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.