The Courage to Try . . . and Try and Try and Try Again

    A week after giving birth to my first baby, I sat at home and watched the October 2018 women’s session of general conference as President Nelson invited the women of the Church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year.
    I remember thinking, “That’s a nice invitation, but it isn’t for me.”
    I felt justified in excusing myself, because I had participated in several Book of Mormon challenges and read it many times over the years, and because the recent life change of becoming a mother was proving more difficult than I’d anticipated. However, after rereading President Nelson’s message the following week and hearing friends and family talk about beginning the challenge, I decided I needed to try.
    So I found a reading schedule online, and one afternoon, while my baby was sleeping, I wrote in my journal, “Today is a new day in gospel study!” I committed myself to finish the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I even had plans to study the Book of Mormon in the language I’d learned on my mission more than six years previously, a Filipino dialect fast fading from memory.
    Catching up and maintaining the pace would be challenging, but I knew I could do it. After all, I had served a mission, and before I had my baby, I had often woken up early to study the scriptures. This would be easy, or at least doable.
    Only, it wasn’t. I couldn’t keep up.
    I completed the reading assignment that first day, and then days passed without my even opening my scriptures. In fact, my scripture journal has exactly two entries for the month after my “new day in gospel study.”
    The further I got behind, the more discouraged I became. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. I attempted to read or listen to the scriptures while feeding our son or pumping breast milk, but I would get distracted easily and give up when I couldn’t focus. When I had time to myself, reading the scriptures felt like a task, a burden: one more thing to do and one more sacrifice of my personal time as a new mom. My son was having difficulties feeding and gaining weight, and I spent hours and hours each day (and night) nursing, pumping breast milk, washing bottles, and repeating the process all over again. My husband, friends, and family were helpful and supportive, but in those early days of motherhood I often felt discouraged and hopeless; it truly felt like life would never be the same again.
    Scripture study was usually a source of joy and strength for me, so I felt frustrated and even angry at times that I couldn’t find the will or energy to propel myself forward in the challenge. And I felt guilty because President Nelson had promised that the Lord would help us find a way to read the Book of Mormon, even if it seemed impossible. I wanted the inspiration and revelation that he had promised would come from studying the scriptures, but I felt stuck, and I stopped trying.

    Start Where You Are

    Time passed, and as it neared December 2018, I was starting to feel a little more like myself. One day I found myself searching online for a Book of Mormon reading schedule, wondering where the rest of the sisters in the Church were in their study. The challenge was more than half over, and it seemed impossible for me to catch up. But what if I simply started with the reading assignment that day and went from there?
    I began somewhere in Alma, and I hardly missed a day, finishing the second half of the Book of Mormon on December 31, 2018. Sometimes I listened to the reading assignment on a walk or drive, and other times I was able to sit down and have a short study session. They were rarely long or deep, but they were enough.
    When I remembered, I marked the scriptures about the Savior, and I learned again of His perfect mercy, wisdom, and understanding (see Alma 26:35). I remember feeling deep gratitude as I read that the Savior’s Atonement “bridges the gap,” bringing us over the gulf of misery, death, and pain to salvation (see Alma 26:20). I studied the Savior’s visit to the Americas with the new perspective of a mother, reading with wonder as He blessed and prayed for the children (see 3 Nephi 21) and later loosed their tongues to speak great and marvelous things (see 3 Nephi 26).
    In the end, it was just another reading of the Book of Mormon, and I was grateful. My testimony of the mercy and grace of my loving Savior was strengthened, and my gratitude for the scriptures that testify of Him and His promises was renewed. By being gentler with myself and letting go of expectations of perfection through a period of great difficulty, I had found joy once again in studying the scriptures.
    It is important to recognize there are spiritual side effects to deep despair and mental health challenges. Periods of great sadness, discouragement, and/or depression certainly affect our spiritual well-being, altering our perception of reality and making it difficult to feel the fruits of the Spirit. And even in the best of times, it is often an intense, daily struggle to choose the things of God (see Mosiah 3:19) over our personal desires, even though His gospel is exactly what we need so desperately—the living water, the bread of life.

    The Courage to Start Again

    I have reflected many times on my experience as I tried, failed, and then tried again to complete President Nelson’s invitation. My lesson was this:
    Could I have read the Book of Mormon in its entirety? Yes. With greater willpower and extra hard work and focus, I could have completed the entire challenge.
    But if trying hard and falling short isn’t the definition of our human experience, what is?
    The courage to try, giving what we have and doing our best (and not comparing our offering to anyone else’s), is what Heavenly Father asks of us, and this is what we should be seeking for, not immediate perfection.
    I don’t think President Nelson was wrong to invite the busy, overwhelmed, struggling, and even discouraged or depressed women of the Church to read the entire Book of Mormon in three months. Sister Michelle Craig of the Young Women General Presidency has taught, “We should welcome feelings of divine discontent that call us to a higher way, while recognizing and avoiding Satan’s counterfeit—paralyzing discouragement” (“Divine Discontent”).
    The Lord’s servants invite us to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, which happens over a lifetime and beyond, and not through our own strivings but only through the mercy and grace of our Redeemer. Perfect efforts are not required; we are saved by accepting His perfect Atonement and trying our best to follow Him. The path of discipleship will involve failure, over and over and over again.
    So when you yearn for improvement or growth and fall short, or when you feel alone, defeated, or can’t find the strength to continue, remember that the Savior knows you, loves you, and understands the desires of your heart perfectly. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Trust in Him, and know that even in the darkest night, morning will come again. I know we can feel peace and joy as we have the courage to seek improvement, and as the song for little children says, simply try, “try to be like him, try, try, try.”

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    Karlie Brand Guymon

    Karlie Brand Guymon studied journalism and communication at Utah State University and works in public relations. She lives with her husband and baby in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they enjoy being average volleyball players and exceptional BYU men’s volleyball fans.