A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a little project with a few dozen other women in my stake. We met one Tuesday morning in February and the stake Relief Society President asked us to join a three-day holiness challenge. At first I rebelled against the whole idea. I was pretty sure I'd just find one more way I was failing, but I'm an obedient girl, so I decided to follow through with my assignment.
We were asked to select one simple, everyday activity in our lives and, for just three days, ask ourselves what a holy woman would do in that situation. I hadn't left the meeting before I knew that I needed to work on my relationship with Gavin. And so I commenced my holiness challenge.
The Relief Society leaders offered suggestions for beginning the project, including studying grace, the word "becoming," and of course holiness itself. They also suggested praying to know what spiritual gifts would aid us in our quest. I did those things, and an answer came quickly (that is quite rare for me): compassion and mercy would help me better serve Gavin.
After some thought and prayer, I realized that the Savior can succor me because he knows how I feel and not just who I am. I don't understand why Gavin does many of the things he does, but I can identify with feeling energetic and curious and wanting to be independent. I know how it feels to be hungry and tired and agitated and lonely and misunderstood and uncomfortable in my own skin. Seeing the feelings behind some of Gavin's actions made me view him as a real person and not just something that makes my life harder, and that opened a space for more happiness in our relationship. I also tried to be more compassionate toward myself. Gavin has only been in my care for five years, and it's OK that I haven't figured him out yet. There is a learning curve in parenting, and I don't need to feel so guilty about all of my mistakes.
Last week Gavin and I had a rough day. You might remember my story about maple syrup. That incident came at the end of a long and difficult day, and Gavin went to bed pretty early, a punishment he did NOT appreciate. He raged in his room, screaming and kicking his door for about half an hour. I felt anything but holy...until I remembered mercy. I walked into his room, held him in my lap, and rubbed his back while he cried himself to sleep on the floor. I cried quite a bit myself as I thought about the Savior and how He can come to us when we can't (or won't) come to him. I thought about the atonement and how justice must be served but mercy can be freely given. I have listened to Elder Holland's Conference talk many times since October. His comment about "the thrill of being merciful" has really resonated with me, and last week, I experienced that thrill in a powerful way.
The other insight I gained during this project relates to holy places. The Young Women theme this year is "Stand in Holy Places." We have been talking to the young women about where and how they can find holiness. Common discussion topics are the temple, church meetings, scripture study, and prayer. I love all of those things, but with my young family, it's difficult (and expensive!) to leave them and spend as much time in the temple as I would like. It's hard to find quiet time to ponder over my scriptures. I rarely feel the Spirit in sacrament meeting as my boys are wrestling on the bench and Kate is crying. And--I probably shouldn't admit this--but I struggle to feel close to Heavenly Father when I pray next to my bed. However, I do connect with God when I run. I don't know how or why this happens, but it is very real for me. I have my best thoughts when I am running; I often stop and take notes on my phone so I won't forget them. Through this challenge I finally gave myself permission to say that my holy place looks like a pair of running shoes and a treadmill or a sidewalk or a long stretch of dirt road, and that is acceptable to the Lord.
Last night at a stake women's conference about holiness, I was invited to share my experience with this little project. I talked for just two minutes or so (an abbreviated version of the above). I was surprised when strangers approached me afterward. Many expressed relief that they weren't the only ones struggling with difficult children. One even said she was frustrated that I had held Gavin in my lap during an especially trying time because that meant she should do that too. That was validating for me! I'm not alone! This life is hard! But there really are ways to find holiness in the chaos.
My take-home message from the conference was that all of us are holy because we belong to Heavenly Father, who is Holy, and He is part of us. As such, all of the women in our stake were invited to join the holiness challenge. Just like the small group I worked with before, we were asked to choose something small and simple and infuse it with holiness. I'm going to try it again. Want to join me? All you have to do is ask, "What would a holy woman do?"