Monday, March 7, 2011

The Guilt Factor, and Why It Had To Go

Lately, I feel like I've had my eyes opened to a lot of things about myself and the way I live my life. I don't know if it's all the unscheduled time, or the lack of  church to attend, or all this uncertainty about what our lives will look like after we leave here, but this last month or so has been one of many deep conversations and even deeper thoughts running through my head. Today, I finally feel like I have a grip on a lot of it, so I'm ready to type it out. Some of you will probably disagree with me, but that's totally okay with me. I can handle disagreement. I'm a big girl, and realize not everyone's world view lines up with mine.


Having been raised the way I was, and with religion as a huge part of it, I think one of the not so great legacies is that I've learned that life is about doing what you have to so you don't feel guilty all the time. It's about what you are supposed to do, not what you want to do. There are so many penalties and fear of your salvation. My parents were masters of the guilt trip, too - they added in a lot of other issues that have made it all magnified for me.

This last year and a half, where all my time is now pretty much my own and I can order it how I will, has lead to a lot of  issues for me. I keep wandering around, besieged by guilt that I often can't even place. I'd have good days and I'd have bad ones, but in the end, I felt like I was spinning in circles, avoiding anything that seemed like it "had" to be done.

So, I decided about a month ago that I was getting off the guilt train. I was going to stop feeling guilty period. The first few weeks, quite honestly, I just played video games or surfed the web in between taking care of the family. The house got to be a huge wreck and I didn't really care.

Except, I did on some level. After spending so much time just doing whatever dumb thing I wanted, I realized that my life wasn't just about fun stuff. I have a lot of things I want out of life, and none of them include amusing myself on the computer. And I don't want my main motivator to be guilt anymore. Because it's a terrible motivator, and when I respond to it, I don't feel fulfilled in the end because there is always something more to feel guilty about. I want to live my life focusing on the things that I want out of it, not the fear of what will happen if I don't do all these things that other people say are important.

After having this mind shift, I realized that this week was the first in my life that I actually felt the desire to keep the house clean and didn't mind doing the work required to make that happen. Why? Because I have realized that living in a clean house matters a lot more to me than I thought it did. Because it isn't about what other people think about our house, it's what we who live here think. In that same vein, I'm done apologizing because I didn't do the dishes last night or the living room floor is full of toys when someone happens to drop by. Our life is what we want it to be, not a show piece for others.

I cannot deny the role that religion has played in this. I was raised Mormon, and have stuck with it during my adult life because at heart I believe it is true. However, I think the absolute worst thing about my own religion, and religions in general, is the role guilt always plays in everything. It's always the little edge they stick in there to get people to do stuff. "This calling came straight from God, so you can't say no." Your salvation always seems to be hanging on the edge of whether or not you do every little, tiny thing exactly right, even though people will give lip service to how it doesn't matter if  you're perfect.

I've seen the worst of this lately on a few Mormon leaning blogs (although I've seen similar things on other religious blogs, it just didn't affect me the same way because I don't belong to those faiths) that have come up with religious-leaning products to sell to their readers. The selling point is that whatever it is will help your family or you come to Christ in amazing ways. The implied message is that whatever you are doing now isn't enough, and if you don't buy this, you will be poorer for it. I'm so turned off by that kind of marketing. Feel free to explain what you are selling to me, but I don't want to hear about how amazing it will be in my life because you have no way of knowing that. None.

I should say I'm still pretty religious, and I'm going to attend the Mormon church again when we return to the States. I am not, however, going to let anyone guilt trip me into doing things. If a calling really, truly does not fit into my life at that point in time, I'm going to say no. And I'm not going to obsess over it. Sometimes, people don't know what is going on in your life. And if my visiting teaching list is next to impossible for me to accomplish, or I'm having issues with my partner, I'm going to ask for a change.

I don't know why we have always been expected to  just take it and go with it because it's such a random slapping together of people. Doesn't it make a little more sense if we give the people putting together these assignments a little more input? Like, when I never had a car and couldn't visit anyone off base without much drama with my husband's command or by making my companion do all the driving? That whole thing was stupid, and the end result was me not doing much at all, when I should have spoken up and asked for change. But there was the unspoken message that you don't do that because it's not right. Except, that makes no freaking sense...

And now that this is starting to shift into something else, I am going to finish up by saying I feel better today, better than I have in a long, long time about my life and the direction it's going. I think sometimes we are afraid to just focus on what we want because we've been taught that these bigger goals someone else set are more important than our own.  We've got all these things to check off along the way, instead of trying to forge our own path. I don't think that is really what the core of the gospel is about, but somehow that's the message that often comes across. Like when I lived in Utah and it seemed everyone was checking out what their neighbor was doing to see if they were still living on the straight and narrow.

Then there is the fear that if we just do what we want, we'll go tripping off in the sunset, sinning freely along the way. I don't really feel any great desire to break the covenants I've made or the things I've come to believe strongly in. I want to attend church again, and I would like a calling. I am, however, going to do those things because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. The beautiful thing about consequences is that we get to choose them. If I'm without a husband and don't feel like braving sacrament meeting with my two kids while someone whispers behind me how annoyed they are because my boys are loud (true story), I'll stay home and not fret about it. I'll accept the consequence that maybe I'll miss out on something, or maybe my kids will get the wrong message. Or, I'll take them and try to ignore the people around me because I'm trying to teach my sons something about how important church is even when we are tired and feel forgotten by those there. Either way, it's my choice to make, and not something to freak out about over and over again. I regret how many times I've done that.

I'm not going to wrap this up well because my three year old needs me to spend time with him playing Duplos. And I want to make him happy more than I want to give this blog post a nice, clean conclusion. I do need to stress, though, that I feel more in control of my life now that I ever have. I get to choose how to feel, where to go, and what I want out of life. And guilt, well, I'm done with that for good.

3 sonar pings:

Susan said...

Good for you.

Kamas and Elise said...

I am Mormon too, and I understand what you are saying. My husband is active duty USMC and we have a 5 month old. Sometimes going to church alone with kids is not going to happen :) I just tell myself to do the best I can.
P.S. My dad is on the High Council and he told me that it is ok to refuse a calling if you feel like you cannot do it :)

DerrK said...

Totally weird reading this at this time, because with Dave gone right now I have also gone through a major thought process. More of my own life and running my home, very similar to yours. And it really is a relief to not feel guilty for something that isn't that important but society says it is. I do disagree with some of your religious aspects but for the most part agree with the rest. For example, the calling thing. I am so glad to hear your side. That I agree with 100%.
Anyway, you're an awesome mom and wife!