An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear,
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.
Tonight I wanted to say a family prayer, read some scriptures with the kids, and tuck them into their beds. In my naivety, I usually imagine they want that too, because they want a perfect, happy existence as I do, right? But often, like tonight, they don't want to think about the greater good or how stopping what they're doing in order to study and pray will help them learn self-control and greater joy in the long-run. Sometimes they're hyped up on sugar, or their minds are running too fast, and they want and need to work off their energy both mental and physical. Those are often the times when I find myself the most tired, and aching for some closure on the day's work.
"It's time for prayer, then we can read a story and go to bed."
"But we want to read a story now."
"No, we pray first. It's on our list. Prayer, then a story."
(Kids continue to walk around, looking for books to look at. I start to lose my composure, and I become impatient as my fatigue sets in. Kendon wants to nurse, and I just want to pray.)
So I try a little louder,
"Come ON...PRAYER TIME. Who's ready? I'm counting to 5 and then you lose your story if you aren't ready for prayer; 1...2...3...4...5... Are you ready? Okay I'll give you one more try, and then I'm out of here."
(Kids come and kneel down. I begin to offer a heartfelt prayer. In the middle of it, the kids get up again, and look for books. As the last straw has fallen, I get up and storm out of the room, saying nothing but, "I'm done.")
Privately, in my room, I begin the work of quenching the inner fire. I must not allow a prayer to become a battle of wills. I must not allow my children to determine my level of spirituality. I'm tired, I'm worn, I've nothing left but a silent prayer for myself, by myself.
I lie down, nurse the baby, and begin to sing a lullaby, soothing my own chi and his. He stares up at me with his big blue eyes, trusting me, depending on me, and I feel my strength of will begin to swell, and the frustration begin to fade. I let the kids be kids, I let them be hyper a little longer, I enjoy this moment with my baby, and promise myself I will deal with the kids when I'm ready, and not before.
Later, much later, when the babe is quietly resting in his crib by my bed, I am able to deal calmly with the kids, and get them off to bed. They will not stay put. I give warnings that aren't heeded, the finally lock them in their room for 5 minutes. This is done without drama, simply consequences stemming from choices. Then I give hugs and kisses, assuring them it's in their best interests to sleep. My daughter is crying, and I smooth her hair as I tell her that I love her, and suggest to her she take the time to pray now, but I won't force it. I leave the door open as I exit. They fall asleep within minutes. This is the picture of an imperfect family, struggling to find our way as we go.
During a trip to the Temple one month, I browsed the used book section of the church bookstore. I found a book entitled The Soft Reply, Ideas for Christlike Communication by Barlow L. Packer. I fanned through the pages, and saw that a previous owner had marked key passages, and left notes in the margins, which I love, when those are meaningful to me also. I was giddy. Something told me that this would become a very important book to me. I could hardly wait to get home and read it. It is rare, but occasionally, a book can truly change my perspective and actually help me alter myself for the better. There are a precious few books that I can say have done this for me apart from the scriptures. This is one of them.
pg. 19 [Quote by Theodore M. Burton Ensign November 1974, p.56] "Whenever you get red in the face, whenever you raise your voice, whenever you get "hot under the collar," or angry...know that the Spirit of God is leaving you and the spirit of Satan is beginning to take over. At times we may feel justified in arguing or fighting... Do not be deceived... You can recognize the Spirit of Christ within you when you speak to another or speak of another person with warm smiles instead of with a frown or scowl."
Try dissecting the above quote. Read it slowly again and again. Pay attention to each word. I like to stress the phrase, "warm smiles." He is not speaking of just any kind of smile. Not self-righteous, or triumphant smiles, not forced, hypocritical smiles--but "warm smiles." We can feel the difference, and so can anyone who sees them.
pg. 40 "Satan constantly seeks opportunities "to fan into a flame the slightest spark of discontent.1"
I learned something I had never considered before:
pg.41 "Talking out an emotion doesn't reduce it, it rehearses it." (Quoting Carol Tavris of Psychology Today)
We are told in American society that anger must be released, or it will harm our psyches. We are told that we must vent it out, or it will fester and boil within us. We're told that if we don't tell someone, either the offender or another person, that it will stay inside us permanently. Many of us can think of angry people who hold on to old wounds, and we mistakenly think that this is because they have not discussed it enough, or expressed this discontent in some way that they are unable to let it go. But prophets and scriptures tell us a different truth. The "vent your anger" lie is one of the most destructive lies that hurts humanity so many different ways. Children, Adults, and Infirm alike, all are scarred by the fire or others' ire.
Packer quotes President Brigham Young on p.41 when asked, "Had I not better let it out than to keep it rankling within me?": Young replies, "No, I will keep bad feelings under and actually smother them to death, then they are gone...This is what I call resisting the devil, and he flees from me. I strive to not speak evil, to not feel evil, and if I do, to keep it to myself until it is gone from me, and not let it pass my lips."
President Young is quoted again as saying, "If you are tried and tempted and buffeted by Satan, keep your thoughts to yourselves--keep your mouths closed...If we have light or intelligence...we will impart it; but our bad feelings we will keep to ourselves."
Satan models the temper tantrum perfectly in the book of Moses 1:19, 21, 22. He shows us the perfect example of venting anger, something Christ never practiced. "And Satan commanded saying I am the Only Begotten, Worship Me...And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook...And...Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth..."
Hold this image up to the mirror. This is Satan's way. God's way is much different.
pg. 86 "In many situations a soft reply will require you to relinquish your need to defend, or convince others of you point of view. It is so easy to lash back, but...the Savior "answered them not," and did not call down the angels of heaven to destroy His abusers...He had the power to overcome them all, but His unwavering commitment to the Atonement and the love it would demonstrate to all mankind was superior to any fleeting gratification, such as we ourselves might have enjoyed from taking a moment to "clean house" on our accusers to preserve our ego. In the long term, it is always easier to love. It always takes more effort to clean up after a spiteful relapse."
Let me repeat that next-to-last line for emphasis. "In the long term, it is always easier to love."
Brigham Young, who overcame this very weakness with which I struggle, was quoted on p. 40 giving the advice I took this evening. "I will say, there is not a man in this house who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself. But there is not a man in the world who cannot overcome his passion, if he will struggle earnestly to do so. If you find passion coming on you, go off to some place where you cannot be heard;...struggle till it leaves you; and pray for strength to overcome."
Packer explains so eloquently that it is actually taking the easiest, most effortless path to simply control ourselves rather than contend. He quotes Deepak Chopra on p.86, "When you feel frustrated or upset by a person or a situation, remember that you are not reacting to the person or situation, but to your feelings about the person or situation. These are your feelings, and your feelings are not someone else's fault. When you recognize and understand this completely, you are ready to take responsibility for how you feel and to change it...Responsibility...means the ability to have a creative response to the situation."
There are many examples of this in the scriptures, such as the Savior's response to the woman taken in adultery. Packer sites (pp. 90-92) the dramatic story of Christ sleeping in the bottom of his disciples' fishing boat when a fierce storm threatens to sink them. He is roused by his disciples, and upon his awakening, he commands the winds and the waves, "Peace, be still."
Each of us has a secret weapon against the storms that enter us when we feel our temperature rising, and our thoughts begin to turn fierce. Sleeping in the bottom of our souls, is The Son of God, and when we awaken Him, he will rise up and say to our mind and body, "Peace, be still." As we surrender our own desires and adopt the way of Christ, we will feel the power of refusing to surrender to Satan's way, and instead surrender our weakness to Christ. While Satan laughs at our weakness and relishes each scar we leave behind, Christ rewards our surrender to Him with peace, confidence, and added strength for our next trial. I testify that this is true, and is possible for me, and you.