When I first heard that I’d been asked to give a talk on finding joy as a young mother, I immediately went and bought me some Joy. (Displays a large bottle of lemon Joy dish detergent). Don’t you wish that you could really just buy joy off the shelf at the grocery store? But you can’t. Joy can’t be bought, it has to be lived.
Joy is not the same as happiness. Not the same as fun and excitement. I like to think of happiness, fun and excitement as the things that make you smile, but joy being the things that make you weep, or “happy cry” as my mother used to call it.
Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, wrote this under joy:
“Men are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) That is, the very purpose of man’s creation is to enable him to gain joy; it is the object and end of existence…. Here in mortality men gain joy only by obedience to gospel law, the gospel itself being the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) … Joy is a gift of the spirit. It comes from the Holy Ghost….
Joy has everything to do with believing and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus makes joy possible. As a mother, we’ll all make mistakes, but through the teachings of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and atonement for us, we can repent, be forgiven, and rise above our natural tendencies to experience JOY.
What can we do to live so that we can have the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives? (Possible answers given from the audience: Keep the commandments / Attend church meetings / Family Home Evening / Family & Personal Scripture study / Personal & Family Prayer)
These answers are often called the Sunday School answers, the Seminary answers, some would even call them trite answers. But I want to testify that they’re only trite answers until they become TRIED answers.
Here’s my best tip for making family home evenings a habit – focus on the treat. Little ones don’t have much of an attention span, but they do love treats. Enjoy a nice gospel-centered discussion/lesson while everyone enjoys a treat.
Family scripture study is harder because it’s every day. We started out using the gospel art kit available through Church Distribution, talking about a different picture each night. But with our oldest in kindergarten, we soon felt that we needed to be reading right from the scriptures. So, each night we’d gather in the family room, our oldest was six, and the girls were 3 and 18 months. Most nights we only got through a couple verses before we’d lost their attention. (Children’s maximum attention span is their age in minutes.) We wondered if anything was sinking in. It certainly didn’t seem to be. But then I went to a parent/teacher conference with our son’s kindergarten teacher. She told me about how they’d been reading the book, “The Rainbow Fish.” She asked the class what it meant to have pride. My son raised his hand. “It means you’re stiff necked,” he said. And that’s when I knew that our efforts weren’t wasted, that it was sinking in.
A component of joy is contentment. It’s hard to find joy if you’re not content. There’s a big reason why it’s difficult to be content. 2 Nephi 2:11 says, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” Which means that Satan has plots and plans to keep us from being content and finding joy. Women of our generation have been told that we can have it all, do it all, be it all. We also live in the information age where the world would have us compare ourselves to others, and the images are everywhere: magazines, television, internet.
Hence, my new motto: Dream Simple. (I shared excerpts from this blog entry.)
Even men can struggle with contentment. In Alma 29 Alma writes about his struggle. He starts off by saying, “Oh that I were an angel and could have the wish of my heart. . . .” He then goes on to describe how he would cry repentance and spread the gospel with angelic zeal. But then he comes back to reality in verses 3 and 6:
Verse3: “but behold,… I do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted me.”
Verse 6:“Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?”
Finding contentment and joy is possible when you know and do the Lord’s will in your life. What have you been called to do? Make it a matter of fasting and prayer. A good place to start is with your own patriarchal blessing. To get the big picture, I recommend reading, “I am a Mother” by Jane Clayson Johnson. She makes a strong case for motherhood being the most important job in the world.
I’ve found that even when I’m trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, and doing the Lord’s will, I can still struggle with contentment. Keeping a gratitude journal and a dozen other journals has been one of the best ways for me to find joy. President Spencer W. Kimball, himself a keeper of journals, said:
“Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 349.
The great thing about gratitude journals is that you can share them with your children now. They don’t need to wait to read them until you’re dead.
(I shared a few entries from my gratitude journal and the steno notebooks I’ve kept on each child.)
There are a multitude of ways to keep a journal. Do what works for you. Some examples include: blogging, scrapbooking, keeping a journal on your computer, or even just keeping a really detailed checkbook register. There’d be no writing checks or using debit cards if you didn’t receive lots of blessings!
I really like the advice given by Sister Marjorie Hinkley. She said, “As you create a home, don’t get distracted with a lot of things that have no meaning for you or your family. Don’t dwell on your failures, but think about your successes. Have joy in your home. Have joy in your children. Have joy in your husband. Be grateful for the journey.”
Keep the big picture in mind. I’d like to share a quote that helps me do just that. In 1909 H.M. Bareham wrote something that was later quoted by Elder Spencer W. Kimball in April Conference of 1960. This quote has been around a long time because its truths are timeless:
“In 1809 men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting with feverish impatience for news of the wars. And all the while in their homes babies were being born. Who could think about babies? Everyone was thinking about battles…. Yet which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? We fancy God can manage His world only with great battalions, when all the time He is doing it with beautiful babies…. When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants discovering, God sends a baby into the world to do it. While most of the thousands of precious infants born every hour will never be known outside their neighborhoods, there are great souls being born who will rise above their surroundings…. One mother gives us a Shakespeare, another a Michelangelo, and another an Abraham Lincoln…. When clouds of error need dissipating and spiritual darkness needs penetrating and heavens need opening, a little infant is born.”
I am grateful for the infants born in this world whose lives have brought me joy. I’m grateful for Jesus Christ, for Joseph Smith, for the missionaries who first brought the gospel to my ancestors in England and Denmark. Our children may not grow up to be presidents of the United States, but chances are they will be missionaries. And we are missionaries, and there’s not a more important place to share the gospel than in our homes. Doctrine and Covenants 18:15 says, “And if it so be that ye should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!”
Being a mom is hard work, but it is important work, a work whose benefits and joys will extend into the eternities.