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My Mom's Wise Words about the Battle in my Mind

March 18, 20247 min read

My heart was in a bit of a dark place last week. I would describe it as "general anxiety." I wrote here last week about realizing I need to stop trying to put all of the weight of this work on my shoulders. That I need to remember that this is God’s work, I am just here to do my part in the best way I know how… with my limited perspective, time, and energy.

I have been practicing giving the weight to God. This practice has helped a lot, but my racing mind still seems to be wanting to grasp the “next best thing to do among so many” and it is having a hard time slowing down, enjoying the moment, and staying grateful. My sister-in-law said it beautifully when I described the feeling to her. She said, “I know that feeling of, ‘I can’t even take care of myself well, let alone my kids, not to mention other people!’” 

My mom asked how I was doing a few days ago. I told her I was practicing giving the weight of all of this work to God, but that I still felt sad and anxious lately. She said some really wise words that I have been mulling over in my mind ever since.

“The life you have chosen isn’t the kind of life where you can focus on yourself very much…. that’s not to say you shouldn’t take care of your health, but that if you let yourself think too much about how you’re feeling and what you are missing, you will quickly be unhappy. You gave up a lot to do what you are doing so you have to focus on the people you are serving. It may feel like you are not helping very many people yet, but you don’t know the extent of your influence. You will find more joy in focusing on others than on focusing on yourself.”

It was a version of the council I heard that a father gave a young man named Gordon B. Hinckley who later became a great leader. He said, “Forget yourself and go to work.”

work benches in house

Until she said this, I hadn’t realized how much my thoughts were becoming selfish ever since Bill went to work in Utah for a couple of months. I kind of resented all of the responsibility I had been left with (which I had chosen, by the way).

I remember laying in bed the night after he left. It was raining hard and the roof was leaking in more places than usual. I had the bucket by my feet to catch the rain, but there was a drip that would occasionally hit my shoulder, so I put a towel over my blankets, but it was still bugging me.

I was also so itchy everywhere (I had been stress-eating unhealthy food and itchiness is one of the first symptoms I get when I stop taking care of my health), and I had new mosquito bites on my ankles. I thought about how comfortable my bed in Utah had been and how nice and warm my shower was back then, and how I didn’t need to worry about mosquitos in the house.

I finally went to sleep, but woke up feeling sad. I couldn’t quite snap out of it for days.

backdoor working


I was sitting with a woman named Maria, her two boys, and the missionaries at her house one night and the missionaries were talking about overcoming hard things by trusting God. They asked me to share how God had helped me overcome hard things. 

I mentioned that I had been struggling a bit emotionally lately, but knowing God was aware of me helped me get through it. 

Maria knew Bill had recently left so she replied, “I know how you feel. When we first moved here from Cancun, my husband would go to work for the week and I would be left alone. I didn’t know anyone, our house wasn’t finished so we were working to build it, I had no water or electricity and I would often cry at night unsure why I had chosen to come. But little by little I have adjusted and have so much more.”

There it was. Perspective. I have water and electricity most of the time. I live in a beautiful place someone else built. She knew how I felt but on a much deeper level.  Yet she empathized with me.

Friend #2

Later, I was feeling sad after going to visit a young man with the missionaries and learning he was “next door at his grandma’s.” People here treasure family and being together. We used to have a grandma next door and now we we had no family close by. I spriraled into sadness again as I thought of how much I missed my mom, dad, daughter and son. 

There’s nothing wrong with sadness, but it sure doesn’t feel nice.  I talked to a friend the next day and she mentioned how hard it had been to do regular life since her dad died three months earlier. She missed him being a part of her daily life. 

Again I gained perspective. I still have my parents and my daughter and son. I can call them anytime. It is still sad to have them so far away, but I could be grateful for the time I still have with them and the ability to talk with them.

kitchen in house

Although the realization I wrote about last week (that I was carrying too much and needed to remember that it’s in God’s hands) helped me catch my breath, I was still constantly searching for this elusive peace that I couldn’t find as my mind raced to all there was to do, even if my part in this work was small.

After these experiences and the conversation with my mom, I started paying more attention to where I was letting my mind go. I started to notice when my thoughts slipped into victim mentality or into ingratitude for what was around me. 

So I have been practicing consciously changing their direction by noticing what there is to be grateful for. I am not perfect at it, and I still slip into anxiety sometimes, but I am gradually getting my footing again, taking God’s hand, and walking on more solid ground. 

Yesterday was beautiful. The Spirit I felt at church and at a baptism afterwards was so healing and strengthening. The perspective that comes with the Spirit is so clarifying. It reminded me what’s most important and why we are here. I wish I could hold that view all the time. I will continue to work on it. 

I am grateful for a wise mother, for a kind Heavenly Father who is willing to pick me up so often, and for a beautiful family who is in this with me. We are learning so much together. I am so grateful for their love and patience with me. 

P.S. I am told our house will be ready to move into by next Saturday, which is great news, but it reminds me of how we need to appreciate what we currently have. The leaky roof, sharing our dining area with 7 cats and 2 dogs, a constantly muddy kitchen, and door that won’t close all the way and lets in bugs to where we sleep, is annoying (I am currently typing as a jumping bug keeps jumping on my screen and keyboard!), but I will miss how close we are to one another in the little house, reading scriptures with a canopy of stars around us, and how pretty the sky looks through the palm trees as we eat outside every evening. 

Our new house will be bigger and more bug-and-animal-proof, but it will be more lonely and wild since we will be in the middle of the jungle with no near neighbors. Every place we have lived has had beautiful benefits as well as some hard things. I am learning more profoundly that the key to staying grounded in reality, with a truer perspective, is to more often focus on the beautiful, with gratitude for the moment.

stairs in house

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Karen Bates

Karen is the creator of the Find Your Path Program and Founder of Find Your Path Mission, a non profit organization dedicated to helping youth break negative cycles and reach their personal potential.

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