Monday, January 24, 2011

Losing Sight

Here's another soap box post, so beware and do not read if you are feeling weary.

Some of my posts are intended to update family and friends on our recent events, some are reflective, intended for my children's future reading, and a few are intended for my own benefit. I find that the best way for me to make sense of my thoughts is write them down and see them as a whole, similar to the way a painting is a gathering place for an array of colors and strokes.

A dear friend of mine confided in me recently that she felt she was slowly losing control of her life. She felt that bit by bit, her agency and freedom to act were slipping out of her grasp. She felt she was losing herself in playing out the expectations that her family, society, the gospel, and church, in particular, held for her. Her life had not played out as she had ever thought or imagined it would and at times scarcley recognized herself within it. She didn't know how to regain a feeling of self-control without being seen as an infidel or how to maintain the freedom to think for herself without apostasizing. As she ellaborated on details and examples, I admitted that at times I also shared some of her feelings. We spent many hours and conversations discussing the issue. In talking to her, I was able to piece together my own thoughts and impressions, pearls of wisdom gained from conversations I've had with others, things I've read, and things I've always believed to be true- and make sense as to why I do what I do and believe what I believe despite the seemingly restrictive nature of it all.

After my friend and I talked, I listened carefully to the next General Conference and realized that there wasn't anything spoken from the pulpit that I disagreed with. It all rang true to me and I felt warmth and confirmation as I listened to the principles and doctrine being taught. I wondered then, if I know what the church teaches is true, why do I at times feel resentment or hostility as to how I think those principles should be practiced in my every-day life? As I tried to think honestly and introspectively about when and why those times of resentment had been felt, I had a lightbulb moment. The things I felt the most frustration about where not surrounding the actual principles of the gospel, rather the culture that surrounds the church.

A wise friend of mine once pointed out to me that the church and the gospel are two different things. The gospel is the "good news," the knowledge about our Savior and our Heavenly Father, the plan of salvation, and so on. The church is the means, or the vehicle, by which we are able to live that gospel to the fullest. That is why we so often see people outside the church that seem to live the gospel so well, at times even better than people within the church. I never fully understood it until she pointed that simple fact out to me. That clarification put together a lot of pieces of my puzzle.

I realized that I felt frustrated and pressured when someone at church in a lesson, talk, or comment in Sunday school expressed their opinion or "knowledge" as to how was the best way to live the gospel. I wasn't distinguishing that what they said was often coming from their own perception of church culture or their own family culture rather than true, undefiled gospel principles.

I found myself thinking, "But what if I don't want to learn how to integrate pinto beans and evaporated milk into my every-day cooking? Does that make me a bad disciple of Christ?"

"What if I don't want to have 6 kids? " (I was once asked by a friend not of our faith if Mormons believe that the more kids we have, the higher our status will be in heaven. I was going to say "no" right away but then thought about it and said, "Well, I can see how some Mormons may believe that, but no, it's not a part of our doctrine.")

"What if I'd rather say hell than heck? When you say heck, aren't you saying the exact same thing, just changing out that last two letters? Does that make it so much more better?"

"Is it bad that I want to stop couponing for the sole purpose that it's 'the thing to do' and so many other Mormon moms do it?"

"I hate nylons- don't ever ask, or try to guilt me into wearing them, even if you claim that by doing so I will be living the higher law." (No joke on that one- I really was told that once.)

"I mostly like Obama, and don't always agree with Glenn Beck, may God have mercy on my soul."

"What if in prioritizing good, better, and best, as we are encouraged to do, not all church activities and programs fall within the "best" category for me and my family? What if at times those are the things I find need to have fall off my conveyor belt of activities, permanently or for the time being?"

I found that the beauty and the beast of the applications of the gospel is that one size doesn't fit all. I would love it if they did. It would be so much easier and we could all live like chickens, mindlessly pecking at what was in front of us, never giving thought as to whether what we were eating were a worm or a kernel of corn. But if they always did, then what would be the purpose of personal revelation and stewardship?

We have been taught time and time again that a mother's ideal place is in the home, raising her children. In my heart I agree with this and I know this to be true. But my older sister mentioned that just as one mother might receive the prompting to quit her job and focus on her family, another might feel prompted to rejoin the work force to get her family out of debt. Both promptings, even though seemingly conflicting, can come from the same godly source.

I told my friend that I believe she has more agency than she thinks she has. Restriction and enslavement to anything, even to good, was Satan's original plan, not Christ's. The true gospel, and Christ's plan, was one of freedom, choices, and most importantly, accountability. It's the fluff and excess surrounding those pearls of truth, imposed by well-meaning members of the church, that leave us feeling hog-tied and make us want to run towards the exit screaming. My friend is not a pecking chicken and never will be, that's why I love her so much.

So when my friend in exasperation said, "I believe the church is true, but that doesn't mean I always like it," I would probably say for myself, "I believe the church is true, with all my heart, but that doesn't mean I buy into church culture."

Sometimes telling the two apart is hard- almost impossible, like trying to tell the difference between a donkey and an ass (no pun intended, really). The truth is there though and when we catch glimpses or whole panoramas of it, it's liberating, exhilarating, and leads us to the greatest happiness we know.


Liz Johnson said...

How is it that we haven't seen each other since we were 13, and yet we think almost exactly alike?!

I feel the same way. I often feel like the hardest part of "being a Mormon" is the culture and non-doctrinal aspects of the church. Once I realized that the church was simply a vehicle to drive my relationship with God & Jesus Christ, and that I could focus on the pure doctrine rather than some random person's interpretation of it, going to church became a lot easier. And I often think we forget that personal revelation is just that - personal. Two people can ask God the same question and get different answers, which is why it's PERSONAL revelation and not universal revelation.

Awesome post. I'm lucky to have reconnected with you!

Becky said...

Rita, I couldn't agree more. I have struggled with these same emotions for a long time. In fact, i was really glad to have filled out the visiting teaching survey, because that's another "soapbox" issue I have. And while I have long known the difference between the gospel and the culture, it is still difficult at times to distinguish between the two, or feel that I am still a "good" church member even when I don't look, act, or feel like the traditional relief society sister. I feel so glad to be in the Primary presidency with at least two ladies who feel very strongly that culture and doctrine are two very different things and the one is obviously more important than the other. I have never felt that I really fit in in Relief Society, and honestly I guess I've never really wanted to. I don't find joy in canning, crafting, or bragging about my great parenting or housekeeping skills. I find joy in my child's face (even when it's covered in the toothpaste from the tube she just emptied over her whole body), in sharing nature with my family, in a good book. Brian has said he feels closer to god in the mountains than in any church, and i think that's one of the reasons I married him, because I have felt that too. I figure that God spoke to his prophets in Biblical times at the tops of the mountains, so that's a perfectly acceptable place to feel his spirit. Anyway, sorry for such a long reply, but it's good to know there are others who think along the same lines. P.S. I have also gotten to the point of being more open in the future to what I once thought were rigid guidelines for how i should live and act. I really like the idea of "seasons" of our lives. A season to be a college kid, a season to be a newlywed, a season to be a young mother, a season to be a more experienced mother, a season to be a wife, a season to have a career, etc. and of course many of these go together or intermix. I think one day I might just have a season where I like finding new recipes for my oats. But for now, it's quaker instant for this family :)

Mary and Matt Sumsion said...

Hey Rita
I hear so many people around my area complaining about all of the mothers out there who think they are just perfect and brag about everything they do and how great there kids are. There are so many people who feel the way you do. My mom always taught me that you don't have to be perfect. She told me once that when we were young kids she would sew our clothes because she was told that was what you were supposed to do. Your mom is actually the one who told her she didn't need to. Your mom told her that if she hated to sew then to just stop doing it. My mom has never sewed again. I have always thought that once I had a family that I would have to start canning and all that. I hate canning. We went to a class for Relief Society a few months ago and a couple was teaching us about food storage. Someone asked them about canning and the lady said she hates canning and never does it. That made me so happy to know that you don't NEED to do it. I have always made an effort not to compare myself to all the "mormon moms" and it has made all the difference. I don't feel like anyone is better than me. I feel like some mothers are so unhappy because they are trying way too hard to be the perfect mother. I have a very hard time taking Allie to church because all she does is run the halls and I don't get to listen to the lessons and enjoy it. Matt and I take turns every other week going to church by ourselves. I have been told by others that you need to be there even if your kid is running around. I told myself not to let those people get to me. I learn way more going twice a month then going every week and not learning one thing. The bishopric knows we do that and they have always showed us support. You are a great mother and a great example.

Jeff and Kris said...

Use it up! Wear it out! Make it do! Or do without! What! that is preposterous I always thought that was the craziest "way of life" theory. I mean I understand to not live in excess and don't incurr debt. I understand the dangers of becoming a slave to the dollar, but really it makes me think...ewww how many times have those underwears been passed down, or "I got the sweetest deal on underwears at the Goodwill" yikes!! I think that it is completely different if the funds are tight and you really can't afford new underroos, but when the money is being used to buy 10 for 1 toothpicks at Albertsons. What !?! What and Who is the biggest priority, the way you look when you show off your sweet food storage or the way your kiddo feels in her big girl roos. Opps just went off!! Rita you are an inspiration when it comes to thoughts translated to paper! Thank you for ALWAYS writing what I am feeling and thinking. You are amazing!!