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“Give, Oh Give Away”

By Heather Herrick

Giving and giving would be considered the same as consecrating our time, talents, energy and everything we have, wouldn’t it?  It’s something we’re supposed to do, something we’ve been commanded to do, and something the Lord has promised us blessings for doing.  In her essay Pressed Down, and Shaken Together Rebecca Walker Clarke expresses a desire to learn how to be like the stream from the familiar primary song, to give selflessly.  The stream of giving has taken on a different personality in my mind.  Instead of gently bubbling along, encouraging me to give like Jesus, it has become a swirling current that threatens to drown as I try to give and give.   

Right at the beginning of her piece Rebecca talks about forcing her daughter to share while on the contrary she carefully checks the caller ID before picking up the phone to make sure it’s not someone who will need anything from her.  Perhaps this image stuck with me because I have done the same and lately I’ve been struggling with how to share my time.  I often feel spread thin, strung out, tired, fatigued, overwhelmed, frazzled, wiped out, beat.  In fact, the other day when my friend came to meet me in the park to pick up her two kids that I’d been babysitting all day, she said to me, “Heather, you look like a mad woman.”  It wasn’t until that moment I realized I had left my house in a not-clean shirt, with not-clean hair (since I hadn’t managed to shower before the little darlings arrived), with yesterday’s not-removed make-up half on.  I still had my wits about me enough to feign humor and say with a smile and a laugh, “Well I feel like a mad woman.”  She may not have read through me, but the Lord looketh on the heart and he knew that I was saying it in a passive-aggressive way, hoping she wouldn’t ask me to watch her two kids again any time soon.  Ironically at that moment she said, “Would you mind if I just run to the grocery store real quick to pick up some food for dinner and go pop it in the oven before I take them home?”  She offered to share the meal with me, which was perhaps what prompted a resentful yes, because let’s face it, preparing my own meal after a long day of childcare is a fate worse than an extra half hour at the park with the four kids I’d already spent the day with: a 14-month-old, a 16-month-old, a strong-willed 4-year-old, and an emotional 3-year-old.  Anyone who has ever taken care of children can probably imagine my lack of energy at that point.

However this is where my confession starts.  Even if she hadn’t offered to share the meal with me, I still would have said yes, because that’s all I know how to say.  Years of membership in the church hearing lessons about service, giving, and Christlike love, have conditioned me to say yes no matter what my circumstance.  I say yes first then try to work out the details later.  I have been taught that if we take care of others and give selfless service, we will be blessed with peace and joy.  How is it then, that the promised peace and joy is sometimes so hard to detect? 

I do want to help.  It’s just that the line between doing enough and doing too much is murky.  Sometimes I can’t see it at all until I’ve crossed it and I’m desperately reaching back to the other side hoping someone will be standing on the shore with a life preserver to toss me.  A life preserver that phones the people I’ve now decided I don’t have time to help.  It should be very diplomatic, knowing how to back out of commitments without hurting anyone’s feelings, and most importantly, saving me from the feeling I’ve let somebody down.  Unfortunately this doesn’t exist.  Once I’ve crossed that line, I give and give, oh give away my energy until I’m dog-paddling down that little stream, and finally find I’m floating on my back in the waters of obligation I’ve made for myself that come lapping up, making it difficult to breathe. 

The answer to all my questions has got to be the gospel, the Savior’s everlasting Plan of Happiness.  In opposition to our society always telling us to: “Take care of yourself first,” the Savior showed us the example.  When his disciples were trying to protect him from the multitude of people, although his stomach may have been empty, his feet likely aching and weary from walking, he chose to let the people come and be near him so he could meet their needs.  He did give and give . . . away.  And he invites us to do the same, but with His help, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.”  Then He promises, “I will give you rest . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I believe those promises; I’m trying to have faith in them. He will certainly help us help others.  He will keep us from drowning in the giving stream.  But I don’t always know how to access or reach for the lifeline He longs to give me.

I have no doubt there are many of us flailing in that current.  But I’m hoping someone can tell me how you allow the Lord to help.  Have you felt that begrudging grumble after having made an effort to give of your time, talents, and energy?  Have you been able to give freely and feel that promised joy and peace?

About Heather Herrick

Heather currently lives in the center of the universe (she’s not being egotistical, it’s true—ask any other New Yorker). She loves NYC, but misses the mountains of Utah where she grew up. Heather and her husband are glad that the baby from her poem now sleeps alone; baby two spoils her mama by having the cutest dimple ever, and hopefully will not become a kicker like her sister.

12 thoughts on ““Give, Oh Give Away””

  1. First of all, I don't think it's solely a "doctrine of the world" that mandates that we take care of ourselves before we can give in a meaningful way. I truly think that in order to give without resentment and without sacrificing our sanity or family, we have to have something to give. And we have to take care of our own needs sufficiently in order to have that something. I am sure that if Christ continued to give despite his hardships, it's because he had something to give. I don't think we should use the wants of our family to dodge church responsibilities or stymie our spiritual growth, but saying no to an extra 30 minutes of babysitting is not a sin. Niether is screening our calls so that we can meet the needs of our family and ourselves. Niether is missing the Ward party, forgetting an enrichment meeting, and even saying no to a friend when we just can't fulfill the need.

    Saying no is not an easy thing to do especially within the culture of the church. But giving with resentment serves no one either. You're so right that it's a difficult line to draw between giving enough and giving too much.

    I do think there is a time and a season for everything. As young mothers, I think we feel the need to serve and do everything because we "just" stay home, or we "just" have one kid at home right now, etc… There will be a time when we might be able to say yes to many of the demands that are thrust upon us, there might be a time when we have to say no to some and yes to others, but in the end, we have to make those decisions whilst taking the responsibility for their consequences. And inevitably, those consequences are paid for not only by ourselves, but in the lives of our children and our husbands as well.

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  2. It's true that there are stories of Jesus at times being easily entreated to stay and give some more, but there are also those other accounts in the scriptures that describe periods where Jesus retreated to pray and to meditate and to commune.

    I understand what you're talking about, having spent a lot of my life doing exactly the same kind of misguided, sometimes well-intentioned/other times resentful, always less than honest, yessing. It's hard work to change that tendency. Overyessing is about a lack of balance and understanding. Often it's about fear–either we're afraid to displease God, or we're afraid to displease others. Fear opposes faith and health. It's a pervasive lie, this idea that true Christianity is to say yes yes yes yes yes to every opportunity for giving. We aren't put here to be martyrs, generally speaking. We are typically much more valuable to our Lord if we work to preserve our own well-being and sanity as we make our way through mortaliy.

    (I can feel myself climbing up onto a soapbox–uh oh!)

    I'm sure you'll get lots of great responses to this, so I won't let myself start the street preaching. I'll just say that I think it's helpful when we follow the example of the Savior by taking regular quiet time to pray and study and meditate, and really examine our energy and resources and even our interests (I personally dislike babysitting, so I have stop pressuring myself to sign up for the job when the Compassionate Service rolls come around), and even pray to know what our limits are and aren't. It's like doing basic budgeting before you make a major purchase or contribute a chunk of change to your favorite charity; it's just a good idea to know how much you've got before you impulsively give it away. I'm all in favor of spontaneous responses to the Spirit's promptings, but understanding yourself and and having a plan for balance gives you a point to start from and come back to, so you don't end up lost in so-called service.

    When we give but our giving is burdened by difficult, negative feelings or self-abuse, our "gift" may still benefit the givee on some immediate surface level, but we ourselves don't get much that's deeply good from the experience. Duality can rob of us of the full reward we hope for, and can also make us ill, physically and/or mentally. God wants us to feel joy as we give and he wants us to pace ourselves.

    Okay, I'm making myself stop now, or this could go on all day. ; )

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  3. I ask these same questions to myself, Heather. What is so hard for me, is that when I try and tell my husband that I just can't do any more, say yes to one more thing, or person, without first taking care of me, there is a complete and total blank look on his face, as if I am speaking in a foreign language to him, or asking him to fly to the moon with me. That makes me feel like I am totally irrational and unreasonable, so I continue to forge ahead, saying yes like a robot, because although I am dying inside, it seems to be a little less painful than apparently disappointing the person I love most.

    I wish I had some real clear-cut answers. Some things I try to do, are to listen to the women around me (Kathy, for instance) who tell me what it was like to be super-mom for 10 years, and then crash and burn. I listen to these wonderful, amazing women tell me what giving and consecration is really all about, and that they learned the hard way what it ISN'T, and what they do now to avoid falling again.

    A lot of what they tell me, I feel like will take years for me to arrive at, but there are a couple things I am constantly telling myself all day long. One of them, is to LET GO. Kathy recently commented that part of consecrating is "honoring [our] limitations," and realizing that that doesn't mean we're giving any less. So, this past few weeks I've tried to be as honest as I can with myself, and actually define what my limitations are–and then actually honor them. One of them is that I absolutely HAVE to have some personal, private time to myself every day, or else I will go crazy. If I happen to say yes to too many things, and a week goes by and I'm about to lose my mind, I give myself permission to say No. This weekend, I was invited to spend the priesthood session with some other sisters in the ward with whom I am good friends. I didn't go. I felt bad at first, but I realized I would have felt even worse had I gone, and been resenting it the whole time. It had been a completely insane week, I had said yes to way too many social things, and I just needed some time alone (even though alone these days always includes my 3 month old daughter) to collect myself and settle down. So I did. And I felt wonderful. My husband didn't understand it—he thought I was ruining my evening by staying at home. But I was in heaven!

    So, that is what I'm working on right now. Having the courage to admit my limitations, and not feel bad about them or shove them aside because of the Yes syndrome.

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  4. I, like Geo have come to the conclusion that there are services that I can't render and stay sane (babysitting is one of those for me as well). I think if I know ahead of time what my limitations are and what my willingness is (as revealed to me) then I feel better about letting the awful word "no" escape my mouth.
    (Most of the time it doesn't come out as "no" it's more of an attempt to decline while offering other services.)

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  5. During my "career before children", I learned to say noquite deftly. Somehow, in the ensuing years since I have been raising children, my "No" voice has softened away. It has, however, recently begun to make its return.

    Early in my life, the lesson was thoroughly engrained in me that if you give your word, you keep your word. Period. Maybe that's why I've had to rediscover the word no. I think we (meaning I) say yes because I don't want anyone to know that I'm really a trainwreck of a person who can't take on the small responsibility being asked of me. Oh, the vanity!!

    So, having stressed myself out to the point of cases of Tums and Pepto Bismol, I was forced to start saying no. And, frankly, saying no can feel pretty good! The Lord is aware of the desires of our hearts. He knows. It all feels so complicated and wrenching to us, but He knows. He knows what "mad women" we feel like sometimes. He knows we WANT to help. He knows we can't possibly do it all.

    I think that's why I like the fact that charity is not defined as concrete action and quantifiable results. Charity is defined as the pure love of Christ. Pure love. Love does not always mean action. Love does not always mean in-action. Love can be manifested in actions. It can be manifested in feeling. The Lord knows if we have true charity.

    Even though it's hard (it's hard for me too), forgeting what everyone else thinks is key to finding your right place in the world. That place will certainly include serving and babysitting and making meals…, but it will also include personal time, and private family time, and scripture study and communing with God. We'll all figure out that balance someday.

    But for now, be brave. SAY NO!

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  6. I think it gets very confusing because there are conflicting realities at play.

    The first reality is that we have limits.
    The second is that the Lord’s power can enable us to transcend our limits.

    A lot of my confusion and pain stemmed from not acknowledging that first reality. This quote speaks volumes:

    From Stephen Robinson’s 2002 Women’s Conf. talk, “Healing in His Wings”:

    “We can’t keep the commandment not to exceed our limits unless we recognize, realistically, our limits. That is the law of stewardship. To be righteous stewards, we must understand what our resources are and make sensible decisions about how we are going to use those resources. It is not a righteous or a wise steward who expends all the resources at the outset and then turns to the Master and says, ‘Now, it’s your turn.’”

    I still have some confusion because of the second. We hear all kinds of stories about being blessed in the process of overextending ourselves (pioneers, etc.) or paying tithing even though we can’t afford it. That makes it really hard, because we can end up thinking we will always be compensated and richly blessed from giving when we can’t afford to—either emotionally or financially or whatever. And there are plenty of times that I start out empty (not wanting to go visiting teaching, or to a meeting, or whatever) and I come home feeling fantastic, so glad I went.

    There’s no clean resolution here, but I think it helps to examine the fruits of our approach. If I’m miserable, I can be sure that I’m not living according to truth. But like Kristen pointed out, it took me a long time to figure that out. Fatigue and stress and frustration are part of discipleship, to some extent. I figured it was a good sign if I was worn out. And so it went, until I realized I would die if I didn’t change–die figuratively, and perhaps literally, because I could not imagine living for 50 more years feeling the way I did.

    I hope you'll be kinder to yourself than I was.

    And remember, you wouldn't want someone to say "yes" to you if they felt "no."

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  7. We are also told that we do not have to run faster than we have strength. Looking at all the possible people I could try to please, I have realized that for me I most want to please the Lord. So I am trying to stay connected to the spirit, to discern when I am being specifically prompted to go above and beyond, which I will always do, and when the choice is being left up to me. Then I will sometimes do it, if giving in that instance allows me to keep my priorities and responsibilities(relationship with God, spouse, children) in order. This may sound contradictory, but sometimes the best way to get over feeling overworked, overwhelmed and out of time is to stop everything and dedicate time to God in the form of scripture study and prayer. You can't serve from an empty platter.

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  8. No one knows what you can do except yourself. Thanks for the great blog. You bring up thoughts that many LDS women go through. What about callings? I am the queen of saying "no" to callings. Yep, I'm the one who furtively looks around the chapel when a woman stands up as we acknowledge her new calling. I try not to look guilty because I have already said "no" to the calling and she was the next choice. Does anybody know besides the Bishop? I ask myself. Deep down inside, I don't feel guilty. I feel a bit liberated and free and relieved. For example, I just got released from RS counselor so I could prepare to move out of state, sell my house, pack, take care of my four kids under 8, and finally see my husband. They called and asked me to come in to speak with one of the Bishopric. I asked him to come to my house instead. (which he did!!!) "Will you be our new den leader?" HUH????? Was he crazy? Besides the above, my husband is a counselor in the High Priests! Den meetings are the same night as his meetings. Shall I just bring all of our kids along to the den meeting? Will the High Priests mind if my husband brought the 3 year old and 7 month old? Anyway, I just said no. I knew it was wrong for our family and for me. Once you start saying no to overextending yourself, it becomes quite simple. You start recognizing immediately the situations in which you have to say "no." It's a simple word. Its much more simple than "yes."

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  9. I appreciate so much the thought and effort you all have put into these responses. Some of the things I thought of too, like not giving a gift begrudging, you might as well keep it, like it talks about in Moroni, and not running faster than you have strength, and also allowing the Lord to expand our capabilities. It makes sense that I can say no, can give myself permission, don't need to feel guilty. It sure it hard to do, but I am going to try. I will start with the "mad woman" first and then extend it to other things as well. I will also do my utmost to stay close to the spirit. I've noticed it is easiest to discern what to prioritize if I'm doing the personal spiritual habits, daily scripture study, prayer, listening for answers, writing in my journal. Thanks for the reminders. This has been a very therapeutic discussion!

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