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.
ON THOUGHTS AND ADVERSITY
In 1 Nephi 17:1, Nephi described the adversity he and his family went through as they traveled in the wilderness after their exodus: "And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness."
Yet his prevailing thoughts were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Immediately following these words, Nephi exclaims:
"And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
(1Nephi 17:2-3.) It is amazing that Nephi was so positive under these conditions, while Laman and Lemuel murmured in dissatisfaction and misery. This scriptural passage fits the promise given by President Monson that, "The Lord shapes the back to bear the burden placed upon it." As a single parent, you may have felt the miracle of receiving unnatural strength to bear the burdens of parenthood alone. You may have been given miracles that allow you to feed your children better than you thought you could while being both mother and father in some ways. Your ”wilderness" is no less real than the one Lehi's family wandered in.
The truth is, most of you mid-singles are survivors. You have figured out how to survive trials and trauma. Your bigger problem, in many cases, is figuring out how to thrive and be happy. And make no mistake, they are entirely different skill sets.
Your brain is wired for survival. It stays on alert for danger. It does not distinguish between physical and emotional peril. In fact, it desperately wants acceptance and belonging. In primitive times, being rejected by your tribe would probably mean starvation and vulnerability to predators and the elements. Your brain knows this and intuitively responds with fear when you are rejected by someone you may have offered love (or to possibly create love). This survival instinct is very powerful, and it has a tendency to override our happiness. It often keeps us survivors stuck in anxiety. Happiness depends, in no small degree, on being able to switch off that survival instinct in situations that do not truly require it. If you are like me, you may have found that all of your prior success in life was based on fear. I think I got through law school and motivated myself to study by fearing failure. That is one example. There are thousands. If you try to find a deeper and more healthy source of motivation, it can feel like giving up your security blanket. You may cling to your anxiety and pain even harder for awhile.
Nephi demonstrated this skill when he focused on the blessings of the Lord, and showed faith in Him to take care of his family in the wilderness. The result was that he could relax into his situation, celebrate the blessings of the Lord, and create inner peace that his older brothers could not. Nephi demonstrates this positive quality again in the same chapter, stating, "notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.” (1Nephi 17:6.) He "exceedingly rejoiced" notwithstanding great afflictions.
We often hear people say things like, " I am not a pessimist. I am a realist." They will then go on to paint a very gloomy picture of life or their circumstances -- not even realizing that most of it is interpretation rather than fact, and it's just a story they are telling themselves.
What kind of stories do mid-singles tell themselves?
"There are no good men out there."
"Women are all drama queens and crazy."
"Dating is hard and it's not worth the struggle."
"No one finds me attractive."
"I am past my prime and not beautiful / handsome anymore."
"Men are only after one thing."
"All women want is a guy with money."
"Being a single parent is hard because you're totally on your own."
"I have no time to take care of myself, because my whole life is about other people."
We could go on, but this is enough to illustrate the point. Are these Nephi kinds of words, or Laman and Lemuel kinds of words? Do these beliefs lead to happiness or to misery?
Let's try on some different beliefs:
"God has a loving plan for me, and everything I've suffered is taking me to a better place."
"My losses have prepared me for a better love."
"I have many friends in my life, and there are plenty of other people who are willing to be my friends and lend mutual love and support."
"There are many good single men in the church."
"There is an abundance of amazing women in the church."
"Most people want to love and be loved, aside from material things."
"Sex is a beautiful and holy part of married life, and I eagerly await the arrival of this gift."
"I owe it to myself and my children to take good care of myself, and to show love and compassion to myself as a child of God."
Which of these thoughts is more elevating? Which is more calculated to lead to happiness and peace? Do you feel more peace when you believe that you are on your own in a cruel world, or when you believe that a loving God has a plan for you, and you are surrounded by friends who love and support you? You might even ask yourself which of these sets of beliefs is more in harmony with how the gospel sees us as children of God with the potential to become like Him. Nephi understood that gratitude for God's blessings, and seeing them as abundant, created more joy and light.
As mid-singles, many of you have learned to survive. You have already won that medal. You have learned to survive by feeling anxious and fearful, and trying to solve everything that is wrong. Now, move into the light and learn better how to be happy and thrive by shifting your thoughts from fear and lack to abundance, joy, and love.

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