There seem to be a number of disaffected Mormons lurking the Bloggernacle these days.
I am not one of them.
Here is why.
Feb. 24, 2008 – 9:05 a.m.
My wife and three of our daughters are already at church; I’m lagging behind at home with a straggler. My six year-old still can’t find her other church shoe (again). When we finally find the shoe, we go back and forth for an eternity over whether to buckle her shoes through the first or second hole in the straps. With her shoes finally on, I make for the front door, but she’s not behind me. Now she tells me she has to find her coloring book, and now I’m more than a bit irked. I get her in the car and deliver a stern lecture about getting ready for Church before she watches cartoons.
Still grumpy, I grumble about my fellow ward members’ parking jobs as I hunt for one of the last open spots in the parking lot. We’re going to miss the sacrament, I just know it. We park and as we walk through the parking lot toward the chapel doors, I hold out my hand for my daughter to take it. She puts her soft small hand in mine, and we silently make up for this morning.
We enter the foyer outside the chapel and it’s standing-room-only. The chapel doors are closed, and the foyer seems unusually quiet. As a deacon enters the foyer with the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice, my daughter reverently folds her arms. I cradle her face in my hands.
A few minutes later, a sister comes out of the chapel and into the foyer. She’s struggling with two of her small children. The Primary President is at her heels, asking whether she can help with one of the children.
When my daughter and I join the rest of our family in the chapel, we sit down behind an old friend I haven’t seen at church for a few years. He’s sporting a goatee that suits him; he looks like a movie star. I pat him on the shoulder and whisper to him: “You’re lookin’ pretty tough with that goatee; remind me to stay on your good side.” He laughs. “Don’t worry,” he reassures, “you’re always on my good side.”
As I juggle my daughters on my lap and try to keep them from bumping the people sitting in front of us, I catch glimpses of the speakers’ talks. A sister in our ward is talking about being perfected in Christ:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him . . . love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ . . . .
Then she quotes from Elder Bednar’s most recent General Conference address:
We will not attain a state of perfection in this life . . . . The Lord’s pattern for spiritual development is “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take.
The sister’s husband speaks next. He tells a story about a priesthood blessing he received that didn’t come true, and talks about the lesson he learned from that experience:
Faith is not so much about believing strongly enough to make the Lord do what we want Him to do for us. It’s about continuing to believe even after things haven’t gone the way we’ve wanted them to be.
The brother’s words bring to mind a favorite quote from Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk:
If we are not humble, we tend to demand that faith must also bring with it good health, peace of mind, good luck, success in business, popularity, world peace, and every other good thing we can imagine. . . . If we insist on other things as the price of our believing, we tend by that very fact to undermine our own belief.
10: 20 a.m.
I’m in classroom number 6 with my Primary boys. We cover the usual first order of business: we share our good news from the preceding week as I dole out handfuls of Skittles. Then comes the prayer and the lesson. We read about the voyage of Lehi’s family to the promised land. At the end of our discussion we summarize what we’ve learned:
Even though Nephi was doing everything God had asked him to do, God allowed his brothers to keep him bound for four days until his ankles and wrists were horribly swollen and sore. But Nephi did not murmur; he thanked God when he was finally released from his hardship.
As I shuttle my boys towards the Primary room, I stop to thank one of the other male Primary teachers for wearing a blue shirt today and making me feel comfortable. He laughs and tells me he’s disappointed I’m wearing a suit coat over mine.
As we file into the Primary room, I sit behind another blue-shirted brother. He’s sitting in his usual position with his arm gently around a boy in his class who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s a sweet boy but can be quite a handful at times. But no matter how rowdy the boy behaves, the teacher lovingly calms the struggling boy down without showing an ounce of irritation. Words come into my mind:
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.
Then I begin to feel slightly jealous of this teacher sitting in front of me. He gets to wrap his arm around Jesus every Sunday.
I feel a tug on my shirt sleeve and look down. “Which verse did we end on?” asks one of my Primary boys who usually pays the least attention in class. “I want to finish reading the story from class,” he says. As I guide him to the verse where we left off, I notice a familiar-looking name written on the outside edge of the triple combination he borrowed from the church library. I hold up the book to read the name written it and I’m dumbfounded.
It’s the name of one of my high school buddies who, 16 years earlier, veered off the “strait and narrow,” dropped out of Seminary, and got hooked on meth. Apparently his seminary scriptures have spent the last 16 years in the church library getting loaned out to Primary children each Sunday. As I leaf through my buddy’s old seminary scriptures, my eyes catch a comment he had written on one of the pages in bold purple ink:
Christ suffered for our sins.
For a moment I think about what has happened in my friend’s life since he wrote those words as a seminary student. His meth addiction, his brushes with angry drug dealers and with death, his father going to jail. And now, the pending divorce he told me about when I last saw him a couple months ago.
I decide to reclaim my friend’s old seminary scriptures from the church library and deliver them to him in the afternoon.
I make the rounds to pick up three of my daughters, the other having already gone home sick with my wife. I walk into the nursery room, pick up my two year-old, and thank the sister Saint who has worked in the nursery for 10 years now, by choice. Over the last seven years she has taught all four of my daughters some of their first lessons about Jesus.
As we walk outside I catch a Guatemalan brother in our ward and ask him how he and his wife are liking their new Primary calling. “It’s a challenge,” he says, “but we are enjoying it. The little children make us happy.”
When I arrive home, I find my wife taking a much-needed nap. I change my clothes, change my two year-old’s diaper, and make my girls lunch as they play with their new pet frogs. After lunch, I call my old high school buddy’s cell phone number. Although it was working just a couple months ago, the number is no longer good. I call the restaurant he manages and I’m told he no longer works there.
I sometimes lose track of him like that. I’ll give him his old seminary scriptures when I find him again.
I pay a visit to the Nigerian family I’ve been home teaching for 7 years now. A single mother who admirably nurtures and provides for the three of her five children still young enough to be living with her. She shares with me an experience from today’s Gospel Doctrine class. Although she’s often had difficulty getting into the Book of Mormon, today Nephi’s Psalm was like “a bucket of water being poured over a thirsty soul.”
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
She confides in me some spiritual struggles she’s been having. Although we come from completely different sides of the world, I’m struck by how similar her spiritual struggles are to my own. I listen to her words, and try to return words of comfort and encouragement I’ve drawn from my similar experiences. As we pray together before I leave, the Spirit of God consumes us.
My family and I arrive at my uncle’s house to celebrate his 50th birthday. The house is filled with family. My parents, brother’s family, two uncles and aunts, three cousins, and a slew of children. We celebrate all the special occasions together: birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmas dinners, Fourth of July’s. And, of course, baby blessings, baptisms, missionary farewells and homecomings, and marriages too. We’re always together, and I hope we always will be.
We’re back home now. The kids are sleeping soundly in their beds; my wife is knocked out too. As I sit at the computer writing these thoughts for tomorrow’s post, I look back on another beautiful Sunday.
And I’ve never felt happier to be a Mormon.
Thank you. I needed that.
That was gently and kindly brought to its point. Thanks.
That is the experience that many of us recognize and strive for. And the one that makes going to Church and participating worth it.
Just what I needed on a cold winter Monday morning here in Utah. And I thought I belonged to the best ward in the Church?!
Isn’t it funny how feelings of frustration for your child can move to intense peace and love within a few moments? I have experienced the same and look forward to many more years of it!
I often tell friends and people I meet in my business travels that it is not the members of the Church that brings the Spirit and my testimony to me–it is solely dependent on me. Through my own scripture study, sacrament partaking, and blessing from my Father, I truly become who He wants me to be.
BTW, although we are miles apart, I feel compelled for you to reach out to your high school friend. Do not wait for him to come to you–seek him out. Hmmmmm….. Just like our relationship with Christ………
Great post. We need to remember the “big picture” when it’s easy to get muddled in day-to-day irritations and thorny issues that make us forget the bottom line.
You absolutely rock. I’ve never heard of you, but this is a post that deserves to win best post of the year. Aren’t we at the awards stage again? I vote you 🙂
I got chills reading this.
Thanks for sharing your Sunday.
I’ve visited your blog frequently and I participate in the bloggernacle as well.
First, I want to thank you for sharing what the Church is all about. Some of us tend to get caught up in doctrinal issues and forget about the real meaning and the Spirit we feel when in the Lord’s service.
Secondly, your thoughts and experiences with your children are thoughts I’ve had on my mind for the past few weeks and I wrote a post about becoming as a child this morning. Your examples with your children are touching and part of what I have been thinking about. I would love to hear some of your insight.
Great thoughts, Andrew — thanks. The people in the church are its greatest resource. And sometimes its greatest challenge — but, that’s a topic for another day. Thanks for a great description of joy in Mormon life.
Wow. Really, really good post Andrew. I suspect I’ll find reasons to link to it in the future.
Here are some of my favorite parts:
“we silently make up for this morning”
“The Primary President is at her heels, asking whether she can help with one of the children.”
““Don’t worry,” he reassures, “you’re always on my good side.””
“He’s sitting in his usual position with his arm gently around a boy in his class who has Asperger’s Syndrome.”
“After lunch, I call my old high school buddy’s cell phone number.”
Jesus indicated that the path to perfection (and lasting joy) requires us to love God and love one another. In my experience Mormonism is incredibly useful in helping and encouraging us to be better at both. I liked those examples I just quoted because it shows that the people in your ward are pretty good at both. I think that is not uncommon among us in the church and that makes me happy.
A quiet, heartfelt “Thank you” for this. I’m learning that the Church keeps moving forward not because we have more/better answers but because we keep healing souls. All the hot argument and cold logic in the world can’t dissuade me from trusting the new heart God gave me through repentance and Christ’s atonement. We aren’t splashy or particularly polished, but we sloppy Saints can continue to enjoy the *healing* fruits of the Spirit leading us to becoming perfect, better translated as “complete.” Your narration shows well the process in process.
My best for your wayward friend — I’ll include him in my prayers.
Beautifully written. It brought tears to my eyes several times. Thanks for helping me remember that it’s the small things that matter.
Posts like this are quickly making MM my favorite blog…..
Kaimi at T&S was absolutely right to link to this post. Un grand merci for such an inspiring text!
Thank you. I loved this. I also get bogged down by all the off-the-wall comments in testimony meeting and the dogma that gets tossed around and the looks I get when I wear a pantsuit to church. So this was a great post for me to remind me of all the good things that come with being a part of the Mormon community/family.
Makes me want to be a better Mormon.
Thank you for this touching post. You’ve captured the rhythm of lds life very well here. Glad to hear you’re doing well and kudos to you from an old D.C. acquaitance.
Folks, thanks for your kind words of encouragement. If any credit it owing to anyone, it is the genuine and generous souls who attend my ward. It is the same ward I grew up in, and you can probably tell why I was so happy to return there to raise my own family.
I feel like I should let you know a bit about why I decided to do this post. We bloggers here at Mormon Matters maintain a schedule amongst ourselves to ensure we have consistent posts on an orderly basis. (Despite our free thinking natures, we’re actually quite fascist behind the scenes about details like that. :)) I was fully intending to use my scheduled Monday morning slot to post an essay on an entirely different subject. But on Friday, also behind the scenes, us bloggers exchanged some emails amongst ourselves about the tone of the blog. Some were concerned that there was a bit too much negativity and hostility going on. One blogger astutely pointed out that the tone of a blog is set by the posting authors.
With that in mind, I decided on Saturday that I would use my Monday morning slot to do a post called “Why I Am Not a Disaffected Mormon,” and that I would use my experience at church the next day as the subject matter for my post. The reason I bring all this up is that when I went to Church yesterday, I went to church LOOKING for positivity and goodness, and obviously, I found it in abundance. I will be honest, this post does not illustrate a typical Sunday for me. It was better than usual. And I am sure that my prior decision to look for positivity and goodness at Church is the reason why my experience was even better than normal yesterday. In fact, I am now wondering how many of these exquisite Sundays I have missed in the past because I had not committed ahead of time that I would focus on the good. So writing his has taught me (again) that if I want an uplifting church experience, I need to go seeking one, and to put in effort to create and contribute to one. I can’t sit on my hands expecting the speakers and teachers to spoon-feed my a spiritual experience; God isn’t going to just drop one into my lap without my looking for it.
Anyway, I just wanted to pass along that little lesson I learned from writing this post.
Bob (#6) Thanks for the encouragement to continue to seek out my friend. I will take your advice.
annegb (#8) I recognize your name from other blog sites. I’ve always wondered, are you the Anne Porter of Mormon Matters podcast fame, or another Anne? Anyway, thanks for the props. Right back ‘atcha.
Equality (#9) You are hilarious. I almost fell out of my chair laughing at your “Bah! Humbug! (just kidding)” comment. Seriously, though, I recognize you as a frequent visitor of several blog sites and, thinking I know where you stand, I am very thankful for your humorous olive branch.
Aaron (#11) Thanks for the heads-up about your new post; I will have to check it out; sounds like a great topic.
Kaimi (#12) That was very kind of you to give a T&S shout out by linking to the post. Best wishes to you as well.
manaen (#15) Thanks for the prayers for my friend.
Heather (#19) Don’t you fret about the pant suit, girl. If I remember later tonight, I’ll post a quote from a First Presidency Statement about how such dress by women is NOT banned in our church. There’s certainly a difference between our doctrine and our culture, and in this case, maybe the latter looks down on the pant suit, but the former really couldn’t care less. God is just glad you’re there looking for him on Sundays, pant suit and all.
Cody (#21) Great to hear from you. I’d love to catch up; please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
And that is precisely why I am disaffected. Multiply this by 52 Sundays; sit alone as a single person–gay or straight–over the age of 35. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum. Hear talk after talk about Celestial this and temple blessings that. Watch rugrats eat rat droppings off the rug (unawares, since their real goal is stale Cheerios. Listen to boring sermon after boring sermon. Over and freaking over again.
Then you start wondering why you are pledging allegiance and donating tithing to a church that doesn’t value you, and to leaders who expect you to be 100 times more honest and have infinitely more integrity than they do. And you wonder about the “little flecks” of history, and think about all the people who had a bad rap and sacrificed too much for the church: what if it isn’t true? Then you research and pray and fast and discover that hey–maybe for you, it ISN’T.
Thanks for this post, it lifted my spirits and reminded me that the bloggernacle has potential to help those who participate in it to be drawn closer to the spirit because Andrew wrote with testimony.
If the church is true, very sacrifice would be worth it, if not, then no problem moving on. I’ve was in a similar state of mind, at one time, as you appear to be in, so to some degree I can relate. I turned to God and was given a testimony that is undeniable.
You might want to read what brother Christensen did to acquire his testimony. Go here
I feel for ya. I tried attending a family ward, and hated every second of it. So, I started ward hopping, which is a nice things that singles can get a way with. I finally found someone to marry at age 32, and thought that I might enjoy going to church again.
Well, I started attending the same family ward I did as a single, and I still hated it, though now that I was married, I did feel like I fit in a little better. My wife loved the ward.
About 3 or 4 years later, we moved. Our new ward had even more toddlers than the last ward. To me, it feels like the same ward as my previous one. However, one of the nice things about the new ward, was my calling as Gospel Doctrine teacher. This was a real catalyst for me to study the scriptures much deeper.
I can remember while I was on my mission feeling like church was the least spiritual day of the week. I realized that I was a much more spiritual person. I feel that way now. Church isn’t very interesting for me. The reason for this is because I have made an effort to become more spiritual. I go to church to partake of the sacrament. During the boring talks, I focus primarily on keeping my kids quiet, or I bring an interesting spiritual book to read.
Church can be boring, but we can do things that make our lives more spiritual. I think Andrew’s post is fantastic. I need to focus more on the positive things that people do at church, and not focus on the boring talks. (I have noted, the last 2 weeks have had more interesting speakers, so I haven’t been reading my own books in sacrament.) Anyway, I hope that helps you.
FYI, since I got released from G.D. teacher, I don’t attend sunday school or priesthood anymore, because the teachers put zero effort into making them interesting. Apparently I stirred the pot too much for my bishop’s liking, so he replaced me with the most dispassionate teachers he could find–but they follow the manual to a T, even if everyone is snoring during the lessons.
Instead I do try to focus on my new calling as membership clerk, and bring a spiritual book to read if I run out of filing, updating fast offerings, printing certificates, or other duties that I can come up with.
Love it. I should have found your site earlier. We should talk. Say hi to your family. Love to all.
Hey buddy, great to hear from you. I need to call you (or vice versa!)
That was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time.
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Gorgeous. One of the best posts Ive ever read.
This is sweet. But unfortunately you live in complete bourgeois bliss, and a good portion of Mormons just don’t relate to you. Would you be so happy to be a Mormon if you didn’t even have shoes to put on your tardy daughter’s feet? It’s not just Mormonism that’s making you happy here. It’s your lifestyle and situation.