A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Church Diversity

At the end of March my ward had a "diversity discussion" during the second hour of church. They didn't call it that, but essentially that's what it was - a panel of ward members talking about their experiences in church and how they were different. For reasons passing understanding, I was asked to speak on the panel (actually I think they just figured out who I was from my answers to the "anonymous" survey they sent out - I'm one of the few single people in my family ward).

Anyway, I thought it was a great idea, but unfortunately if I don't plan and practice what I'm going to say I tend to get emotional when speaking publicly. That happened during the panel, and I'm pretty sure I did a disservice to my cause by being weepy and weak. So here's what I wish I could have said in response to the questions they asked (I'm recreating the questions as best I can remember them).

What makes you different than other ward members?
I am single in a church that constantly emphasizes marriage and family. That *can* be intimidating and make me feel like I don't belong here in a "family" ward.

What do you wish ward members knew about you?
That being single does not automatically mean that I am unhappy all the time. Being single is much better than being married to the wrong person! We need to create space in the church for single people to be viewed as whole and complete individuals. I do want to be married someday, but that doesn't mean I need or want your pity for "coming to church alone." We all make a choice to own our faith and live as our true selves. Single adults are adults and can be treated as such.

What can ward members do to support you?
Be a true friend. I think it is very easy for me to have superficial relationships at church. The kind where I know your name and you know mine, but we don't really talk to each other. I need to be a better friend and minister to those I interact with at church - we can all do better. As I mentioned, pity isn't helpful. I don't want pity, because I don't think it really builds authentic or meaningful relationships with others.

One of the (few?) good things about appearing on this panel has been the chance to contemplate all of the kindnesses that ward members have shown me over the time I've been in the ward. A ward member invited me to her home during the Sunday snowstorm so that I could partake of the sacrament, because church was cancelled. Another ward member came and literally planted a flowering bush in my yard. Yet another asked me for book recommendations and then discussed with me after reading. Other ward members have dropped off cookies, complimented my clothes, listened to my comments, etc.

What should ward members *not* do?
My friend recently attended a family member's sealing and was asked by the sealer "Why aren't you married?" The sealer didn't know her situation and that she had just gone through a very difficult break-up with her boyfriend of multiple years. She spent time crying in the car after the sealing because it hurt her. While you may think it's kind to say things like "I just can't believe you're not married - you're so great!," comments like these just cause me to wonder, yeah, I don't know why either! Also, marriage isn't a reward for righteous behavior and we shouldn't treat it as such. Marriage is important but plenty of great people don't get married.

When I was in Young Women's, one of my YW leaders told me that she had received revelation that there was a future husband for me out there. I think she wanted to reassure me that I shouldn't worry about the future, and I'm sure she meant to be kind. However, in the decades since then, it has caused me to question my life path - where is this husband she foresaw for me? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere in life and that is why he hasn't shown up yet? I would strongly urge you to NOT saying things like that to youth, it will mess them up big time.

Any other thoughts?
As a teenager, I sat at a table where a woman in our ward said some very terrible things about gay people. Because it didn't affect me directly, I didn't speak up. I later learned that some members of our ward at the time were gay. I don't know if they were at that table (I don't remember who else was there), but I wish I would have been brave enough to say something, even if her comments didn't impact me personally. Please remember to be kind in all your dealings with ward members.


The other panelists were so great! We had a Hispanic sister, an African American sister, a very thoughtful man with a son who left the church, and another woman who talked about being an LGBTQ+ ally. Anyway, that is what I would have said if I hadn't been an emotional wreck. Good thing no one has talked to me about it in the weeks since.

If I was...

(Contrast with the blog post just posted about how "Mother's Day is not about me" - this is a thought experiment about what if it was...as a sneaky and selfish way of making something that isn't about me to be about me!)

If I was a mother, I would overshare my baby's every moment on social media. Pictures, first words, witty quips, first bike ride, teenage frustrations, all of it. At the same time, I would be the mom who wouldn't let her kids use social media until they were 18.

If I was a mother, I would be scared all the time. I'd freak out about colds, skinned knees, school bullying, sleep patterns, etc. While I'd try to hold it in, I'm pretty sure I would be an overprotective and annoying and hypochondriac mom.

If I was a mother, I'd read bedtime stories to my kids. All of my favorites, over and over again. The house would be full of books. I would be so excited to read the Harry Potter series with them, and devastated if they weren't into it.

If I was a mother, I would teach my kids to bake. We'd make cookies for the neighbors and rolls at Christmas time.

If I was a mother, I would tell my kids I love them. Like way too much. An embarrassing too much. I'd write notes on their lunch napkins about how much I love them. They would roll their eyes at me.

If I were a mother, I'd get super into Halloween costumes and trick or treating. We would do theme costumes.

If I was a mother, I'd like to think I would be the fun mom, who had the cool hangout house with ping pong and TV in the basement. Who let her kids pick the music in the car, hugged their friends, and listened to their stories. The kind of mom who would surprise her kids with a trip to Disneyland or an amusement park. But really, I have a sneaking suspicion that I would be the mom who forced her kids to take piano lessons, finish their homework, and took them on educational vacations to historical sites. 

But the thing is, I'm not a mother. And I probably won't ever be. So I don't have any way of knowing whether the above is true. I probably shouldn't even think about these things, because it hurts too much. But sometimes I can't help it, especially when it's Mother's Day. I'd be a terrible mom in a lot of ways, but I could also be a good one in some ways too.

Mother's Day is Not About Me

Yesterday as I was contemplating the emotional minefield that is Mother's Day, a thought came to me: "Mother's Day is not about YOU." There's a lot of truth to that, in more ways than one.

First, Mother's Day is about my mom - she is phenomenal! She made the choice to spend her time raising four kids as a full time job, and did great (despite the way I turned out...LOL). Not everyone had a wonderful mother, and some people have mothers who have passed away. I'm so lucky that I have a loving mom, she lives only 20 minutes away, and we have a good relationship.

Second, Mother's Day is about all Mothers (duh). That includes mothers who adopted, mothers who don't have good relationships with their children, mothers who miscarried, mothers who work outside the home (and those who don't!), stepmothers, and mothers in all shapes and sizes. My friends who are mothers are such examples to me. They deserve recognition for the difficult task that is motherhood - it's a lifelong journey that shapes the destinies of all humanity. We should honor them all the time, but it's nice that they have a special day to be celebrated. Motherhood is important and valuable and HARD, and we should all recognize and support the moms in our lives.

Third, (and I can't emphasize this enough), I AM NOT A MOTHER. Church talks and well-meaning people sometimes want to say that "all women are mothers (or future mothers)." In some ways, I like and respect that thought - I appreciate that Eve was "the mother of all living" before she had children, and Deborah was a "Mother in Israel" because she led a nation. But, taken too far, this line of reasoning can conflate motherhood with womanhood. Motherhood is important and difficult work and if we water it down, it loses its meaning.

For example, I love the kids in my Primary class. I want what's best for them, and enjoy spending time with them. But, if my relationship with them is the same as their mothers', then they have a very superficial relationship with their children!

Motherhood is not equal to Womanhood. I think we do a disservice to both when we confuse the two. I know that some women without children do enjoy this aspect of Mother's Day, and I know that no one can win when writing a Mother's Day talk for church. But for me, Mother's Day works better when we focus on actual mothers and don't confuse "being around children" with mothering said children. It's easy for me to wallow in self-pity, but that shouldn't be an excuse to change the meaning of a day meant to celebrate mothers.

TL;DR version by a Twitter user:
I don’t want to be told Happy Mother’s Day today because I am not a mother, have intrinsic value outside of being a mother and I think we should celebrate the unique sacrifices Mothers make. THAT BEING SAID I wouldn’t say no to chocolate that just happened to show up at church

Also said much better in this Salt Lake Tribune piece.