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Devotion to family can sometimes be painful. Here's what I’ve learned from my mom about why it's worth it

by | May 06, 2021

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’ve had two questions on my mind.

First, we know families are a blessing, but can they also be a burden?

My answer to that would be yes—being a devoted member of a family can, at times, be hard. When we choose to care about the life circles we are born into, we are likely going to get hurt now and again. Whether it’s like the time my brother pulled a pillow out of my sister’s mouth and simultaneously pulled out her two front teeth (they were baby teeth, but still, ouch) or the emotional pain of poor decisions or unfair circumstances, family life can be difficult.

God has even acknowledged that being part of a family can bring challenges. In Doctrine and Covenants 31:2, He says to Thomas B. Marsh, “Behold, you have had many afflictions because of your family.”

And perhaps no one feels those afflictions more than mothers. I know that mine has. 

Now for my second question, is devotion to our families worth it?

I think that is a question we all need to come to understand for ourselves. It’s a question I’ve pondered as I watch my parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my friends—just about everyone I know really—be afflicted because of situations in their family. I’ve wondered, “Wouldn’t it be easier to choose not to care so much? Or to not be as invested in each other’s lives?”

But I can’t go with that train of thought too long before I think of my mother—and then the train slows to a halt. I think of her heart and how that heart has shaped me, and with that I know devotion to family is worth it.

To explain what I mean by that, I’d like to share two examples of times my mom has supported me in my afflictions. The world and my world have faced problems much bigger than the ones I am about to describe, but I believe there are important principles of empathy in these stories. First, let’s go to the summer of 2019.

When Mothers See

 “I brought you this,” Mom said as she offered me a package of Nutter Butter cookies. It was just another summer day at the bus stop. As usual, I was grumpy, sweaty, hungry, and overall not a pleasant carpool buddy. My commute home that summer was about 45 minutes, and I resented it—all that time on the bus that I could have been doing anything else. The bus stop was only a mile from my house but walking that last mile everyday was just the last straw. So, I’d text all my license-holding family members on the way home and petition them to come pick me up instead.

And that day Mom came to my rescue, with treats no less. The drive home would only take a few minutes, and I really was fine, but Mom knew that the Nutter Butters were about much more than alleviating some hunger pains. This was her seeing me. This was her knowing I was stressing out over the end to a relationship, adjusting to my first full-time work schedule, and feeling a bit friendless after moving back home. Mom was recognizing that. And in all reality, she was fixing it—yes, with Nutter Butters. 

Mom has a way of seeing things. And for me, many of those crucial moments of being seen have happened in the car. It is where Mom has sat and lovingly taken on my afflictions. It is where she has exhibited the empathy described by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 30:6, “Be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance.”

When Mothers Listen

Now let’s go forward to just a few weeks ago. Mom came up to Salt Lake so she and I could go see the concert film Lamb of God in celebration of her birthday. My goal was to be happy and bubbly and fawn over my mom as much as possible. But then my workday was stressful and some difficult conversations I’d had with friends earlier in the week had me feeling ready to cry. 

But I didn’t mention any of that and we went to the movie. The film was beautiful, and we got to sit in those big luxury seats. By the end I felt better, but I was still stiff and achy on the inside. 

Mom drove back to my apartment and hovered in an aisle of the parking lot. I can’t remember how it happened, but one thing led to another, and I began telling her about those troubling conversations with my friends. I didn’t want to say too much—it was her birthday after all—but once I started, it was too late. The floodgates opened, and I have yet to figure out how to close those. 

So we stayed in the aisle of my parking lot for another 45 minutes while I cried and talked. And do you know what she did? First, she listened, and then her response was perfect. She didn’t assure me that things would resolve, or that I’d get what I want, she just said that she loved me. And my tired heart was so ready to hear that. 

She said I love you in the way only a mom can: the I’ve-loved-you-from-the-moment-that-test-said-positive kind of love, the kind of love that means you spend your birthday helping someone else.

The Love Is What Is Enough

Like a lot of mothers do, I think mine worries about if she has done or is doing enough for her kids. I don’t know how to assuage those fears. Maybe they are feelings that won’t ever totally go away. But, I do want her, and all other mothers, to know this: Your love is enough. Not the expressions of that love, but the love itself: the love that exists whether or not the birthday cake turns out right, whether or not the family vacation goes smoothly. Mom, you can’t mess up expressing your love because it is just who you are. As much I might love gifts and thoughtful gestures, what really stabilizes me is just that the love exists. 

In the Book of Mormon, Ammon tells King Lamoni that he desires to dwell among the people “perhaps until the day I die” (see Alma 17:23). Ammon was committed to loving and serving these people for his entire life. As I read that, I was impressed by Ammon’s love and dedication, and started to think if I knew any people living in that position. And then it hit me—that is what mothers do. They commit to loving and serving and helping these little humans for their whole lives. 

Mom, you didn’t know the obstacles your children would face when you held us as babies but thank you for sticking around and being dedicated to helping us. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to your body, to your time, to the missed peaceful evenings at home doing what you want instead of helping another child with a project they really should have done days ago. 

Thank you to every mother who has stayed devoted to her children through their afflictions—to every mother who has chosen the harder, but ultimately most important, road of family life.

Now, let’s go back to that verse from the Lord to Thomas Marsh. Here’s what the rest of it says, “Behold, you have had many afflictions because of your family; nevertheless, I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:2).

To my mom or anyone else struggling with their family’s afflictions, the Lord sees you. He loves you, and you can trust that He has and will bless you. And because of His plan, you can trust that your devotion to family is worth it.

Lead image: Shutterstock.
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Emily Abel

Emily first found her love for storytelling as an editorial intern at LDS Living. She recently returned as an editor and loves that her job is to highlight the meaningful in life. Emily is a graduate of Utah State University in English. Hiking trails, dance studios, and behind the cover of a good book are some of her favorite places to be.

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