Relief Society: my opinionated self never faileth

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Readers, I need some guidance. 

I’m really starting to enjoy my ward. After my initial “getting to know you awkwardness” transition into the ward, I’m starting to make friends and get involved with activities. It is a bunch of fun. But it’s still not Olathe 3rd. I loved Sunday School and Relief Society, and the Sacrament meeting talks were always needed and insightful. Here, I feel like I’m lacking something, and I definitely know it has to do with my attitude.

Our stake is on this mondo missionary mission where we are all called to find every member in the stake and turn them over to the missionaries to teach. Our lessons in sacrament meeting, sunday school and Relief Society are almost exclusively about sharing the gospel Mormon Missionary style and getting people excited about coming to church with us. In Sunday School, we pretty much just go across the rows reading scripture to each other. It’s not my style of learning and I don’t get much out of it. I’m trying, not terribly hard, but there is a smidge of effort. But, there isn’t room for discussion or deep consideration of doctrine. If we do discuss, it’s about how to be good missionaries and how to share the gospel. In Relief Society, we have the same message. Share the Gospel. Be Good Missionaries. Preach Preach Preach. Share Share Share. We’re Awesome. Go Mormons, Go!

It’s so hard to sit through these lessons!

Here’s my biggest beef. The focus on all of our discussions are about looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to teach people about the church. The message is pretty clear: Mormons are the best and everyone should want to learn about us because we know everything and we have all the truth and we’re awesome and no one else can be as happy as we are until they are Mormon and rah rah and also some Mormons don’t believe in punctuation (that last one was mostly directed towards myself). The lessons have been centered on how incredible it is to share the happiest and greatest thing in our lives and how we can bless so many lives by sharing this happy greatness.

Three weeks in a row, I’ve interrupted (contributed to?) the discussion to point out the fact that while yes, we think we are fascinating and happy, other people are fascinating and happy, too. It’s one thing to share the gospel and preach and invite and proselytize and challenge and all other Mormony words, and it’s something completely different to engage in conversation with another person. I interrupt (contribute?) to make it clear that when we abide (John 15:7) with each other and in God, a very holy conversation can take place. We have to learn about each other.

Here’s what I wish we could talk about: how to be Christlike. I royally suck at it, and need a lot of guidance. Yes, sharing the gospel is Christlike, but so is service and love and kindness. So is learning about other people and respecting and honoring the things that bring them as much joy and truth and happiness. And not being so grumpy and critical about ev-er-y-thing.

Last week, I went to the temple with Noriega. It was quite lovely. I need a lot of help in the “feeling the spirit” department lately, and I felt great comfort there. I felt reassured that no matter how hard this part of my life is and no matter how much I keep screwing up, God still loves me. And He’ll help me through this and help me be the person I know I want to be (which involves a lot less grump).

In the Celestial Room, I was studying Micah and read an incredibly cool passage that gave me some incredibly cool perspective:

 4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.

5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.

According to the Book of Brittany (irreverent blaspheme much?) I believe in Heavenly Parents that honor different faith trajectories and different faith histories. In as much as I am a lover of words, I cannot articulate this sentiment better than Lorian over at FMH. She writes:

So much of faith is, I think, about learning to live “in the tension,” in that space between what is comfortable and what is challenging, between what we know by faith and what others believe their faith dictates.

I believe there is truth in every religious tradition which seeks to communicate with the Divine Being. One of my favorite descriptions of this concept is a passage from CS Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, from the Chronicles of Narnia. In this passage, Aslan has opened the door to the “New Narnia” and is welcoming faithful followers to come in. A young soldier of the Calormene Army came to the door. He had been for his entire life a follower of the god “Tash.” And yet, when he arrived at the door. instead of being blind to the beauties and reality of the New Narnia, as other non-believers were, he immediately recognized Aslan for who he was and gave him his allegiance.

Some of Aslan’s followers were angry that a man who had spent his life serving the evil Tash could be welcomed into New Narnia as a follower of Aslan. But Aslan told them that this young man had done good his whole life, in service, as he saw it, of Tash, but that anything that was good could only be in the service of truth, and, since Aslan WAS Truth, he accepted the young Calormene’s services as rendered to him, not to Tash. So it was the intent of the young man’s heart which Aslan saw and honored, not the fact that he had rendered that service under another’s name.

I think God values the love and the devotion and the service that each of us offers, whether we do it in one church or another, or even simply as individuals. Jesus said that “as much as you do these things for the least of my brethren, you do them for me.”

There is great good to be found in most every religious tradition, and you do well, I think, to find the one that reaches you and with which you connect, and do your best to give yourself to God fully within that context. It is not the context which “saves” us or which makes our service to God worthwhile. The context is what assists us in offering our best to God, and that context may be different for every person.

Lorian’s words and the verses from Micah strengthen my testimony that God respects our faith journeys. God loves us under our own fig trees and loves that all people will walk with their God. Like Aslan, I believe that God acknowledges our good works, and as long as we are in the service of truth, God will accept our service. That, I believe, is truth and that, I believe, is where we will find the fullness of the Gospel.

Okay, so here’s where all ya’ll yous guys come in. Lorian talks about offering our best to God. I need to work on that. I so very much need to work on that. How can I offer my best to God when I struggle with the lessons in this ward? How can I participate in this discussion, be an example of holy conversations, and express my believe in mutually beneficial relationships? Every week, I’m a member of a conversation in which I don’t want to participate. How do I participate, lovingly, without being a giant hypocrite?

HELP!

Thanks in advance and with so much love,

The LadyMo

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8 responses »

  1. Soooooo I realize I am not, ah, the exact person you are asking for advice. I am not Mormon, and therefore, can’t offer you a whole bunch of really specific I’VE BEEN THERE! comments. But there are some things I thought might be good to bring to light.

    “The lessons have been centered on how incredible it is to share the happiest and greatest thing in our lives and how we can bless so many lives by sharing this happy greatness.” I know you were being a bit silly there for effect, but isn’t that what your blog does? In some small part at least? You’re sharing, with your readers who aren’t all Mormons *cough* me *cough*, what lessons you’re learning and the relationships with people and the Heavenly Parents that you’re working on. So it seems like you’re abiding by the letter of this ward’s mission.

    As for abiding by the spirit?

    Here’s an obviously non-LDS question: is it possible to change to another nearby ward? Sometimes personalities just clash, regardless of common faith. It doesn’t seem too weird to me to make a change for your own peace of mind and growth. If you could find another ward to be in, to participate in, to be as smart and spirited a member as you can.

    If not… I think it might be helpful to keep in mind where you started your faith journey. After all, you were surrounded by missionaries, but you came to the church because you needed to, as a free agent. You did that: you. You did it with your friends’ support, but you didn’t do it for your friends, or because someone wore you down, or because you were dragged in by friendly people carrying rice krispies. And that is maybe a good thing to reflect on with this particular ward’s missionary spirit. People tend to go find what they need. People will go to the church when they need it. Maybe your missionary goal is to be ready and willing to help people when they reach out, rather than before they reach out… talk about that with your neighbors? How can you all, as members of this community, make your space more welcoming for the easing-in-one-toe-at-a-time people? And how to do that in a way that doesn’t discredit their lived experiences and other loved ones?

    Honestly, I think that’s a conversation worth starting, as challenging as it may be. And maybe I’ve totally misunderstood what being a missionary is, in which case, DELETE THIS NONSENSE.

    MUCH love from your often falling-out-of-touch friend!

  2. So I found your blog and love it! I also noticed that a post you wrote appeared on fmh Saturday–nice! 🙂 I echo your sentiments about how it’s sometimes hard to sit through “those” lessons. I usually tell my husband about what was said, why I thought they were wrong or oversimplifying, or being a little ridiculous, etc. The worst is the assumption that Mormon culture = Mormon doctrine… anyway. When we were having our third lesson in a row yesterday about missionary work, I was thinking the same sort of thoughts you were, that we need to focus more on people and their thoughts and beliefs and feelings. I was delighted when someone else interrupted with that thought, and we actually had a pretty decent discussion. I find that there are usually a lot of people thinking the same things I am, it’s just easier to say the more traditionally accepted types of things, or to nod and sit there reverently, than to speak up and perhaps even contradict what’s being glossed over (if that makes sense).

  3. Opinions are not bad things, if they are arrived at thoughtfully and with love, over time. Opinions are also known as standards, and society needs them.
    I believe, as you do, that we all get to God (if we’re going to get there at all) by our own pathway. A religion that requires its members to proselytize aggressively could not be my religion, since I do not believe it is a good thing. I am not LDS, so I don’t know . . . is aggressive proselytizing a requirement of the faith?
    “Aggressive” is the key word. There’s a good kind of proselytizing, a gentle way of offering the faith to someone who is seeking. A metaphorical situation comes to mind: I remember a group of young adults feverishly competing for the attention of a two-year old who was wandering around, refusing to become engaged. One older woman in the group sat down on the floor with a toy xylophone and began to softly tap out a tune. The two-year old’s ears perked up and he stopped, turned, and toddled over and sat down beside her. She handed him one of the sticks, and he joined her in play.
    When someone sees you happy and asks you where that joy comes from, you can “hand him a stick,” share your faith and invite him to join you. That’s the way of the gentle missionary, and we all can be that in good conscience.
    But if your ward’s agenda runs counter to your conscience, requires you to stop people on the street and push your faith on them whether they want it or not, perhaps you need to find another ward, as B-Shizzle suggests above, and see whether there is a place for your well-considered opinions within LDS.
    If not, seek further. Seeking need never stop. Personal growth need never stop. Observe your own evolution, the evolution of your beliefs. Opinions-vs-beliefs . . . .sometimes we mistake one for the other. Beliefs shape our values. Religion’s purpose is to unite people who share the same values.
    I hope this helps, at least provides food for thought. Thought is good, on that I’m sure we agree.

  4. Lady Mo!! So excited to “meet you”! I had to TEACH that 3rd lesson ( as per my calling) and as a struggling member, I struggled.
    My main beef was with the “we just want to add more goodness to the goodness you already have” part. So easy for lifetime, generational, Utah Mormons to proclaim. Your newly accepted standards of behavior may require you to give up friends, family, 10% of your income,time, clothing, dietary habits and pleasures, I could go on. I’m not saying that, if you discover the Mo path is the one you should travel, your rewards won’t be greater than your sacfifices, but it’s often not a primrose path.

    Luckily for me and the sisters, we never got to that point as I had invited all the R.S. returned missionaries to basically teach my lesson, which was really delightful and very well received. ANYWAY, my feelings are confused as yours, but the situation will present itself. You don’t have to put someone in your sites, “build trust” (yccch!), become their “friend”, etc, etc, They will see you, know you’re Mormon and come to you, albeit in an often subtle way.

    Your Olaethe ward, in my experience, sounds like a beautiful anomaly. Looking forward to more of what you have to say!

  5. B-Shiz, you always have the right words for me. You’re right, this blog is about me sharing what I believe and, hopefully, sharing in that joy/confusion/searching together. I like those conversations. I like the ones where everyone is invited and everyone is heard. I have a difficult time with the one sided preaching, even if, sometimes, I’m that person.

    Robyn, it is SO good to hear from you! It’s incredible how our journey’s have crossed since meeting two years ago. I think a lot about my missionaries (you included!) and your specific call to proselyte. To join Sam in this conversation, I know she’s right. I don’t think the specific mission of the church is to aggressively proselytize, but I know that there are some for whom that is their specific calling (maybe not “aggressively,” maybe yes). One thing I know is that for missionaries, that is their cal. They are called to teach those who are interested. And to love them through their faith journey, wherever it may lead them.

    Sam, I love your metaphorical example. I want to be the kind of person who plays the xylophone because the sound brings me joy. If others want to come play, that’s GREAT! But if they don’t, that’s great too! I just want to play, make some music, and to hear the other members of the band. Izzio would agree with that, I think 🙂

    Cathy! I am so excited to “meet” you too! I am curious, how did you find LadyMo? And how did you teach the lesson in a way that is true to your calling and true to your faith? If I’m ever called to teach “this kind of lesson,” how can I do that without pushing an agenda?

    This discussion is awesome! KEEP IT COMING! I need this!

  6. Answer # 1 – be yourself. It’s your journey, your light that you share, and if you try to be someone else, the light will be false, and…well…as you already know, that won’t work. The Lord will use YOU to touch the lives of others, in YOUR way. Trust Him.

    Answer # 2 – We DO have something very special. First, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. Others religions, other followers of Christ, have the influence of the spirit to guide them from time to time, but the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is only given through the priesthood, which other religions do not acknowledge. Second, the temple ordinances, which open the windows of Heaven far more than is commonly recognized throughout the rest of the world. Other followers of Christ aspire to “Heaven”, but what is Heaven? The Temple ordinances hold the promise of eternal life, based upon our faithfulness (distinguishing, as you know, between immortality and eternal life), eternal increase, eternity in the direct presence of God. These ordinances also enhance the blessings of our mortal life. That doesn’t mean that other Christians, or whatever religion, cannot, by their own faithfulness, love and service experience greater blessings of happiness than I do, but it does mean that, those things being equal, we have greater promises through the ordinances of the gospel (the power of God is made manifest through the ordinances of the priesthood). That all said, it is only by abiding to answer #1 that you even have a chance of helping someone see the difficult truth of #2, and it must be done out of love, not just to keep score.

    One other thing – when we were in France, the Sunday School lessons were very much the same as you describe. That’s where they are. Love them, and contribute in YOUR way (answer #1). Without you, the lessons would be even worse.

    Keep questioning, keep thinking, keep feeling. That’s how the Lord works!

    Love,

    Scott

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between opinions, beliefs, and values. Opinions tend to be judgements of what is right and wrong, good and bad, etc., and we like to keep our opinions open to revision if we’re shown a reason why. I think that’s what you’re feeling bad about, that you are having trouble “changing your opinions.” However a belief is not a judgement, and it’s not about others, it’s about yourself. You believe in helping people to find THEIR way, not strong-arming them into following YOUR way. You are probably not averse to telling people about your faith on the chance that they might find it of value to themselves. I think what Scott said (“Love them, and contribute in YOUR way. Without you, the lessons would be even worse.”) is right on. Be true to your beliefs and your values, and don’t beat yourself up for not agreeing with the beliefs of others. Be proud of who you are, and demonstrate the love of which you are capable. And always, always, insist that you be treated with love, too.
    If this cannot be resolved with love and respect for each other’s beliefs about how people are to be treated, then you are not yet in the right place, i.e. among the people who can support you. (That’s my opinion, and I could be wrong 🙂 )There’s no law that says you need to freeze in place, choose your lifestyle down to the last detail, at any point in life, not even by the time you’re 80! We evolve . . . . at least, I think that’s the idea and purpose of life, to continually grow (which requires change, but never of the good values you have already worked and studied hard to arrive at. The values of Jesus were all about treating everyone with love and respect. EVERYONE.)

  8. Love this post and the comments are great! Love the Tash example and the xylophone. Your blog definitely helps and strengthens me along my faith journey. I had to teach the 2nd of the missionary work lessons and I am glad that they are now over. It went okay I think thanks to great participation and uplifting stories that were shared. I went to another ward the next week and was so incredibly uncomfortable with the direction the teacher was going and never could find a moment to “interrupt” and try to take the discussion in another direction. It was very frustrating. Glad that is not my home ward. I listened to an interview with Jana Riess on Mormon Stories and I remember she said that her patriarchal blessing said something about her being “the leavening” at church. I ALWAYS appreciate when someone has the courage to be the leavening.

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