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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Morning Grace

I wanted to pause from all my catching up to write about something that's been on my mind the past couple of weeks. Something that is personal and uplifting, more along the lines of what I originally wanted this blog to be full of, and more meaningful than just lists of the things we've done, although those memories are precious too. 

Several recent but separate occurrences have intertwined in my thoughts and have somehow beautifully tangled themselves into a realization about myself and who I've become. 

To begin, several months ago I finally started reading my scriptures regularly, every day, in the morning. I had been good about it through high school and college, but somehow during the years after we got married and started having children my scripture study became spotty and I just never seemed to have the time, or rather, never chose to make the time, to do it. I was finally pushed to begin the habit again recently thanks to a couple of factors; 1. moving here to England and feeling the stress of settling in a new, unfamiliar area, as the mother of 3 small children whom I was supposed to be guiding through this slightly traumatic, although infinitely positive and wonderful, process and experience; 2. talking with a friend from another faith and hearing that she studies scriptures daily and thinking that if she can, then surely I, who believes my church to be the literal restored church of the Savior Jesus Christ on this earth, with His full gospel, priesthood, and authority, should be doing the same; and 3. realizing that I still hadn't "surfaced" from the 'drowning' I initially went through after having our beautiful, sweet, third child - I still felt stressed ALL the time, I felt chaotic, frantic, out of control, anxious, unhappy, I was short with my kids and unable to take care of those 3 sweet girls in the way I knew they deserved, and in they way I wanted to.

So. After realizing all of these things and thinking about my life and what was causing some of the discord,  I knew that I needed to make a greater effort to get my scripture study in every day. I decided that I'd begin by setting my alarm 15 minutes earlier each morning and reading verses from the Bible and/or Book of Mormon before beginning my usual morning routine. I was already struggling to wake up without pushing snooze a handful of times in the morning which was in turn making it always difficult to get Alice to school on time, hence the stress in the morning. So in order to make waking up even earlier more doable for myself,  I decided that I wouldn't even get out of bed. I'd just lay in bed and read, like I love to do. And every morning as my alarm went off I would repeat that to myself, "You don't have to get up, you just have to lay in bed and read." Which sounded so much better than getting out of my warm bed, going down into the dark living room and sitting on the cold couch with my holy books. Instead, I'd grab one of the extra decorative pillows from the floor right beside my bed and stick it behind me, stacking it against my other pillow, and I'd recline against them as I read the good word of God. And it actually worked. It probably (definitely) wasn't the most productive of scripture study time,  and yes, sometimes my head nodded and I struggled to keep my eyes open, and had to re-read passages because I had dozed off, but I was actually doing it every day, for the first time in years. And slowly, over several weeks,  I realized that those 15 minutes weren't quite enough, I kept reading too long, not wanting to stop, and not leaving myself enough time to get my workout in before getting the kids up and ready. I was enjoying reading, despite the difficulty of waking up earlier. So those 15 minutes earlier became 25, or thirty minutes earlier, to give myself enough time to really drink in the living water that I had been thirsting for, parched, for so long.



Fast forward several months to Saturday, June 24, when we had a Stake Conference meeting for the adults in all the local congregations of our church. A member of our stake(regional) presidency gave a talk that matched almost exactly what I had experienced with my scripture study. Most of his talk was taken from an article published on the blog Difficult Run ( difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com ), which had been linked to on our church's website, lds.org (here is the entire post if you're interested in reading it). In summary, the author of the blog described his process of developing a habit of prayer every morning and night. He began forcing himself into the habit by setting a 3 minute timer for his morning prayer, and a 6 minute timer for his evening prayer, and forcing himself to do it Every Day. And at first the prayers were lousy and pathetic, but slowly he began to see a transformation, he began to love his minutes of morning and evening prayer and they began to change and become more meaningful and profound and full of the Spirit. And these few minutes of prayer sustained him throughout his days, his life became more spiritual and blessed. He beautifully wrote about the experience and transformation, and one passage really stood out to me. He said, 

"And then one day, not long ago, I discovered something incredible. I had come to love praying. There is a tenderness in how I view my daily prayers that has never been there before. It grew so slowly and so subtly that I didn’t even notice it was happening. I just happened to think about praying one day, and I realized I was looking forward to it. I have started to feel like praying is talking to God. It’s still hard for me sometimes, but overall it stopped being a chore and became something I genuinely look forward to most days.
And that’s when it hit me: repetition changes the nature of a thing. You can say a prayer, and I can say a prayer, but if you’re saying a prayer for the 10,000th day in a row and I’m saying one for the 2nd day in a row, then we’re not quite doing the same thing. Quantity, as they say, is a kind of quality. And the nature of what we’re doing changes when we do it day-in, day-out for weeks and weeks or months and months. ...

... And somehow, when you’re not even paying attention, habit becomes holiness.
How true that is.

God sees our intent. If we show him that we are serious in our desire to create good, faithful habits, He will bless our efforts. I saw the exact same thing in my scripture study, as well as in my morning prayers, as a matter of fact, which were tied to my morning scripture reading. Both have become so much more meaningful and holy because of my willingness to prioritize them, to sacrifice time and sleep for them, to show God that I wanted to put Him first, and to become a better, more sanctified being through filling myself with his word and seeking to add the spirit more into my life. My struggle to create a religious habit has resulted in a greater holiness and sacredness associated with my daily scripture study and prayer, it has enriched my relationship with my God and my Savior. Through creating the habit, and through God's grace and condescension, not only have I come to love reading the scriptures again, but I have learned to pray, to truly commune with God, and I have grown to enjoy it and love it as I never did before.



Now fast forward to last night, when we were reading scriptures together as a family, like we do every night. (Side note: I'm not sure that this habit has become holy yet, it's a work in progress when  doing it with small, whiny kids, and usually it's far from a sacred experience, but we're chugging along, doing it anyway) We were reading in the New Testament (at my insistence - we had only ever read the book of Mormon before, but we recently finished it, and I want our children to grow up well versed in both sacred books, and to know the stories of Jesus's works and miracles). We were reading in Matthew(14:14-21), the story of the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, Jesus feeding the 5,000. I tried to explain it to Alice (cause let's be honest, we know Jane wasn't listening) after we finished reading it, how Jesus blessed the bread and fishes with his Priesthood power, the power of God, and somehow, it became enough to feed the multitude of people with him. It's unexplainable, but somehow through God's grace and power what could never be enough to feed 5,000 men, plus the women and children present, stretched into enough to feed everyone and still have 12 baskets left over. 

Similarly, somehow, what was never enough time for us in the morning to get ready and go to school before I started reading my scriptures and praying every morning, is now enough, sometimes more than enough, to calmly and peacefully go through our morning routine. That's not to say that every morning is perfect, problems haven't magically go away. There are still some days where one person is grumpy and it throws everyone else off, or some days when I still sleep in too late (although I still read/pray, mostly) or other various reasons why the mornings don't go perfectly well. Some days are still really hard, and I have to work really hard not to think about how angry or frustrated I am with my kids. But generally, our mornings have gone much smoother since I've started this new habit. I don't feel the need to yell or nag or stress, when I always did before. In the past couple weeks I have slowly begun to realize that somehow God has blessed my life and my mornings are changed by grace so that the same amount of time, even less sometimes, that I used to spend frantically stressing, pushing the kids around trying to get them ready and shoving them out the door to leave for Alice's school, is stretched and it feels like we have more time, even though it's the same number of minutes. And our mornings are much calmer, more cheerful, and filled with the Spirit. Somehow, just like with the loaves and fishes, what could never have physically been enough, is now plenty. God has miraculously stretched our morning minutes into more than what they physically are. Just as he did 2000 years ago. We have experienced His grace and power. He has taken my weak attempts at righteousness and holiness and blessed them, and blessed my life and my children's lives because of them.

It's still not the most productive or meaningful scripture study. It's not all that profound. All I do is read. And try not to fall asleep while doing it. But I am doing it. And because I have made the effort, I have found holiness in it. And I enjoy it, I look forward to it (most mornings). And I have felt a definite difference in my life. Especially when coupled with morning prayer. I have so much more clarity. I have noticed that I have the Spirit with me more, I feel its whisperings and notice being led and guided and inspired, and prompted to do things. Again, I am so far from perfect, and there are still plenty of moments where I totally lose my cool and get angry and say and do things I shouldn't and I regret. But on the whole, my life has improved and I am improving as an individual, on her journey to become more like her Savior.

So I guess what I'm saying is that God really can magnify our efforts. He can perform small miracles in our lives, He wants to bless us. And it's much easier for us to see when He does if we are filled with His word and His gospel and His Spirit. And also, that habits, through faithful repetition, can become sacred and holy and transforming.



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