Monday, April 29, 2013

About Not Belonging in the Church You Belong To

When I was a teenager, my family moved to a town within the Mormon Corridor. (Western-ish U.S.) For the first time in my memory, I lived among a significant percentage of fellow Mormons. During this time, a friend of mine accused me of several things that I did not do. While no one at school believed her, some of the members of my ward did. They would whisper in the bench behind me, calling me Jezebel. My lessons in Young Women were pointedly pro-chastity. I was called into the bishop's office for a detailed interview. Fortunately, he believed me. He was the only one (besides my parents.)

This was the first time in my life that I was the target of someone's concerted manipulation of others to hurt me. Church was a nightmare for me, and I grew to hate it. But I knew that not all Mormons could be like that. A desire to prove it to myself contributed to my decision to attend BYU. There, I learned what I went to learn, that Mormons are not as cookie-cutter as people like to think, and that there were others like me who believed as I do.

But that feeling of being an outsider has never quite faded.

When I was married, my then-husband, freshly baptized into the Church and transplanted to Utah, experienced difficulty acclimating to the culture and the lackadaisical approach to religion. Having experienced such struggles for myself, I did the best I could to help him through it and to defend him when his approach to religion conflicted with the tacitly accepted norms. As anyone who has put themselves in the middle of conflict can attest, you generally accomplish uniting former enemies only by their disgust of you.

My subsequent divorce and inability to enjoy the LDS Singles culture has only widened the divide. The Church and her programs are not made for people like me. People like me generally leave, or they complain vociferously and eventually align themselves with some other group that makes them feel like they belong. It's not a solution for me; I've never felt comfortable as part of any group for long.

I'm not writing this post because I have some magic wand to wave and suddenly make you feel like part of the Church family. I don't. If I did, I would have used it on myself long before now. I'm just speaking up to show that it is possible to be active in the Church, even to love it, when it doesn't work for you.

I stay because I know where God wants me to be. Though He isn't revealing His reasons to me, I keep coming. I keep sitting through the endless lessons on how everything will work out alright in the end (it won't necessarily,) and how if we obey the commandments, we will be blessed with specific blessings. (Also not true.) I sit mostly in silence, struggling with my internal narrative, desperately trying to sort out the words which come from my own pain and those which come from God's wisdom, trying my best to only speak when the latter moves me.

I know it's a trite answer, but the Church needs those of us it isn't made to help. The Church leadership does a great job of looking at the big picture, and tailoring teachings and policies for the greatest number of people who need them. Ironically, those like me for whom the practices of the Church not only fail to help, but sometimes actually harm, are needed most desperately. We are the ones whose pain has opened our eyes. We have potential to sense others who feel isolated, those whose needs are not met by the culture and programs of the Church. We have been given a blessing and gift to heal others. Our pain and dissonance can teach us to discern another aching soul, open our arms and channel His love to those who would otherwise be lost.

We may not look much like the sheep that the Lord is caring for, no amount of wishing can change us into something we are not. But we can be assistant shepherds, constantly living on the outskirts of the flock to seek after others who are straying, abandoned.

True religion for us may never look like "prestigious" callings. Our circumstances may prevent us from signing up to work the welfare tasks, or feed the missionaries. Our life may not look like green jello, scripture cookies, handmade hope chest handkerchiefs, and self-help Relief Society classes. We may never have an eternal family, children who serve missions and marry in the temple, or anything else to make us feel like we belong. But we can lift our heads higher and choose to belong in OUR way.

For us, true religion may look more like sitting next to someone at Church, smiling at someone who says something controversial and let them know they are appreciated. It might be speaking up ourselves and displaying our vulnerabilities and other-ness when the Spirit moves us. It may just look like going to Church even when it hurts so very much. Trust God. Trust the leadership. Even when they can't or won't rearrange the Church to help you, they do care. You might be surprised how many of them have felt the same way you do in their lives. Let go of the hope that someone will help you in your hour of need.

Because if no one is there for us, maybe we can be there for them. Eventually that will be enough for us, too.

5 comments :

  1. "For us, true religion may look more like sitting next to someone at Church, smiling at someone who says something controversial and let them know they are appreciated. It might be speaking up ourselves and displaying our vulnerabilities and other-ness when the Spirit moves us. It may just look like going to Church even when it hurts so very much."

    SR, it is always these things. It may also be other things, as well.

    I suspect far more of us than we may ever know feel alone in the crowd at church.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ive olways thought it was indicative that the scriptures localize compassion and charity in the Bowels. The part of our body that has to deal with all the crap :P ;)

    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&query=bowels&testament=dc-testament

    Also, I've noticed that Pres. Uchdorf seams to have made making room for differences his theme over that last few confrences.

    "But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

    It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

    The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples."
    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/four-titles?lang=eng

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ive olways thought it was indicative that the scriptures localize compassion and charity in the Bowels. The part of our body that has to deal with all the crap :P ;)

    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&query=bowels&testament=dc-testament

    Also, I've noticed that Pres. Uchdorf seams to have made making room for differences his theme over that last few confrences.

    "But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

    It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

    The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples."
    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/four-titles?lang=eng

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for this. I've been thinking a lot lately about some friends who have gone into inactivity and then a sister I was recently asked to VT, also inactive -- why. It comes down to the same thing, none of them feel like they belong. So it's given me a lot to think about. I'm trying to think of ways I can minister to them so that they do feel welcome and needed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love your honesty. I am a life long Mormon, and we would totally hit it off. I was raised LDS in San Francisco Bay Area, LDS mom, non LDS dad. Only Mormon girl my age in school for years. All my friends were of other faiths, or of no faith. Our ward was a patchwork of color, size, ability, disability, etc. It was wonderful. We did not have the green jello, aproned moms and off to work dads. Living in Utah and Idaho proved to be very different. A different culture altogether. I have one LDS friend that I met over 30 years ago when I was in a Primary Presidency. We were two California girls who ended up in a small Idaho town, population 500. It was bizarre!!! At any rate, she is sassy, and I am pretty unique myself. Yet, the only thing that matters to me is the real, down and dirty gospel. The sacrament. The temple ordinances. The service of our fellow man. I do not cook, I do not sew, I do not attend enrichment night, and I am Mormon. And....I know I am loved by God. That's all that matters. And, YOU are loved by God. That is all that matters. ; )

    ReplyDelete

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