A Pew, the Priesthood, and a Prayer
Wife, mother to 4, wanna be farmer, musician, cake decorator, life-long member born to convert parents.
I sat through the prelude hoping – praying- no one would see me. Ward Council had ended 25 minutes before Sacrament meeting began, so I had the entire time to sit by myself, like the outcast that I felt, and wait for my family. I cannot remember if I took the Sacrament. I doubt I did. All I remember was that at some point during the meeting, I ended up in the Primary room on the small pew the kids sit on when they are to give a talk or read the scripture. Somehow my 5’8” frame, dressed in Sunday best- complete with nylons and heels- folded up enough to fit the tiny bench and I laid there. Sobbing. Feeling my soul slowly drain with each tear. Until there was nothing left. Nothing left of my testimony, of hope, of faith in my Priesthood Leaders. Nothing left of me.
The day that I was released from working in Public Affairs was, perhaps, the worst day in my church life. Callings come and go, it is a fact of our membership. I’ve loved each calling, and served with everything I had. I’ve even cried when released. However, I have never felt so called to a calling. For the first time in my 30 years, I felt I had a voice in the church. I felt I could impact our members and our community. It was the scariest calling I’ve ever accepted, as it came only 1 month after moving into a new state. I worked closely with our Bishop, helping Public Affairs at the local level. Every month I sat on Ward Council, helping the ward meet its goals through service. I worked with the Stake Council, helping PA at the stake level.
As dear as community outreach was and is to my heart, I could walk away from it. I could close that door and happily accept the new calling that came my way. Except, a new calling didn’t come. This wasn’t an exchange. This was a release. And with the release came a ban that I was no longer allowed to talk to my Bishop.
At the time, no explanations were given. I received a single phone call from the Stake President- all I knew was I was to be released, I could not talk to my Bishop, who was a friend-, and the Office of the First Presidency was being called about me.
Afraid, and unsure where to turn, I turned to my dear friend, who happened to also be my RS President. I told her what had happened. I sobbed that my voice was stifled. I felt so trapped. I was being punished for something I didn’t understand, and my callings were taken from me without consultation- in the middle of a few huge community projects with no plans for a replacement. I had no one to talk to. No one to explain. As one who already felt the imbalance between men and women in the church, I was without hope.
She understood. And she cried with me. And we both came to the only logical conclusion we could find- the Bishop had developed feelings for me and that something needed to happen. In my defense, as a friend and leader, she approached either the Bishop, and called him out on the unfairness. Why am I being punished for his problems? Why is the Bishop worth preserving, but the woman is disposable? Why was no one talking to me? What was my offense?
Later that day, I received a phone call from the Stake President. He told me that I need to close my loose lips, not talk about this with anyone, and to stop spreading such false rumors. “The Bishop has never had feelings for you.” He later told me I could never be a Relief Society President because I cannot keep confidences- all because I went to my RS Pres in a time of complete emotional and spiritual despair. I didn’t realize that what was happening to me wasn’t mine to share.
If it wasn’t him, then it must have been me. Do your best, always attend church, sustain your imperfect leaders, go to the temple, love your spouse, be a mother, serve and sacrifice for others, daughter of a bishop and stake presidency member… me. I was the cause of a phone call to the First Presidency. Somehow, somewhere I did something wrong. So dreadfully wrong that it signaled “defcon 5.”
Four days later, I found myself in a pit dark and unknown. I have struggled with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety and OCD for nearly 20 years. I knew darkness and despair and hopelessness- both through my biological predispositions and due to the agency of others. But this was a hopelessness I had never before felt. My dear husband was as supportive as he could be, and loved me through it all. But I felt unworthy. I felt like someone had taken scarlet paint and painted an “A” on my clothes and on my membership records. In the past, I had my spiritual foundation that could get me through. Even if the rest of me was in chaos, I still had a grounding of faith. Comfort in the stability of church. That foundation was gone. Everything I had believed about myself and the church was gone. What was I to do? Where was I to run? I was left without a spiritual leader. Without faith in the restoration of the Priesthood and man’s ability to receive revelation to lead Christ’s church. Without a belief that I was welcome and needed as me. Without faith in a God that was capable of loving me. All I had known and believed was shattered. What did this mean for the rest of my testimony? What did this mean about me?
“Tylenol, allergy medicine, multi-vitamins, anti-depressants…” I sat on the floor while my husband was at Scouts. The kids were watching a movie, and I was mentally going through my medicine cabinet. Trying to figure out the best one to use to end it all.
You see, I had been taught from a young age that our Priesthood leaders represent Christ. They held Priesthood keys as a “Common Judge in Israel.” But what if one… or two, in this case… judge the wrong judgement? What if you feel so rejected and unwanted in the fold by a Priesthood leader that they obviously avoid you? That they come down the line and shake people’s hands but stop before you? I was asked to lead JustServe, then abruptly removed from the project. Asked to speak in Stake Conference, but then received no follow through. That even after knowing I wanted to kill myself, and after the policy announcement (which came 2 weeks later) I had wanted to remove my name from records, no one reached out. No one was there to offer charity or a balm. I couldn’t run to my Priesthood leaders with my questions and concerns about the policy, or about anything! Was this the church led by Christ? Did these men truly hold the Keys of the Priesthood? If so, did they know something about my soul that I did not? That I was ugly and unworthy. Because they represent Christ, does that mean He wants this? He finds fault and views me as toxic to the work? He wants to preserve the Bishop’s calling over preserving a life? Can I not be trusted? He sees me as heathen. Why is He not fighting for me in this time of pain?
Every time I knelt to pray for understanding, and strength to keep going, the words from President Monson came to mind, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” Why, when I prayed, did I feel this was all wrong? Never once did I get even a fleeting feeling of this being a correct course. What I was receiving was in opposition to what my priesthood leaders were expressing. But yet, I felt an equivalent to an Amish shunning.
Needless to say, when Ward Conference came around I did not raise my hand to sustain. I couldn’t.
Nine months later I am still not allowed to speak to my Bishop one on one. I am not allowed to hold a calling that involves me working with him on any level. I have a new calling (which, oddly came the week after Mother’s Day. A day that I sent off an email asking to be released from all of my callings including VT). I still have no trust in my leadership. I still have to sit there, every Sunday, and see my Bishop on the stand and know that he is not *really* my bishop. I still sit through talks, and lessons, and discussions that tell us the Bishop’s door is always open. And I hear professionals in mental health, and leaders in the church teach that people going through psychiatric treatment should be working with their spiritual leader. But I can’t.
However, I’m still here.
For a long time, I felt the love of God all around me, but not at church. At church I felt anxiety and hatred. I felt a deep shame of who I was at the core and was constantly reminded that I will never be allowed a voice as a woman. That men can claim revelation and keys and do what they wish. Even take action without explanation.
It was a dark night- around 2am. I once again could not sleep. My mind raced. My heart hurt. My soul ached. I felt my relationship with my Savior had been mended- mostly out of my stubbornness and unwillingness to give up. I did not want to pray, so I knelt on my bed and asked in an exasperated way:
Do You feel the same way about me as my Priesthood leaders have made me feel? Am I to be shunned, shamed and feared? Do you even want me in the church? Because apparently the guys you put in charge do not.
And then it came. The once-in-a-lifetime, never forget, all encompassing, wrap you in a blanket fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s day feeling.
And God said, “No. I love you. You and I both know the truth. And that is all that matters.”
He is right.