Cleaning Up Before Moving On

I had a delightful surprise visit from a dear friend in March. She stopped by to introduce me to her very handsome, furrow-browed, new baby. He was the most adorable, serious-looking little boy ever! Ooh, I miss new babies. I love my current stage, but babies are the BEST. Can’t wait for grandchildren!

I take that back. I CAN wait! No one is ready to get married. (We’re still teaching the order sung in the playground rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, THEN comes baby in the baby carriage.”)

So we were visiting and she told me about her daughter’s kindergarten teacher who has taught her daughter a saying that has really affected her daughter. Here it is (Drumroll, please):

“I must clean up before moving on.”


When I heard that, I thought, “That phrase encapsulates all I have been trying to teach my children their whole lives!”

And so I left my mantra, “Leave cleanliness in your wake!” behind and started reciting, “I must clean up before moving on” to myself and to my children. (I even said it once to my husband…as a gentle hint to not leave his coat and bag in the dining room when he walked in the door. Well!)

I have to tell you why this phrase has me almost giddy.

If I can learn that, and live it, and help my children learn it–even to a degree–then it will help them have a perspective on Christlike living in one little sentence.

Just think about it! If I can clean up before moving on from any mess I make–whether physical, emotional, or spiritual–then I can sleep at night! I can be at peace with my God, my family, and the rest of the world! I have felt that peace before, and I want it ALL the time!

I had an experience the day before yesterday. I had had a very productive day, in the checklist sort of way: getting up at 4:45 am after sleeping for SEVEN HOURS STRAIGHT (a major gift, as sleeping is not my strong suit). I was ready to GO! I made breakfast, helped children, cleaned, exercised, showered, served family, ate, read, talked on the phone, wrote, meal planned during a music lesson, grocery shopped, made a fun dinner, and eaten it with all the family. Hooray! Then I felt exhausted. The 4:45 am caught up with me just like that. Swoosh. I was ready to go to bed. NOW. Not in five minutes. Not in 10. Now.

Unfortunately, I had a child who was “pushing my buttons” that day on a couple of occasions who went to go play the piano. I suddenly got bugged and made a comment about how if this child expected to be paid for their work, then they had better do it on the day they are supposed to do it! That comment turned into an argument before I remembered our Family Night lesson (“It takes two people to have contention, and I will never be one of them”) and walked out.

It was not nice. I was not nice.

You may recognize this situation. It reminds me of something I heard once:

“[Satan] damages and often destroys families within the walls of their own homes. His strategy is to stir up anger between family members.

“Satan is the “father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Ne. 11:29; emphasis added). The verb stir sounds like a recipe for disaster: Put tempers on medium heat, stir in a few choice words, and bring to a boil; continue stirring until thick; cool off; let feelings chill for several days; serve cold; lots of leftovers. (Lynn G. Robins, “Agency and Anger”)

That little exchange led to my child feeling angry and sad, and my husband went to try to help work things out. He came back, and right before bed, commented that I might need to work things out with this child. I chose to respond with anger to this as well. And thus began a night of restless sleep and an even worse, tired and heavy morning. Followed by a dreary day.

“Serve cold; lots of leftovers.” Spot on.

I know this quote well because I studied it a lot a few years back. Anger is something I didn’t expect to have to work on as a mother, and I have really worked to overcome it for a long time. So experiences like this one can feel very discouraging. I despise anger!  But when I am so tired and feeling at the end of my rope, I sometimes choose not to bite my tongue. That night I gave into the temptation to contend. And I justified it for some time in my mind.

Then I went on a walk with some friends yesterday, for exercise and for fun (I love walking and visiting with these other moms!), and I was talking about this new mantra. In that moment, I knew that I had to clean up the emotional mess that I had made.

The problem was, I still was feeling anger towards this child, and when I tried to make amends, my attempt bellyflopped.  Another daughter, who had heard our exchange and was folding her laundry in the mud room, had been silent. Then she very quietly started singing a country song that my son shared with us one time. It’s called, “I Love You, Son” by Joshua Creek. I listened to her sing the chorus. I knew when she started singing it, that she was listening to the Spirit. There was some help in those words for me:

“Oh Dad, I know you’re gonna hate me.’ Then in disbelief he heard his father say, ‘I love you, son. Just tell me what you’ve done. Life’s full of problems. Together we can solve them. Talk it out with me. We’ll work it out, you’ll see. I love you, son.’ ”

I thought of the Lord saying, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). I knew I needed to go pray. I went to my room and wept while I knelt and prayed.

I wish I could say my heart was softened enough at that point to be ready go back and make things right again. I needed some more help still. I was heading to bed last night when I saw an Ensign article that I hadn’t read yet: “The Enabling Power of the Atonement.” These paragraphs really spoke to me:

“…Elder Bednar said, “I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning [the] enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities….’

” The belief that through our own ‘sheer grit, willpower, and discipline’ we can manage just about anything seems to be widespread these days. This simply is not true. Heavenly Father and the Savior can inspire, comfort, and strengthen us in our time of need, if we remember to cast our burdens at Their feet.

…Christ stands ready with outstretched arms as He waits for us to come unto Him and be encircled in the arms of His love (see D&C 6:20). It is here that we can be healed, nourished, loved, enabled, strengthened, and made whole. Although the trial may be hard and the relief may not be immediate, we need to learn to allow God to help carry our burdens. We can do this by turning to Him regularly to seek His enabling power.”

Last night, I went back to Heavenly Father again to talk to him and ask for more help with the anger I felt. This morning, my prayer was answered. I felt the burden partially lifted and more energy and lighter-heart return as I apologized to my husband. And I look forward to working things out with my child, so that I can clean up this mess. I know with God’s help, I can. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

I share this story because it is the story of my motherhood! I have made and continue to make lots of mistakes as a mother, but God has taught me that it’s not the mistakes that matter so much as learning to go to Him for help. He is a Father who really, really loves us! He really, really, really yearns to help us! He wants to heal us, fill us with love, fill us with light, and support and encourage us. This is what I want to tell anyone who is yearning to hear it! This is why I blog.

I am so grateful that in Heavenly Father’s plan, it’s OK to make mistakes. He doesn’t expect us to go through the “schools” He enrolls us in (marriage, parenthood, work, service, trials, weaknesses) with a perfection-or-nothing mandate. We get to learn to clean up as we go. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa.52:11/3 Ne. 20:41). Being the loving parent He is, He wants to help us clean up our messes, so He tells us to pray and ask for help. Prayer is the key to unlocking the door to His help!

“I love you, son. Just tell me what you’ve done. Life’s full of problems. Together we can solve them. Talk it out with me. We’ll work it out, you’ll see. I love you, son.”

Happy Praying,

Liz 🙂

P.S. Is there a time you’d like to share when Heavenly Father helped you clean up a mess you made?

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