Martha Washington is attributed to having said, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”
A poor marriage and many years of looking outside of myself (as well as a certain amount of immaturity) left me an angry, bitter, hardened woman. Neglect and indifference had taken their toll on me, and my spirit was imploding. On the outside I accepted church callings, signed up for civic service, excelled in school, was a phenomenal mother, and I hated my life. That façade was difficult to carry, so one day I asked God to leave me alone, and I walked down that sandy beach all by myself – all by myself. He was not carrying me. I abandoned God, not the other way around. The “Footprints in the Sand” poem (written by Mary Stevenson in 1936) I kept hearing left me disgusted me – a dreamer sees himself walking along a beach with God. He sees footprints – sometimes one set, sometimes two. He asks God about the times he (dreamer) sees only two footprints, reprimanding God for not being with him in his times of need. God replies that this is when He is carrying the dreamer. The idea that I couldn’t take care of my issues without His help did not make sense to me. Reading this poem, analytically, contradicted what I knew – You see, when there was only one set of footprints, they were mine, because I chose not to let God into my life. I was disappointed and angry with Him. I abandoned God.
I couldn’t help but think that if my reality was going to be a re-presentation of eternity, why, maybe I’d rather burn in hell than live forever in the hell I was already in. I felt hopeless; my life was dark, dry, dismal, deprived of even an ounce of happiness. I had no security, no adventure. LDS Church prophet, Thomas S. Monson recently said, “Your future is as bright as your faith.” I had no faith, no future, no vision. I had given all that I could give, and I was empty.
And then one day I decided I was tired of letting others control my internal happiness. I had spent years thinking it was wrong for me to want happiness, and being miserable was the only other option. In Deuteronomy 30:19 I read about another option, “Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live”! I was sorting through some boxes holding my past lives, and I found a handout I had given some women as a part of a religious studies lesson, “Sometimes we’re too busy existing we forget to live,” and I knew my future was now, and it was time to get out of my darkness and back into the light – to live. Little did I know this would lead me to inviting Christ to walk with me down that sandy beach – two sets of footprints instead of only mine. I decided I wanted loving Heavenly Parents in my life rather than vindictive, vengeful parents. I spent many hours, sometimes days, contemplating my relationship with any higher power. One autumn Sabbath, the Primary children sang the song, “A Child’s Prayer.”
Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
"Suffer the children to come to me."
Father, in prayer I'm coming now to thee.
Pray, he is there. Speak, he is list'ning.
You are his child; His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer; He loves the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav'n. (LDS Children’s Songbook #12)
So I prayed, to my Heavenly Father; I am His child. Shakespeare, in Measure for Measure (a play that deals with issues such as mercy, justice, truth, pride), asserts, “Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know” (Stumbling on Happiness, 60). I did just that; I began feeling the intenseness with which I loved my children – how all I wanted was for them to be happy – to have hope in their lives. I thought about my parents – they wanted the same for me. They are happy when I’m happy, sad when I’m sad, and they pray for me when I’m weak, alone, angry, hurting, just like I do for my own children.
This was my epiphany – and the answer to my prayers as I put this simple song to its test. My God is a loving God who had a Son who loved His Father and siblings enough to give His life that I might spend my lifetime living rather than existing; I could have faith in a bright future. If my God loved me as much as I loved my children, as much as my parents loved me, then I would choose to live in this light; I would choose happiness, and I would work as hard as I could to find happiness and then to live in that goodness. M. Catherine Thomas, wrote, in Spiritual Lightening, about her own journey of healing: “To choose positive, affirming, tolerant, forgiving, Spirit-filled energy over negative energy is to choose godliness over evil. I think it’s that simple. There are finally only two forces at work on us, and they are continually at work; and until we learn to discern and reject most negative energy, we will be victimized by it” (142).