Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Conception

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session from the April 1973 Conference.
As I've been doing the reading for this General Conference Odyssey, sometimes one talk will strike me particularly in its entirety; more often a paragraph or two will set my mind to pondering a certain theme. This week it was the juxtaposition of two paragraphs from two different talks that made me think about something in a new way. Here is the first paragraph, which comes from President Kimball's talk about families:
Shakespeare said, “No profit comes where there is no pleasure taken.” You can’t do very well that which you don’t enjoy doing. If we don’t get great pleasure out of our families, we should repent, because we are doing something wrong. If the work of the Lord seems burdensome and makes us weary, or if we don’t get exhilaration and uplift out of that part of the work of the world that life has given us to do, then we should repent. We need some more powerful satisfactions from life.
As I read that paragraph, I thought about how it might be misconstrued or criticized. I've heard many people talk about how when they are discouraged or depressed, the feeling that they ought to be happy, they ought to be enjoying themselves and feeling gratitude for their blessings—just makes the depression MORE overwhelming. Now they feel like, not only are they sad and depressed, but they are SINNING by being sad and depressed. And I can imagine someone reading this paragraph and thinking exactly that. "Repent?! For not getting 'exhilaration' and pleasure out of my difficult life? That's crazy!"

But yet, I find great wisdom in this counsel. I can't say how anyone else ought to manage their thoughts about it, but for me, it's empowering to think of ways I might take this to heart. How might I "repent" for not enjoying various mundane tasks? How might I turn those tasks into things that DO "exhilarate" and "uplift" me? 

It was with these questions on my mind that I read this paragraph, from Elder Sterling W. Sill's talk:
The Lord organized the whole program in the beginning with a father who procreates, provides, and loves and directs, and a mother who conceives and bears and nurtures and feeds and trains. The Lord could have organized it otherwise but chose to have a unit with responsibility and purposeful associations where children train and discipline each other and come to love, honor, and appreciate each other. The family is the great plan of life as conceived and organized by our Father in heaven.
The two uses of "conceive" here made the word suddenly stick out to me in a different way. I'm familiar with the Proclamation on the Family language where it describes a mother's charge to be responsible for the "nurture of her children," but I like the use of "conceive" as being part of that responsibility. Of course we hear that word all the time in the scriptures—this or that woman "conceived, and bore a son"—so I usually think of conception as related to birth. But of course, to conceive is also to imagine, to plan, to envision and believe. It is in this sense that the family and the great plan of life were "conceived and organized" by Heavenly Father.

And so it struck me with great force that part of my role as a mother can be to "conceive" things for our family. I can plan, I can envision. I can look at the ideals I'm wishing for and then DO something toward bringing them about. Of course I don't think a mother should do this alone! Of course her husband and children ought to be contributing and fulfilling their roles as well. But when I think in these terms of the instruction to "take pleasure" from family life, I see it as a commandment even one person, alone, could strive to fulfill. Even if circumstances seem to conspire against it—even if other family members are reluctant or oblivious or difficult—I love the idea that I could personally take responsibility for "conceiving" ways to make life happier, more beautiful, more joyful, more fun!

Obviously what that happier, more beautiful life looks like will change from family to family. There are deep personal applications I can think of that I wouldn't want to share here, but for example, on some levels our choice to homeschool has been that for me. It is a plan I "conceived" before I knew it would actually work, but the simultaneous removal of certain day-to-day annoyances and the addition of day-to-day pleasures has combined to make it a good choice for our family right now. And, of course, there are also mundane, even silly ways I've found to make life a little more pleasant. Things like: it used to drive me crazy how the kids would leave their dirty socks by their shoes in the entryway, and even when I sent them to the laundry basket, the socks would never make it all the way to their rooms but instead lie scattered along points intermediate. I finally put another laundry basket right next to the shoe hallway, just for socks, and the problem (mostly) disappeared. It seems like nothing but it caused a fairly big change in personal satisfaction (and the removal of personal annoyance!). 

Or how I hate putting the heavy casserole dishes away in the drawer below the stove, so I've permanently assigned that job to Sam or Abe. Or how I superglued the silverware holder to the dish drainer because every time it fell off I felt like screaming at someone.

Sure, I realize that all my petty annoyances are lame and reveal deep character flaws. Sometimes when I'm really frustrated about something I imagine myself saying it, aloud, to one of my pioneer ancestors.
"I hate it how I have to button this dress to get it to stay on the hanger." 
"I'm mad because my week calendar comes up by default instead of my month calendar." 
"I am frustrated because the peanut butter is hard to stir." 
"These oven mitts make it really hard to grab the edges of the bread pan." 
"I'm annoyed that the car air conditioning keeps making my hair tickle my face."
There is nothing like the horror and embarrassment I feel, imagining these little tête-à-têtes, to give me a little perspective! So, of course, I realize that much of this "pleasure" I'm supposed to take in family life will come automatically as I improve myself and make myself more patient, less selfish, etc. BUT, I also don't see anything wrong with "conceiving" of plans and ideas to make things go a little more smoothly along the way!

I'm sure every mother has such examples. Shelves she has contrived to fit a difficult and messy space. Routines, born of necessity, that override potential tantrums before they occur. Shortcuts that make meal preparation or laundry bearable. But it's a new idea to me, to think of this inventiveness as being part of our divine role. I love the thought that we women, like Heavenly Father but on a smaller and more temporal scale, can use our intellect and our ingenuity to conceive of a "plan of happiness" for our own families!

And even more, I love the idea that it need not only be on a temporal scale! I love the idea that a mother's plan, a mother's conception, brings not just her children's bodies to life, but also their spirits! I do take "powerful satisfaction" in the fact that the plans I envision and conceive can "exhilarate and uplift" my family's, and my own, day-to-day life. What an absorbing and fulfilling challenge—and one that, I imagine, will teach me a lot about Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father as I try to meet it.

Other posts in this series:

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful! I especially love the imagined whining. ;)

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    1. Ha! It's embarrassing, but effective. :)

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  2. This is a lovely perspective. I found it really uplifting this morning. Thank you.

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  3. Sharing this with my friends today as it is a profound concept i had learned awhile ago but forgot or buried under the busy mundane. Thank you for articulating this eternal principle!

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