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Teaching the Ideal, Living in Reality  June 1, 2005

Mari — June 1 @ 10:13am

There’s been a lot of discussion lately in the Bloggernacle about feeling out of place at church, feeling you don’t measure up to the “ideal.” Some have suggested the church should stop emphasizing the ideal in its teachings as strongly as it has. I’ve struggled with this feeling all my life.

I love the gospel, and I love going to church. But what if, like me, you don’t have children yet? What if you’re at work when most of the women in your age group are getting together for lunch at the park with each other and bringing along their two or three kids?

What if you are a young woman in a less than ideal family situation? As a teenager, I felt like I was the only one who didn’t have two loving parents at home who were active church members. It seemed like every lesson my Laurel year was about eternal families. I remember writing in my journal after church, locked in my room, and crying as I prayed that someday I could have that perfect eternal family.

I admit, I still feel isolated sometimes. Mother’s Day is still hard for me. I understand the need to honor the mothers who do such important work. But when I think about my experiences growing up, I don’t feel at peace. When I look around the congregation at my friends shushing their babies while the primary children sing to their mothers, it’s really hard for me to stay in the room.

At times, we all feel like we don’t fit in, and like everyone else shares in something that we can’t be part of. And yet, I think it is important for church leaders to teach the ideal so we all have something to strive for. I would want a good marriage even if the importance of eternal families weren’t emphasized so much, but I think being taught the ideal probably makes me feel even more motivated. When we fall short, I hope that we aren’t so focused on ourselves and our own problems and unique situations that we start resenting or arguing against the ideal itself.

One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 12:4-5: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” We are all different, and we all have different situations. We can work toward an ideal lovingly with each other. We can support each other in undesirable circumstances. We can try to rejoice for others who succeed in achieving what we haven’t.

Sometimes things don’t work out for us the way we expect. And other times things work out better than we hoped for. I am grateful for my good, kind and worthy husband. I am so thankful I was able to marry in the temple. I am blessed to be in a wonderful ward with so many kind people who have reached out to us even though our situation is not identical to theirs. I have a calling now with the Young Women where I can reach out to those girls who feel like I did, that they might never feel loved, or have a happy eternal family, or fit in at church. I hope that I can use my past failures to have more compassion for others, and that I can help bless other people who, like me, might not look like the ideal.

12 Comments

  1. Mari, thanks for a thoughtful post on a difficult topic.

    Steve Evans — June 1, 2005 @ 12:46pm
  2. I admire your perspective on this, Mari. Some things really do not work out the way that we expect, and I take strength from your ability to focus on the good things that you have.

    Miranda PJ — June 1, 2005 @ 1:54pm
  3. Mari, you seem really familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?

    I’ve never really fit into any social context I’ve inhabited, but once I was out of the morass of teenagerness it’s never troubled me too much. Maybe it’s because I don’t have complex social needs, as some women (and men) do.

    Rosalynde — June 1, 2005 @ 2:44pm
  4. Everyone has complex social needs. That is except for SeptimusH.

    Seriously, Mari, I enjoyed reading this heartfelt post and I’m not just saying that as your co-blogger. I know that “the idea”l is something which can crush a person’s self-worth and you can see “the ideal” slip through your fingers in a matter of minutes. Something about your post though told me that you’re closer to the ideal than many of us. I’m glad your’e here.

    SeptimusH — June 1, 2005 @ 3:37pm
  5. I think it is important for the church to set the bar high with a pristine ideal. I think it is our responsibility as members to recognize that reality seldom, if ever, reaches that ideal. It is our duty to support each other in our less than perfect realities.

    diet coke — June 1, 2005 @ 8:12pm
  6. Mari, I hope I didn’t sound dismissive of your distress in my earlier comment; I have an obnoxious tendency to sound that way when I write quickly, and you have to promise to forgive me always when I do. As Septimus put it so kindly, it is difficult and often very lonely to feel sort of fundamentally different from the people around you, and you seem to be handling your position very gracefully.

    And Septimus is probably right again when he says that everyone has complex social needs; maybe some of us just don’t know how to talk about it.

    Rosalynde — June 2, 2005 @ 12:08am
  7. Mari–I really enjoyed your post, especially in that it provides an example of someone who can be frank about not incarnating the ideal, yet still use that ideal to draw strength in serving others.

    As Septimus and others have pointed out, when the ideal becomes the bar by which we judge ourselves, it can destroy us. When, however, we be okay with ourselves as we strive for the ideal, it can help us be better.

    Thanks!

    Justin H — June 2, 2005 @ 3:43pm
  8. Rosalynde, no offense taken. I’m happy for you if you’ve never felt isolated at church. I usually don’t, but sometimes the feelings sneak in when if I’m not paying attention to them. I think that maybe a lot of other women might be able to relate to those feelings, or wonder if they measure up, which is why I wrote the post. I enjoy your posts at Times and Seasons, by the way. Thanks for commenting here.

    Mari — June 2, 2005 @ 4:17pm
  9. I lived in a ward once where I swear, everyone was descendents of Utah pioneers (this was in WA state). And every Sunday whoever was speaking would say how grateful they were to come from such wonderful, righteous ancestors.

    My family is not LDS, and while my parents are wonderful, my family was really messed up. I felt like I must be the only person in the ward to have a screwed up family. And it really made me feel bad.

    Then one day I was talking to a neighbor friend about it, and found out her family was very similar to mine. And we laughed about how out of place we felt. And I realized something I already knew but had lost sight of–you never know what people around you are going through. Don’t assume that just because it feels like you’re the only one that you are the only one.

    Susan M — June 4, 2005 @ 1:30pm
  10. Susan’s thoughts are nice, but they do in themselves represent a sort of ideal. If your’e lucky you can find a neighbor that’s similar enough to yourself that the two of you can develop a semblance of mutual understanding, sometimes they may not even end up disappointing you, but how often does that really happen? You can go through life searching for the one person or the few people that might get you, and who you are, and where you come from, and what you’re feeling, but for a lot of us that search is so long and hard and exhausting to be hardly worth it. You can end up in a place where wherever you go there’s no one there who cares, or if they care they have nothing useful to say because they don’t know what it’s like.

    Why not embrace the fact no one understands, and no one ever will understand, and no one ever can truly understand because in the end they’re not you; they don’t–they can’t–share your thoughts, your experiences, even your perception of reality. Accepting this fact is brutal, but ultimately it’s inescapable. It all comes done too you, that’s it, you’re it, it’s just you as hard as it is to swallow you just have to gut down the truth and then you can make it to the point where you can concentrate on the best we can hope for–understanding yourself and only yourself. I think that’s the only way.

    SeptimusH — June 5, 2005 @ 8:15am
  11. It took me a few days of chewing on your post order to put things together, but I think that the discomfort you (and Susan M) describe is partly caused by a fear (all too justifiable, unfortunately) that we’ll be blamed (or stigmatized) somehow for the imperfections in our family. This happens to often in the church. Though Karen Hall is a bit more assertive in her “Stop Making Assumptions About Me“ post at BCC, I think that she’s no less articulate in talking about much the same thing.

    DKL — June 5, 2005 @ 3:20pm
  12. I never did like Tolstoy.

    annegb — June 10, 2005 @ 8:37am

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