Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An art developed through practice

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Afternoon Session from the April 1974 Conference.
I spent a long time deliberating which talk to write about from this session. There were a lot of good ones! But the one I thought about longest, and kept coming back to, was Elder H. Burke Peterson's "Mother, Catch the Vision of Your Call." I was (and am) a little hesitant to write about this talk, because I'm not sure how to take all of it. Some of his charges sound old-fashioned and I KNOW they would be leapt upon with great indignation by many women today, probably accompanied by head-shaking about the "pervasive sexism" of past generations. I'm actually inclined to defend him, because read more carefully, the talk really does contain a lot of nuance and understanding of different situations. He allows for exceptional circumstances and acknowledges difficult tradeoffs, as well as encouraging mothers to give themselves ample time for personal development. This is no inflexible sexist tirade! But because his phrases sound foreign to modern ears, there's a bit of a language barrier.

Anyway, I'm never completely sure, reading these old talks, which things were specific charges for their time, which things still hold true even though they are said differently now, which things should be allowed to fade into the past, and so forth. But I do believe that there is always wisdom and truth to be found as we search for it in the words of the prophets. And I know I'm more likely to find that truth if I read with an open mind and don't get defensive! So I'm trying to do that.

There were a few insights that made particular impressions on me from this talk. One was not really even a direct quote, but more of an implication. Elder Peterson says:
Remember, a loving Father in heaven sent some of his own for you to care for…Children are not a gift to us, but a precious loan, a priceless loan to be returned—returned more valuable than when we received them, understanding more, better prepared to return to him who lent them to us. The charge is ours to increase their worth.
I know, of course, that our children truly belong to God, but his phrasing here recalls the parable of the talents, and I had never thought of that parable in the context of families. It's interesting to think that we are seeking to increase the "value" of our children by teaching them, guiding them, and giving them the tools to become faithful servants of God. It's not a perfect metaphor because our children, naturally, have their own agency and abilities which determine how they will progress. But I still like the idea that I can be part of that magnification process, helping one talent become two and two become ten as my children grow up under my care. I like the idea of returning them to their true Father "better than I found them"—not because I necessarily did anything to them, but because I created an environment in which they could flourish and be "added unto."

Another section I liked was when Elder Peterson reminded:
You learn to do by doing, you learn to be by being…motherhood is an art to be developed through practice. This art isn’t easy to learn, but learn you can because as you strive, the Lord will bless you with growth, patience, wider understanding, and loving warmth for your family’s special needs.
Sam and I have had many discussions about what "talent" actually means. People will say to me when I play the piano, or to him about his art, "You are so talented!" and we both tend to think, "What? Talented? This isn't talent, it's hard work!" I suppose there might be innate tendencies to enjoy certain activities, but neither Sam nor I were child prodigies, nor showed particularly amazing gifts in our chosen areas of study. We both know people who are much more innately "talented" in the sense that ability has come quickly and easily to them. But we have both spent countless hours developing our abilities and trying to become better at what we love, so we tend to think that the "talent" part is overrated—that anyone willing to work hard can become proficient, if not brilliant, at their chosen art.

But, we have also wondered—maybe that desire to keep working at something until you excel IS a sort of talent? And so I like Elder Peterson's phrase "an ART to be DEVELOPED." Wouldn't the usual phrase be "a SKILL to be developed"? But the term "an art" suggests more to me than "a skill." "An art" seems like it has room for creativity, passion, variation. And then to pair it with the idea that it takes hard work and practice; it's not just a "gift." I love that. Both factors come into play: the art and the hard work. The gift, and the using of it. Certainly I believe that motherhood is an innate role and gift of women—but not in the sense that it just comes naturally to all of us. Instead, I think the "gift" is that women all have the potential to become true, godlike mothers—as we work at it! I think, in motherhood as in many other things, love and facility comes as proficiency increases.

That's not to say that one can only enjoy motherhood when one gets good at it! Thank goodness, because then none of us would ever dare have children. But I do think we might tend to overlook the hard work that goes into developing our abilities in that area, for example when we assume mothers we admire are just "more cut out for mothering" than we are. Or when we feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the demands placed upon us. I tend to feel like if I'm not good at it by NOW, when will I EVER be? But yet, I AM growing in this calling of motherhood. Some things that used to be hard are now…less hard. Others are downright easy. Others are still completely baffling, but that's what I mean: they shift. And why not decide to buckle down and just PRACTICE some aspect of motherhood, the way I'd tackle a difficult piano piece? And why not celebrate the fact that this development is already happening as I face my daily challenges? And why not give myself the spiritual benefit of treating the calling of motherhood as more "art" than drudgery?

As Elder Peterson says, "you learn to be by being," and I'm grateful that through these years of being a stay-at-home mother, I've been able to put significant time and energy—maybe MOST of my time and energy—into trying out various family routines, changing and perfecting schedules, finding new ways of teaching and working together, and so forth. I still have a long way to go before I will feel truly "proficient" at motherhood (and perhaps that time will never come), but I do at least feel comfortable here, which seemed like an almost unreachable goal when I first become a mother! None of the routines themselves last forever, since life and its rhythms are always changing, but the art and skill of managing those rhythms in our home has been a great blessing to me. It's a hopeful thought that I could even elevate motherhood to the level of an ART—in the next life, if not in this one—as I develop my gifts and keep practicing!


Other posts in this series:

1 comment:

  1. I'm lagging way behind the group but still reading and following. I loved your insights here! What a lovely way to find the gems in a talk that as you say is perhaps pronounced differently than we are used to!

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