After I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Over time, because I had been so desensitized to what was right and what was wrong, I started to see how far astray I had really gone before joining the Church. It's not easy to tell what is right and what is wrong in this world. With so many different philosophies being thrown out there, it's like wading through a thick mire in the struggle to find Truth.
For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they [the crafty men] lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—There were so many philosophies that I bought into, prior to joining the Church: pornography was a fact of life and good luck to me in trying to find a husband who wasn't obsessed with looking at another woman's body, everyone has sex before marriage, everyone drinks, marriage and children ties a woman down and prevents her from achieving worthwhile goals outside the home, and the worst of them all: God could not possibly care about me or anyone else, if He even existed.
Now, I know that these false philosophies spread far and wide are simply untrue.
I know that there is a God, the Father of our eternal spirits, who cares deeply about us. I know that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to atone for our sins. I'm thankful to be married to a man who is always striving to do good and doesn't ogle over other women. My children and my career as a homemaker add so much joy to my life; it's not easy, but it's so satisfying.
I'd never heard of the Atonement before. I grew up in a home where I was expected to be perfect. I could not make mistakes and was pushed to excel at everything. I did well in school and had a resume worthy of an Ivy League school (and yes, I still attended a state school and am so thankful that I do not owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt), but I was lacking in something so much more important: the understanding that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to make mistakes.
Life is basically about learning and improving from the mistakes we make on an hourly basis (or even sooner in my case) each day. It's about trusting that a perfect man whom I never have met, was sent here to this earth to cover for me. He took upon Himself all of my sins, afflictions, etc., so that I could be with my Father in Heaven someday, and with my family forever.
My experiences in Rexburg, Idaho were so valuable. I had no idea how important the truths I would be learning were when I was sent to this unfamiliar, random location. I was just excited for some change of scenery!
We had a stake president who encouraged us to attend the Temple weekly, to go to Institute weekly, and to be a home or visiting teacher that visited more than once a month. Within the ward there were activities that one could go to at least twice a week, within the Relief Society. The Elders Quorum had their own relatively frequent activities to participate in, as well. To top it off, there were entire ward activities held once a month. There was always something to attend, especially since both Rand and I served in Presidencies, sometimes simultaneously. Everytime our stake president would speak, I would just hear a huge list of things I wasn't doing. I would constantly compare myself to those around me and felt the lack that I had. I could never have a clean enough home, smart enough children, or be a spiritual enough person. I misunderstood what was really expected of me.
Needless to say, I was burnt out. There were a lot of other false philosophies that I was buying into that were on the opposite side of the pole (in comparison to what I was doing before I joined the Church): no television, no movies that could possibly show anything at all inappropriate [cleavage, drinking, etc.], no music beyond the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I wouldn't allow myself to do anything before scripture study and prayer. I was creating a lot of rules that were not inspired. I was living the letter of the law, not the spirit of it. This, added to the constant activity I felt obligated to attend, caused me to place an inordinate amount of stress and unrealistic expectations upon myself.
In short, I was trying to get myself into Heaven.
I love Ralph Waldo Emerson's statement: "we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.” This does not mean that we throw out everything that is good and holy, along with the bad, but that all our practices need to be evaluated.
I think the other important aspect is to analyze how you're feeling. God works through feelings of encouragement, peace, and love. He is not a vengeful taskmaster! The devil, however, inspires feelings of fear, unnecessary guilt, discouragement, and hopelessness.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
It's so much easier for me to live life knowing that Heavenly Father knows and expects me to be imperfect. He wants me to do my best, but that's all he asks for. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not anyone else's best, it's my best. My Savior will make up the rest.
I'm not sure how to completely let go of the pressure to be perfect, but I know that as I give God my best, He magnifies me and helps me to be the person that I so desperately want to be. I'm thankful He has blessed me with a heart that longs to do good, and with a Savior who willingly gave up His life for me and everyone else on this earth.And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)
I guess what this has taught me is that I need God in my life.