Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4 acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caren has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the Relief Society President in her Montana Ward.

Enter Caren…

I’m having a hard time discerning when the transition happened. Was it a moment of clarity or more gradual like the wakening day?

Thankfully, we weren’t a highly orthodox family growing up. So that gave me plenty of room to figure things out for myself; I’ve never had to overcome familial teachings or culture. More of that came from the Church and my own limited understanding of doctrine.

However, in high school, I clung to the Church and its teachings—or what I assumed were its teachings—because I longed for the “ideal.” I remember wanting so desperately what I considered the traditional, “happy” Mormon family and felt drawn to and fell in love with what I learned at church and even, I’d say its culture. I loved everything BYU, which became my focused goal to go there someday. I had quotes and posters all over my room with motivational thoughts and scriptures. I kept a journal, read my scriptures, and if there was a church gathering of any kind I wanted to be at it; I soaked it all up. I dreamed of having kids and wrote to and about them throughout my journals. I wanted to create the ideal within my life.

Balancing Striving to Become and Grace

I think growing up in the 80s shaped me in a way that led to self-righteousness and rigid thinking. And looking back at old talks, books, and even seminary and leaders, I can totally see where I got those thoughts. I wanted to be “good.” There was a definitive right way and wrong way to live. Why I didn’t realize there could be a different way of thinking, I’m not sure. Except maybe that felt risky, unsafe, disrespectful? There were all sorts of people I encountered who were doing life all kinds of ways. Most of it looked pretty good, but I leaned heavily on wanting to be “righteous.” I think I just wanted a happy, peaceful life for my future family and somehow pieced it together that the church was my vehicle.

I cringe, though, looking back at how judgmental, pious, and self-righteous I have been throughout my life. I feel now that it’s because I just didn’t have a strong foundation of who God was; I didn’t understand His nature and the basic doctrines of Christ’s gospel. He was a far-off God that I couldn’t relate to; I just wanted maybe to please Him, make Him proud, prove myself? I was naive and young in my learning all through college and young motherhood. I felt guilty for the choices I made that weren’t in alignment with gospel teachings because I felt I should know better. But I didn’t have the wherewithal to recognize that I could ask for help and grace, that there was so much power available; I relied on my own willpower and grit, and I floundered. Intellectually, I knew I didn’t have to actually be perfect, but I thought I should be striving for it.

I’ve listened to, read, and attended so many discussions of ideas that have been instrumental in shifting my thoughts. So that’s going back years and years; my paradigm gradually began to relax through college. And this is where it gets fuzzy. I know as a young mom I berated myself for getting things “wrong.” I think, looking back, this was new territory, and what I did affected not only me but my family. I wanted to do all the things I dreamed of as a young person to create the family life I envisioned. Many of the traditions and habits we started were good, and I’d do them all again. But many times, I’d overwhelm myself with expectations, certain that God was disappointed with me. I had so many good ideas (ideals?) circulating in my head that I felt overloaded, wanting to do and be them all. This kind of thinking made me tired and frustrated sometimes. I know I had good intentions; I was just a little misguided.

Allow Others to Figure It Out

I also used to fret over whether people came to church or not. Given the backdrop of my youth and the teachings I misconstrued, it weighed on me. Although it’s taken many years to get to this point, I honestly can’t imagine stressing over it. I just trust that they’ll figure things out on their own and come to whatever conclusions they decide on. I have absolutely no urgency for needing people to be anything—including myself. The only urgency I feel is in feeling that I have so much to learn, so many people I want to help, so much good I want to do… I can’t WAIT to get up in the mornings and get so annoyed that I must sleep. I just love being up and doing God’s work, truly. I have so much more energy now because I’ve taken everyone else’s life off my to-do list, including my husband’s and my kids’. They all know what they need/want out of life; I’m free to do my own living and it feels glorious.

Like most of you, I’m way, way, way less judgmental since becoming a parent. I can totally understand how a mom can want to strangle her child or how she can sink into depression and want to watch tv and eat all day. I get that teens wear and say and watch and do whatever they want; nothing I say really changes any of that—if I care about agency at all, which I totally do. I have strong thoughts about how and why we do things as a family, a couple, and individuals, but I’m trying to let people do their own lives and love them, parents, kids, all of them. I want to align my parenting with the way God parents full of love and allowance.

Growing in Our Relationship with God

I absolutely don’t see this life as a test the way I did when I was growing up. I see every experience in my day as a way to learn and practice. I feel like I’m just taking it one day at a time and learn a little bit each week or month. I also feel like I’m in constant communication with Heavenly Father, and so it even feels a little forced to kneel and pray, so formal and so extra when we’ve already been talking all day.

I don’t get down on myself as much anymore. I just try to quickly acknowledge to myself and whoever it affects and to God: that wasn’t my best, got it. I’ll try super hard to remember to not do that again, but I might still, oh well. That’s what I tell my kids, “Let’s try again.” And I feel like God is saying, “Perfect, let’s move on, we really have so much we need to do and that I want to show you.” And I agree; I hate wallowing and wasting time in regret. But that’s really the extent of my repentance process. It’s not stressful. I do it a million times a day. But I don’t think of God being mad at or disappointed with me. I feel like He’s my coach, and I just work side by side with Him all day and try to remember all the things I’m learning so I can keep doing better moving forward. Not so I can look better, but so that I can love and serve better. I know now that I have His spirit with me all the time. I don’t need to gear up for it when I have a question or need to ask for His help, I don’t worry that I haven’t read my scriptures long enough that day or even if it’s been a few days. I just know He’s there, totally eager to help with anything. And I mean this about God the Father, God the Christ, and God the Holy Spirit—interchangeably.

This has been my thinking for so long now that I can’t even remember when it changed. I’ve never been afraid of Him or thought He was a harsh or judgmental God. (When people make a big deal about the God of the Old Testament, I’m amused. I can’t imagine a God like that; for people to debate about it feels like a complete waste of time. Just ask Him who He is, it’ll take one second for you to know that’s not Him.) No, I wasn’t afraid of Him, I just felt bad disappointing Him because I love Him so much. But I don’t feel that way one bit anymore, not at all. I just feel absolute love and confidence from Him like he’s cheering me on and motivating me to keep going. I feel a deep love between us—me for Him and Him for me. I see myself literally as a child, and when I mess up, I see myself recognizing what didn’t work and maybe why I did it. I give myself a ton of grace and just realize I’m human; I’m young, I’m still figuring things out, and I honestly feel like I’ll be doing this for a long, long time.

Peacefully Embracing Who We Are

I feel a lot more peace about my shortcomings and misguiding thinking and the things I say or do that aren’t all that great. I recognize that most of the time I’m acting out of ignorance or pain or fear (not from God, but from judgment of others maybe?) when I’m not my best self. But I honestly move through things quickly. The times I feel anguish is when I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or said/done something without thinking. There’s nothing about God in it, just that I feel so sad for not having been more sensitive or thoughtful. Not to say this is always how I operate, just more now than in the past. I still get stuck sometimes.

My mentors are humble people. My favorites are the ones who do the ground-level work in the world, serving in small ways no one sees; I can’t dismiss the feelings of goodness I feel emanating from them. I love it when people are honest and open, not glossy, and fancy and perfect. I always feel like we have most things in common. I figure we all want to be noticed and loved. I think we all want to contribute and belong. I admire those who recognize this in others and who are trying to encourage and lift people. I don’t care what they look like, watch, drink, wear, or do; I just love being around people who go about doing good and making the world better.

Knowing How to Love Better

All I know is that the older I get, the less I care about most things that maybe I worried about as a teenager and even as a younger mom. What I try to focus on now is knowing how to love better, like Christ does. I want to understand people, I want to hear them, I want them to feel God’s love, I want them to know the God I know, I want them to access His grace and power and love and stop making life so hard for themselves. I feel very little rigidity, and I feel like I’m only sure about maybe 4-5 things. I feel tons of peace even as I admittedly feel the heaviness of the world. I just sense myself becoming a little softer, a little kinder, a little less judgmental over the years, and I really like the way it feels. I feel a lot more confident because it feels like I have God’s power and love with me. I’m not trying to earn it or prove myself to Him or anyone, I’m just living with it all the time.