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Learning to Walk

By Justine Dorton

no-mistakes-480There is, in our culture, an interesting pressure about correctness, about avoiding errors. It shows itself in words like competence, excellence, and perfection. It shows itself in how we treat each other in our friendships, in our families, in our professional lives. We are largely expected to behave without error as we navigate through our lives, and errors are met with scorn, disappointment, and sometimes anger. Mistakes are met with reprimands and rebukes, although often silent ones.We’re harsh with someone that cut us off, someone that didn’t say hello, someone that didn’t say the right thing.

I will admit than when others offend me, or make mistakes in judgment, I sometimes silently judge them unkindly. I tarnish their character in my mind. I am too harsh.

But more so, I am harsh with myself. If I say an errant comment or make a poor financial choice, I tend to fear all is lost. I beat myself up and worry I will be eternally tormented for it, or at the very least punished severely here on earth. I tend to see my mistakes as small or large chinks in my character, drawing me farther away from the Lord, from the Spirit, from my goals. Repentance is hard for me to accept fully. I always wonder if I have done enough, if I have really really been forgiven. Messing up just feels… irrevocable.

Have you ever watched a little child learn to speak? It’s fascinating, and it melts your heart. I am watching my three year old try again and again to say the right words, and that’s about as good as it gets in motherhood. There’s nothing more amazing to me than to know I can help someone learn communication. And learning to walk? Falling over and over and over but getting back up every time. It’s wonderful to watch, and it gives me enormous happiness to be a part of.

And here’s where I learned my lesson yesterday…

“I am but a a little child” I Kings 3:7

“…and a little child shall lead them” Isa. 11:6

“Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little a child, he shall not enter therein” Mark 10:15

“…cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive” 3 Nephi 9:22

“And who receiveth you as a little child, receiveth my kingdom” D&C 99:3

Children’s early attempts to communicate are not only accepted, they are applauded. It seems the worse the early language is, the more encouragement the child gets. My three year old hears words of encouragement every day about trying new things and not being afraid to fail. He hears “good try” and “keep working” from every corner. It wouldn’t ever occur to me to reprimand him for speaking incorrectly or not walking with a straight gait. I can’t imagine punishing him while he is trying so hard to learn. In fact, watching him mess up and try, try again gives me great joy.

I, too, am trying so hard to learn, but I keep messing up. I keep saying the wrong words, falling over my feet on the ground. I am learning to speak the language, I am learning to sound out the words of love and charity. I mess it up all the time. I make the wrong choice, I can’t seem to find my balance. I say something wrong, or I don’t say something when I should. The actions in my head don’t always turn into the actions in my feet.

But I’m trying. I’m trying over and over and over. And I’m listening for encouragement. And studying this yesterday gave me the most hope I’ve felt in a long time. Hope that I can be more encouraging, and that I can mess up and fall down and still be loved.

And I can cling to hope, knowing that the Lord is watching over me (and us), and smiling as I mess up yet again.

“Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers” D&C 112:10

The Lord is holding my hand while I gather my feet underneath me and try again.

Be gentle with each other today, we’re all trying to get the words out right and step in the right direction.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

29 thoughts on “Learning to Walk”

  1. Justine, thank you. I needed this. I need to remember that the tender feelings I have in my heart for my children may very well reflect how God feels about me, still but a little child, still with so much to learn.

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  2. Justine, this is beautiful. I am reminded of one of my favorite scriptures, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5:

    " . . . I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."

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  3. I loved this. I know that I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I know that I believe people have expectations of me that really might not even exist. I do worry how people see me, and more especially how they view our family. I worry if whatever we do puts my husband , as the Bishop, in a bad light. I find myself apologising for everything now. A sister from church recently commented on facebook about people thinking they were amazingy righteous when really they were standoffish, difficult etc. I worried so much I rang to ask if it was me she was talking about. It wasn't, by the way. I am trying to be kinder and not judge others. We are all trying every day to be better. O.K., I try most days.

    I admit that my mother was very negative and my husband thinks I have inherited this trait, or maybe internalised it. She was particularly negative where I was concerned, I grew up knowing I was unloved and not even liked. Learning to love myself and feel lovable is not easy for me. Whilst I was single I honestly believed that noone would ever want me, because I could not think of any good reason why they would. Everyone needs love and acceptance. This is a great post, it will help me today to be more loving towards my children and husband, as well as myself.

    I love Segullah, usually I come away with something not only to think about but which can help me improve my life.

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  4. I feel like I have been trying to learn this lesson over the past five years or so. I wrote a poem about how I speak love with an accent of pride after being chastised by my husband for criticising someone's Sunday school lesson. This post reminded me of that feeling I had of learning to speak charity. I am still a child when it comes to spiritual things too. It is so helpful to make that comparison to a parent lovingly encouraging us to succeed despite our continual mistakes. It will help us truly rely on Christ's atonement–because He made up the difference for us we can forgive ourselves for failing when we try. If we try, God will see our efforts and applaud.

    I love Segullah too. But I am a little selfish about sharing it. I don't link to it on my blog because I love being able to be completely honest and not worry about my parents or kids or someone reading what I write! I do tell people about it when I see they need extra love!

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  5. Wonderful topic! This is one of my pet peeves in society and in myself. We live in the land of perfection and correctness and it can be maddening. And I think the thing that I miss the most, the realness of everyday living is missing. We are missing our humanity. Casting it aside, like what the Father has given us, is just not good enough. And then doesn't that throw away the great gift of redemption?

    I am teaching a Sign Language Class in a church so a handicapped little girl can go to Sunday School without her mom like the other kids etc. It should be able to grow into a deaf ministry in about a year. What holds us back is: Well I'm not that good. Well I would be embarrassed. Not looking at the reality, if we do not do it, with all of our imperfections, if will not be done, and others will suffer because of our so called humility. I know that I am not exempt from these tendencies. Where did we go back from trying to be "like the gods' again?

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  6. I love the movie Meet the Robinsons. There is this scene where the little boy–Lewis, I think–makes a spectacular mess with an invention, the sort of thing that would normally have gotten him in a lot of trouble. The family instead says "yeah! you failed" and then explains that we learn from failing, and not so much from success. Admittedly, the actual cheering can be really difficult to do in the thick of failure fallout. But, it's something I try to keep reintroducing to my memory so that I am gentler in the face of failures, mine and others. Thank you for reminding me again (since I've been in the thick of some stressful failure fallout for the past few days)!

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  7. I love the words of Elder Maxwell (paraphrased): "There's a big difference between stumbling along the path to perfection and wandering around in a wilderness of despair." That's what I think we need to remember–that falling is actually part of our progress forward. One fall doesn't undo all the progress we've made; it just puts things on temporary hold until we pick ourselves up again, learn from our mistakes, and press on.

    For a period of about three weeks on my mission, I dutifully downed Benson's "Beware of Pride" each morning and then followed the guilt-trip with a soothing dose of Hafen's "Beauty for Ashes." I've still got them both right here–tucked into my journal. I think that this, from Hafen, is profound: "Sometimes it may be unclear just how much personal fault we bear for the bitter fruits we may taste or cause others to taste. Bitterness may taste the same, whatever its source, and it can destroy our peace, break our hearts, and separate us from God. Tasting the bitter in all its forms is a deliberate part of the great plan of life. This consequence of the Fall was not just a terrible mistake; rather, it gives mortality its profound meaning. In an important sense, our judgment calls lead us to the tree of knowledge, just as Adam's and Eve's choice led them to that same tree. The blessed news of the gospel is that the Atonement can purify all uncleanness and sweeten all the bitterness we taste."

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  8. Justine, I loved your image of Heavenly Father watching us with the same love and kindness as we give our little children. It also reminded me of a quote that I try to remember when I'm tempted to feel annoyed:

    "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato (427 BC – 347 BC)

    The media is so quick to mock and publicize every perceived mistake, so we really have to model that kindness in our homes, because our children aren't going to learn that from society…

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  9. We experience this same sort of thing as adults when we try to learn a foreign language. This process requires a willingness for us to make fools of ourselves, because the only way to learn another language is to roll up your sleeves and dive in, knowing full well you're going to make mistake after mistake after mistake. It takes a willingness to publicly make those mistakes to really learn.

    I just read a book about Lincoln as commander-in-chief. He was thoroughly frustrated with Gen. McLellan, because he was unwilling to actually engage the enemy. He was probably the top general in the country, highly regarded by everyone, and that high regard seemed to freeze him from action, because in acting he would have to risk failure, and he had such a high opinion of himself that failure was simply not something he could risk experiencing.

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  10. Was it Joseph Smith that said perfection is not an end, it is a journey? I'm not sure, but it is true. When I was younger, with little kids and not enough time in a day, I worried so much about how we appeared… and it drove me down, trying to maintain it. Then, I realized people did actually perceive me as "the perfect one", and it was not a positive perception. It was a tough lesson to learn, and I finally allowed my friends to know us, really, ups and downs, mistakes and messes. I think it is not so much that we enjoy one another's imperfections, but we respect the attempts to muddle through, and applaud the triumphs, commiserate in the setbacks. Sometimes, I recognize that frantic smile in a young mother, that cover as they try to do everything and present a perfect front, and I want to put my arms around her and say, "It's all right. It's all right to look like you are only trying."

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  11. I was thinking along these lines today!

    I'm constantly at war with myself, battling my own expectations, and my expectations of others, and needing to think on them with compassion and charity, and wondering why that compassion and charity doesn't extend to my self-criticism.

    I've watched three of my children so far struggle with perfectionist tendencies, and getting us all the point that we CAN cheer about failing (because the effort was pure) is a long road. It's worthwhile, though!

    I've also struggled recently with "thinking charitable thoughts"… coming to accept the imperfect efforts of others as perfectly acceptable before God, and being kind in my heart.

    Good grief, I'm going to live to be 200 years old, if this is a key lesson for me to learn before leaving mortality!

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  12. "I mess it up all the time…. But I'm trying."

    And that's the point and hardest thing to remember. If I find myself figuratively beating myself to death for something I did/not do, better/badly, I tend to just say to myself. "Yep, you missed the opportunity. Okay, you're an idiot. But you're trying to be a BETTER idiot!"

    And that makes me laugh and feel better and more realistic. And laughter helps, particularly if we can laugh at ourselves.

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  13. I adore this post. I thought about it all weekend. One of my dear friends is a saintly 82 year old widow. Last spring after making a HUGE mistake, I asked her, "So when will I get wise and stop messing up?"

    She laughed and replied, "I don't know! I find new ways of making mistakes almost every day!"

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  14. I so so like the imagery of a loving Father giggling and smiling as he watches me figure out how to be a 'grown up girl'. It makes me feel like maybe I can get there after all!

    And I love trying to be a better idiot. It actually gives me a lot of hope to think that I don't have to get all the way to the mark before I die. I just have to keep moving forward.

    And Erica, Elder Maxwell rocks, doesn't he? I'm going to go find that specific quotation if I can. It belongs on my mirror…

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  15. How did you know I was in the middle of this? Perfect timing. Thank you.
    I grew up feeling that I wasn't good enough, that I should be more, that I should do better. I felt I was a disapointment, that I frustrated my parents. I now have children of my own and push them, have high expectations, and love them so much!! I see that my parents just wanted (and still do) what was best for me, for me to reach my potential, to try harder, because than I could do more and be more and maybe have a better, fuller, easier life. I used to try to please them, make them proud of me, worry about whether I was doing a good job or not. Why, oh why, do we care so much what our parents think of us? Hate it. Recently, I have decided to only care what my Heavenly parents think of me and to believe with all my heart that they love me no matter what. I know I am loved. My earthly parents are not perfect. I am not a perfect daughter. I am not a perfect parent. And my children are not perfect. None of my friends are or my neighbors or my extended family. Love, love, love. Let us love ourselves and not give in to inpatience, disappointment when others let us down. I hate that. If we want everyone to be perfect, we will be disappointed daily. Lower expectations. How do you strive for perfection, but find joy in the journey? I feel if I lower my expectations that's a sin, because it's like I'm not trying hard enough. Guilt, regret, frustration, I hate it. Peace, happiness, laughter, let it go. Are we enough just the way we are? Can we just be wonderful because we are, because we exist. We are good, we are God's children. We are GOOD. Do I believe that? When I say it, do I know it's true. I am good. I am wonderful just the way I am. I am loved just the way I am. I love myself just the way I am. Everyone is a child of God. Let them be where they are. Love them where they are. Don't judge. I don't want to hold everyone, including myself to this high standard and then not feel worthy myself or that others are not worthy. I don't want others to feel I don't think they're good enough. No one should ever be made to feel that they're not good enough, but yet, what if we aren't? What if we're being lazy and sinning and need a good kick in the pants? Who knows. Balance. I love the idea and feel it's right and true that we should give ourselves and each other a break. Be nice, be gentle, be kind and compassionate. You are right. Let us love, cheer, and encourage.

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