“We do hard things.”

I still remember these words being spoken by one of the wisest friends I have, while she and I stood together talking in a strange BYU gazebo after a night of wandering. It was very late, and our conversation had turned to some of the hard things that were facing right then. Mine might have been about my first year of grad school, and the love that I had lost, that almost broke me. Hers might have been about her last little bit of time in undergrad, and family issues that felt both painful and personal.

But still she said it, “We do hard things,” in a slow and steady voice, that offered a prescription as much as a description. “We do hard things.” And we do, all of the time. All of us. Those hard things may vary from person to person, as well as from year to year, month to month, week to week to week, day to day, and even sometimes minute to minute.

Some of the hard things we do are things that we know are coming, and sometimes they are not. I was surprised by how many of the things I thought of, intending to write as examples of the first that could just as easily fall into examples of the second. These are things like moves, job changes, and school changes. Some familial or relationship changes may also be purposeful and planned, while others may catch us unaware. (And things can certainly still be hard, even when they’re planned!)

Another thing I realized, is that many of the things I think of as being hard are periods of transition, both beginning periods and ending periods. The particular hard may last a long time or a little, depending on what it is. Yet, all of the time we are doing them. This is true even when the hard we are faced with is not a thing at all, but the absence of a thing, one that we strongly desire.

There is something coming up soon in my life, that I believe will be one of those hard things that I will, and can do: it is giving birth–it is my first time of giving birth.

2

So often during these last few days and/or weeks of carrying my child within me rather than with-out me, I find myself thinking about what my body and mind and heart will go through soon. I try to add brave thoughts to the mix. I try to reflect on the hard things I have already done. I try to remember how I got through them, how I did them. I also try to think of the love and tenderness that has surrounded me during this time of transition–including from my Exponent sisters, who gave me a lovely and power-filled Blessingway, that I still intend to detail.

For the different hard situations I can think of from my own life (of which I will write just a few–mostly physical examples) the measure and way of coping was different.

  • When I did track in high school, I got very, very nervous before my events, and would often dash to the restroom for privacy, so I could say a quiet prayer and repeat over and over to myself the same scripture that April posted about so recently: “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” as well as another in Joshua: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Sometimes I would also read inspirational quotes for 3+ hours the day before my meets, which is admittedly cheesy, but true.

3

  • While running, I would sing songs to myself and look very hard at the bounteous, and beautiful, Oregon trees.
  • When my paternal grandfather died, I mourned for a long, long time. As part of that complete mourning, I let myself weep as often and as much as I needed.
  • After the worst heart ache of my life I also let myself weep. (I wouldn’t have been able to stop it, really.) I also went deep inside of myself, and when I slowly emerged, it was only through the love and gentleness of female friends who fed me and cared for me. Then afterwards, it was through Pablo Neruda. And talking to a trained therapist. And exercising. And vegetables.
  • While in an ambulance the day after I got married (because a semi truck happened to hit us and we happened to roll 3 times), I listened to my husband’s voice, as he sat behind me in a place I could not see, and to a wedding video an inspired friend had made for me so quickly, and felt prompted to send right away. Only then was I able to breathe.
  • While cycling across whole countries two weeks later, at a time that I still limped when I walked, I only got up the mountains by drinking massive amounts of water, eating massive amounts of digestives (aka: not very good cookies) that my husband nearly forced into my mouth as he rode beside me, focusing on every individual breath, and listening to my heart songs. I remember writing a facebook post after the very hardest day, “I never knew that there could be such mountains, and I never knew that I could overcome them.” 

Touring

Others of my hard/brave things include every paper I have ever written, every presentation I have ever given, every other day of my freshman year of college (which is precisely how often I cried during that time–from homesickness, and a depression I was just discovering I had), every day of my mission, every day of not knowing whether I would marry the person I loved (and many, many days after, knowing that I wouldn’t). I have also experienced challenges that are too tricky and lengthy for me to write about here, now, but that remain real all of the same.

In all of this self reflection and self remembering, I wonder about the hard things others do, and particularly how. Please indulge me, if you would be so kind.

How do you do your hard things? How do you overcome them (or perhaps simply bear them)?

Does it depend on whether it is a hard thing that you have planned for, versus a hard thing that you have not?

Are there any rituals, poems, scriptures, or strategies that you can share? (They may pertain to any hard thing that you have done, which hard things and methods I fully expect to be diverse.) 

How have others helped?

Rachel

Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

You may also like...

29 Responses

  1. marta says:

    this post is a hard thing beautifully done.

  2. Sara says:

    I cry, and I rely on the strength of those who love me that surround me during difficult times. I share my difficulties with others and receive strength through their service and sacrifice. Rachel, we will be experiencing labor probably days apart from each other, and I keep thinking that if I focus on my husband (who will be supporting me and cheering me on) and the love I have for him, the sacrifice he has to endure to keep me comfortable, and the sacrifice my baby has to endure to come into the world, I think I’ll make it. Sure, I’m probably naive, but there’s no way to plan for it. Best wishes on your labor and delivery. I have no doubt it will be a hard but rewarding experience.

  3. Katie says:

    Hey pup.

    Some hard things, the anticipation is the worst part. If you can get through the waiting, then you just kind of show up and power through, and it is hard, but once you realize you are doing it, then you somehow have the strength to keep going. That has been how most things have been in my life. Show up, keep your head above water, passage of time does the rest. Before you know it, you’re on the other side of the ordeal. Not that it is always fun or pleasant. But it happens. You get through it.

    However, recently, I have just started a class that is very difficult for me. Human anatomy. There is a tremendous amount of material to learn, but that is not the problem. I know I can do that. No, the hard part for me is going to the lab each day, seeing the body lying there, the physical dissection itself. I will spare you the details, but it just kind of gives me sensory overload. I know that the person whose body it used to be donated it so that we can learn and use that knowledge to help others. I know that this is the best way to understand how everything is working together under the surface, and I do find everything going on inside to be so very cool and amazing.

    Some people take to anatomy lab like fish in water. Perhaps they are better able to mentally/emotionally detach from the whole situation. Perhaps they don’t even need to.

    But for whatever the reason, that is not me. Several mini-meltdowns, questioning my abilities to succeed in the course compared to the other students, even doubting my career choice itself. It is really easy to go down into a spiral of doubt.

    Lots of ups and downs, from lab session to lab session, and within each lab session itself. Sometimes it’s totally fine, sometimes I look at our cadaver’s head, wrapped in gauze, his neck, shape of his shoulders, and I start to feel myself getting overwhelmed again. Last time was better than the time before, but it’s tough to say if I’m getting the hang of things or if I just had a “good” day.

    I don’t know, I wish I had some better advice or perspective.

    I think for me, it has been a lot about being honest with myself and how I’m feeling (something the instructor really emphasized). To not try to be something I’m not. But also to recognize that I can do this difficult thing as well. One step at a time, working with what I’ve got to work with at that point in time, not what I wish I had to work with.

    Miss you, love you.

  4. The hardest things I’ve done usually come because of a prompting to do something waaaay out of my comfort zone. I get through it because I know how important promptings are and I want to keep getting them. I want and need that guidance. So I jump in the deep, cold water, just like I used to when I was a little girl at Redfish. I actually think about that a lot. I did it then, so I can do it now.

    As for giving birth, I will always remember what my high school health teacher told me. Every mother goes through childbirth. It’s hard, but you can do it and live through it. It seemed profoundly simple to me and I pictured her saying that with each baby. After 24 hours of labor with Jami, a kind nurse told me that I was sending my energy to the wrong place. That’s why my cheeks puffed up like a chipmunk’s. ha ha That was all I needed to hear and from that moment, I knew how to give birth. It was quite amazing, actually. I just send the energy the right way and let the contractions roll over me like waves. Remembering that they’re there to help, I quit fighting them and had faith that I could live through it — that the contractions wouldn’t hurt me. I hope this makes a little bit of sense to you. I know you can do it! And you really do forget the pain when it’s over. That little girl will be such a treasure.

  5. Alicia says:

    Rach-
    I love this so much. You really are so brave and so strong. I remember talking about the brave little toaster with you (maybe in the same conversation?), and how after you left Provo, we would always send each other reminders of that brave toaster. You have known a lot of my “hard things,” and that scripture from Timothy has long been one of my favorites. Just remember that you have an entire fleet of people, behind you and in front of you, who are all rooting for your success and continued happiness. And that we are built for the doing of hardness. It’s just what we do. Love you always.

  6. Kristine says:

    Don’t forget the prelude to that scripture–Paul praises Timothy’s mother and grandmother as the sources and exemplars of his faith. We can do hard things because brave righteous women are all around us.

    • Rachel says:

      Kristine, I wasn’t familiar with that prelude, but have since read it over and over. “I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”

      So very beautiful. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. We Can do hard things because brave righteous women are all around us. You are one of those brave righteous women.

  7. Anna says:

    Nice post! I think more than overcoming a hurdle, the nature of the hard things you do is about to change. Giving birth is a daunting experience for sure, but it’s also an amazing experience. Sometimes getting through something difficult includes taking breaks. Breaks from activity, or worry, or planning. The more you allow yourself to rest from worry and stress the better your experience will be. One way or the other, she is on her way! She will come and chances are that you’ll have help through the process. Do what you can to prepare and then try to enjoy. Giving birth is just the beginning of a new life full of challenges and joy. You won’t experience that satisfaction of having finished a paper, or leaving an experience behind you. Your journey will be continuous, successes marked by small moments only meaningful to you. That said, taking time for yourself when possible will help along the way. During difficult times I have found solace in exercise, personal projects, time with friends, and through spiritual connections which seem to come few and far between, but are nonetheless meaningful. I hope you will find joy in this new experience and wish you and Spencer all the best!

  8. liz johnson says:

    I really, really love this post.

    Lately I’ve been doing a bit of an experiment with the hymns and primary songs – I’m switching out “Heavenly Father” for “Heavenly Mother” and trying to picture Mother when the hymn speaks of God, and it makes so many of the songs really, really powerful to me. (A Child’s Prayer? “Heavenly Mother, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” I get chills.) And one song that has always seemed really masculine to me is also one of my favorites – How Firm a Foundation. But when I think of it being sung in a Mother’s voice, it becomes clear to me why I find it so comforting: “Fear not, I am with thee. Oh be not afraid. For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.”

    It just makes me picture strong women, standing around me, supporting and witnessing the hard things I endure. It’s especially touching when I think of childbirth – you’ll be upheld by Her righteous omnipotent hand. And you’ll have the hands of others, helping you, causing you to stand. You do hard things, will continue to do hard things, and strong people around you will help you do hard things.

    • Katie says:

      Ooh. That gives me chills too.

    • Ziff says:

      I really like this, Liz. I’ve done the same with “A Child’s Prayer,” but hadn’t thought to extend it to other hymns. Great idea!

    • Rachel says:

      I really, really love this comment. More than I can describe.

      I have been doing that same switching in “Heavenly Mother” for “Heavenly Father” thing lately, including with “A Child’s Prayer.” That beginning line is powerful, both theologically and personally, and I love the answer. “Pray, She is there. Speak, She is listening.” I believe that She is present, and that She also loves the children. I do try to draw close to Her.

      But, the part of your comment that really got me, was your application of the female pronoun (and female deity) to “How Firm a Foundation.” For as long as I can remember I have known that my own birth was my mother’s “most spiritual,” and that one of the main reasons for that, is because this particular hymn was in her head.

      Just this week she wrote me, “You can do this amazing thing of giving birth… it might even be a spiritual experience. It was a spiritual experience for me when I was in labor with you. I would sing ‘How Firm a Foundation’ in my head during it. I felt so loved and protected-–it was amazing.”

      Picturing my mother being loved and protected by her Heavenly Mother during one of her own birth experiences fills me with love. Thank you.

  9. spunky says:

    This is lovely, Rachel. I do love that statement, “we do hard things.” I have a friend who has a sign in her house that says, “Hard is Good.” I love it, and I am tempted to have things like this as reminders in my own home.

    For me, I embrace the darkness of misery. I feel bad and allow myself to feel bad. I allow myself to feel dark and sad. That helps me to embrace that darkness so I can let it go– otherwise, I find myself grabbing for darkness, rather than grabbing for light. But if I embrace the darkness, then I still am in charge of myself, rather that something else haunting me. This probably sounds darker than it is, but it works for me.

    A friend years ago used to quote this tidbit from scripture. “‘And it came to pass,'” she would say. “It didn’t come to stay. It ‘came to pass.’ It will pass.” That tiny phrase, in the right context, has saved me on any number of occasions.

    And, in a very dark place, a beloved friend held her arms out and said, “Give it to me. Give me your pain.” She hugged the pain out of me. She really did. I still give her my pain. She still takes it from me.

    Good friends offer atonement in a special, mortal way. They teach me of Christ. And I love them for it. I feel close to them today.

  10. Melody says:

    I sing or hum lullubies. To myself. And sometimes to others.

    • Rachel says:

      Music has long helped me during my hard things, starting with when I was very small, and would have nightmares. The only thing that brought me courage then was to sing primary songs to myself. It is no wonder then, that songs and hymns remain both powerful and comforting to me.

  11. kaci says:

    hey rachel,

    lovely post as always. the anxiety that can accompany hard things on the horizon, especially totally unfamiliar ones like helping a brand new human (!) out of your very own body, can be truly heavy and consuming.

    i wonder if somehow this dark time of waiting and wondering and doubt, as unpleasant as it can be, is a way for our bodies and brains to focus. a kind of pre-birth autopilot perhaps.

    i echo katie pup’s first paragraph. time will pass. maybe (probably) unpleasantly in many ways. but also so empowering in many ways. no matter what the details of your babe’s entry into the world are, she will be here because of YOU. you’ve been growing her for many, many months already. no one else has been.

    so maybe it could help to think of this particular hard thing as just the next step in a hard thing that you’ve already been doing, already knowing just how to do, already succeeding at. you may have not always felt like you knew what was going on, but your body has known, 100%, the whole time. as trite as it may sound, try to trust in that, in your body.

    i wasn’t so much terrified of birth, because i have a strong trust in the passage of time, but i was terrified at the thought of the days and weeks and months to follow. to the extent that you may be worried about that hard thing too, i will say that it does differ from the mystery and unfamiliarity of pregnancy and birth in that you actually get to know your baby more and more every day. you’ll get to see her face. you’ll get to have so many more of your familiar senses working to help you problem solve and cope.

    (and your body will slowly ease off of baby hormones, something that i felt acutely comforting because i felt more and more like myself and less like the pregnant and nursing Other Self that i had become.)

    of course, keep reaching out to everyone who loves you. we’re here for you and are always so, so happy to listen and help.

  12. TopHat says:

    Rachel,

    Birth is both a normal every-day occurrence (to thousands of women at any given moment!) as well as a unique and pivotal experience. It’s both. You’ll be able to do the hard thing.

    Hard things I’ve done? I don’t know. I do lots of “little” hard things and I only call them “little” now because they’ve passed.

    With pregnancy/labor/newborn time, I think about time in a weird way. I’ll tell myself, “Two weeks (or whatever about of time) ago things were completely different and in two weeks from now, they’ll be just as different. Almost there.” In labor it would be like, “24 hours ago I was still pregnant and not knowing when I’d be in labor. And in 24 hours from now I’ll be holding a baby (ideally!). I made it through the last 24 hours, I can make it through the next.”

    I also had many priesthood blessings during my first labor (the others were shorter and didn’t need blessings!). That was helpful. There was a line in one of the blessings where I was told to remember my foremothers and that their strength is my strength. That was an important thought I clung to during the rest of my labor.

    I’m not sure what I can say to help out. You do hard things, not only that, but you rock hard things. 🙂

  13. Kaity says:

    My mom wrote 1 timmothy 1:7 on an index card and taped it to the inside of my binder in the 5th grade. A good mom. A good God. It seems like there is a lot of fear in child bearing and borning and rearing, if we let it come. I imagine that the adversary tries very hard to make us feel afraid and powerless while we do our part in God’s plan to provide bodies for His sons and daughters. Bodies that will have so much more power and potential that the adversary will ever have. I imagine that is frustrating for him. What a chump.

    I like to think about how there are lots of parts of my brain and heart and body that, while I might not be able to consciously control or know them, they know me and they have been built to withstand the things that I will struggle through. When my tiny human heart is panicked, my old spirit heart stands still.

    I like all the comments about letting time pass. It is frustrating to not be able to speed time up, but if that were possible, then it might also be slowed. It is comforting to me that no matter what I do or think, the seconds and minutes tick past unaffected.

    I also like this Brigham Young quote:
    “All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered…to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. …Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for this reminder, Rachel. We’re going through some hard things at our house, so this was really helpful for me.

    In difficult time, I try to remember the hard things I’ve already conquered. Right before college, I was hospitalized for a month and a half. I was put on bowel rest (which means I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything for 37 days–yes, I counted), and ended up with major abdominal surgery.

    At college, I reminded myself that I had had a colectomy–how bad could this project/exam/internship be?

    The best thing about getting older is that the list of what one has conquered grows longer and I’m better able to embrace, like Spunky said, the scripture about things coming to pass.

    • Rachel says:

      The list of what one has conquered Does grow longer. That gives me strength too.

      Your comment reminds me of the 9th article of faith, about the things that have been and will be revealed, but in relation to some of these hard things. We have done many hard things, we are doing many hard things, and we will yet do many hard and important things.

      I hope that the hard things you are personally going through in your own home work out well.

  15. Caroline says:

    Wonderful Post, Rachel. I love you for being so honest and brave.

    When hard things come up and I don’t know how to proceed, I often turn to the insight of my Mormon feminist sisters. Reading Exponent articles, or All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir (a must read for Mofems) gives me comfort and insight. I also reach out to my Mormon feminist friends for specific advice. For example, last year I was struggling about what to do about my baby’s blessing, and in the face of a lot of negativity from others, I was ready to give up doing what i really felt was right. But when I turned to my Mofem sisters, they gave me the strength to press forward.

  16. Rachel says:

    I did that hard thing. And it was possible only through the support of loving, strong women and a loving, strong husband.

    Thank you, everyone, for all of the beautiful words and remembrances.

  1. January 2, 2014

    […] when I looked at my baby in those first few days, the only thing I could think was, “The hardest thing I have ever done was for you.” And then I would start to […]

  2. January 23, 2016

    […] Rachel’s post: We Do Hard Things […]

Leave a Reply