Less than a week ago, I posted the following on LDS Progressive Left’s Facebook page:
I seriously don’t think I can do this any more. We live in Springville UT, and our ward is ultra-conservative. Two of my four children have already left the church, and one refuses to go here in Utah. I seriously want to leave the state. I know I’m not the only one in this group who feels this way. Any suggestiions?
Six days and 72 comments later, I’ve come to three conclusions:
- I’m not alone. (This one is number one for a reason.)
- The general consensus is to go inactive or leave altogether, and find a way to worship that more suits my personal needs.
- It’s time to take action.
All week I’ve been thinking of a suggestion given to me by a visiting teacher I had thirty years ago, along with some repeated comments given to me twice personally, and once over the pulpit, by my current bishop. The suggestion by my visiting teacher, who has since left the church, came via our bishop who went on to become our stake president, and later, stake patriarch. He told my visiting teacher that he had a daily to-do list that he used as a formula for success:
- read scriptures
- write in a journal
- at least one act of service
- exercise (I added this one).
I was really good at this for several years. It got me through some pretty tough times in my first marriage. I remember the calmness and serenity it brought to my life, and even though I have never been perfect at it, I have always striven to return to those activities when times began to get tough.
Unfortunately, my current bishop’s message came across to me as a litany of items that I must be doing if I were to ever expect to get help from him or to find peace in my home. In fact, not only must I be performing these things, but I felt that I had been held responsible for making sure that my husband and daughter were fulfilling these duties as well, despite the fact that my husband is a convert who has never had a calling other than home teaching since he joined the church nearly seven years ago, and that my adult daughter has not been active since she was eleven years old. This litany includes daily prayer, daily scriptures, regular temple attendance (or at least preparing names for the temple), weekly Family Home Evening, fulfilling church callings to the best of [our] abilities, regular church attendance, and monthly fulfillment of visiting/home teaching assignments.
The second time my bishop gave me this list, it came as a text message, and the third time it came as a warning over the pulpit to the entire ward. I have come to the conclusion that although my current bishop is a great micromanager, his message is not much different from my previous bishop’s formula for success. Even though the formula for success is a much shorter, daily application of the litany, it leads directly to success in completing that gigantic to-do list from my current bishop.
I have been ruminating over these similarities as I read each and every comment to my Facebook post. I know my current bishop’s message was well intended, because he can see that activity in the church is not just weekly attendance, but a way of life that will lead us back to God. To me, the difference is pretty clear: the formula is a recipe for success, while the litany comes across a way of living that must be endured in order to get needs met here on earth, and to reach salvation in the end.
Two bible scriptures have come to mind. The first, is Matthew 24: 13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Although this quote from Jesus was delivered at the end of his description of the last days, it is often taken out of context in an effort to describe that litany of things that we must strive to do regularly in order to reach perfection. The second, also from Matthew, is a direct quote from Jesus: “Come unto me. all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”
Two versus later, and still quoting Jesus, is a well-known verse that flies directly in the face of a Christian meme that has been present in LDS homes long before it became available on the internet. Come on, people, Jesus DID say it would be easy!:
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
Because I’m not perfect, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to church today. I stayed home and watched “Meet the Mormons” (I like it, and yes, I know it is missionary propoganda), and “God’s Army 2, States of Grace” (And yes, I also know that Richard Dutcher, one of the producers, actually left the church not long after the movie was released). Next, my husband and I did our daily scripture reading. We were reading in First Nephi about Nephi’s rebuke to his brothers when they refused to help him build a ship. Nephi reminded Laman and Lemuel that the Jews rebelled against Moses, too, when they thought that God’s commandment to look at Moses’ staff and be healed was just too easy, so they refused to do it (I Nephi 17: 41). I was once again reminded that God had an easier way to follow him than worrying about completing a big long list of things to be done over and over again each month, in order to reach perfection.
I don’t expect to reach perfection in this life, so I’ve decided to endure to the end in following the former bishop’s formula of success. I’ve been told that it takes six weeks to form a habit, so I am going to focus on rebuilding that old habit that I seem to keep straying from. If I am doing it right, I should be able to fit my callings, temple attendance, and visiting teaching into that fourth daily item: service. There are so many ways to serve, and on days when I am tired or feeling particularly low, I can count giving a smile to a complete stranger as an act of service. Helping others does help me feel better, and it doesn’t take long at all to complete each and every item on the list.
At the end of the six weeks, I will go ahead and take action, depending on what my inclination is. I’ve a feeling that I am going to end up recommitting myself to activity in the church, no matter what people say in church meetings, or even to my face (yes, they do it). The six weeks will be up just before my birthday (October 26). I will keep you posted on my progress, and I will let you know what my final decision is during the week of my birthday. This should be interesting.