“Mom, maybe we need a little prayer.” My six-year-old daughter, Sherri, looked up at me with her soft brown eyes. Then she stared at her younger brothers, Gary Willis and Roch, tangled in a puddle of gelatin dessert on the floor. Eight-month-old Linda howled from the playpen, and my toddler, Eric, shredded a loaf of bread in the pantry. Ten-year-old Dolly, my oldest, quietly sobbed while she rubbed ice on her toes, which were swelling where she had dropped a can of baby formula on them.
Today when I begin to feel picked on and overwhelmed by life, I remember that dark winter in Anchorage, Alaska, and how one day in February Sherri put everything into perspective for me.
A series of difficulties had combined to leave me sinking in self-pity.
I felt alone because my husband was far away on Alaska’s North Slope working on the oil pipeline for days at a time. The thermometer outside our house hadn’t read above zero for three weeks, and at that time of year, the sun rose at about 9:30 A.M., skimmed the horizon for a few hours, and set at 2:30 p. m. The temperatures and darkness wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been forced to go out in them with a group of little children. But I taught Primary, which met on Tuesday afternoons in those days. The chapel was a twenty-minute drive over rutted dirt roads from my house, and I drove other children besides my own.
After Primary on that particular black evening, things seemed to build to an ugly climax.
With a van full of children in tow, all hacking and coughing with runny noses, I stopped at the grocery store. Then, noticing my van was almost out of gas, I drove five more miles to a gas station.
After I drove some of the children to their home on top of a glacier (yes, a glacier), our van slid off the road and stuck in snow up to its fenders. Tears freezing on my face, I hiked nearly a mile to find a neighbor whose four-wheel-drive vehicle could pull the van out.
Finally arriving home after 9:00 p. m., with crying children, I put the baby in the playpen with a bottle and gave my toddler a piece of bread to keep him quiet while I finished dinner for the other four. That was when Sherri, trying to help, accidentally dropped the gelatin. Going for a dishcloth, three-year-old Roch cut his foot on a piece of the shattered bowl. Four-year-old Gary Willis, trying to give his brother a comforting hug, slipped and landed in the middle of the red goop on the floor.
My last shred of self-control was fading away as Sherri looked at the mess, then at me, and suggested that we needed to pray.
We certainly needed something; I’d reached the end of my rope and needed to pull myself together. My children and I knelt in the messy kitchen and prayed. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the warmth, like a cloak, that settled over my shoulders, and I felt the knot in my stomach loosen.
As the prayer ended, I looked at Sherri; her arms were folded across the gelatinous mess on the front of her dress. Dolly looked at me; she had cuddled Gary Willis against her shoulder, and her hands were stuck to his shirt. My girls and I got the giggles. After we regained our composure, Dolly put her brothers in the tub and Sherri helped me clear away the glass and mop the floor. By 10:30, everyone was clean, fed with a supper of scrambled eggs, and asleep.
I’ve often thought of the way my daughter’s words—“Mom, maybe we need a little prayer”—reminded me of the lessons I had tried to teach my children. She helped me act in a way consistent with my eternal goals. Now I laugh about that night, remembering it as an experience that helped me grow.
I had been serving in the Church, helping my neighbor, providing for my children, and still everything had gone wrong. Sometimes life is like that. We do our best, and yet nothing happens the way we expect it to. Even though we give donations, attend church, have regular family and personal prayer, and serve our fellowmen, our burdens may seem to press ever more heavily.
Our response to monstrous burdens in this life cannot be to collapse and say, “Lord, this time you’ve asked too much; I’m just not going to try anymore.” When we stop trying, we close spiritual channels and stop learning. Failure clouds any hope for the future, and Satan wins.
Mortal life is a school, our training ground. If the course of instruction overwhelms us, we need to reach toward our Savior, whose own struggles and sorrows far surpassed any we will experience. Moments on our knees, alone or with loved ones, develop insights and strength to help us continue. When we face the barriers with faith, no circumstance can defeat us or deprive us of everlasting joy.