Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Master's Wheel

For the last week I've been mulling this post, by Kels at Empowering LDS Women, over in my brain. In the post Kels shares some of her thoughts about, and enthusiasm for, the new Relief Society book "Daughters in My Kingdom." I really loved reading all of her thoughts but it is this part of her post that has really been making me think. She said:
I have had the opportunity to work with an amazing woman who has done exceptional work serving the children of God and also raising a family in the gospel. Her life is not perfect of course, but I consider her to be a role model because she has made it a priority to discover and fulfill all the responsibilities she has as a daughter of God... She described to me how people often try to categorize women that work, and women that stay at home, and women that do this or that or the other thing, when in fact these categories are completely wrong. She said that instead we ought to think of our work on a spectrum:

... If we think of the example set by our Savior, we can see that charity in its fullest form is to serve every group represented along the spectrum, and our Savior did in fact make his way across the spectrum serving every individual... With that in mind, and taking into consideration whatever our personal circumstances are, we ought to constantly be pushing ourselves across this spectrum with whatever gifts, talents, and capacities we have. This could be as broad as college aged sister who volunteers her time working with those in poverty abroad, to a young mother who brings her children to visit with residents of a nursing home. The Spirit will dictate how, given our unique circumstances, we can use our time, talents, and abilities to fulfill our responsibility of service.
As I was reading this I just laughed because hanging on the board above my computer is something that looks remarkably similar:

I made this little sign several months ago when I was feeling SO overwhelmed by all balls I was trying to juggle in my life. I was trying to maintain my relationship with God, be a good wife and mother, keep tabs on my extended family, fulfill my church calling, care for my neighbors and friends, and do the other things that God had guided me to as well (like serving women as a doula, working on my book project, and writing my blog) all at the same time! I felt like I was drowning and the truth was that I wasn't really doing a very good job at ANY of those things.

Then one night as I was praying for help I remembered a part of a movie I'd seen years and years ago. The movie was called "The Mask of Zorro" and in it the main character, Alejandro, who masquerades around as "Zorro" is set on revenging the death of his brother. In his quest he stumbles on to a man named Don Diego de la Vega who takes him under his belt and teaches what he needs to know to reach his goal. The first thing Don Diego does is to give Alejandro a blade and put him in the "Master's Wheel" where Alejandro has to learn handle the foes that come at him one ring at a time. Don Diego instructs him to remember that at first NOTHING exists outside of his inner most ring and that for the time being that is his whole world. Once Alejandro masters that inner ring his world gradually expands to include the other rings. Until, eventually he is able to defend and protect himself even at the very outermost ring which includes the man he is seeking revenge on.

While it is really sort of a gruesome and violent premise the idea of the "Master's Wheel" really resonated with my soul. I realized that I was trying to tackle all the rings of my life at the same time. As a result I was being attacked on all sides and getting cut up pretty bad in the process. I knew that if I didn't change something soon that pretty soon I'd no longer be able to defend myself and that "foes" might find their way into my inner rings. So the first thing I decided to do was to "narrow my world" (hence the phrase on my sign) by first focusing on defending my inner most ring-- which deals with my relationship with God. This ring includes things like prayer, scripture study, fasting, temple worship, and personal development. I know that "mastering" this ring will be an ongoing process but I also know that if I don't give this ring the time and respect it deserves then I will be ill equipped to handle my other rings.

The next ring on my sign is "Family" and includes the responsibilities I have as a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter. These are what in her 2011 BYU Women's Conference talk Julie Beck called the "non-negotiable responsibilities" and I know that I've made sacred covenants to my husband, to my children living and unborn, and to my family that God will hold me-- and no one else-- accountable for someday. I don't ever expect to master this ring but I know that by giving these relationships highest priority in my life that God will bless me and magnify my ability to handle whatever comes my way.

The two outermost rings are "Church" which includes my church responsibilities, callings, and Christian service to those around me, and "Society" which includes serving and improving the lives of all of God's children. I know that there is much that the Lord would have me do in these outer rings and that He wants to be able to use my talents and strengths to move His work forward. In fact, each one of God's daughters has an important work to do in these outer rings. Joseph F. Smith once taught sisters that,
" It is for you to lead the world and to lead especially the women of the world, in everything that is praise-worthy, everything that is God-like, everything that is uplifting, and that is purifying to the children of men. You are the head, not the tail."(Daughters in My Kingdom, pg. 66)
All over the world righteous women should be at the forefront of every good cause and the loudest voices for what is right and true. It is part of our responsibilities as women and the Lord expects us to be involved and engaged in society and in the world just as much as He expects us to be dedicated and committed to our homes and families. Yet it is important that we do things the right way and in the right order. If we try to tackle the outer ring of "Society" before we are dedicated and grounded in our inner rings of "Self, Family and Church" then we leave these vital rings open to attack and we loose power (as Julie Beck said here) and aren't as effective in any of our rings. Eliza R. Snow, the second president of the Relief Society explained this well when she told sisters,
"Let your first business be to perform your duties at home. But, inasmuch as you are wise stewards, you will find time for social duties, because these are incumbent upon us as daughters and mothers in Zion. By seeking to perform every duty you will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish." (Daughters in My Kingdom, 59)
I can bear strong witness to the truthfulness of what Eliza R. Snow said. It has been amazing that as I've learned to "narrow my world" and focus on my most important circles first how the Lord has magnified my abilities and I've accomplished so much more than I ever dreamed possible. God knows the deepest desires of my heart and He has always found a way to make them realities... often in ways I never imagined. I know now-- and the little sign above my desk reminds me-- that the more grounded and secure I am in my inner rings of self and family the more powerful I become in the outer rings of church and society. It seems counter-intuitive at times but I've learned that the Lord rarely does things after the manner of the world.

I just need to remember that He is the Master and that, even though His training methods may seem strange at times, He knows what He is doing and who I can become.

Thank you Kels for giving me a lot to think about!


  1. Interestingly, this has been a subject of great internal struggle for me over the past several months. Then Heavenly Father answered a prayer of mine, regarding help for my daugher and when I received the answer, I just KNEW that following that prompting would lead me to be "more concerned with things at home" and that as I concentrated more on things at home I would find the peace I was looking for. This has been 100% what has happened. I can't explain how empowering it is to seek revelation, receive it, then ACT on it. Taking care of the "inner circles" first has truly changed my life for the better. Cheesy testimonial- but absolutely true :)
    p.s. Thank you for your powerful voice for good on your blog. I found your blog because of your "Celebration of the Family" guest blog post. I've been inspired ever since. :) Again, thank you!

  2. Thanks for this great post Heather! I especially loved the point that you made that when we prioritize our relationship with God and our non-negotiable responsibilities, Heavenly Father will magnify our ability to accomplish things in other circles. I have definitely found that to be true in my life, though I often need the reminder to focus on "narrowing my world," so thank you for that.

    One other thought I had is that often the way we serve in all circles is just by the timing or sequence of how we do things, rather than trying to do it all at once. In other words, we must determine (through personal revelation) what is the best thing to focus on at a given time.

    President Faust said, "For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible to have a family of your own. However, you cannot do all these things well at the same time. You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? I suggest that you can have it sequentially. Sequentially is a big word meaning to do things one at a time at different times."

    To me this quote means that we cannot expect ourselves to be amazing in all circles at all times. For instance, when the young woman president leaves her family for a week and goes to young woman's camp (plus all the long days spent preparing leading up to camp), she's focusing less on her family circle for the moment because her church calling needs priority, but that doesn't mean that in the long run she's neglecting her non-negotiable responsibilities.

    Sorry this is a long comment. I've been thinking about this issue a lot too. I guess my concluding thought is that I agree with your order of circles over the long run, but I think that at various times in life, and depending on our circumstances and revelation, those priorities may need to shift around so that we can accomplish what we need in the circle that presently needs our attention most.

  3. I have also been thinking about this kind of thing for a loooong while. For the first time in my life our family life is "normal" (no one is going to school, no one is working three jobs - my husband does his 9 to 5, and I stay home with the kids). But just because it's "normal" doesn't mean it is easy - and the things I have been struggling with are just the things that you all have been talking about.

    Kam - thanks for your testimony about personal revelation and acting on it. I have such a testimony of seeking, receiving, and acting on personal revelation as well.

    Thanks again for this post, Heather.


  4. I think this might be a topic on a lot of women's minds. It has certainly been on mine. Thank you very much for this timely post.

  5. I too find that when I first focus on my relationship with God everything else just seems to fall together better, and I'm amazed at what I can do.

  6. Heather, I love reading your blog. Thank you for posting your thoughts about such important things! You are able to explain and expand on things like I can't seem to. Your posts are inspiring to me and help me remember and know the things I can and should be doing to live a happier and better life. Life is crazy and not always easy and I appreciate that you take the time to write these posts. :) After reading this one I realize that I need to spend more time in my very inner circle and focus on strengthening my relationship with God. We as women try so hard to do everything and be everything. We forget often, in my opinion, that we need to take things one step at a time.

  7. Hey Heather,
    I'm flattered you've been thinking about this! If I could add one thing, I'd say that we should temper the inner circle focus with the remembrance of Mark 8:35 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it." Sometimes, we can enhance our inner circle by "losing our life" in the service of others. Not to say we ought to prioritize service over key habits like scripture study, prayer, etc., but when we are considering how to have peace in our personal life and develop our "self" circle, we might also consider how serving others can actually strengthen our individual circle. Another counter intuitive approach, but like you pointed out-- God works in mysterious ways!

  8. Stephanie,

    I love that quote by Elder Faust and how TRUE it is. I think that the key is to remember that the "Master's Wheel" is a training tool. We make ourselves as strong and powerful in our inner rings as we can so that when we need to venture out into the outer circles for long periods of time (ie, like girls camp or something else) that we know our inner rings are protected. It would be exhausting to have to be 100% at everything all the time... and impossible :)


    I like your thoughts about how we have to loose our self to find our self-- that is really beautiful. The image that comes to mind for me is a circle-- that maybe the spectrum your friend shared is really more a circle than a straight line-- that it all interconnects. More good stuff to think about!

  9. Yes, I'm not sure I explained the "spectrum" perfectly-- it's more of a line where it's assumed that as you move across it, you've already addressed/are addressing the previous sections at the same time. But I like your idea of circles too :)

  10. I think the Spirit must be stirring a lot of us women with these same ponderings (I actually wrote, much less eloquently, about this today). I'm going to head over to the blog you reference and get her thoughts as well.

    I think what I struggle with is figuring out how to balance those things that relate to developing who I am and my talents that also relates to the world at large. For example, writing on my blog--yes, if I do it right, I may impact society by clearly defending the family and women of faith, which is the outer ring. But I also think it is for that inner circle, helping me to think through spiritual things and pushing me to be the type of woman I want to be.

    So, perhaps because I'm so new to the blogger world, I'm still trying to figure out how to balance that.

    Much to think about. Thanks so much - you are incredible!

  11. Wonderful thoughts, Heather! I actually associate more with your circle within a circle visual rather then the one kels used. It just makes more sense to me that way. LOVE that quote by Eliza R. Snow! And the one by Elder Faust. Finding that infernal balance is everything, including where and when to serve, is so hard! But, I guess, if I listened more to the spirit maybe it wouldn't be?

  12. Oh how I needed this. Thank for that image of the Master's wheel. I, too, feel so overwhelmed in my efforts to fulfill all of my goals and responsibilities. I needed this reminder! Love you, my friend!

  13. Hey Heather, I do like your circle revision :) I guess if I were to clarify the "spectrum" I'd say it wasn't meant to say that you could only be serving one group at any given point (which I think I may have accidentally communicated it that way). The idea is to show that as you move across it, you're addressing each of the groups that you've passed by, in other words if you're serving the ward then you're also serving the self/family spheres adequately. In that way, I think it's similar to your revision. But I didn't explain it well :). So I love the circles too!