The last few months have been hard for Savannah. Her emails don't really reflect the emotional struggles she's having or the conitunous challenge it is to serve a full time mission for more than a year. I wrote this to her this week after a long month of battling my own frustrating weaknesses had left me feeling pretty ineffective and useless in Alabama, too. I'm including the email here because sometimes on the sunny days I forget that life is hard; and on the hard days, I forget that the sun always comes out again.
Daddy listened to this conference talk on Sunday morning.
Joy and Spiritual Survival - By President Russell M. Nelson
Joy and Spiritual Survival - By President Russell M. Nelson
He said it was because he was trying to delay having to get out of his warm bed on a cold Fast Sunday morning, and he also said he just randomly chose it...but I sort of think he picked it because he was trying to figure out how to help me feel more JOY in this place and in my life. I'm sending it to you hoping it will help you find more JOY in yours, too.
I have never seen Daddy have more responsibilities or more required of him in church and at work, but somehow he also has more patience and more compassion than I've ever seen him have. He goes with the mishs into the dirtiest, smoke-filled, humblest homes filled with people who only have excuses about why they can't come to church. He listens to my complaining and crying about how this is all too hard for me and I can't do it. He has a bazillion people at work who need him for one thing or another. And somehow, he is infinitely patient, positive, and compassionate with all of us.
And I think he is truly and genuinely filled with joy most of the time. He loves this place. He loves the service opportunities we are all having here. And he loves this house and his little lake. He's been trying to talk me into making this the location for Cousins Camp instead of retiring in Utah...and seriously, it's impossible not to agree with him most of the time because he just loves this place so dang much!
Megan is the same way. She goes on all those visits with Daddy and the sister mishs, and she comes back in love with every single, smoke covered, cat infested one of those people. Members or not. Goofy or not. Uneducated, toothless, 600 lbs, grumpy, whatever...she comes home and somehow reports only on the potential she saw and the love she felt while on the Lord's errand.
They are both infinitely frustrating when I mostly just want to complain about people's laziness and weaknesses and lame excuses.
I have been lamenting my lot in life pretty regularly, every time I can get one of them to sit down and listen to it, and it's always the same. I feel uninspired, overworked, overwhelmed, and I can't seem to find ways to feel the Spirit as often as I think I should. So then I get frustrated and I want to just quit everything, hide all my talents, and hole up in this house forever.
But Megan said something interesting the other day when I was complaining to her. She said, "Well, sometimes I feel like there's so much work to do here, but then I think that's probably what we're here for. There's a lot of work to do, so we might as well pitch in and get it done! And besides, what would I be doing anyway, if I wasn't spending 4 hours after church on a Sunday visiting less active members with Daddy? I would just be sitting at home watching TV or thinking about myself. So this is better, isn't it?"
ugh...I can't seem to get to that place where Daddy and Megan are. I LOVE people at church. When I go on Sundays, I always see and hear what I think HF must see and hear in them. I love that they made the effort to come, even though it's a huge sacrifice for some of them. I love that the strong members have multiple callings and so much to do, and yet still drive out of their way to pick up the people who might not have a way to get to church otherwise. I love that all these converts have such a blazing testimony of this church even though it's not flashy and we don't have a rock band. And I want to KNOW them and LISTEN to them and SERVE them.
And then on Monday, I look at my calendar and I see all the obligations and responsibilities I have combined with the service I just volunteered for at church the previous day, and I think, "What the heck?! I'm never going to survive this week." And then I toss my faith out the window, I forget that my strength doesn't come from me, and I try to plow through the list, disgruntled and tired, only to find that by Wednesday, I can't do one more thing and I'm barely hanging onto my sanity by a thread...much less any JOY I might have felt on Sunday. So then, I spend Thursday hiding out in my room all day watching continuous episodes of Dateline and not answering the phone. That's been the cycle since I got this YW calling, I think.
This weekend, I was crying to Daddy about all that I had to do and all the people who should be carrying more of this load, and all the people who were still asking me to DO MORE STUFF! And I was crying about all the time and effort I put into things only to have it be a huge flop (like singing that song for that man's funeral last week) or unnoticed (like VTing all these women who wont even answer the door) or unappreciated (like YWIE.) And he asked me why that made me so sad and frustrated? And I said, "Because I'm doing all this stuff and it makes not one bit of difference! It's all just a giant waste of my time!"
And just today it finally occurred to me...I think in my whole life, I've only ever done things for two reasons:
1) to gain something personally (like popularity or social media acclaim or to be noticed and fussed over...or the less selfish, but still personally motivated ones like wanting to feel the Spirit or be inspired or to get answers to prayers or to increase my testimony or stretch myself out of my comfort zone) Some of those are less self centered than others, but all of them are with my own increase as the focus.
2) to make other people happy. A lot of times, I do things just to make someone else happy. I don't even care if they acknowledge it or if they even knew it was me, I just want to do it because I love Daddy or Stephanie King or you or the other kids, or whoever happened to fly in the crosshairs of my spirit-filled love arrows at church on Sunday. And that's an unselfish and righteous motivation, I think. There's nothing wrong with doing good things solely for someone else's happiness or comfort.
But what I don't think I ever do is FOCUS entirely on the Savior as my motivation.
I think that is the difference in the JOY Daddy and Megan feel in this place, and the lack of JOY I feel. I go see Ida on Wednesdays because I know she will be sad if we don't come. I go out with the missionaries because I know they need people to drive them so they can save miles. I feed all these people Daddy invites to our house because I know he wants them to feel comfortable and included...and sometimes I want them to feel that way, too. I go to the temple on Wednesdays to refill MY spiritual bucket. I walk in the mornings and read Conference talks and read my scriptures because I know I NEED that to get through a day. I pray because I want to tell HF stuff, because I need help with things, and because I NEED Him.
But how much more JOY would I get out of all those good things if I did them because I love the Savior, because that's what He would do and because I want to be like Him?
I think that's what Elder Nelson's talk is trying to say...
"...the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives."
"Joy is powerful, and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives."
This "mission field" experience is totally different for me and HARDER than anything else that's ever been required of me in the church...so far.
I know that your mission experience is harder than anything you've ever done in the church or in your life. I don't doubt that our physical or emotional weaknesses may be part of the reason that some of the things we're doing is harder than it might be for the average bear. And I also don't doubt that maybe the situation + the physical exhaustion + the constant pace of missionary life = some kind of depression or imbalance for you. But I don't think it's a permanent condition that you will have to fix when you get home or deal with for the rest of your life. I honestly think this is just the next hurdle HF is asking you to get over. It's a really good attempt by a really smart and sneaky opposition to get you to think there is something wrong with you that will prevent you from doing this work now, and other, more important work in the future. You can do this! And I can do this! HF is right there waiting for us to ask Him to help us carry these heavy loads. He is probably not going to make the days all sunny and the companions all delightful and the efforts all successful, but what He can do is help you to find JOY in the middle of the rainy, crying, frustrating days and fill your life with purpose and peace. Joy doesn't always = happiness and pleasure. JOY = gratitude for the opportunities (all of them,) peace of conscience, and fulfillment that you know you've done what you can...and that it was enough.
That man who died last week probably didn't even care that I practiced all morning long on that song, or that I drove a million miles that day. He probably wasn't even at his own funeral bc he's already off doing important things in the spirit world. The Bishop didn't even know about it bc he was out of town. And the people who were there have probably blocked out the musical number entirely bc it was weak and uninteresting at best. BUT...I know Heavenly Father was happier that I said yes than He would have been if I had purposely ignored the call or not shown up to sing. Doing that hard thing certainly didn't bring me confidence or popularity, but five days later, after I've stopped crying and complaining about it, I can see that it made HF happy and I can number myself among the people who are His helpers. And that's a JOYful feeling.
Sorry about the super long email that probably is filled with stuff you already know. But I just want you to know that you are not the only missionary who has ever felt depression and discouragement. And you are not now, nor will you be at other times in your life, the only person who has ever felt sad even though everything they have should be making them happy. There is nothing wrong with you. You don't need medication or a release from your calling or a break. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. And the challenges you are struggling with today will help you or someone else somewhere down the road. Put your blinders back on, pray your guts out, and then go out and do the work that will make HF happy. Be one of His helpers. He already loves you and everything you're doing and He needs you to keep doing it.