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A friend of mine recently asked me to advise a sister who is simply tired of trying so hard. She doesn’t think she “fits in” with the other women at church whom she sees doing so much, raising wonderful families, the whole “Molly Mormon” thing. No matter how hard she tries, she seems to fall short.

Sound familiar? Either we’ve felt twinges (or avalanches) of discouragement, or we know others who have. It strikes both men and women, but mostly women, because we seem more prone to the constant pressure—often self-imposed– to measure up, to be good enough.

This woman sounded like the thousands of disenchanted females who know the gospel is true, but in their day-to-day living of it, they’ve burned out. Somehow, even when church leaders tell us to feel great about ourselves, either these women don’t hear it, or they hear it and think it’s for someone else– they miss the comforting message, and beat themselves up, instead. And I see Satan casting his line, and I can hear the tick-tick-tick as he slowly reels them in.

Every time an exhausted woman throws her hands in the air, she lets go of the iron rod. We have to stop this. We have to make sure every one of our fingers is tightly clasping the rod, not one of them loosening its grip. So here’s my formula of 10 things we can do, one for each finger, to keep a tight hold.

  1. This first one doesn’t seem deeply spiritual, but it actually is. By taking care of yourself, you maintain a cheerful disposition. And how many times are we told to “be of good cheer” in Holy Writ? It’s the way to fortify yourself against Satan’s messages that your life is lacking. So don’t run faster than is possible, don’t compare yourself to others, and take time for your own renewal. Be fun again, do spontaneous, joyful things. You are responsible for your own mood. Yes, taking flowers to someone is service, but it’s also a kick in the pants. Eat a dessert, for crying out loud, and stop living a Spartan life of deprivation every minute of the day. Go to a movie, paint a picture, read a book, give yourself some R & R. Send your husband a sexy note. There, I said “sexy” in a Meridian Magazine piece.
  2. Ignore those phonies in the great and spacious building. Letting pride creep into our thoughts is probably the first way we loosen one finger as we cling to the rod. We look at someone else, on Facebook or on television, who has the life we always wanted. We see clothes, cars, houses, and vacations we envy. Someone else is married and we’re not. Someone else has grandkids and we don’t. We begin to resent, and then compete. Our priorities flip. And then we begin to look down upon those less whatever—less wealthy, less educated, less anything. We become shallow and unfulfilled, often without even knowing why. We become too concerned about appearances, too worried about reaching worldly standards. Learn from the regrets of many who, on death’s door, wished they had made their life about loving relationships, not the acquisition of things they’ll leave behind, or the status and prestige they overestimated.
  3. Stop rolling your eyes at the “Primary answers.” Do the stuff Satan tells you is trite—pray, attend church, and read the scriptures. I’ve heard several bishops say that, every time someone sinks into despair (except for clinically depressed patients), they guarantee that person is not reading the Book of Mormon daily. If you want to stop feeling sorry for yourself, don’t look at your circumstances; look for your scriptures and read them, if only five minutes a day. We’ve been told this book can become your own personal Urim and Thummim, and you will be astonished at the insights and inspiration that come to you if you’ll simply stick to a daily reading schedule. This is why the adversary works so hard to keep us from daily reading—because he knows the power in it. Next time your soul is bleeding and you wish you had a spiritual BandAid for it, grab your scriptures. That’s your BandAid.
  4. Which brings us to praying. Don’t let a day go by without sharing your life with your Father in Heaven. He wants to help you. Tell him of your hopes and dreams, ask his forgiveness when you trip, thank him profusely, and bring your own wishes into line with his—be about his business, not just your own. When we stop praying, our grip loosens. Don’t allow that.
  5. And, of course, attend church. Renew your baptismal covenants by taking the Sacrament, but also rejoice in the fellowship of a congregation. Stop thinking you have to rise to some level of perfection just to walk into the building—that’s nonsense. Nobody inside there is perfect. Just come and feel the spirit. We all need others to rush in and buoy us up when we feel we’re sinking. And we can draw great strength from those who’ve traveled our same rocky path. But you won’t meet them unless you make the effort and come to church. You can’t sit at home waiting for people to beg you to come out. Be brave, get out there, and strike up conversations. You will amazed at how many women have triumphed over greater struggles than your own. You are not expected to travel through life as a solitary hermit. Make friends and be one as well. Then, don’t just look for people who can help lift you—be one of the lifters. That means being willing to serve wherever you’re needed, as well.
  6. Instead of just wallowing in all the ideas on the internet that you can never do, and reading about all the people you can never be, use the internet to boost your own soul, and to help you choose to be happy every day. Look up Conference talks and BYU speeches about the very topics of your concern. The website is loaded with short, inspiring videos as well. For a talk that tells women “you’re doing better than you think you are,” check out Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk or this great address of his, for young women.Don’t let church meetings be your only source of water. Come to the rest of the well—all the wonderful materials available to enlighten you—books, articles, websites like this one, and online postings by our prophets and apostles. Make spiritual growth a priority, something you actively seek.
  1. If you could tell children to do one thing that would bring them lasting joy, wouldn’t you lovingly tell them simply to obey? Because you’re wiser you know this is their ticket to real liberty, real contentment. Likewise, God gave us his commandments not to restrict us, but to guide us to the greatest blessings he can bestow. Let’s be smart, and take him at his word. Let’s redouble our efforts to obey his commandments, and finally set aside our “favorite sins” once and for all. Let all ten fingers grip the rod tighter as you think of all ten commandments. There are other commandments, of course, and each one we obey strengthens our clasp.
  2. Be other-centered. The minute Lehi tasted of the fruit, he didn’t sit down and gorge, and think how lucky he was to have this treasure trove all to himself. He immediately wanted to share it with those he loves. He was constantly focused on helping others. Turning from your own problems to solve the challenges of others is the best way to live an exhilarating life. Today we see thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies trying to have that glorious peak experience of absolute joy, but they’ll never attain it in dangerous pursuits. Self-indulgence will never yield the level of pure happiness you’ll taste when you forget about yourself and serve someone else. Indeed, self-absorption leads to self-pity, and the minute we stop focusing on ourselves, we will begin to sense our real value.
  3. Remember life’s purpose. Our leaders have told us it’s actually temple sealings. Everything we do, every step of progress we make, should lead in that direction. Be part of the plan—find names, submit them to the temple, and make yourself worthy to go inside and do the work. You know the thrill seekers I just mentioned? That over-the-top experience they actually want is in the temple. If you can devote a few hours to take a name all the way through each ordinance, you will find a sublime peace and joy like no other.
  4. Make it about getting closer to Christ. If we can draw close to him, follow his example as best we can, and really accept his atoning gift, our life will be happier than we ever imagined. It will be more fulfilling, more exciting, more joyful. Out of 365 days in a year, could you take one off entirely and just spend it with the Savior? Talk to him, think on him, invite him to walk with you and bless you. Give him your burdens. Make the whole day about your relationship with the Lord. In fact, get a Priesthood blessing and you will feel the assurance of God’s love and validation of your own efforts. You will hear direction that, if followed, will make you better able to accomplish the things that matter. And you’ll feel freed from the ones that don’t. Your faith will be strengthened. Distractions will fade. Your outlook on life will be brighter. You’ll want to share this “spend a day with the Lord” idea with your children, and invite them to do the same.

Each of these efforts can help us hold to the rod. Just keep your eye on the prize, take life a step at a time, and never loosen that grip. Never.

Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as a Relief Society President.