Monday, July 18, 2011

The Truth about BFFs

My ten year old daughter had two BFFs this year (yes, had. So much for the last "F"). In all fairness to her, the termination of her relationship with these BFFs was not her doing or theirs, it was mine. After several trips to the principal's office for these three, the principal, their teacher, the other moms, and I all decided it was time to call it quits on behalf of these children. Oh, there was weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, running away, and extremely loud, unkind words as my daughter entered the very depths of despair, but miraculously, within a couple of weeks—even days, the sweet daughter I had known pre-BFFs was back. I don't believe that it was the BFFs fault for my daughter's BFF behavior, but outside of BFF influences, she has been able to get in touch with her true self and do what she knows to be right, rather than allowing another person or relationship define her.
But post BFF life has not been all peaches and roses. Without her BFFs, my daughter has struggled, feeling very alone and friendless. I have come to detest every commercially produced bit of "BFF" merchandise, and there is a lot of it, because I believe that it is promoting a culture of cliques and exclusion. While my daughter was steeped in this BFF culture, it didn't matter what was good, honorable, or right, it only mattered what BFFs did or thought. Her decisions were all based on what BFFs liked, did, or wanted, to the detriment of her own character sometimes. And that is what I see as the problem with BFFs in general—a young girl with a BFF too often puts all her faith in someone who is too young and fallible to be constantly reliable. I am not against good friends—they are critical! But the truth of the matter is, there is only one BFF who can truly be all three: Best, Friend, and Forever. Who? Our Savior, Jesus Christ.
It's been tricky to figure out what to do, to find the root of the problem. In moments of despair on behalf of my daughter, I wondered fleetingly if maybe our family should move. But the solution to the problem lies not in removing the BFFs from my daughters' life (although stepping in to end the friendship was a necessary part of it). The real problem (and therefore the real solution) lies within my daughter. In talking with the mother of one of the other girls, I felt distinctly that the real problem is one with two roots. Problem #1—my daughter (many girls, actually) doesn't know enough about her worth to stand up to those who would diminish her, and problem #2—I don't know (or believe) enough about my OWN worth to be the example she needs in helping her learn to love herself and stand up for who she is and what she believes.
Lucky for me, the Lord has provided me the means to solve the problem. I was recently called as a Relief Society teacher , and my first lesson just a few weeks ago was on charity. I felt very impressed as I studied for this particular lesson that the commandment to "love thy neighbor as thyself" means that we must first love ourselves, before we can truly love our neighbor. If we do not love ourselves, we cannot keep this commandment. The key to loving ourselves is loving the Savior. For my next lesson a few weeks later, I was to teach the sisters about talents. As I studied the lesson, I was impressed to look at the Personal Progress Program for the Young Women. What an amazing, inspired program! Here is a roadmap for accomplishing exactly what I want to achieve, both for my daughter and for myself. But I never completed my goals and earned my reward as a young woman. And my daughter is not old enough to begin the Personal Progress Program. Am I doomed to miss out on the blessings of this program, at least until my daughter is YW age?
The adversary is hard at work on the women of the church. The less adequate he can make us feel, the more overwhelmed or distracted he can make us, the better for his purposes, but not for ours or the Lords. Our Heavenly Father wants us to feel empowered, filled with faith, and equal—with the Savior's help—to the tasks at hand. Which brings me back to BFFs.
That, incidentally, is where Mom's weakness lies, too (Mom being me and many other mothers of girls who struggle with self-esteem). Until Mom has learned to rely completely upon the Savior, she doesn't know how to help her daughter through the challenges of life. We must do more than just know about Him, we have to develop a relationship with Him, one where we call upon Him daily, both to express gratitude and plead for help. We need to understand the role and magnitude of the Atonement in our lives. Until we do, how can we help these young girls who struggle?
Which brings me back to Personal Progress. In studying for my talents lesson, I went to to look up information from the Personal Progress book. I discovered that Personal Progress can all be tracked online now, and that leaders and parents are encouraged to participate in the program with the girls they have stewardship over. I wondered if I could just do Personal Progress for my own benefit. I can, and I can even track it online. And while my daughter may be too young for the program yet, she has goals to work on through the Faith in God program. I can work on those goals with her.
The point of Personal Progress isn't jewelry. The point of Personal Progress is to introduce us to our real and only BFF—our Savior. At some point in our lives, all our mortal BFFs will fail us in one way or another—they hurt our feelings, let us down, offend, move away, or simply cannot be everything we need at the time. That's okay, they're mortal. And our Father didn't leave us BFF-less, we just have to recognize that ONLY with Jesus Christ as our BFF can we do and be all that we are meant to be, and endure all that this life will throw at us.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Divine Nature #1

The Young Women Theme states: "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us. . ." I love that reminder that I am a daughter of God, and because of that, I have divine qualities within. Here is the first goal for the value Divine Nature:
"What are some of the divine qualities of a daughter of God? Read "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"; 2 Peter 1; Alma 7:23-24; and Doctrine and Covenants 121:45. In your own words, list the divine qualities discussed in your reading. Think about how you can discover and develop each of these qualities. Record your ideas in your journal."
Journal--July 9, 2011
Divine Qualities of a Daughter of God:
Easily entreated
Diligent in keeping the commandments*
Asking God for whatever she needs, temporal or spiritual
Serves others
Abounding in good works
Keeps herself apart from the world*
Mindful of the blessings and promises given her*
Witness of His magesty (recognizes and bears witness of miracles in her life)*
Listens to and follows the voice of the prophet and the Holy Ghost*
Hard working
Chaste (honest, true, benevolent. . .)
Stands for truth and righteousness
WOW! What a list! Enough to be overwhelming, certainly. The goal instructs that I am to consider how I can develop each of these qualities. I think the first thing for me is to remember times in my life when I have experienced each of these things. Which ones am I already? Not that any of them are an achievement--they are all things that I will need to constantly work on--but recognizing that I do not have to start from scratch on all of these is beneficial. I put an asterisk by the qualities that I feel I do pretty well with, or that I have been working on recently. Some of the others (like being forgiving) I have experienced, but I feel a particular struggle about it that I am striving to overcome. So how do I develop these qualities? It takes a lot of prayer. But first is a recognition of a LACK of a particular quality, and a desire to obtain it. Most often that has come with turmoil in my life. I can see a need to be forgiving when I am angry, especially if I find that I frequently get angry with a certain person. As much as I want the other person to change, I am not in control of that. I am only in control of me. And I can decide, regardless of what another person decides to do, to forgive. That gets really hard when the offenses are ongoing. How do you just sit and take it, and forgive over, and over, and over? The only "how to" about it is to pray. And add to prayer any and every action that will bring you closer to the Spirit: read the scriptures, attend your meetings, attend the temple, remove from your life anything (music, books, entertainment) that detracts from the Spirit. Then, if there is anything more you need to do to obtain the quality you desire, you'll feel the promptings of the Spirit as they come.

More about faith

After I finished my first goal and journal entry for faith, I had some other thoughts come to me. This is the journal entry with my additional thoughts:
July 9, 2011
So, I started this goal as an imperfect pray-er, and I ended imperfectly. I do pray in the mornings pretty consistently, since I get up early specifically to pray and study the scriptures before my family wakes up, but it's praying before going to bed each night where I fall short, usually because I fall asleep on the couch while watching TV with my husband at the end of a long day. For a while I wondered if I would learn anything about faith from this goal because I didn't significantly change my habits (again, I'm already a pretty prayerful person). But I did realize a couple of things: I do pray more. I am going to the Lord more frequently in prayer during the day, even if I don't get a prayer in at bedtime. And the more I go to Him, regardless of the time of day, the more He helps me. I was also reminded just yesterday of an experience I had years ago. We needed help selling our house. I was very mindful at the time of the maxim, "Work as if everything depends on you; pray as if everything depends on God." I was praying as hard as I knew how. But I was concerned about working as hard as I could toward the desired result. We had hired an agent to sell our house for us, so the actual work of selling was out of my hands. How could I work as if everything depended on me? The Lord blessed me with a mini-revelation, letting me know that I could "work as if everything depended on me" by increasing my efforts to pray regularly, read my scriptures daily, attend the temple, magnify my callings, pay my tithing, keep my covenants, and just do my best at everything He asked me to do. I wasn't perfect at all those things then, either. But I did my best. I focused on being more consistent with those things, and giving more thought to keeping my connection to the Lord open through prayer. And He, in return, helped us to sell our house. I am still amazed at the experience, and humbled by His blessings to me and my family. So is prayer important? Vitally. And my resolve to pray is even stronger than when I started this goal.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Faith #1

For anyone who is not familiar with Personal Progress, it is a goal-setting program for 12-18 year old girls who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are 8 values: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. The young women participating in the program complete value experiences designed to increase their understanding of each of the values, and increase their testimonies of Jesus Christ. After the girls complete six experiences for each value (four for virtue), they complete a value project for each value, requiring at least 10 hours of work. There is a beautiful medallion that is awarded to each girl who completes the requirements, and an "honor bee" award for those who go beyond the minimum requirements. While I did complete a few of the goals as a youth, I didn't complete very many, and the program has been changed a little since I was 18. So, I decided to start from scratch and complete all of the value experiences and projects from the most recent version of the program. I actually started my personal progress about a month ago, so I have a couple of goals completed. The journal is such an important part of the process, that I'm including the entries from each of my goals. Here is the first goal from the Personal Progress book for the first value: Faith.
"The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Learn about faith from the scriptures and the living prophets. Read Hebrews 11; Alma 32:17-43; Ether 12:6-22; and Joseph Smith--History 1:11-20. Read two general conference talks on faith. Exercise your own faith by establishing a habit of prayer in your life. Begin by regularly saying your morning and evening prayers. After three weeks of following this pattern, discuss with a parent or leader what you have learned about faith and how daily personal prayer has strengthened your faith. In your journal express your feelings about faith and prayer."
And here is my journal entry for the experience:
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
I remember this experience from my Personal Progress book as a Young Woman. I remember looking at the requirement to pray regularly for 3 weeks, and feeling like it was impossible. I realize now that for years (until just a few days ago) I had been misreading the requirement. The goal states "beging by regularly saying your morning and evening prayers. After three weeks of following thei pattern. . ." I read those words several times as I tried to decide which goal to choose, bit in my mind, what I interpreted was "be perfect in saying your morning and evening prayers for three weeks." I was too discouraged by that expectation--even though it was my own expectation of myself--that I never tried this goal as a youth, and even in my desire to finish my Personal Progress now as an adult, I was caught in the trap of thinking I needed to be perfect. Thank goodness I started this goal anyway! I realized after writing in my personal journal that Heavenly Father makes covenants--promises--with imperfect people, knowing that they are imperfect, and still expecting to fulfill His part of the contract. He isn't making a covenant with me expecting me to fail and therefore to not have to fulfill His part. God expects to give me all He has promised me, and He wants to help me get everything He has promised me! Yes, I need to be faithful and do my best, but He wants me to succeed! I have fallen short in so many areas, but that is the point of this life--falling short and recognizing it and striving to become better. My faith has increased in the last few days simply by realizing that God knows that I am imperfect and He wants to bless me anyway. He doesn't hold my imperfection against me, He provides a way for me to overcome it, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

A New Beginning

A couple of months ago I was preparing a Relief Society lesson on developing talents. As part of my preparation, I went to the Personal Progress manual, which was recently revised and updated, to see what it said about my lesson topic. It spoke of "reaching your divine potential," which is the greatest desire of my heart. But, alas, I never completed my Personal Progress. I was always active in church and in the Young Women program, but I never caught the vision as a teen of the blessing and benefit of Personal Progress. I had other things to do and focused on those things instead.
Fast forward a few (okay, many) years, and now I wish I had put forth the effort to complete it. But more than that, I want the spiritual benefit of Personal Progress NOW, at this point in my life. I want to enjoy the structure of the program as I set and pursue goals. I want to learn more about my divine purpose and potential. I want to strengthen my testimony of Jesus Christ. And so, without promise of jewelry, and without a young woman of my own to keep on track, I'm completing what I started so long ago.
Every year in January the Young Women attend a "New Beginnings" night. This is my new beginning. This is my opportunity to think deeply and develop my testimony and enjoy the experiences that will make me a better woman, wife, and mother. This is a chance to jump-start my spirituality, and to share the blessing of my growth and testimony. And I'm really excited for this journey.