Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thoughts that really aren't about pants.

Most of you probably know by now that I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or in other words, I'm a Mormon. Up front, I'd like to say that this post is veering away from the tone of most of my posts and is going to be overtly religious in nature. If that's not your cup of tea, that's okay. You can read it or skip it as you wish.

I wore a skirt to church today, for a variety of personal reasons, including but not limited to the fact that for me, my Sunday best is a dress; I don’t have any suitable dress pants at the moment; and I was teaching the lesson in Relief Society and didn’t want my wardrobe choices potentially distracting people from what I was trying to say. Because this has been a weird week, and part of that weirdness was the reason why I was teaching the lesson, and the reason I was teaching that lesson was because there was something important the Spirit was pushing and prompting and strongly encouraging me to say. 

A bit of background: On Wednesday evening, the sister in charge of lessons called to let me know that we would be combining with the other Relief Society (yes, there are two in our ward) for the next few weeks because of people being out of town, and they’d worked out that the other teacher would teach this week. I had actually been looking forward to this lesson (George Albert Smith Lesson #21: The Power of Kindness which is a great lesson; I highly encourage you to read it if you haven't already), so I was a bit disappointed, but also a bit relieved because my husband was going to be substituting in Sunday School so that meant only one of us had to work on a lesson. 

However, by Thursday afternoon that feeling of disappointment had changed from a small nudge to the full on, whapped-with-a-bat, pit-of-stomach feeling that you get right when you know you need to stand up and bear your testimony but have no idea what you’re going to say. So I emailed the sister and told her that I was feeling like I should ask if maybe I could still teach this week. By the time I got her reply later that evening saying yes that would be fine, I was hoping she’d say no because I’d figured out what I was supposed to be saying and was kind of terrified to say it. 

But after a whole lot of prayer and study and pondering, I got up in Relief Society today and, shaking like a leaf, gave most of the lesson I had prepared before Wednesday night. However, the ending had changed. Here, because I’m feeling that push again, is the portion of the lesson that I prepared after Thursday afternoon, after I had prayed mightily and long. 

* * *

Many of you may have heard, in the last couple of weeks, about an event called “Wear Pants to Church Day.” It was started by a group of Mormon women who, for various reasons, felt hurt or marginalized by what they felt was inequality in the church between men and women in non-Priesthood related roles and situations. They proposed wearing pants to church in order to show support for each other and possibly bring a bit of awareness to the issue that so many were feeling left out and alone. 

Now, for various personal reasons, I do not consider myself to be a feminist. However, I have several good friends who identify as both Mormon and feminist, so I have heard some of their feelings on this subject before, and have some understanding of their perspective. Therefore it was with some degree of interest that I started following news of this event. 

As word of this event spread, even being picked up by several news outlets, the emotional response it triggered was staggering. Although some people respectfully responded with why they would not be participating (whether or not they agreed with the feelings of the originators), the vast majority of the comments were negative. They ranged from “I think this is a silly thing to protest,” or “This is ridiculous” to “Obviously you just don’t understand the Gospel and need to examine your testimony.” Most of the comments were so full of anger and vitriol that I don’t want to repeat them, and over and over variations of this idea were repeated: “If you’re so unhappy, you should just leave the Church and go someplace else.” And many times I also saw people who were not members of the Church say that because of the mean and hurtful and almost violent reactions that members of the Church were having against those who were interested in this event, these non-members would never investigate the Church. 

The whole situation left me deeply saddened, and as I pondered the whole thing I thought to myself that I was glad that I didn’t feel the internal conflict these originators felt, and grateful that I had never felt unequal or marginalized in the Church. Except then a voice whispered in my ear, “But you have felt unequal or marginalized before.” 

Not in regards to men-versus-women; I have had a strong personal witness of the importance and divinity of women as being equal to men, even though our earthly callings and burdens are different. But I have experienced the sting and the grief of feeling marginalized and left on the fringes of the church. 

It took my husband and I six and a half years to have our son, during which time I also had two miscarriages. There was a period of a few years when I would go to church and feel the Spirit in Sacrament meeting and in Sunday School, but by the time I got out of Relief Society I was in a deep depression. Every single lesson seemed to be about how amazing and wonderful and awesome it was to be a mom and have children and teach children and everyone had children or was pregnant except me. I started to feel as though I couldn’t fully participate in Church because I wasn’t a mother and therefore somehow wasn’t good enough. I remember one Sunday I came home and sobbed into my husband's shoulder that if I was supposed to keep going to church I needed a calling in Primary where I wouldn’t have to hear or give lessons on how great it was to have kids. The Lord hears prayers because two days later I was given a calling in Primary. 

I did eventually receive my witness of my individual worth and divinity apart from the role of motherhood, and later I was also blessed with my son. But before all that happened, it was a very dark time in my life, and I struggled mightily, not necessarily with my belief in the Gospel, but with my desire to participate in Church. However, I do remember specific instances where a seemingly random act of kindness saved my sanity and lifted my heart. I can’t list every person who acted as an angel in my life, but these sisters and many others offered kindness to me without even thinking about it, whether they knew of my trials or not, and gave me strength to keep going. 

I thought of these experiences and wondered if I could have stayed in the church, even believing as strongly in the doctrines of the Gospel as I do, if the general attitude towards infertility were as violently cruel as it had been to these women who felt left out, marginalized and on the fringes of the Church. What if our response to people who are single was to challenge their righteousness or their testimony? What if we told people who struggled with certain aspects of the Gospel, like the Word of Wisdom, fasting, or faith—or even something as simple as being called to teach Nursery—that if they were unhappy or struggling they should just leave the Church? 

Christ in His infinite love and kindness invited ALL to come unto Him. He forgave the woman taken in adultery, He taught the sinners and publicans, and He performed miracles for believers and non-believers alike. He has commanded us to be one, and if we are not one, he says, “ye are not mine.” (see D&C 38:27)

I believe that in order to be one, we need to be kind. We need to be aware of those who are struggling or who feel marginalized for whatever the reason may be. When we find that people are struggling, we should not react in such a way that makes them fear to speak up or ask questions or get support. We should not minimize or dismiss their struggles, but try to understand and help them. 

In Mark chapter nine, a father brings his son to Jesus to be healed of an evil spirit. Jesus said to him, “'If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.' And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.'” 

Christ knows that we all struggle with unbelief in the midst of our strong belief. As he healed the child of the man who struggled, He offers healing to all of us for our weaknesses and infirmities. However, He often enlists us to be his hands in helping to heal others. 

Struggles, doubts, or “unbelief” can take many forms: being single or infertile in what often seems to be a Church of large families; having trouble with the Word of Wisdom in what seems like a Church full of non-smokers who have never so much as looked at any drink stronger than Sprite; feeling like one’s nickname should be “O thou of little faith” in what feels like a Church full of people who can walk on water; or, perhaps, feeling like a second-class female citizen in what seems like a Church full of men. Not everyone feels these same struggles or moments of unbelief, and I would venture to say that many of these struggles, if not all, are based on a limited and incomplete perspective. But just because we don’t feel a particular brand of unbelief doesn’t mean that we should belittle or tear down those who do. We should treat them all with kindness, and not be so quick to point out the mote in the eyes of others; we should lovingly entreat them to stay with open arms rather than encouraging them to leave. 

It is my prayer that we will be able to be more mindful of those who are struggling so that we may reach out hands of love and kindness in the name of Christ, that we may communicate more openly with each other, that we may become one as we come to Christ and say together, “Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief.”


MJG said...

Excellent! I wish I could have been there for your lesson.

Gretta Whalen said...

Beautiful. Perfect. Thank you.

Kathryn said...

I love this. Thank you. I actually didn't hear about this until this evening and most of the views I read were troubling to me in one way or another. The only answer to pretty much any problem is love and understanding. Thank you for putting this in perspective.

Victoria Blanchard said...

Love this. Thank you!

Adrienne said...

Perfect, just perfect.

Sarah Ridge said...

Ah, I so wish I had been there for your lesson! Although, I suppose if I had been there, I still wouldn't have heard your lesson. So thank you for writing this!

Jen said...

Gretta linked here from FB and I'm so glad. This is almost exactly what I have been thinking and feeling throughout this whole pants/no pants thing. Thank you for putting it so eloquently and for sharing it with your RS and then with the rest of us. Really. Thank you.

Ken and Andrea. said...

Thank you for this heartfelt post! I have been struggling to find an appropriate vent for my feelings about this issue. I too have felt marginalized for reasons other than yours, and some of them due to the hasty or misguided actions of different priesthood leaders. But none of this makes me feel as though the Lord's church needs fundamental doctrinal changes. I know that my Heavenly Father loves me, and that even though it is sometimes hard to bear my trails, He always has a place for me. He loves me unconditionally regardless of the sins of others, or the sacred nature of womanhood and the priesthood that differs so vastly from the current views of the world.

Ally the Red Dragon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ally the Red Dragon said...

Thank you for such beautiful and well thought out sentiments! You put into words what I had been thinkingl

Katy Ryser said...

I don't know you but this is beautifully expressed. Our family has dealt with infertility, which definitely makes one feel unequal and marginalized in a family-oriented church. However, the doctrine is true and we're all doing our best to receive help with our own type of unbelief. Thank you.

Audy & Ash said...

First of all i am jealous of your amazing ability to write! We always enjoy anything you write...your post was beautiful

Amy said...

I found your blog through your comment on Gretta's. I'm so glad I read this post - you said it beautifully. Thank you.

liesel said...

I followed you over from Miss Nem's blog. I really, really love this post. I am only quasi bothered by some of the "pants" issues. And it is nothing that keeps me awake at night and/or questioning the gospel. But I do sympathize, and I am horrifically shocked at the vitriolic responses from church members as well. And you put it so eloquently! I like your writing. I think I will follow your blog! Cheers!

Nemesis said...

Just . . . Wow. This is so awesome.