Too often in my own life I have looked for the one right story to live by. The older I get, the more I am aware that there is not one ‘best’ narrative, or even a few ‘best’ narratives. I need a quantity, a gigantic sum of narratives to survive and thrive in Mormonism.
The other day while driving in a hot car with my two children as they handed out requests faster and more outlandish than I could possibly ever deliver on, I got to thinking about conference talks about motherhood that I’ve heard my whole life. The remembrance of them, however, did not feel like an act of solidarity in the moment.
The few lines I could recall about motherhood being divine, sacred and beautiful seemed to almost mock me as I drove along, overwhelmed by life and by my own wild children. Later that night after the kids were in bed, I spent some time with my frustration, and I realized that I wasn’t actually upset with the talks, or the people who had given the talks, but I was sad that the narrative that came to me in a time of need was not my own at all, nor was it that of my neighbor’s, my mother’s, my sister’s, my aunt’s.
As I worked through my thoughts, I realized that while the talks I had heard about motherhood from leaders have value and are given with kindness, they are general, they are an ideal, they are something I can aspire to, but they should also not bear the weight of what our own spiritual lives should look like.
I know there are places and ways that we do share stories, over the pulpit, in lessons, home and visiting teaching, etc… but I know in my own experience, there have been times when I was so quick to refer my own experience to a quote in a conference talk or something from a lesson manual before I was willing to take ownership of what, in this case, motherhood actually looked like for me.
I just finished writing a book for the Maxwell Institute. The book is comprised of my narrative, my story, my interpretation of a spiritual life within the context of Mormonism. I remember at the beginning of the process a friend said to me, “There is a book glowing inside of you and you just have to figure out a way to let it out.” The writing came easily, I began each essay not knowing where I would end up, often surprised completely by what was inside of me.
But it was after I’d written that I would second guess myself, re-read and come to near panic as I realized my book was just me, and could that ever be good enough? could that be of value to anyone?
It is not the one “right” story, or “best” way. It is not an ideal, but it is mine. It is both flawed and vulnerable and brimming with sacred moments that hold me to this place. It is a drop in a bucket that is not yet full enough. Conference talks are also a drop in that bucket. Our stories about our own spiritual lives are multiplying, both in the telling and the hearing, but I would say not enough. There are still ideas and stories of many friends, relatives, ward members that I want to fill my heart and mind with.
My hope is that as I grow older, I will be better attuned to hear the stories that have already been told (see previous post and series) and give them the credence they deserve, and also to encourage those stories that have not yet been written, the ones glowing inside of all of us waiting to be born, to come forth and join the holy writ of our spiritual vernacular.
After having spent nearly a year with my own story in writing, I have come to love it in ways I didn’t know I would. I have come to trust my own spirituality, even when I have days or weeks that don’t resemble a conference talk version of life. There is something profoundly God-like though in taking ownership of the ups and downs, the imperfections, failings, successes and triumphs. I think in the telling of and listening to a thousand differing stories that come from trying to live like Christ, we find grace. A whole lot of grace.