Monday, March 28, 2016

Exchanging My Gold Stars for a Golden Heart

I was nursing Beckett tonight and pondering how prideful I am. I've realized it's second nature to me to size someone up and put them on a mental tier, either above or below mine. That sounds horrible because it is horrible. I've been praying and wondering how to overcome this awful habit, and I had an interesting experience tonight.

As I rocked my baby I wondered why I judge people, and especially why I find a certain smugness in putting someone on a tier below mine.

The Lord has told me that I need to be focusing on two weaknesses right now: anger and fear. These came to me as I pondered my pride. I realized that fear is at the root of this, but fear of what?

Fear of being the least. The least smart, the least attractive, the least sophisticated, the least well-dressed, the least well-spoken, etc. Growing up, I was very praise-oriented. I excelled in school and sports, and I loved the praise and validation I would get at being "the best." To be "the least" would be so embarrassing, so pathetic, so shameful.

When I judge someone and determine that they are "less than" me in some way, I assuage my fear of being the least. If I can find someone else in the room or at the store or in the chapel that is "the least," that means I'm safe from the title. My fear of the judgment of others had eclipsed my fear of God.

But how to change? I believe Christ can help. Here's what I visualized tonight while I rocked:

I imagined gathering all the "gold stars" I've collected and treasured. Gold stars for academics, gold stars for having cute clothes (not many, but more than "the least"!), gold stars for shopping at certain stores, gold stars for speaking a certain way, gold stars for how my teeth look, gold stars for how I can carry on a conversation smoothly, gold stars for being "modest," gold stars for wearing stylish shoes, gold stars for wearing shoes that aren't too stylish, gold stars for saying something funny, gold stars for having normal kids, gold stars for being a homeowner in a nice neighborhood, gold stars for my politics, gold stars for what books I like, gold stars for what TV shows I don't watch, gold stars for everything! I put them all in a plain cardboard box.

I imagined the Savior standing in front of me. Head bowed, I handed Him the box, embarrassed. It was full of stars, but devoid of worth. Would He set it on fire? Take each one out and rip it in half?

He accepted the box and immediately put it behind Him, out of sight, not bothering to examine the contents. Then he presented me with a golden heart: charity. The answer to my fears, for perfect love casteth out all fear (Moroni 8:16)! I put the golden heart on my chest with joy. This heart is a gift from Christ, not a product of the judgments and comparisons of mortals. Charity delights in lifting "the least," and not in keeping them low so I can feel high.

For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto   me. (D&C 42:38) 
I know I still have work ahead of me as I strive to fully accept a new heart from Christ. Old habits and fears will tempt me, but I am glad the Lord has shown me the fear at the root of my pride so I can fight that fear with charity and truth.

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. 
And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, 
And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.  Luke 9:46-48


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Word of Wisdom

My understanding and application of the Word of Wisdom has varied over the years. As a kid I knew I wasn't supposed to drink alcohol or smoke AND DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT MOUNTAIN DEW, but I never thought about the prescriptive parts of the Word of Wisdom, or really even pondered the attached promises.

As an adult, I've studied D&C 89 with more interest. 

For a while, my main focus was eating less meat. Then I got pregnant and that went into the toilet with everything else I ate. Why does pregnancy make everything so hard? A post for another day.

I haven't been pregnant in a while, so my thoughts been able to journey back to food and how it affects my mind, body, and spirit.

Today I want to write about verses 18-19. The Lord says, 

18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

The promises in verse 19 are especially appealing to me. I love learning, I have a mental storage unit bursting with questions, and who doesn't like treasure?

For several months now my prayers have been focused on asking the Lord what I need to do to grow closer to Him, and on begging God to grant me patience as a mother of three kids.

I never expected the answer to both prayers to be something as non-exciting and unappealing as "stop eating so much sugar." In fact, I was so unimpressed with this answer* that I ignored it for a long time. How could denying myself my much-needed nap time (and post bedtime, let's be honest) treat help me? Wasn't ice cream invented by a mother of six during nap time? (No, but that's not relevant.)

When I finally seriously pondered this answer, God told me clearly, "Stop eating sugar, and I will open your mind."


So on January 20 I decided to stop eating sugar except for one dessert on date night and another after family night. I also haven't concerned myself with incidentally added sugar in things like ketchup, but I have cut out gratuitously sweetened foods like my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats. You should know that before this I was eating 2-3 sugary desserts a day in addition to overly-sweetened non-dessert foods (like yogurt). During my sugar-free(ish) weeks I've wondered if God wanted me to cut out all sugar, but I was directed that I didn't need to be that drastic or obsessive, but that the important point was that I remove my dependency on sugar.

All the Honey Bunches.

The results have been miraculous. I was expecting to just feel so deprived (isn't that how we always feel when giving up sin**?), and I did feel that way for about a week. But then the sugary clouds parted and the sunlight poured into my mind and spirit. I also lost ten pounds, but that really is so insignificant in comparison to the spiritual clarity that has come from freeing myself from the constant up-down, craving, lethargy, grumpy sugar cycle that had been trapping me. It turns out that when your brain isn't constantly worried about when your next sugar fix is coming, you can ponder, you can listen to the spirit, you can pause and think before screeching at your kids.

My sugar addiction was like a foggy filter over my spiritual lens, and lifting it has led me to receive even more light and knowledge that I wasn't expecting. My mind has been opened. 

I know sugar isn't specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, and I'm not saying that anyone else is sinful for eating it, serving it to their kids (I still do), or swimming in it, but God knew that for me, my sugar dependence was holding me back mentally, physically, and spiritually. I am grateful for the spirt of the Word of Wisdom that teaches us that how we treat our bodies affects our spiritual progression as well as our physical well-being. 

Maybe what's holding you back is sugar, or maybe it's that lame reality television show that takes up the time you should be using to read your scriptures, or maybe it's peanut butter--I don't know! But God knows, and He will tell you what you need to do next in your journey back to Him. Ask Him with real intent and He will answer. Then do it.

P.S. I love that it's called the Word of Wisdom because it's about how you take care of your body, which is a gift from your mom, and Wisdom is another name for Heavenly Mother. Think about that while you drink your kale smoothie.

*I was also led to the book Peaceful Parenting, Happy Children, which has given me so many great tools. I really recommend it to anyone looking to be a more Christlike parent. Kicking my sugar habit allowed me to get into a mental and emotional state to be able to put the practices taught in this book into action.
**I want to be clear that I don't think eating sugar is a sin. However, I think my addiction to it was sinful and contributed to mood swings and physical limitations that contributed to more sins like being slothful and impatient with my children.