She goes around in circles 'til she's very, very dizzy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Prodigal Daughter's Sister

You may have seen a link to and/or read this post, titled 'The Prodigal Daughter', on Facebook recently. I was introduced to it earlier this week and haven't been able to forget it since. It is an open letter to all Mormons  requesting that they "let people be happy if they are happy".

Great. I couldn't agree more. No argument here.

My concern comes in when a request to avoid unfair judgment, in a not unusual twist of irony, seems to cast judgment on those are purportedly the perpetrators. I have a funny feeling that the negative talk she refers to was not meant negatively at all. I have a feeling that it was said/written out of love and concern and was internalized negatively, for whatever reason.

So in a completely unoriginal fashion, I will attempt to respond to her letter while hopefully maintaining an air of respect but polite disagreement.

Dear "Mormon",
(I add quotation marks not to offend, but simply to reiterate your own statements regarding being a prodigal daughter and living your version of Mormonism.)

First off, I don't believe that there are 'versions' of Mormonism. There is doctrine. There is a prophet and there is modern-day revelation. These things are truths. They are immutable and immovable.

There are, however, definitely different versions of Mormon (aka. Latter-day Saint). It has been said often that we are not part of a perfect church, because it is filled with imperfect people. "If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed. But if you seek the pure doctrine of Christ... then here you will find [it]." 

When I thought about writing this, my heart was hurting too. This post is about the things we say to fellow Mormons who we visibly observe and personally know are struggling and unhappy, even as they insist they aren't. I also come from a place of love and concern for the many I know who are living at your same level of Mormonism. And I also speak on behalf of a population of Mormons, whose love and concern may be misconstrued as negative and hurtful. They are also praying that you will eventually listen.

It is hard to love those who have a different perspective than your own. Especially when they disregard and disvalue something that you know to be of IMMENSE importance. (Immense not being even close to an adequate enough word here.) Your well-meaning friend's sadness and disappointment is the same sadness and disappointment I feel when I read about the choices you have made after experiencing what you have experienced and knowing what you know. Or at least what you have undoubtedly heard during your time in the temple.

And you're right, to a certain extent, it is none of our business. But to another extent, this person (who you openly claim as your friend) does have a right to her opinion. An opinion that she felt was too important to keep to herself. Because it affects someone she obviously cares for. Someone who she undoubtedly worries and prays for. Someone who loves you enough to tell you what she's feeling, even though she knew it might hurt you.

You don't have to answer to anyone. Well, except God of course. And I in no way wish to demean your ability to receive personal revelation. However, I have been to the temple and I know the sacred promise that is made regarding the holy garment. Not promise, covenant. It is one thing to break a promise that you made to your best friend when you were 12 to never-ever-ever take off your BFF bracelets. But it is another thing entirely to break a sacred covenant with God to never, NEVER stop wearing your garments. No one is asking you to divulge your very personal reasons for doing so. We also fear being misunderstood and judged. But we ask you to understand that we are trying to come to terms with a decision you have made that concerns us very deeply. I do not know you, nor have I ever met you, but I'm sure I feel the same heartbreak your friend feels. And I admire her courage in trying to express that to you. I know I'm not that brave.

It is never our intention to make anyone feel that they have fallen off the path or are out of the club. It is not 'us against them' or 'us against you'. But it is hard to turn a blind eye to something that you know will have eternal consequences in a person's life. One of my favorite quotes says, "Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate." Is it not possible that what you perceive as offensive only seems that way because you have made it so? No one can cause you offense unless you let them. You decide how you internalize what they say and how it makes you feel. It may be hard, but it is so possible.

But here is the real meat of what I have to say: you have used the terms happiness and true happiness. You say that you can have both without dedication to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And it might surprise you to hear that I agree with you. I believe that you, specifically you, can feel true happiness in your new clothes and your new boyfriend and your Starbucks coffee. And I hope you do. However, I know that it is a happiness that cannot last. And I'm not talking about just this life. You have said that Mormonism is very important to you, so I assume that you believe in a life after this. Will the happiness you feel now last for eternity?.. Will your clothes or your choice of drink matter then? I can tell you one thing with a surety, if your present relationship turns into a common-law marriage, that will most definitely end with death without the blessings of the temple sealing.

I am not here to determine your level of dedication to the gospel. And I am very truly sorry if people have said things to you that have hurt you deeply. But what is an appropriate time to voice our concern? This isn't a subject that we feel can wait or is better left unsaid. If it comes to a choice between never saying anything or possibly hurting your feelings, I will always choose the latter. Because testifying of truth is always the right thing to do. I'm sure you know that.

So here are some interesting questions: What if you/they are 'looking for more' in all the wrong places? Or better yet, don't know what you/they are looking for more? It is not our place to answer either of those questions for anyone. But it is our duty to assume that it might be a possibility and to try to relate and respond accordingly.

Seems these days that no one can step out their front door without feeling 'judged'. "You're judging me." "I feel judged that you assume that I'm judging you." "Now you're judging me for thinking that you judged me??!" And so on and so forth for ever and ever. Your 'confront' may be my 'approach'. Your 'gossip' may be my 'hopeful discussion'. Your 'offensive' may be my 'truthful'. Your 'judgment' may be my 'loving concern'. Take everything with a grain of salt and you will always be happier.

And now I am actually going to quote you "Mormon", "If someone you love is sincerely struggling, the successful way to help them is to let them know that you are there, that you will never judge them or think less of them for their decisions but rather love and listen. Tell them this and that you are not going anywhere. You will be better and they will feel loved." But I will also add my own addendum: And when the time is right and you feel inspired, testify to them of what you know to be true and of eternal importance, without saying "you are wrong" or "this is a mistake". It may be Mormon cliché, but it is entirely possible to love someone and not their choices. It is our job to tenderly share what we have learned and believe with everything we are, regardless of its reception. You are the master of your fate. You can decide if you want it to make you feel abandoned or loved.

I hope those around you never stop sharing what they hold to be true. And I hope you will always try to receive it with more understanding than offense. I don't view your path as a downgrade from mine. As I know you don't view mine as superior to your own. Finding Mormonism isn't the final level, exaltation and eternal happiness with God is.

Many people are hurting, it's true. But the source of their hurt is up for debate. Life is hard, and the only thing you really need is happiness. And true happiness may take many forms. But I feel so blessed to know that happiness, eternal happiness, comes through living a Christ-like life and living worthily of entering His holy house.

I am happy that you feel happy now. And I can accept that your definition of true happiness is different. But I refuse to give up hope that one day you, and everyone else for that matter, will come to find eternal happiness. And that is not found in karaoke and burgers.

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