There Is Work Enough To Do

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It was May of 1993.

I was 7 months pregnant with my second daughter, and it was my most dreaded of days: Mother’s Day. I scrambled to get my three year old daughter ready for church, and my then husband, Jeff, gave me his usual Mother’s Day gift: nothing. He might have wished me a Happy Mother’s Day; I can’t fully remember. This day always held bitter-sweet somethings for me as I ruminated on all the duties and responsibilities of being a mother. Although rewarding, it is basically a thankless job–or at least it was for me being married to an abusive narcissist who only had disparaging things to say to me and about me.

My daughter M and I had matching dresses. Mine was a big, maternity dress with mauve and pink flowers and hers was the little girl’s matching frock, complete with little flower barrettes and stick-on pink heart earrings.

It was Sunday morning and I was exhausted.

At this point in our lives, Jeff was in school and working; he was never home–‘home’ being a small, dingy little duplex in the Brickyard area of Salt Lake. There were cupboards I wouldn’t even open. I worked part time at the Forest Service as an office worker every MWF morning, from 10 to 2 and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 4. I had no support from him at home, and constantly endured the ridicule if anything was out of place, including my hair. That Sunday, I hoped nothing was out of place as we all made our way to the local ward house.

In my house growing up, my mother always received flowers from my dad, gifts from us. But Jeff told me that ‘I wasn’t his mother’, so he didn’t get me anything. Of course, he didn’t get his mother anything, either.

We walked to the church, and my feet were already hurting. I delicately hinted that it would be so nice to go out to lunch after church; maybe Olive Garden (this was nice for us back then). Jeff scoffed, saying he didn’t like paying that much money for food.

We went into the chapel and the opening song caused tears to course down my cheeks in dismay. Sure I was depressed anyway, and I was emotional, but the song that they chose cut through my heart and resonated in a place of hopelessness: Ere The Sun Goes Down. Here are the lyrics (make sure you sing this in your head ‘energetically’):

1. I have work enough to do,
Ere the sun goes down,
For myself and kindred too,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry idle whisper stilling
With a purpose firm and willing,
All my daily tasks fulfilling,
Ere the sun goes down.

2. I must speak the loving word,
Ere the sun goes down.
I must let my voice be heard,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry cry of pity heeding,
For the injured interceding,
To the light the lost ones leading,
Ere the sun goes down.

3. As I journey on my way,
Ere the sun goes down,
God’s commands I must obey,
Ere the sun goes down.
There are sins that need confessing;
There are wrongs that need redressing
If I would obtain the blessing,
Ere the sun goes down.*

I sobbed quietly in my seat as the meaning of the song dawned on me. Feelings of inadequacy overwhelmed me. Would I ever be enough? Was I doing what the song exhorted me to do? Would there ever be an end to ‘the work’ I had before me?

In that moment I felt the full-throttle thrust of being a wife and mother in the LDS Church. The song encapsulated everything that I wasn’t; I knew I wasn’t good enough because I was told that every day. Adding to my misery, I knew the standards and expectations the Church held for me, and I felt woefully insufficient and inadequate as a Mother in Zion. I knew I was not like all of the other women in the Church; the women that had no hair out of place, no struggles with depression. Little did I know I judged myself as harshly as my spouse, and there were probably many, many women who felt forlorn and inadequate that day–hell, every day. But I internalized these feelings even more strongly that day as I sang the song that promised me my work would never end, and I was responsible for All.

It isn’t the Church’s fault. The Church didn’t teach perfection for women from the pulpits…did it? As I think on it, I realize that perhaps in a way, the Church does teach it. Not the old “Be ye therefore perfect” argument. No; the fact is, in all of the years of going to church, listening to General Conference, stake conference, Relief Society lessons, Sunday School, there was one thing that was never preached or taught–ever. Acceptance. Acceptance of self. You were NOT okay the way you were. You were not doing all you could. You were never going to reach the standards set forth by the many talks and lessons. You had to constantly strive. Push, improve, be better, pray to be released of your sins. Just when you think you’ve done all of the requisite duties–the prayer, tithing, church attendance, scripture study, home and visiting teaching, your calling, family night, family prayer–there’s the inward duties. Be kind, Christlike, loving, non-judgmental (huh), moral in your thoughts, pure in your intentions, compassion, service…you know, sins of commission and omission. There was always a way to improve because no one–NO ONE–did all of these things all the time, every day. We will always lack. I always lacked.

I was not good enough as I was. This message still haunts me to this day. I don’t know who gave it to me first, or the strongest, or the most often; but I do know that this introject is one that I still harbor in my life. Always strive to be better, because the present package is not good enough.

But there is nothing wrong with striving, is there? Not at all. But when the dual message is that you must strive because you are not good enough yet, and you must always push for perfection because your present state is most definitely NOT perfection, this can lead to–at least it did for me, a sense of inadequacy, lack, and self-depreciation.

I think the Church tries to give the message that we are all special–mostly based on the idea that we are children of God; but what would happen if we were taught that we were special just because? We were special and important and we were doing just fine? Keep up the good work. Take it easy for a day. Relax. Ease up on yourself.

After the meeting, the deacons went around and handed all of the mothers the perfect gift for the day: a potted NETTLE. A weed. Then, my husband agreed to do something for me for Mother’s Day: we would go get Taco Time, go up to the canyons and hike, one of his favorite things to do besides ski and mountain bike.

My swollen feet made their way up to a flat rock and I sat down with my burrito that would give me heartburn, and I remember acquiescing to the fact that my life was what it was. And at home, there was work enough to do.

Happy Mother’s Day

*Text: Josephine Pollard, 1834–1892
Music: William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838–1921

Repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman blog

6 thoughts on “There Is Work Enough To Do

  1. Thanks for sharing this JulieAnn. Sounds like it took a tremendous amount of strength for you to make it through that time.

    I completely agree – it was never enough. There was always more that you could do – and you needed/were called to do, since you were born in the last days, yadda, yadda. It’s one neverending sales pitch.

  2. This story is very touching, JA. I’ve been there too, with that feeling of hopelessness that comes from not ever measuring up, and knowing full well that you never will.

  3. What is most striking is the difference in your life, Julie Ann. Look at where you are now. If that does not make for a good testimony meeting story, I don’t know what will.

  4. The story is very sad. A life invalidated. The church wants conformity. We are discouraged from finding our authentic selves. We must deny and forget our authentic selves in service of the church. Build up the kingdom and you will find happiness.
    Members are assigned roles. The only thing that will change is the role you are assigned. One month you may be in the RS presidency, next in YW, then primary and so on. To be converted means that you happily or quietly accept the assigned role. Those are the options – happily or quietly. With roles, comes stated and unstated expectations. The major expectation is to always give more and do more. It is a sin to think of yourself. Oddly, we were taught that the church is thinking of you and your welfare. Callings are inspired of God, They are given to us, like a present, in order to improve ourselves. I remember reading about life in Soviet Russia. You did not have a life – you just existed. This too can happen in the church.

    From COMPASS INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT GORDON B. HINCKLEY
    Aired: November 09, 1997

    DR: There does seem to be though an uncritical acceptance of a conformist style?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Uncritical? No. Not uncritical. People think in a very critical way before they come into this Church. When they come into this Church they’re expected to conform. And they find happiness in that conformity.

    AND

    DR: Now I’m interested in your beliefs. Very briefly what do you imagine heaven to be?

    A: Oh I think it will be a place of beauty and a place of work. There’ll be effort there. We won’t be sitting around playing harps. We’ll be busy.

  5. aerin,
    thanks for reading and the comment; yes, it did take an incredible amount of strength. I endured another year after, then took my children and the clothes on our backs, and ran. Then I got to go through a divorce in which irreparable harm was done to me and my kids by church ‘leaders’ in my ex-husband’s ward and his Mormon family. Ahhh, good times.

    As always, SML, thank you. Now I don’t measure up, I measure OUT. Safer that way. ;0)

    Hellmut,
    Thank you; yes the contrast is stark. AndIsaythesethingsinthenameofJesusChristamen.

    cw,
    great comment. That really resonated with me: “The major expectation is to always give more and do more. It is a sin to think of yourself. Oddly, we were taught that the church is thinking of you and your welfare. Callings are inspired of God, They are given to us, like a present, in order to improve ourselves.” Yes yes yes. The makings of “7 million” co-dependents. Congratulations, GBH.

  6. Thank you, JulieAnn, that was brilliant. Though not a mother, I felt the same way in the church almost constantly, especially starting on my mission.

    You’re never good enough, you can never do enough, your job is merely to listen and obey. And just when you’ve got something right, they add something new to the list.

    The killer about being “special” in the church is that you’re only special because of the church. It’s only because you “know” the church is true that you “know” you’re special. You’re special, in essence, because you’re Mormon, and no further.

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