A few years ago, I attended a lot of weddings in a fairly short period of time. This same period of time happened to be one of major marital turmoil for a few couples I knew well. I found myself often sitting in the sealing room of the temple, witnessing these weddings and thinking, "Is this really something to celebrate? They have no idea what they're in for." I admit it, I was cynical and a bit world-weary. And also jaded. And also a little right. Dang. Marriage isn't for sissies.
I also have thought a variation on this theme while sitting in baby showers. Parenting. Also not for sissies.
Or while sitting in a baptismal service. Need I say it? Following Christ. Also most definitely not for sissies.
When I am in a low place (which of course is hardly ever! Because life is always rosy over here!) I wonder if our celebrations are a bit of a bait and switch. Before our big life changes, aren't we really thinking a little optimistically?
"Get married and you'll live with your best friend and never be lonely again! Plus you'll be perpetually youthful and attractive and you'll make lots of money and take fun vacations accompanied by fantastic pictures to put on Facebook!"
"Have children and your life will be full of excitement and frilly dresses and smiling cherubs! And they will all get straight A's and become Eagle Scouts and be kind to everyone they meet! So that's great!"
"Accept Christ, be baptized, go through the temple, and you will have an automatic 'Get out of Jail Free' card for all of life's challenges! You'll never worry, be anxious, wonder, or question again! Your fellow Christians will always treat you perfectly and you'll learn to bake perfect bread at Relief Society meetings!"
A few months ago, a friend was asking me how I really felt about having children. She and her husband weren't sure about whether or not they wanted to take the plunge, and I wanted to give her a truthful answer. I sat for a minute and thought, "Why would I encourage her to have kids? It's so hard. It's so so hard."
I've had the same conversation with someone before his wedding. And thought the same thing.
And when someone recently brought up how great it would be for someone we know to be baptized, I (you guessed it) thought the same thing.
And this is what brings me here, dear readers. These questions and my answers (or lack of good answers) made me really think about what I have been expecting from my life, and what false expectations our society is teaching us to expect.
Because this is what I've learned: Hard is the point.
That sounds really dark, right? The first time I had this thought, I was like, "OK. Sure. If hard is the point, I'll just stop progressing right here right now. I have had enough hard for this lifetime. And how am I supposed to encourage people to leap into hard? WHY should I encourage people to jump into hard?"
And then I studied some scriptures surrounding the creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve. Good, faithful, intelligent Eve. Courageous, brave, bold Eve.
One of my favorite doctrines taught by the LDS church is that Eve knew what she was getting into. She was aware that by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, she would be transgressing one law of God in order to fulfill another, bigger, more important commandment: To be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28.) She understood that if she stayed in Eden with Adam, they would live a safe, pretty, clean existence. There would be no transgression, no sin, no illness, no death. But there would also not be a fulness of knowledge, of experience, of growth.
All this time, I'm chasing Eden, thinking "It's only worthwhile if it's fun. Or pleasurable. Or easy." I want the joy without the pain. I want the fulfillment without the work. I want to be back where I'm safe and protected and innocent. And did I mention protected? And safe? And where everything works out all the time just like I think it should?
This is the important thing: Eden was a place of stasis. Eden was a place of perpetual childhood. Eden is not the world my Heavenly Father wants for me right now. And when I think of it that way, I guess I don't want it for myself. (At least, not most of the time.)
Adam and Eve left Eden to learn the lessons they needed to learn. They leapt. They fell. And while Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to pay for their sins (and ours), they still lived in this fallen world. They lived by the sweat of their brows. One of their sons killed another of their sons. They watched their family torn apart by the choices of their children and their children's children. And still Eve is GLAD and says, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient (Moses 5:11)."
The prophet Lehi goes a little further and says that if Adam and Eve had not transgressed: "they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:23-25.)"
Get that? NO JOY without MISERY (and it can be inferred from that verse, no children = no misery. Ha.) And also, NO GOOD without SIN. Without the pull from one, the other is not possible. Yin and yang. Opposition in all things.
It's the POINT!
I'm not saying that someone who remains unmarried, or someone who has no children, or someone who isn't spiritual isn't facing the same dichotomy: to grow, we must have growing pains. To learn, we must change. To change, we have to get rid of some things or take on others. It's hardly a painless prospect. It's easier to play video games or watch TV than to practice an instrument. It's more fun to party than to go to bed on time to do well in your college classes the next day. It's simpler to remain unencumbered than to link our lives to others: family, friends, people we serve.
It's just that simple doesn't get us where we want to be.
I have a beautiful friend with four beautiful boys. She is wise and intelligent and creative and thoughtful. And she spends much of her days dealing with poop. Her blog is funny and heartbreaking and life-affirming, even when she's describing the stresses of dealing with developmental delays and struggles and, like I said, poop. She didn't know that this would be her life when she leapt into motherhood. And yet, there it is. And there she is. And to look back and wonder what life would be like without all of these issues would be nothing but crazy-making, because this is her life now. And she's growing because of it.
I talk about her issues because I can't really talk about mine. Trust me, though. They're there. They're real and big and hard and when I DO look back sometimes, I wonder. I wonder who I would have been without them. I wonder why this is my lot. And every time I do that I cheat myself from wondering this: How am I stronger because of them? Who can I understand better because of them? Who can I love more because of them?
I'm going to try to stop chasing Eden. I'm going to TRY to stop wishing away the hard things. I'm going to try to start living with gratitude in the moment, not looking back, not hoping hard things away in the future. Joy is always there, waiting for us to notice it.
And maybe that's the best point of all.