The Art of Life is to Get the Message
by Darla Isackson
Recently, grieved by a grown son’s choices, I was caught in the useless “what could I have done differently” mind-set. One day I was looking for ideas for a current writing project in a past one: a Mother’s Day booklet I co-authored in 1996 with Emma Lou Thayne called, “To Be a Mother, the Agonies and the Ecstasies.” I was drawn into the piece I had contributed called “The Savior Makes Up the Difference for Mothers, Too.” As I read, I found myself in tears to find the exact counsel and comfort I needed in my current dilemma coming through words I had written after wading through a crisis long past.
Here’s how my piece started:
I shifted my weight, trying to find a comfortable position on the hard folding chair; then warm hands were placed upon my head and the blessing began. My mind, swirling with questions, matched the tumult of the winter storm outside. How could divorce be happening to me? What would become of our five sons? Would they keep believing in “forever families”? Why had all my efforts to provide my children with the “ideal” LDS home failed so miserably?
Hungering for faith, I devoured each word of the blessing but wondered if pain-easing answers even existed for my dilemma. The concluding promise of the blessing astonished me. “Dear sister Darla, the Lord is mindful of your concern and love for your children. He wants you to know that through this situation they will learn far more and be better prepared for the challenges of their lives than if they had been raised in the ‘perfect model home’ you so dearly wanted for them”
The quiet but powerful voice of the Comforter spoke peace: my children would be okay. As I drove home alone, the storm became a cold drizzle, but I wept warm tears of relief, thankfulness, and newfound courage.
I have never forgotten the words of that blessing or the feelings I had that night. They’ve often snatched me from despair and freed me from trying to create an impossible ideal to focus on learning, loving, and growing. I’m happy when I see progress in these same values in any of my sons’ lives–as when my missionary son wrote about learning to let go of perfectionism and focus on loving more.
Recently, he wrote: “I had two of the hardest days of my mission right after a beautiful experience that reassured me that God loves me in spite of all my weaknesses, has a plan for me, and that this plan is in action and working fine. I was really confused for a while, but I’m learning so much from all this about faith and patience and submitting to the Lord’s will that feels good and right.” The theme song in his letters has been, “life as a missionary is hard, but I’m learning lots.’
Life raising children is hard, too, but I’m learning lots. I still tend to think everyone should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and my children still resist being as anxious about it as I am! The other day I was feeling frustrated thinking of all the unread New Eras and other “productive” projects left undone while my sons hunkered in front of the computer screen, mesmerized by video games. Even though I had seen other sons grow in maturity–even becoming neatniks on their own after having a history of pigsty rooms–I was envisioning these two at ago forty neglecting family and church responsibilities to play “Command & Conquer.”
I sat down one day to study their patriarchal blessings with the idea of finding better ways to motivate them. What an experience! The Lord’s view of my sons was infinitely different from what mine had been lately–and there was no doubt whose perspective was more accurate. I clearly saw that “this too will pass,” was reminded (again!) that agency is God-given, and that anxiety–even over choices more distressing than sitting for hours in front of video games–is shortsighted.
I have to admit that one reason I get upset about my children’s imperfect choices is that they make me feel like a failure. Where did I get the idea that successful parenting means raising children who invariably make only positive choices? If that were true, then God–the perfect parent–succeeded only with his firstborn son and failed with the rest of us.
It helps to get my scriptures out and read about strong, faithful parents like Adam and Eve or Lehi and Sariah, who struggled with errant children. I think about the Savior easing their hearts, comforting them, and rewarding them for their own righteous choices and continuing efforts. I find absolutely no scriptural indication that the Lord viewed any of these good people as failures when their children strayed–and I can’t imagine that he sees any conscientious parent that way, either. His arms are always stretched out to every one of us. He has already paid the price for every mistake–whether made by children or their parents. And that includes errors made in ignorance.
As I have listened to parents–especially those with grown children–I’ve never heard one that did not question or even agonize over his or her parenting. Even my elderly mom, who has the most loving mother’s heart imaginable, worries about “what she didn’t know” as she was raising her children. “I didn’t have any help at all raising my kids,” she lamented one day as I was giving her a permanent. “In those days we didn’t have parenting particle or books or Mother Education classes to help us be better mothers. I don’t suppose I taught you very much as you were growing up, because I didn’t even realize I was supposed to.”
I fastened the curler I was rolling, then sat down beside her. “But Mom, you loved us, and you did such a good job in every way you knew. You’re not accountable for things you didn’t have a chance to learn.”
Even as I spoke those words, I realized how desperately I needed to be reminded of the message that I won’t be condemned for things I didn’t know–or didn’t know how to apply. When I still feel I “should” have done better as a parent, I remind myself that no one but the Savior will ever do as well as he or she “should” have. The rest of us only do the best we can. We always fall short, and that is the whole point of the Atonement–the reason God sent the Savior after all. And without our imperfections and hard times it is unlikely we would reach out to each other in service or reach up to the Lord so earnestly for spiritual strength. I have discovered that the Savior’s invitation to have faith, repent, and apply the reality of the Atonement is the only answer to my parenting dilemma.
I often need reassurance about these principles–especially on days when I am painfully aware of my own weaknesses. Things can pile up: some are serious, like not being able to dissuade a young son from an ill-fated marriage. But I can easily be pulled into a guilt-trip by less earthshaking events, such as a son telling me I’ve often been too busy to listen to him, but never too busy to give him a lecture. Sometimes it all really gets to me and I can’t help but wonder if I do anything right.
Feelings of failure weighed so heavily one night that I spent hours pleading with the Lord for relief. I didn’t get an answer instantly, and it was hard to be patient. But over a period of time one reassurance after another was whispered to my spirit in sweet, sweet comfort. I came to know that the Lord understands my heart far better than I could imagine. He alone is completely aware of the level of my emotional and spiritual development at every minute of my life. He totally understands my limitations–after all, they are part of being mortal–and he will never require more than I can possibly give. He knows I can’t act on a tenth-grade level in an area where I’m still in kindergarten learning the ABC’s–and that’s okay. Satan’s “no mistakes allowed” plan, after all, was unequivocally rejected. Now, when I lean toward discouragement, the Comforter reminds me what the Lord does require–a broken heart and a contrite spirit willing to keep striving and learning to do better.
The scripture “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:3) has come to mean more and more to me over the years. Difficult circumstances constantly nudge me along the road to spiritual progress and greater joy . . .–become prods toward the Lord rather than sticks to beat myself with.”
I went on to tell an experience with an absent son, then closed with “I deeply believe that the reassurance the Lord would give every sincere parent is, “Yes, my child, you are going to make it. I will make up the difference, if only you want to come to me.” Stephen E. Robinson, in his book Believing Christ, calls that message “Good News” indeed.
Better News for Parents
When we take this principle a step further there is even better news for parents: Christ’s atonement frees our children from any negative consequences of parental error in judgment. If we have caused them sorrow, the Savior will wipe away their tears. All the things we didn’t know will somehow be made up to them, and all our weaknesses that created difficulties in their lives will be compensated for. All mortal parents have failed their children in some ways, but the Savior will never fail them. And that, for parents, is the best news of all.”
Over the years I have needed a frequent review of those reassuring principles. I continue to find logical as well as spiritual validation for them. The day that the paper ran a profile–a picture and story about one of my son’s experiences as a bartender was a real test. Having the very missionary I quoted from in my article go through a serious period of doubt concerning everything he had professed to believe was another. I had long been an approval addict, the queen of wanting everyone to think well of me, and found it necessary to dig my roots into deeper spiritual soil than ever before to keep my balance. One day it occurred to me that no one thought less of Heavenly Father because of the poor choices of His children! If his success was based on having us all choose perfectly, He would have had to opt for Satan’s plan. But since his object was our growth, he chose agency.
I dug one step deeper–the point isn’t what anyone thinks of me, at all, but how much I am learning, how much I am growing. I had to give up the idea long ago that I am here on earth to create the “ideal.” My weaknesses have, no doubt, contributed to my sons challenges, but my stewardship at this point is to turn those weaknesses over to the Lord and participate in His refining process to make them strengths.
The longer I live, the more I learn that immersing myself in the Book of Mormon and praying each day for forgiveness and guidance are vital practices to keep my grasp firm on the iron rod. I’m “getting the message” on so many of the parables of my life and becoming more and more comfortable with the recognition of my nothingness and my total dependence on the Holy Ghost to guide me and the Savior to make up the difference.
Ether 13:10 gives me great comfort. “And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb;” –not those who never needed the blood of the lamb, but those who believed in the atonement, turned to him for forgiveness and received it. And since there is never a day that I don’t make some mistake in my parenting role, I love Moroni 6:8.“But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” Ed Pinegar indicated in one of my favorite talks that the only thing we have to get perfect in in this life is repenting. I’m getting a lot of practice at sincere repenting. It has occurred to me that there may be no more important example I can ever set for my children. At last I’m doing something right!
To Be a Mother, the Agonies and the Ecstasies is a unique 16-page booklet with full-color cover written specifically to mothers with grown children. It contains not only the comforting piece by Darla titled “The Savior Makes Up the Difference for Mothers, Too” but four poems and some fine prose by poet laureate Emma Lou Thayne. To receive a copy at half the cover price, send check or money order for $3.00 (which includes tax and shipping and handling) to:
2565 Fern Circle
West Jordan, UT 84084
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