I just finished reading A Heart Like His by Virginia Hinckley Pearce (yes, she's President Hinckley's daughter). It was awesome. Very, very awesome.
Remember how my whole goal this year is to develop a stronger relationship with my Heavenly Father and by doing that, learn to love others better. It is sort of circular, of course. The more I learn to love those around me better--by treating them better and praying for them more and becoming less selfish--the more I will feel Heavenly Father's love. The more I feel Heavenly Father's love, the more I'll want to spread that love around and serve His other children.
That's the plan.
Sometimes I forget the plan and yell at my children.
But I am trying.
This book was very helpful. It is very much centered around my goal as the whole premise of the book is that a group of RS sisters wanted to try a "heart-softening" experiment to see how it would affect them and their relationships. VP said, "We were experimenting with principles, in the tradition of Alma.. . . As a committee, we outlined a plan: to simply be more aware of the condition of our hearts, and with this awareness, crack them open a bit wider. We agreed to do this during encounters that would present themselves in the natural flow of our lives."
So the rules of the experiment were as follows: "1) To be more aware of the condition of our hearts and with that awareness to keep them more open toward others.
2) To do this in the normal course of our lives . . . our lives were not to be filled with more things to do!
3) Notice the Spirit, and be willing to come together and honestly report what happened or hadn't happened."
I really liked the idea of this experiment as it is really what I'm trying to do, only formalized and put into concrete terms. I also liked that the women were very clear that this wasn't an added burden or item on a to-do list. VP described it as being very conscious of why we do things, or the state of our heart when we do things. She encouraged visualizing your heart as you made decisions and then taking a second to "feel" whether your heart was shrunken and hidden or close to the surface and open. For example, when you see someone at the store that you think you should know but can't remember the name. Do you hastily switch aisles to avoid the embarrassment/awkwardness of the meeting or do you say hello and ask whether or not you know the person. The more we're willing to do things outside of our comfort zone that could lead to a positive interaction with another person, that's open heart behavior.
In the book was a chapter about red flags--or, in other words, the things that habitually prevent us from having an open heart. VP and I have a red flag in common. She wrote: "Experimenting with an open heart taught me that one of my personal red flags, one of the things that would help me recognize that perhaps my heart might need checking, is when I feel I can't attend to someone because I'm too busy. Bad habit. And that's all it is, I have discovered. Because an open heart isn't really as much a matter of time as it is a matter of being present, available, and open to whomever is in my physical space at any given moment." I thought that was pretty profound. Think about that with parenting. I am constantly saying, in essence, "leave me alone" to my children. I am always so busy with the running of the house that I push my children aside. All. The. Time. I recognize that you can't spend every waking moment focused on your children, but I'm pretty sure you can be more present. More in the moment with them. I think you can do that and still get everything else done.
VP told this great story about her mother. They were trying on coats at the last of several stores and both Marjorie and Virginia were tired. The coat Sister Hinckley liked was too long, so an in-store seamstress was pinning it for her (what store would this be????). While the coat was getting pinned, Sister Hinckley coaxed the seamstress into telling her all about herself, while Virginia sat in the corner thinking about all the things she still had to do that night. When it was time to leave Virginia noticed that the seamstress and her mother were both smiling, cheerful, and fairly energetic while she, herself, felt even more grumpy and tired. Her conclusion: "Opening one's heart creates energy. Closing one's heart depletes energy." I think that can be applied to mothering as well. The more I give to my children, the more I have to give. The days where I start out a little grumpy and selfish always go downhill fast. Very fast.
Here's some more thoughts: "An open heart looks outward. A closed heart looks inward."
"Observe the physical/emotional/spiritual response of your heart, independent of your words or actions. Awareness is the key."
"Take the initiative to get outside yourself and express an interest in those you encounter. Pray for the courage to do so."
"Pay attention to spiritual confirmations. Is the Spirit working in this? Do you feel confirmations of comfort, peace, and happiness? Are the seeds beginning to swell?"
1 Nephi 11:22-23: "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: yea, and the most joyous to the soul."
VP posed the question: "Are you feeling the love of God--that He loves you, personally?" I think that is the big question. I think the more we tap into that feeling of being loved by our Heavenly Father, the more we relax, feel less guilty, worry less about to-do lists and more about people. Also, the more we are able to let go of others expectations and criticisms to embrace ourselves as valuable.
Ways VP feels love from God: 1) help from others; 2) beauty of nature; 3) the sriptures, words of the prophets, the Holy Ghost personalizing messages just for her.
"One of the remarkable qualities about God's love for us is that not only do we experience it as validating and affirming, but it also produces growth and change in us. It literally moves us forward, toward Him and our own eventual exaltation. It is a sculpting, correcting, and purposeful kind of love."
VP made one really excellent point. She said that reading about other people, or talking to other people, sometimes left her discouraged. She felt criticisms and she felt like she wasn't doing enough. However, the scriptures never left her discouraged. The scriptures are full of promises that Heavenly Father wants us to succeed, that He loves us, that He gave us His son, that He'll do everything He can to help if we will turn to Him. The scriptures don't make comparisons. The worth of ALL souls is great in the sight of God.
Toward the end of the book, VP talked about the importance of reporting your changing behavior, to yourself at the very least, but also to others. She talked about the Hawthorne Effect. In essence, the Hawthorne Effect is that people change their behaviors when they know they are being watched. It drives researchers crazy, apparently. Therefore, if we report to someone--ourselves, a spouses, friends, God--our behavior will change more quickly. "Being aware enough to count and report our experiences is a dynamic and positive process." She quoted Plato, "The life which is unexamined is not worth living."
She ended with this and I will too. "In the definition of Conversion, the Bible Dictionary says that conversion 'denotes changing one's views, in a conscious acceptance of the will of God (Acts 3:19). If followed by continued faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism in water for the remission of sins, and the reception of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, conversion will become complete, and will change a natural man into a sanctified, born again, purified person--a new creature in Christ Jesus (see 2 Cor. 5:17).'"