CLEANING TOILETS ON FATHER'S DAY
Sunday morning, Cathy
remarked that the toilets were looking bad. Without even thinking, I said, "I'll clean them after Church."
Later in the afternoon, as I was actually cleaning the toilets, I started feeling a little resentful and thinking thoughts like, "Why am I cleaning toilets on Father's Day? Isn't it the Sabbath too? How can I keep it holy when I'm focusing on dirty toilets?" I also thought, a little cynically, "Yep, this is fitting for Father's Day. I get to do the do the dirty work that no one else wants to. That's what being a dad is."
Of course, I realized after a short pity party that these were just thoughts--and these thoughts were not serving me very well. What are the plain facts of the situation? (1) It was Sunday, (2) it was Father's Day, (3) I cleaned the toilets, (3) Cathy didn't ask me to clean them--I offered, and (4) I could have refused to do it or offered to do it Monday. Those are the facts.
The stories are what cause us pain. What stories was I telling myself? (1) Dads are not appreciated, (2) I am entitled to be self-indulgent on Father's Day, (3) If my wife and kids cared about me, I wouldn't have been forced to clean the toilets on Father's Day, and (4) I was breaking the Sabbath and my family was to blame for it.
As I realized that I was telling myself stories, I decided to choose different thoughts. (1) Father's Day didn't work out on Sunday this year because my two sons are grown and out of town, Cathy's string quartet had a gig, and my step-kids were with their dad. (2) We celebrated Father's Day Saturday evening by going out for Mexican food with the kids. (3) No one intended to hurt or disrespect me.
As it happens, while Cathy was playing her gig, both of my grown sons called me to say Happy Father's Day. The younger of them, who used to rarely call me at all, calls me almost every day now. My older son also made a post on Facebook saying that he loved me. My step kids are constantly telling me they love me. I chose to focus on the love of my children, rather than my prior interpretation of my own decision to clean toilets. I decided to cook Cathy dinner so she would have a hot meal when she returned home after playing her gig.
After Cathy returned home and we had dinner, we went for a walk. I shared my experience with her, and how I had shifted my thoughts to things that created gratitude, rather than to the self-indulgent and painful thoughts that arose from trauma. By shifting my thoughts, I shifted my mood. Even though I was no longer feeling sorry for myself, Cathy was sympathetic to my former feelings. She put her arm around me and said she was sorry it was such a busy weekend and that she had a gig scheduled on Father's day. She also said she would not have felt good about asking me to clean the toilets, but was grateful that I offered to do it.
We spent a very pleasant evening together, I called my dad and wished him Happy Father's Day, Cathy gave me a couple of little Father's Day gifts before we went to bed, and I went to bed feeling like a blessed man.
I have thought a lot over the past few months that most people are not naturally very good at relationships. We tend to be self-interested and self-indulgent, and we are looking to our partners to validate us in various ways. The truth is, that is not their job. We validate ourselves by showing up in relationships in the way we intentionally choose to, and by cultivating a relationship with God and understanding that we are His children. Most of us uncritically accept the self-defeating and invalidating thoughts that come into our minds, helplessly blame our partners for them, and feel miserable and short changed in our relationships.
If I had pouted and continued to think painful thoughts about what my cleaning toilets on Father's Day "meant," it could have created conflict with Cathy and ill feelings in me. I could have chosen to feel unhappy and let everyone around me know I was unhappy just to make a point. And you know what? That is what most people do. They believe all of the cognitive distortions that come into their minds, which generates hostility and pain regarding their relationships.
What I needed was not to make a point, or for anyone else to feel bad. What I needed was to love and be loved. When I realized that and chose that path, I created that experience and Cathy cooperated. And when I shared my experience, I received empathy and felt validated in my former feelings, even though I no longer felt I needed it. I felt like Cathy cared about me.
There is tremendous power in choosing which of our thoughts to accept into our consciousness, and which to discard. This is the essence of what Father Lehi meant when he said that people are "free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon." (2 Nephi 2:26.) We are often acted upon by our thoughts. We cannot help the fact that certain thoughts come to us or certain events trigger us. But we can help what we do with those thoughts. Do we allow painful thoughts and interpretations to linger? Do we waste our effort trying to get someone else to be different from how they are so that we can be happy?
To act instead of being acted upon means to live with intention. It means governing our relationships with intention rather than emotion. It means choosing the emotions we want to experience, rather than letting the panic of our brains dictate them. We are free to choose for ourselves. But if we don't know we can do this, it's easy to walk through life defensively worrying about the things other people say and do and being miserable about it.
This is an important topic because many of us in this group have failed marriages and other relationships in our history. If we are to learn from them and do better next time, it is imperative that we understand the power of our thoughts to create the experiences we want. This applies just as much in dating and friendships as it does during marriage. Think on it.
When I graduated from law school, my first job was as a law clerk for the Chief Justice of American Samoa. In some ways it was the best job I ever had. I'll never forget the first morning I woke up there after arriving in the night. I walked outside and saw paradise. It was so beautiful I almost couldn't believe it. I learned a lot by living in that culture for two years -- both professionally and in life. My Samoan name is Siafa.
Friends told me that the veil is thinner in Polynesia, and I even sensed this among many Polynesians on my mission in Australia. People told my former wife and me that the Island of Ofu was "haunted." They told us a story about some other palagis (white people) who were snorkeling during Sa (evening prayer hour) and drowned. We did feel the presence of spirits on Ofu, but they seemed kind and welcoming. We didn't snorkel during Sa though.
"Sa" means "sacred." Every evening in Samoa all the church bells ring at about 6:30 p.m. to gather everyone in the village for prayer. It is an important and sacred ritual that they observe. If you are driving and the bells ring, you pull over. If you are in a store, you wait until Sa is over to leave. You show respect and avoid interrupting prayer time. It is a quiet time in the islands. I have profound respect for this ritual. I don't know if it would be possible to get everyone in a town or even in a neighborhood here in America to pray together at one time every single day. But I think having a personal and family prayer ritual when the world stops and we talk with God is a beautiful idea -- particularly in the lives of mid-singles, which can get so easily taken over by the duties of single parenting, while simultaneously bringing loneliness for adult company.
"Sa" is also part of the word Samoa. "Moa" means "center." Some say that Samoa is the sacred center of Polynesia. I think of the sacred center as existing within us. The sacred center is a heart at peace with itself.
Probably the most profound thing I learned from the fa'asamoa ("the Samoan way") is commitment to family -- and Samoans have big extended family organizations called "aigas." When you drive through a Samoan village at night and see 20 kids playing volleyball together or swimming in the ocean, you can bet they are all cousins. The village is not just a collection of random people. They live together because they are all related. Sometimes a child will become bonded to an uncle or aunt or grandparent or some other family member, and end up being raised mostly by that person. They call that a Samoan adoption. It is informal. The natural parents don't object to it, because the child is right there in the village and they can see him or her everyday if they want to. I knew a middle-aged woman who had never married who had a "daughter" who was essentially a niece who had just become very close to her, and she was basically raising her. But in a large sense the village was raising her all together.
For single parents especially, we need a village too. We need our church families, our extended families, and our mid-singles community.
Because of the way families are organized in Samoa, nursing homes are virtually non-existent. In fact, people there believe it is shameful to leave the elderly alone to die without their families around. In Samoa, the elderly are the most respected people, and their wisdom is sought after. I think America could learn a lot from that.
Special lifecycle events called "fa'alavelaves," such as weddings and funerals, are highly celebrated in Polynesia. It is not uncommon for Polynesians to cross oceans for the wedding of a second cousin. It's not something we relate well to in America. I hope your wedding feels like a celebration of life for your whole family, rather than just a legal formality.
The hallmark of their culture is to love and be loved. I have often found that the most commonly selected hymns in a particular ward often tell you a lot about the culture. In Cokeville, Wyoming, the ranching town where my dad grew up, they commonly pick hymns about hard work like "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel" or "wake up and do something more than dream of your mansions above." In Samoa, the hymn people always wanted to sing was "Love at Home." Tells you something doesn't it?
Another thing I learned from Polynesia is how to relax. (I could actually use a couple of months in Polynesia now to help me relearn that lesson.) Polynesians don't live to work. They work to live. Everyone on the island from the governor on down is off work by 4:00 p.m. and they spend long evenings together with their families. They have a special way of roasting pig called an "umu" which gives it a delicious smoky taste and makes it really tender. It takes several hours to roast that way -- providing people with a long conversation while the food is cooking. Big family dinners are always a celebration, and they prepare enough so everyone has a huge plate of leftovers to take home. Julia and I went to a wedding once where we literally lived on the leftovers for a week.
Sometimes we Americans are just busy being busy -- and we forget that life should be about joy and feeling good inside. Polynesia can help you to gain real perspective on that. Very few people there are lonely because everyone is surrounded by lots of family and loved ones.
One final thought about polynesians is that they hate to hurt anyone's feelings. They don't generally come to the point very readily. We Americans are often pretty blunt. Samoans take their time in communication and often talk around and around something rather than coming directly to the point -- because they want to be understood without shaming or contradicting the other person. They believe every person is important and a gift from God.
The local matai and village council system in Samoa operates on the principle of consensus, kind of like the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. On any major change, they continue talking until all objections are resolved or at least withdrawn. It takes a long time for them to make decisions, but when they do, the decisions always command popular support because everyone had their say and no one was left behind. What if we could run our marriages that way? What if we decided that having our own way at the other person's expense was not acceptable, and that we wouldn't move forward with a decision or end a discussion until both people were satisfied with the outcome? What if our spouses knew we would not be satisfied with the result until they were? It is more time consuming and it requires more discussion, but it is also an important way for both spouses to feel valued and to have a life they are satisfied with. Perhaps we can use more intention in both dating relationships and in marriage to use the principle of consensus in making decisions.
I don't know how many of you have experience with Polynesian culture, or how well you relate to this essay, but I hope it provided a little insight and perspective that will help in your life.
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Here is our LILY Pod interview with owner & founder of the Dating Olympics:
15. Sheri Braithwaite and the Dating Olympics by LILY Pod • A podcast on Anchor
Jeff & Cathy discuss Sheri Braithwaite's journey as a mid-single, recovery from divorce, and why someone who "hates" dating created the Dating Olympics.
Jeff & Cathy discuss the challenges and blessings of mid-single life. As highlighted in our most recent General Conference, single adults have now become the majority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During our mid-single years, we each felt like a minority in our church – many mid-singles feel like they don’t fit in. Little did we know that we were all in a class that was becoming and now IS the majority of our adult members! President Ballard and Elder Gong both cited in their talks at General Conference in April 2021, that more than 50% of our adult members are either-divorced, widowed or not yet married.
President Nixon talked about “The Great Silent Majority” of Americans, the same applies to mid-singles. Why are we silent? 1. Because we are busy and have a lot on our minds and on our plates 2. We may not feel comfortable speaking up 3. We just plain aren’t there because some of us become less active. Why? We are dealing with painful emotions. We don’t like being talked about. Divorced men tend to get treated with suspicion and women tend to get pitied. Transitioning to celibacy from marriage is hard. We may feel less relevant in a family oriented church as we adjust to less traditional family units.
We have compassion for all of those concerns it is worth living a covenant life despite all the challenges associated with it. 5 good reasons to stay on the covenant path and to start speaking up:
- There are more of us than we thought and there is strength in numbers.
- There are more opportunities to date within the Church than ever before.
- The eternal blessings of being sealed in the temple are just as real now as in our twenties.
- There is power and strength in our covenants to withstand the turmoil in these last days. Standing in holy places gives us support while we are without a spouse.
- We can give our much needed perspective and compassion as people who have experienced loss and grief in ways that no one else can.
Our Church and communities need your voice! You are the great silent majority. It’s time to not be silent anymore. Allow your voices to bless and build the Kingdom of God.
LILY Pod Episode 1: The Silent Majority