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A doctor once said to me, “I never ask anyone if they’re tired. Everybody’s tired.” We laughed, but there is great truth in what he said. We live in a push-and-shove world where everyone’s trying to get ahead, and also get their children ahead. President Uchtdorf has said, “We even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.”
And some of us take this Type-A mindset into all we do, including our church service. I just spoke to three women who have stopped attending church because they’re simply tired. They have not questioned the restoration, our prophets, nor the commandments of God. They’re simply tired of feeling they’re in a hamster wheel and they want a break. But let’s look at this decision, its causes and repercussions.
First, each of these women is tired not because the church asks so much of them, but because of their own, self-imposed standards. Thirty-five years ago, President Kimball said, “May we keep church programs and organizations simple.” Leaders told us we don’t have to have a dog-and-pony show—with refreshments—every time we teach a Relief Society lesson. Meetings were cut back, ward activities were scaled down, and time with family was made sacrosanct.
However, some people could not bear to be released from their burdens, and went right ahead turning every event into a Hollywood production. Praised for going the extra mile, they justified this excess as magnifying their callings. But, on closer examination, the beautifully bound photo album of every Primary child’s baptism, and the memory quilt for every Young Woman, became a resented obligation and the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“You do not have to send home a complete set of flannel board figures with every child in your Primary class,” I said to one sister.
“Oh, but then they can share the stories with their families,” she said. Shortly thereafter, she “took a break” from church, “because they just expect so much.” Not only had she taken on tasks far beyond those outlined in the handbook, but she set a precedence not everyone else is able to follow. She never came back.
The consequences of this seemingly harmless “mental health break” are vast and deadly. The choice to pull out impacts spouses, extended family, and most of all, the children who are now without that parent’s example of faithful attendance. A sliding commitment is no commitment at all, and their tender testimonies are generally the first casualty. Good intentions to study on one’s own, appreciate the beautiful nature God created, and so on, generally evaporate into complete lack of spiritual progress and finally total stagnation. Without weekly renewal of baptismal covenants, repentance derails, sin can escalate, and absolute inactivity may result.
Satan, of course, loves this choice, because it doesn’t actually look evil, just relatable. Who can’t sympathize with someone needing a rest from their hard work? It’s the perfect tiny step in the wrong direction.
In 2007, former BYU-I President Kim Clark, gave a devotional titled, Out of Small Things Proceedeth That Which is Great, and said, “It is also true, however, that this principle works in the other direction as well. Small acts of disobedience or meanness, sustained over time, lead to great evil and destruction. This we also know.” Then he quoted Nephi’s description of Satan in 2 Nephi 28:21-22: “…and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell…until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.”
So what’s the solution for saints feeling burned out? There are several. The “Sunday School answers” of scripture study, attendance, prayer, and fasting are commonly known because they work. They are not a cliché; they are a proven formula. So, yes, we hear them again and again.
But there are others. We can renew our resolve by reflecting upon how we gained our testimony in the first place. Revisit that moment in your heart and mind. Remember who you are. Remember God’s blessings and the witness of the Holy Ghost. Read your Patriarchal Blessing.
Take a stand. Resolve to prove faithful, against all hazards. Recognize Lucifer’s subtle attempts to lure you into self pity. Tell him he’s not going to win this one. Determine that you will fight through difficulties, offenses, and even your own perfectionism, if that’s been part of the exhaustion. Simply refuse to quit the church. Get a priesthood blessing for strength.
Simplify your life in other areas. If you have to give up something, make it anything but your testimony. Ask for help from those you work with at church. Learn to delegate. Do a good job in your calling, but don’t let the adversary lure you into going so far overboard that you burn out. No calling includes the directive, “You have to fix everything.”
See the blessings of the Lord in your efforts. President Kimball said, “Let us hold fast to the iron rod. The Savior urged us to put our hand to the plow without looking back. In that spirit we are being asked to have humility and a deep and abiding faith in the Lord and to move forward—trusting in him, refusing to be diverted from our course, either by the ways of the world or the praise of the world. I see that quality of readiness and devotion in our people today. There is so much yet to be done! Let us, then, move forward; let us continue the journey with lengthened stride. The Lord will lead us along, and he will be in our midst and not forsake us.” (April 1980 General Conference address, “Let Us Not Weary in Well Doing”)
And don’t ever discount your impact, or feel you can step away from the church without anyone missing you. Every person matters, every effort contributes to the whole. In D & C 64: 33-34 we read, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” Be willing. Be obedient. (We have this same reminder in Galatians 6:9 which says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”)
Never has the Lord asked us to tackle a tough calling all by ourselves. And He will never give us more than we can handle with his help. He is there for us every step of the way, and wants to help us succeed. Too often we forget to include Him in our plans and labors. Yet, when we do, we are invariably startled by how much he can make of us, and the great things we can accomplish. We can even glimpse the Lord’s simplicity and economy, and allow him to teach us how to make our tasks more doable. He doesn’t want any of us to run faster than we have strength, so let’s enlist His help. It could be easier than you ever imagined.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.
TerryDecember 5, 2015
Such good advice. In D&C 64:33, the Lord told Joseph Smith to "be not weary in well-doing, counsel that applies to all of us. He also gave Joseph advice that again applies to all of us: "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to [fulfill your callings in the church]. Though the quotes were modified by yours truly, they apply as much to us as they did to Joseph Smith. I served a mission in Scotland decades ago. We had one Elder who worked so hard (against the advice of the mission president), that he became so worn out that he ended up leaving his mission after having served for only six months. I had to wonder how much more he could have accomplished had he just slowed down enough to enable him to endure to the end of his mission. I have to believe that for us, the Lord values quality over quantity..
Mimi SmithDecember 3, 2015
We all have seasons of depletion and sometimes we have to await our renewal without feeling guilty about our inability to give. After 45 years I am finally developing the ability to say no. Women need to take care of themselves before they can take care of everybody else. But choosing to not attend church will not renew us. I worry that a lot of women stop attending because they are afraid to tell people no. Let's be patient with one another and let them know we are there to help them. I for one am so grateful and don't know what I would do without my sisters in the gospel.