Believe it or not, I am a faithful Latter-day Saint. Usually, faithful Latter-day Saint women don't talk about what I'm going to talk about, but it's been on my mind a lot lately. I am also a single mother with no real prospects of becoming anything else, which is a confusing thing to be in the Church and in the Gospel.
First, my credentials. I attend the temple more or less monthly. I go to Church every week. Until recently (more on that later,) I encouraged my children to attend their activities. I hold a calling which I fulfill every week. I have had multiple opportunities to be offended and leave the Church, but I haven't. I have struggled with different doctrines of the Church and found my way through them all. I am not a scholar, nor an intellectual, but I have a very active curiosity and I gather knowledge the way a raven gathers interesting objects. I don't shy away from difficult circumstances. I have also come to know my Savior through experiencing my own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. I have fought hard to learn forgiveness both of myself and others, to learn charity and patience. I have had some success in finding all three, but have a long way to go.
Recently, I've had the opportunity to find out more than I ever knew about the workings of the Church. There is nothing shocking or surprising. I have no horror stories. It's all about what you would expect from an organization filled with very imperfect people who mostly wish to serve God in an organization that is entirely dedicated to doing His work on this earth. It is beautiful in its organic messiness.
But with that opportunity has come many chances to hear how people—particularly men— think about the Church, what they understand of it. I have come to realize how very different my experiences as a woman have been in the Church and as a disciple. I have also come to realize that men, for the most part, truly have no idea how the Gospel as presently taught makes female discipleship so very, very different from male discipleship.
Maybe not all women experience it this way. Many have found ways of coping, or working around the challenges. Most just grow—and flourish—where they are planted. Despite my thinking over these things, I fully intend to do the same thing. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. It does. And while I've shelved the frustration of what it means to be a woman in the Church, things that happen with my daughters tend to resurface the old resentment. This is one of the ways I haven't yet learned to forgive. It still hurts too much.
Scriptures are a way to learn how God deals with mankind. By reading scripture, we learn God's ways, His love for us, and catch a glimpse of the larger tapestry of this mortal life.
Many times, I have sat in classes or discussions and talked about scriptures written by men to men. "But of course, women can apply it, too." But sometimes scripture applies directly to us, and sometimes it doesn't. As a woman, we have to read scriptures and ask ourselves that question constantly: does this apply to me, and if so, does it apply in the exact same way it applies to a man? That is not an approach that is required of men, and it subtly changes how we relate to scripture.
There are some clues in scripture and doctrine about what it means to be a woman in eternity. But we really have no idea. We know that men can be kings as God is King, wielding the power of the priesthood righteously, with power flowing to him forever and ever. But what of women? We are queens to our husbands, but we have no real idea of what that looks like, what we will be doing. This leads to some pretty crazy conjecture, like physically and endlessly birthing spirit babies like some sort of giant ant queen, or being one of a harem of wives.
This has led some women to abandon hope completely, to turn their backs on the gospel and on eternity. I have chosen to believe in my Savior, that being a mother in eternity means something far less degrading or exchangeable. But I don't have much to point to to support my faith. Only my knowledge of who God is, and my hope in who I am. Even if I were perfect, obedient to God's will, keeping all the commandments with exactness, I have no idea what exaltation truly means to me. And that makes it very hard to work for. I have come to terms with the thought that, even if my eternity is one of eternal servitude, I'd rather be a servant in God's kingdom than a leader away from Him.
I am a lifelong member with a very curious and observant mind. If anyone should know how the Church is structured and how lines of authority work, I should. But it hasn't been until recently that I've learned things that men around me knew all along. It's hard for me to articulate exactly what I'm talking about. But even things as simple as who a Stake President is (I always thought he was basically a bishop of bishops, but that is not true) and what it means to be the "President" of an auxiliary, especially on a stake and general level. It makes a difference in how you are perceived, and in how you are listened to whether you are male or female. But there are no female leaders who are not in auxiliaries. It makes a difference.
I have never had an easy time with the Young Woman's program. It always seemed condescending and a waste of time. I was a tomboy, and I wanted to learn things that were useful in life. Like building fires and tying knots. I can't tell you how often I sneaked away from Mutual in order to have the boys show me how to tie knots on their nifty little knot boards, or watched in jealousy as they got to learn about physics while carving small wooden cars.
But I thought I'd grown out of it, and forgiven the Young Woman's program for being the YW program. That was until my daughter entered Activity Days. Activity Days is the Scouts for girls. I say that with a huge grain of salt, because they have less than a tenth of the budget, I believe, and they meet half the time. Recently, my daughter was kept by circumstance from attending and no one in Activity Days leadership cared one bit, unlike the boys who simply must be given a chance to earn their Eagle.
In Activity Days there is no sense of accomplishment, little learning of life skills. I wanted her to participate so she could socialize with the other girls (since she only gets to go to church twice a month) and form her own opinions without mine gumming up the works, but it wasn't the least bit important to the leaders that she go. That unearthed some very powerful resentment in me. I'm not even sure I could let her go at this point, even if there was the opportunity. I'm wrestling with a highly consequential inner demon. I don't want my daughter to feel in the Church the way I felt. I want her to have an open mind and heart. But I don't want to have anything to do with Those Programs. Sigh.
Visions of Deity
The other day, I was listening to a talk in 1971 by Joseph Anderson. While this is not my blog post on that General Conference, one phrase jumped out at me. "....The resurrected Christ, our Lord and Savior, has appeared to men...."
I have conversations with myself when I read or listen. Immediately, a voice said in my head, "yes, but he can appear to women, too." "I'll bet if this talk were given today, it would have included both." But then I thought..."but would it?" "Has God ever appeared to a woman?"
That's when it hit me: in thousands of years of God's dealings with mankind, He has never once appeared to a woman except when Christ was on this earth. At least, we have no record of it. The closest thing we have is Mary near the Garden Tomb after Christ's resurrection. And that is wholly different. Someone who is personal to Him in His mortal life. But outside of that, there is nothing. Sure, women can receive inspiration, but only rarely does it happen. In fact, the only example I could think of off the top of my head in scripture that would pass the Bechdel test is Ruth to Naomi. And even that is stretching it a bit, since they are talking about her marriage prospects.
We are missing a huge chunk of what it means to interact with God as a woman. I want to be a disciple more than anything. I would love to be worthy to gain a witness of the reality of God the Father and His Son. But I have no reason to hope for that in scripture. No reason to think that I ever could, even if I were worthy.
I don't know what can be done about any of this. Nothing really, from where I stand, except to not hide how I feel about certain programs in the Church. I don't carry around a personal soap box, but if the opportunity presents itself, I speak.
I also pray. I pray for increased humility, a softening of my raw-diamond-studded heart. I don't want to be bitter. I don't want to be angry, to feel like less of a person. If I had my wish, I'd be the stay-at-home mom we're supposed to be, so I could focus on serving people more. Doing the things I'm supposed to do as a woman. Going to activities, bringing around meals, helping with missionary work and civic service. But I barely have time to cook real meals for my kids on a daily basis. And sometimes I'm tired. I'm tired of being strong, and trying to be everything I want to be.
For now, I'm just going to shelf the soul-scars and curl up with a good book. I hope you forgive me if this time, it isn't scriptures. I need a few minutes to "lay me down and bleed awhile" before I "rise to fight again."