Friday, February 26, 2016

Living by Implication—A Woman of God

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.

Eternal Role

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."


  1. SilverRain, my heart is bleeding with yours. I know we haven't always seen each others' point of view, but on this, I am right with you. I ache, but I stay. I hurt, but I believe. My sorrow bleeds from the same pool as yours, and I will sit with you a while. I don't have any answers, and the inspiration I do receive is like thin starlight, visible often from the corner of my eye, and no more.

    Tracy M

    1. Thank you, Tracy. I had hoped that...maybe...baring that part of my heart might help others who struggle more openly than those of us who tend to publicly follow the Church leaders. You are not alone. There is a reason I keep reading those posts and things which bring up the sorrow. Even though I tend to naturally fight for good cheer and let go of the things I can't help, I also can't afford to bury the difficulty I find in female discipleship so deeply I lose the ability to listen and to heal.

  2. Thank you for expressing this. More and more recently I feel frustrated because there are great and profound truths regarding women (and Woman) just out of reach that we, as a people, haven't prepared ourselves to receive.

    As a father with a daughter now less than two years from Activity Days I am also frustrated that the scope of implementation seems so narrow. I've been all over the HB and there is nothing that stops them from doing knots (one of my favorite subjects) or Emergency preparedness or Pinewood Derby, or nature hikes or a lot of other things. The only thing that stops them is the imagination of the leaders.
    From 11.5.2 Activity Days
    Leaders ensure that activity days follow the guidelines in ... in chapter 13.
    Which Lists (ones that get missed a lot marked ->)
    Church activities should be planned to fulfill gospel-centered purposes. In addition to the general purposes mentioned above, these include:
    ->1. Participating in service projects that bless others and build community relationships.
    2. Developing talents and appreciation for cultural arts.
    ->3. Improving fitness and learning sportsmanship.
    ->4. Gaining education and vocational training.
    5. Celebrating special occasions and commemorating Church or local historical events.
    ->6. Developing leadership skills.
    ->7. Developing self-reliance.
    8. Participating in missionary work, retention, activation, temple work, and family history work.

    I think a large part of the issue is that women's vital contribution to life (Cooking, Cleaning, Wardrobe) as so often been very private and advances in technology have allowed us to outsource so much of it.

    I am encouraged by what I see as an increase in interest in, and support for, women's spiritual history. I expect the recently published "The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women's History." Is the a first not final exploration of that issue.

    I'm really looking forward to Ardis Parshall's "She shall be an Ensign" which is a history of the Church entirely from womens' points of view.

    For application of scripture to women's lives I would take a look at Richard Friedman's "The Hidden Book in the Bible" and "the Bible Now" both of which explore how some of the oldest and most important pars of the Old Testament are stories and songs by and about Women.

    1. Thank you for the references. I will definitely look them up.

      I know there is nothing in the Handbook which precludes more focused development for girls. But in some ways, that makes it worse. We women are limiting ourselves for no reason other than that is who we are.

      Maybe that's the biggest tragedy.

  3. I understand. Religions don't necessarily serve the needs of women well, but they do serve the needs of men to subjugate women quite well, intentionally or not.

  4. I truly don't think it's that simple. There is so much about religion that doesn't fit into that paradigm. It teaches that power can only truly be found through consent, that only righteousness, putting others before yourself leads to power. It teaches that even God Himself chooses to save us all by putting Himself below the least of us.

    If it were a tool of subjugation, it does a very poor job of it.

    I think, rather, that the experiences and viewpoints of those in power have a very hard time including those who are not. The world history of who got education, who had resources, who was in power has affected how we as the human race see God.

    Doubtlessly, religion may be used to subjugate women. But all tools may be used for something they were not intended. Religion tends to teach that such power must be laid aside. That is something special.

  5. SilverRain, I don't think these concerns can be answered by a stranger in a blog comment; so I just wanted to say that, as someone who only knows you from your blog posts, it's clear to me that you're doing your best in an imperfect situation and your children are truly fortunate to have you as their mother.

    I wish you well.

  6. Thank you for sharing your perspective, one which I mostly share with you. One thing that I'd point out is that while we may not have a scriptural account in the LDS scriptures of women seeing God/Christ, that's not to say it has never happened. In fact, I would think the lack of records is more due to women's voices not being heard through history rather than God refusing to speak to women. There are many medieval instances of women who have had visions or have said they've been visited by God/Christ--Julian of Norwich is one, Margery Kempe and Hildegard of Bingen are others. They have some fascinating stories and Julian of Norwich in particular is quite inspiring.

  7. My thought on eternal role:
    "And thus we see the glory of the celestial which excels in all things--where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever: Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever. They who dwell in his presence...see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace; And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion."

    The Doctrine and Covenants is written in the tradition of early 19th century expository writing, so of course, the pronouns and descriptive nouns are male in the visions of post mortal existence. And we 21st century women, with our 21st century sensibilities, jump to the conclusion that women are not being discussed in those passages. But, as a historian, familiar with the writing style, I understand that they are.

    So put me in the camp of women who believe that "God is no respector of persons", that "all are alike unto God", that we, as a church, struggle to live even terrestrial lives in a telestial world with telestial ways of doing thing things (which terrestrial way of coping and organizing God explained to Adam and Eve, his counsel was descriptive, not an eternal prescription).
    The celestial is far, far, beyond what we currently conceive in terms of glory, joint-heirship, light, love, equality and heavenly power.

    "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."

    1. I don't disagree. But it is still merely implied in a way it is not for men. There is no getting around that, whether it's a mere cultural writing tradition, or evidence of greater meaning.

  8. I also had issues with both Activity Days and YW. I and my friends were more tomboyish and wanted to learn the things our younger brothers were learning in Scouts - not how to make cutesy crafts or apply a face full of makeup. It also frustrated me when the girls in YW tried to make me stay in the program long past age 18, despite my readiness to learn and serve in ways less limited by the program.
    If you think that less women have seen and talked with Christ after his resurrection, think again! The accounts can be hard to find, and they are extra-scriptural, but they are out there. As previously mentioned in the comments, Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich were both granted visions - and Julie Rowe provides a more contemporary account.
    I, too, have had some perplexity concerning just what women will do in the eternities. However, I don't believe that our God would give us tasks unsuited to our temperaments, and there are doubtless many ways to use our unique talents in the eternities that we can hardly imagine here.
    I do think that, as women, we are living beneath our privileges regarding the scope of our mission in the Relief Society. I've noticed that the brethren have been trying to encourage more input from sisters in ward councils, and with the recent addition of the general auxiliary leaders to general councils, the women of the church now have a voice in decision-making at much higher levels. I noticed that several of the brethren expressed regret for not using our unique insights into the problems and perplexities the Church is facing. Also, the rather intimidating "A Plea to My Sisters" from President Russell M. Nelson this last General Conference suggests that we will be asked to 'raise the bar' in many ways.
    I cannot say that the points you have made here are without merit, because I've had some very similar experiences. But I believe that the Gospel is true, and that the Church is a place for imperfect people to practice perfection. Eventually the beams as well as the motes in our collective vision will be taken away, and we will see our goal clearly as disciples of Christ.

  9. I do not want to talk about activity days. They are as meaningless as the cub scouts. That is pretty meaningless.

    I want to point out the story of Samson's mother. It is an interesting story because the angel that came talked to her not her husband. Her husband was not the one the Lord wanted to tell about their son. It was his wife.

    I think when we pick up the scriptures to read we have our minds full of ideas that lead us to miss important things. The Old Testament talks about other women who knew God. There were women who were prophets. I wish that the people who put the lessons together would see that. I wish they would talk about it. It is there but one has to read carefully. Even the daughters of Zelophehad knew what the law said and wanted it changed. All that they needed to do was speak up and it was done.

    Life is difficult. It is supposed to help us learn. Tomorrow might be better.


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