my happy life or striving for joy. But it does mean I’ve eased up on my high expectations for perfect days. I have decided to give my days grace, and myself as well. Whatever comes, comes. And now instead of fighting through my bad days like some ninja-warrior, I am accepting that some days are not so great, and that’s perfectly okay.
Instead of trying to derive some life-changing meaning from every trial, I’m trying to just sit with the trials and let them be. Instead of beating myself up for not being a perfect creator of happiness every single day, I’m just embracing the imperfect days as they come and trusting that rainy days nourish the soil and water the flowers. And maybe bad days could be used to nourish my spirit as well. So whatever happens, it’s going to be okay. With faith in the Savior, we will be just fine–no matter what.