It's not exactly a secret that, while I defend the Church online, I often struggle with it personally. I am a divorced, still and probably endlessly single mom. I am an opinionated and outspoken female. I am great at acquaintance-friendship, but struggle mightily trying to find the real thing. My schedule means that I say "no" far more than I should, if I were a "good Mormon woman."
I moved last year, and it has been unspeakably difficult. I moved so my kids could have their own rooms, so we could be in a neighborhood where (hopefully) people don't get shot five houses away, and the houses across the street don't do drug deals in the middle of the night. I moved so I could release my ex from our final financial tie, and have a house that is mine. I moved so my kids could have neighborhood friends. I moved because the time felt right when I prayed about it. But it was still much harder than I expected, trying to get everything fixed that needed fixing in both houses, packing and storing, unpacking and learning to feel comfortable.
I hoped, when I moved, that I could start again in my new ward. I wouldn't have to be the one who had been married to my ex, with all of the social problems in my ward that caused. I thought, maybe, I could make more friends with people like me. I was wrong about all of that. Sure, most of the people in my ward are more my age, with kids the same ages as mine. But they are largely stay-at-home/work-from-home/work-part-time moms. They have husbands who live up to their familial and priesthood responsibilities. They can focus on things like their kids' school, homeschool, socializing with each other, getting their visiting teaching done, or coming up with creative ways to teach Primary.
In other words, they are everything I wish I was, and for which I can't seem to find mental, emotional, or temporal space. The difference is great for my children, but it is harder on me than I've admitted so far, even to myself.
I go to Church, and I can feel it: how I'm different, being the token "single" who goes to the ward. Most of the other singles my age in the area go to the local singles ward, or don't go at all. They practically shoved me out the door towards the singles ward, when the chance presented itself.
But the problem is I'm a mom. I fit into the singles ward even less than I fit into the home ward. The singles seem to mostly be everything else I'm not. They worry about marriage, dating, finding entertainment. All the things that are so far down on my list, I think I ran out of paper before I got that far.
No matter where I go, I'm confronted with my inadequacies as a Mormon woman of ANY kind. And it is really hard to keep going to Church. I've talked before about why I stay. I stay because I believe it is true, because God wants me to stay, because it is where I'm supposed to be.
But I haven't often talked about how, as LiZ asks over at Mormon Mentality. I haven't talked about it, because it sounds so pitiful. I don't like thinking about the how because it is depressing, and I work hard to focus on the good things and on the things I can do something about. But maybe talking about it here will help other people who struggle as I do. Maybe it will help those who don't struggle get a glimpse into a daily reality that isn't theirs, and help them be a little more patient with people who haven't found life or the Church easy to navigate.
Mostly, I stay by compartmentalizing. When I go to the singles' ward, I block out thoughts of my family as much as I can. For a short while, I try to pretend I am the person they are speaking to. And I try to speak up when I feel that my different perspective might help some of those other singles who feel like they're failures for never getting married.
I tell myself that by leaving my heart open to the promptings of the Spirit, I might be able to say something to ease the noose they feel just a little. I don't really believe it, but it is how I go to Church, and how I stay once I get there. (Rather than slipping out unnoticed after sacrament, and driving home in tears to sit on the couch and get some studying in or something.)
When I go to the home ward, I block out the knowledge of my singleness. I hold firm to remembering that married members with intact families don't mean to constantly illustrate my inadequacies. I tell myself that maybe my perspective (if I'm prompted to share it) might help those who struggle in their marriages hold on a little more, or remember to be a touch more forgiving. Maybe help them remember that a husband who does even SOME of the things he should isn't something to take for granted.
I stay by letting myself say "no," if I have to and fighting the guilt and shame with mental tooth and nail every time I have to say it. I keep going by reminding myself every time they chide me for not doing my visiting teaching (or not reporting it,) or prompt me to do more genealogy, read the lesson before Church, focus more on Family Home Evening, sitting down to a meal with my kids, or [enter topic here], that they don't know how I cry myself to sleep, toss and turn all night, and wake up with tears on my cheeks because of the stress of my schedule and trying to do the things I have no choice but to find some way to do.
Every time I see their lips curl up because I forgot to do something I wanted to do for them, I remind myself that they don't know. I practice forgiveness constantly, for myself and for them. For myself because I have no idea how to simplify my life, and for them because they don't know how desperate I am to do just that: to be able to help when I am needed, and keep all the plates in my life spinning more-or-less peacefully.
When one of them judges me without even talking to me first, I remind myself of the one woman in our ward who doesn't. When I want to beat myself over the head with my failures and lack of real calling, I remind myself that at least I finally introduced myself to one of the women I'm supposed to visit (even if I no longer AM supposed to visit her, and no one has told me that yet.)
I survive in this Church by reminding myself that my kids still have a chance to develop their relationship with their Savior, that they don't get to attend Sacrament unless they're with me, so I'd better make it count. By knowing that, as hard as Church is, it's the only chance I have to remember my Savior, to reach out to His children the way He did.
I stay by shutting off the voices that tell me it's too hard and by just putting one foot in front of the other until I show up at the doors of the Church building, where it's more work to go home than to go in. I stay by praying my heart out, pleading silently with God. By focusing only on the problem right in front of me, and shutting out the ones I can't do anything about. I lift up my chin, plant a smile on my face, and try my best to think about everyone except myself. I stay by remembering my covenant to God to be like His Son, to do the things He would do, were He here. I stay by knowing that my failures are far better than never trying.
I stay by putting my trust thoroughly and irrevocably in His hands. By laying all the debts I owe, and all the debts I am owed at His feet.
That's how I stay.