“I Just Can’t Take It Anymore,” New Era, Mar. 1990, 39
It was 11:00 at night and Megan had a research paper due the next day which she hadn’t started yet because after supper she’d gone to school to help decorate for a dance she didn’t even have a date for. On top of that she was having a biology test the next day and she hadn’t studied at all since her last test. Part of the test was going to be about the insides of a frog, which she would have known if she’d gone to lab when they dissected a frog, but she had missed that day because she was first-chair violin in orchestra and had been gone playing in a string quartet competition. She could have made up the lab after school, but she was on the high school gymnastics team and that’s when they practiced. Finally, today, the day before the exam, she had gone to Mr. Draper, the biology teacher, and begged him to let her do the frog at home.
And that’s why she now had a dead frog in a jar of formaldehyde on her desk.
Also she was supposed to give the devotional at early-morning seminary the next day.
Megan sat on her bed and looked around. Her room was a mess, and she didn’t have any clean clothes to wear because her mother had a new policy and now refused to wash anything unless it was put in the hamper. Megan never took the time to do that, so there were little piles of clothes on the floor, a pile for what she’d worn on Monday, a pile for what she’d worn on Tuesday. Her mother claimed you could tell what day of the week it was by counting piles, which her mother said was not only disgusting but unhealthy, complaining that the city Health and Sanitation Department would shut down the home if they ever saw her room.
She didn’t know what she was going to wear tomorrow. She thought about rummaging through the piles and finding something that seemed fairly clean, or else she could wash up some clothes after she finished the term paper and cut up the frog.
Half an hour earlier, at 10:30, when she had come home from decorating at school, her mother asked her if she knew what time it was. She had learned to be careful with that kind of question. One time she had said, “Of course I know what time it is,” to which her mother said, “Don’t get smart with me, young lady.” That’s when she learned that sometimes it was better to listen than to talk.
“You’re not getting enough sleep,” her mother said. “Your body needs eight hours. You should be going to bed at least by 10:00 every night.”
I’m listening, Megan thought. But you’re not understanding. How can you talk about how much sleep I need when I have so much to do?
“Did anyone call?” she asked.
“The bishop called.”
“He wants to have a birthday interview with you. He asked about tomorrow night.”
Megan wondered if the bishop knew she had no chance of going to the dance and that’s why he suggested then. “I might have a date then.”
“Someone might ask me to the dance at the last minute.” She was hoping Craig would ask her at seminary in the morning. He was always putting off things like that anyway.
“It won’t be Craig,” her mother said.
“How do you know that?”
“I was talking to his mother today. He asked a nonmember girl to the dance.”
“Krissie I think. I can’t remember the last name.”
“I think so.”
“He asked Krissie Peterson?” Megan raged. “How can he do that to me? I’m the one who told him to get contacts. I’m the one who told him to quit staring at the floor when he talks to people. I’m the one who taught him how to dance. So I finally get him halfway acceptable, and what does he do? He asks Krissie Peterson out. Thanks a lot, Craig. That does it! What would he think if I dated every nonmember guy who asks me out?”
“You know that wouldn’t be right.”
“Yeah, but is it right for Craig to ask a nonmember girl out?”
“I’m not Craig’s mother, but I am yours.”
She couldn’t argue with that. “I’ve got to go study now.”
“The bishop wanted me to find out if you can see him tomorrow after supper. He says he won’t keep you long if you have plans.”
“Spend Friday night talking to the bishop? I’ll go to the movies or something.”
“You can go to the movies and still see him. He’s a busy man, Megan. He says he can see you at 6:15. You’ll be done by 6:30.”
“Okay,” she said. “I surrender!”
“Good. Now can you go right to bed?” her mother asked.
“No. I’ve got to write a term paper and dissect a stupid frog.”
“And you’re just starting it now, at 10:43 at night?”
“I couldn’t do it any earlier.”
“You didn’t have to decorate for that dance.”
“I was on the decorating committee.”
“Your studies are more important than decorating for a dance.”
Why was it so hard to make her mother understand?
As Megan was about to leave, her mother said, “Oh, I did laundry today. You didn’t have anything in your hamper so I didn’t wash anything of yours.”
Megan thought about saying that was the last straw. Instead she said, “Fine. No problem. I’ll do a wash while I finish my homework.”
“Sorry, you can’t. The noise of the washer and dryer keeps your father awake. If you want to do a wash, you’ll have to do it when people are not trying to sleep. You’ll just have to wear some of your other clothes. You have plenty in your closet. What about those things Aunt Alberta gave you.”
“I wouldn’t even wear them for Halloween.”
“Then I don’t know what you’re going to wear.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to my room now.”
“Don’t forget to say your prayers.”
She got to her room and shut the door. She went to Monday’s pile of dirty laundry and started looking for something clean. Monday was the day the girl next to her in orchestra had challenged her for first chair. Megan had done okay and kept her first-chair position but it had been tense and sweaty, so Monday’s clothes were not candidates for what she could wear for tomorrow.
She decided that after she wrote her term paper and dissected the frog she’d wash some clothes in the bathtub. Or else maybe she could get by with using the washing machine. It would be okay if the noise didn’t wake her parents.
She pushed some clothes off the chair of her desk and sat down. She had decided to write her paper on the history of women’s gymnastics in America. She had taken the time last Saturday to go to the library and check out three books on gymnastics, but she hadn’t yet had time to read any of them.
The research paper was due at 8:00 in the morning. Maybe I can just fake it, she thought. She began to write. “Women’s gymnastics in America started small but has grown large. Many more girls are involved in gymnastics than ever before.” She counted the words. Twenty words. Only 2,980 words left to go. She tried again. “Women’s gymnastics in the United States of America started very small and tiny but now has grown much larger than it began. Many more girls from ages six years old to college age are now involved in the sport than ever before.” She counted again. Forty-two words. Now only 2,958 words left to write.
It was a long night. She ended up having to race through the books she’d checked out to get enough material, and the paper was still a little shorter than it should have been. She finished at two in the morning.
Now for the frog. She unscrewed the lid of the jar containing the frog. Just the smell of the formaldehyde was enough to make her nauseated. She was supposed to have a special knife to cut up the frog, but she’d left it at school, so she went down to the kitchen and got a plate, a fork, a bunch of paper towels, and her mother’s sharpest paring knife. She returned to her room, slid the frog out onto the plate, and sat down with the knife and fork. She touched the frog with the knife. Its skin was hard and rubbery. She looked at herself in the mirror. The way she was holding the knife and fork reminded her of suppertime for horrible creatures of the night. She knew she would throw up if she cut the frog. She slid it back into the jar.
She spent an hour reading about the insides of a frog, memorizing the words.
At 3:30, she took a load of clothes to the washing machine and started a wash, went back to her room, and set the alarm clock for 4:30 so she could get up and put her clothes in the dryer.
She slept through her alarm. The next thing she remembered was her mother telling her she’d better get going or she’d be late for seminary. She jumped out of bed and started the clothes dryer.
“Those things won’t be ready by the time you have to leave,” her mother said.
“I’ll wear them damp then.”
“You’ll catch cold if you do that.”
“No problem, I can handle it.”
“You’ll just have to wear some of Aunt Alberta’s things. I’m not having you leave here wearing damp clothes. Aren’t you supposed to give the devotional for seminary today? Don’t be late.”
While she was taking a shower, her dad knocked on the door and told her to save some hot water for the rest of the family.
Megan felt a knot, like a hot iron, growing in her stomach, but she knew she couldn’t get sick because she had a big gymnastics meet coming up in a few days.
After her shower she went to the dryer to see how her clothes were coming along. They had just ten minutes and they’d be dry. The only problem was that she should leave for seminary in five minutes. I’ll just have to be late then. She did her hair while she was waiting.
“If you say you’re going to do the devotional, then I think you should make an effort to be on time,” her mother said.
The buzzer for the dryer sounded. Megan raced to the dryer and got dressed.
Two minutes later she jumped in the car and drove to seminary. By the time she got there, they’d already begun. It was too late for her to give the devotional.
After seminary, Craig came up to her. “I was wondering if I could talk to you.”
“I’m taking Krissie Peterson to the dance tonight, and I need some suggestions of where to take her to eat.”
“Leave me out of this, Craig, okay?” She walked off and left him standing there.
By the time she got home after school she had a pounding headache. She lay down and slept until it was time for supper.
During supper her mother reminded her about her interview with the bishop.
“I don’t want to talk to him tonight.”
She noticed her parents looked worried, as if the reason she didn’t want to talk to the bishop was because there was some awful secret in her life they didn’t know about.
“Why not?” her father quietly asked.
“I just don’t feel like it.”
“Is that the only reason?”
“Why doesn’t everybody just get off my back!” She stood up and ran to her room and slammed the door.
She looked around her room. Everything she saw made her feel guilty about not doing something. There was her violin that she hadn’t practiced for four days and she had a lesson on Monday. There was the stupid frog she still hadn’t dissected. There was her seminary material she needed to catch up on. And there were still piles of clothes on the floor because she’d only washed enough for one day.
The phone rang. She answered it, hoping it would be one of her friends who didn’t have a date for the dance. Instead it was the bishop.
“Megan, we’ve had a hard time setting up a time for an interview, haven’t we? How is tonight for you?”
She decided she might as well get it over with. “Okay.”
She drove to the bishop’s house, talked with his wife while he got off the phone, and then went with him to his small office in the basement.
She dreaded the interview, dreaded the thought of being reminded of yet another area she wasn’t doing a good job in.
She wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. “Bishop, I haven’t done anything wrong since the last time I talked to you. That’s mainly what you want to find out, isn’t it?”
“Are you happy?” he asked.
She was surprised at the question. “Happy?”
“Yes, we’re supposed to be happy.”
“I thought we were supposed to be perfect. You can’t be perfect and happy too, can you?”
The bishop looked carefully at her. She felt as if he could see into her soul. “Megan, is something wrong?” he asked.
“Not really. It’s just that nothing I do is ever good enough. Sometimes I feel like giving up. I just can’t take it anymore.”
“You can’t take what?”
“All the pressure to do well in school and church and in gymnastics and orchestra. I try to get all A’s in school, but everything’s getting harder for me and I can’t seem to do anything right anymore. Everyone’s always mad at me for not doing better. I never have any time for myself. I have to take the ACT exam next week and I know if I don’t do well, I won’t get a scholarship, and I’ve got to have some help or I don’t see how I’ll be able to make it. Today I was supposed to give the devotional for seminary but I was late for it.”
“How have you been doing in school?”
“Not very well. I think I’m only getting a B in math. If I did more of the homework, I could do better, but there’s never enough time for everything.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a B or even a C,” the bishop said.
“No, you don’t understand, I have to get all A’s.”
“You have to? Do your mom and dad tell you that you have to get all A’s?”
“No, it’s just understood. Bishop, you know the Church says we’re supposed to be perfect, so why are you telling me it’s okay to get a C?”
“You say the Church teaches we’re supposed to be perfect. Where does it say that?”
With no hesitation, Megan answered. “Matthew 5:48.” [Matt. 5:48]
“You know that well, don’t you?”
“I only hear it about ten times a day, that’s all.”
He picked up his scriptures and turned to Matthew, chapter 5. “Who was the one speaking in Matthew 5:48?”
“What was he talking about just before he said ‘Be ye therefore perfect’?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, guess then. Was he saying how important it is to get good grades in school?”
“Was he saying how important it is to win gymnastics meets?”
“Was he saying how important it is to be first-chair violin in an orchestra?”
“What was he saying then?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look here, Megan, in verse 44, [Matt 5:44] the Savior is telling us to love our enemies, and bless the ones that curse you, and be good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. In verse 45 [Matt. 5:45] he tells us we should do this so we can be the children of our Father in Heaven, and in verse 48 [Matt 5:48] he tells us to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.”
She didn’t understand what he was getting at.
He turned to Luke, chapter 6, verse 36. “Here’s the way Luke reported it. ‘Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.’ Megan, Jesus was talking about how we should treat each other, with love and affection and kindness, the same way Heavenly Father treats us.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He didn’t say, ‘Be ye therefore a perfectionist,’ did he?”
“No, but we’re supposed to always try to do better …”
“Let me ask you a question. Do you think Father in Heaven cares whether you get an A or a B in mathematics?”
“He wants me to do my best.”
“What if your best is a B?”
“My best can’t be a B.”
“Why can’t it?”
“Because it just can’t.”
“Can you picture yourself at the Judgment and Heavenly Father is looking over your life and he says, ‘So, I see you got a B in math in high school. Why only a B?’ Can you picture your loving Father in Heaven saying that to you?”
“Then maybe it’s not very important to him, right?”
“It’s important to do well in school.”
“I agree. It’s important to do your best.”
She wouldn’t budge. “My best is an A.”
“In every subject?”
“Because I can get an A in any subject if I work hard enough.”
“But you have other things you need to do, don’t you?”
“Maybe a B is the best you can do and still do all the other things you want to do. Did you watch the Olympics last year?”
“Did you watch the decathlon?”
“Did you know that it’s possible for a person to win a decathlon and not win in any one of the events? All you have to do is place well in each event, and if you can do that, you can win. I think that’s true for you. I’m sure there are students in your math class who do nothing but math at night. And I’m sure there are people in the violin section that do nothing but practice violin at night. You, with your gymnastics and Church activities and music activities and everything else you do, maybe you’re being too hard on yourself to try to be the best in everything. What do you think Heavenly Father is most interested in, how well you do in your next gymnastics meet or how well you live the Ten Commandments?”
“But my mom and dad expect me to always do my best.”
“Sure, they want you to do your best within the constraints on your time. Besides, most of all they want you to be happy. Are you happy the way things are going now?”
“Then I think you ought to make some changes in your life. Either cut down on your activities, or accept the fact that you can’t excel in everything you do. Heavenly Father doesn’t require you to be perfect in gymnastics or violin or math or even seminary attendance. He wants you to be merciful and loving. He doesn’t want you to run faster than you have strength. He doesn’t care if you get a B or a C as long as you’re making a good effort and, more importantly, that you’re really trying to be more like the Savior in the way you treat other people and in being virtuous.”
Megan felt a burden being lifted off her shoulders. Tears welled up in her eyes. She was a little embarrassed to have the bishop see her cry, but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. Pretty soon she was shaking his hand and thanking him. Then she drove home.
“How did your interview go?” her mother asked.
“It was great, Mom.” She saw a look of relief come over her mother. “He gave me some good advice.”
She went to her room and sat on the bed and thought. On the surface everything was the same—her room was still a mess, the undissected frog still sat in the jar of formaldehyde, her math homework for Monday was yet to be done, her violin still lay untouched with a lesson only three days away. And yet there was a difference in the way she felt.
A few minutes later she got up and began to clean her room. This time it’s for me, she thought with a smile.
You don’t have to excel in everything.
Set priorities and pray about them.
Ask what the Savior would do.
Get good advice from your bishop.