Monday, October 6, 2008

Conflicting Commandments

by Robin F.

[Editor's Note: This post was written by an utterly brilliant woman and kindred spirit of mine. It has sat in my inbox for too long, because of my own chaotic life, but I believe that what she says is vital to understanding the gospel in this, telestial world. Her life demonstrates what it means to sacrifice in light of an unknown good. I have long admired her. She married one of the funniest, most well-tempered men I have met, and her children are predictably adorable. If only we lived closer together . . . .]

Often the Lord gives us conflicting commandments. Go forth and multiply, but don’t eat of the fruit. Thou shalt not kill, but Nephi has to kill Laban. The scriptures and modern day revelation are riddled with these contradictions. I have often wondered how our scriptural friends reconcile this dissonance. How does one “decide” which commandment to follow and at what time, when it is obvious that following both is simply not an option?

I see this conflict playing out in my own life daily. Luckily, I am not confronted with murdering another, as many of those in the military are. However, in my life the conflicting commandments are just as real and difficult to reconcile: a mother’s place is in the home and get out of debt. All too often, it is not possible to follow both commandments. For my family that is definitely the case. So which command do I follow? And how can I rectify the following of one with the breaking of the other?

In my family, my husband is not in a situation where he could support our family, through no fault of his own. He is currently in school working towards that goal. I, however, can support the family. I am 4 years older and have a master’s degree. Yet, as a mother of 2, I have been taught that my place is in the home with my children. I could stay at home. We would have to live off of student loans, and thus incur great debt. And the cycle continues…

The answer to the conflicting commandments lies within the individual. Living in Iowa in a University community, I know several families who chose to take on large amounts of debt so the wife can stay home. I also know others where the wife is the sole bread winner and the husband remains with the children (in one case, the husband recently passed away from Leukemia, so it was a huge blessing that the wife was able to support the family). Each family must choose, within their own unit and with the Lord, which decision is best for them and the path they choose to follow. It is a difficult choice, one that must be revisited often to ensure that the decision continues to be the right one. Within the realm of conflicting commandments, we are allowed to choose the path that best suits us. All one way, all the other, or a mix of the two. There is no right or wrong decision, as long as that decision is made with the Lord, and with his agreement.

What follows, then, is a great deal of judgment of those who choose another way. The conflict between women who choose to stay at home and those who choose to work is heated. There is much animosity and finger pointing from both sides. And I would dare say that this is even worse within our Wards and Stakes. Each says that they are right and the other is wrong. Each believes that the Lord is on their side and only their side. And each cannot understand how someone could live the other way. With most commandments, this is correct. We follow, and know that not following is wrong. With conflicting commandments, there is a lot of grey, shades of grey which we can embrace.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that sometimes the Lord lets us decide what is best for our families. Not everyone has the patience required to stay home with children. Not everyone has the skills needed to secure a job which can alone support a family. And the Lord with his infinite love for us has allowed for another way. He has left it up to us. And he has given us the framework within which to decide. We can be at-home moms, we can work part time, or we can work full time. We need not feel guilty, regardless of the decision. What matters is that we continue to make our families and the Lord our first priorities.
For all of the soul searching, and heartache that usually accompanies conflicting commandments, I am grateful that they are there. That somehow the Lord realizes that we as his children can make these decisions. And that he trusts us to make them.


  1. Thanks for posting this. It really is profound.

  2. This is a great post. I hope it's not too obnoxious if I share a sort of rebuttal to one of the points made.

    I am a working mother and have been for 13 years. I have four children and I have worked full time or more (I am a doctor) since my oldest was one year old. We have a large LDS extended family and we live in the so-called Mormon corridor in the western US.

    I can honestly say that I have never, not even once, experienced judgment from fellow latter-day saints about working. I cannot recall ever feeling criticized or really even questioned about the way we are supporting our family. I do not believe, based on my experience, that there is any significant conflict between working and stay-at-home mothers in the Church. I have read the contrary assertion online before, and I don't know where it comes from. I suppose there must be people who have silently judged me, but I feel fairly certain they must be in the minority, and they have not shared these sentiments with me.

  3. Anonymous—Polite disagreement is always welcome. I have lived in many wards and stakes in my life. Some are more judgmental than others, both passively and overtly. You are blessed to have lived in places where this sort of bickering does not exist. Remember that your experience may not reflect the experiences of others on a wider scale.

    Although I admit the possibility may exist that there is a ward out there completely free of envy, judgmentalism and criticism, I've never seen one yet. The purpose of this post is to point out the need to navigate between seemingly conflicting commandments and to refrain from judging how others do so. The mom debate is only one example of how this phenomenon may manifest.

  4. This just got mentioned by Emily Jensen in the Deseret News' "Mormon Times" section. Just thought you might like to know, in case you were unaware of it.

  5. I enjoyed your comments and second them, however, I take issue with one of your points. People doing their duty in the military are not involved in murder. They may be required to kill at times, but this is not legally or scripturally murder.

  6. This is something I think about a lot.

    The only quibble I have with this is the example of women who "don't have patience to stay home." I know there are reasons God would say 'not now' to a couple but I think we need to be careful about using our weaknesses as reasons not to obey. Sometimes it's in obedience that we will overcome those weaknesses. The challenge with the tension is that we must be careful not to justify ourselves in our own wills and desires, which is human nature.

    I think commandments exist as our guideposts, but the tension exists to drive us to God in ways that the commandments alone won't. We must learn to exercise our agency and learn by our own experience.

    And maybe why I responded to that one little thing is because after ten years of mothering, I believe I have gained more patience. And had I chosen not to stay home JUST for that weakness' sake alone, I would have missed the very experience that has helped me develop that characteristic the most.

    For others, though, the patience may come in NOT being able to stay home when they want to.

    In the end, only God knows what is best for us. And I totally agree that we need to respect each others' space to figure that out. (And even to make mistakes, which will happen for all of us along the way!)

    One challenge I see with this is that it's easy to make a decision and then think it's a static thing. For example, it could be easy for a woman to decide "I'm not the stay-at-home type" -- or even your example of "not having enough patience" (I'm not convinced that is a sole reason not to be a SAHM -- in fact, I would argue that that is part of why being a SAHM mom is what we are encouraged to do, but that's probably a post for another day) -- and never revisit that decision again. There is no question that there will be variation in how our lives unfold, but honestly, I think it can be too easy to use the existence of conflict to justify choices that WE make rather than seek for God's guidance constantly.

    I say that because I think it's human nature to do that and I do have a hard time when it seems like that is going on. BUT even that is part of the purpose, imo, of the tension and in the end, it's not my business what others choose. We learn line upon line how to trust and rely on God more. And THAT is, imo, why it's so important to let others make their choices...because there is no other way to learn the right way except through experience.

    And that means that sometimes we will make mistakes. :)

    While I think God gives us the ability to choose, I think we need to be careful to not rationalize our choices, either, or abandon the tension. The tension with these kinds of things can often be ongoing and it invites us to constantly be seeking God's guidance.

    I see it not as conflict between commandments, but a tension that is sometimes there that invites us to rely on God and not on our own abilities or perceptions. As such, I think we need to also be careful about giving our own explanations or justifications for our choices but to seek to understand God's workings in our lives.

  7. Isn't it great that we can make decisions regarding our own stewardships and let others do the same? That's what choice and accountablility are all about.

  8. Yes, part of life is learning to make these difficult decisions. If the answer were always clear and simple, life wouldn't be nearly as challenging! I agree that the decision, "must be revisited often to ensure that the decision continues to be the right one." I think that's the key!


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