Am I Saved?

christ-and-young-women-by-del-parson_595A part of each work day for me is spent sitting, being, and sharing with people who are at the end of life. Cancer treatment has failed and as they face the reality that death is imminent we speak of what has brought them meaning and joy. Frequently there are tears and that deep emotional connection that in the LDS community we call “Feeling the Spirit.” Often I find that in these moments of connection my patients take an interest in my salvation. They want to know that someone who has been there for them in a difficult moment meets the criteria for entrance into their version of heaven. For the most part I take this interest in my salvation as an expression of love and regard.

Recently I shared one of these deep conversations with a middle aged man from an evangelical Christian background. He recited favorite memorized New Testament bible verses and together we reflected on their significance to life in general and to this patient in particular. From a place of loving sincerity (and with teary eyes) this patient then asked me if I was saved; “Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”

Although my concept of Jesus is constantly evolving, it was easy to share with my patient a little bit about the joy, love, and grace I have felt through Jesus and his example in my life. My patient appeared relieved as I confessed belief and acceptance of Jesus as my personal savior. We had each given and received love in our encounter. As our encounter ended I expressed how honored I felt to share a moment of truth and goodness with such a loving person.

A few days later I found myself engaged in a similar conversation with an equally kind middle aged man of the LDS faith and his wife. Facing the end of life far too soon, he expressed concerns and hopes for his family. I provided the man and his wife with practical end-of-life planning information they requested. He mourned deeply that he is too weak to travel to the beautiful mountain lakes where he has felt the greatest joy in his life.  We spoke of gratitude for life and receiving the love of Jesus. We reviewed the many important relationships the man has nurtured in his lifetime. Once again there was deep tenderness of feelings shared and we “Felt the Spirit.”

At the close of the conversation my patient got that look in his eye and I thought, “He’s going to ask me if I am saved.” I was surprised and confused when the man asked, “Are you married? How old are you?” Without thinking I quickly confirmed that I am indeed single and reassured the man that I feel God has a purpose and plan for my life. I continued to process his question even as I observed that this man seemed to be trying to “share goodness” with me. He was so worried for me! Almost as if I was the one with cancer terminally metastasizing throughout my body.

I tried to soothe him with surety that my life is on track and that I have had life shifting experiences and relationships as a single person that would not have been available to me as a married woman or mother. I confidently proclaimed that I am known to God and that my life has meaning. I held his hand and spoke to him of  how he is known to God. His life and suffering matter. He squeezed my hands with strength and shared his fears that he has not done enough. That he is not saved. I assured him that the grace of God is sufficient and that when he passes he will be received in love.

Later, as I pondered on this interaction and the odd question of my marital status, I was reminded of a travel adventure with my mother. She was reluctant to spend time in Mexico City because of fears that we might be kidnapped by drug spectre-mexico-city-parade-cr-courtesytrafficking narcos. I reassured Mom that the capitol is one of the safer places to travel in Mexico. All was well until our final morning. We were significantly delayed in our attempt to return to our hotel and catch a taxi for our departing flight. Trying to make our way around the closed off plaza of the Zocalo we were hindered by closed streets, movie sets, and a pedestrian bottleneck caused by filming of the James Bond movie, Spectre. I stopped to snap a cell phone picture and lost my mother who walked on with resolute focus to not miss our flight. Only two blocks from our hotel, I searched the crowd and determined it would be best to make my way to our hotel room and wait. After a few cell phone calls to a helpful aunt in southern Mexico I worked out that my mother had a nervous breakdown when she realized we were separated, but that a helpful local was walking her back to the hotel.

My mother was still tearful upon our reunion as she related to me how she traveled at least a block before she realized I was gone and fell to her knees on the sidewalk, screaming and crying, “My daughter, my daughter, I have lost my daughter. I’ll never see her again. What if kidnappers have her?” Kind strangers knelt down to soothe her and asked, “How old is your little girl? What does she look like?” and provided reassurance, “There are lots of police here for the filming. She is safe. We will find her.” My mother finally calmed enough to speak between sobs, “She is forty years old, but (sob) (breath) (sob), she is NOT married!”

As I helped wipe her tears in our hotel room. I did not laugh. I did not laugh for several hours until I had a quiet moment at the airport to marvel and smile with some chagrin at my mother’s deep fear that I was lost to her, and maybe lost to this world. Neither of these losses was as terrible as the notion that I was lost AND unmarried. Like a small child, I was not ready to walk back to a hotel or heaven alone, because marriage is salvation.

The words I am told to repeat in the temple affirm that women are saved through their husband. I am one degree removed from God, a queen and priestess to my husband. He is God’s priest. In this version of salvation I am an eternal adjunct. Or I could be, if I were wed. But I am blessed, baptized, confirmed, endowed and not married and therefore I am not saved. In fact, my life is not really a life because I am unwed and childless. Maybe one day after I die I can be sealed to a man in the hereafter and begin to live when I am dead.

These attitudes and beliefs that exalt marriage above baptism, temple endowment and daily application of Christ’s atonement have destroyed the LDS Church as a space of worship and community for this single female. I come to Church and Temple to serve and learn about Jesus Christ and how to be a more authentic, kind, and loving person. I get idolatry of the family. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not enough to save a righteous single woman. I need to be sealed to a man. I need to be fruitful and multiply. Without the ultimate saving ordinance of Celestial Marriage, I am lost.

My Grandmother tells me to ignore the words of the temple. She say’s it is silly to take seriously that language about being a priestess to my husband who is the priest to God. She tells me I am saved too. But she gifts a handmade quilt to each grandchild when they marry in the temple. She is 92. Anticipating death, she has already made quilts for the unwed 7 and 9 year old grandchildren. There is no quilt for me or my single brother in his thirties. She does not anticipate that either of us will wed in this lifetime.

She tells me to ignore the temple words I find so hurtful, but in her actions she denies me inclusion in a family ritual that signals transition to adulthood and qualification for salvation. There is no legacy quilt of Grandma’s love and approbation for the unwed. There is no quilt waiting for me in the attic expressing her faith in my salvation through matrimony before death. In my Mormon world, I am not saved.

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24 Responses

  1. ElleK says:

    So beautiful, and so sad. I am familiar with the frustration and heartache single people can feel due to LDS meetings and insensitivity, but I’ve never heard it discussed in quite this way before, and it makes sense to me. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Seriana says:

    Thank you for sharing this. The doctrine is unclear, but the pain is real and constant for us single sisters.

  3. BB says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is why I fear for my daughters. I have left the LDS church for reasons such as these, but my children sometimes still go with their mother. I worry about their views of their own self-worth given the LDS church’s doctrine on women.

  4. HarryStamper says:

    Isn’t it true, the same arguments apply to men? A man cannot be exalted without the woman, neither the woman without the man. Hence the importance of marriage. Both sexes depend on each other mutually.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Yup. Harry you are correct. Me, my single brother, and all our single friends will be hanging out in some lesser degree of heaven without the memory of a handmade grandma quilt if we do not receive the ultimate saving ordinance of marriage. Too bad Jesus did all of that atoning and I did all of that repenting and forgiving because ultimately if I am not wed, I do not get to enter the tippity top level of the Celestial Kingdom. I guess some of my less-than memorable gal pals might be hanging out with us too if their husbands forget their secret name. Even marriage is no guarantee a Mormon wife won’t be singing, “Say My Name” at the pearly gates.

      • HarryStamper says:

        I detect sarcasm:)….Are you humorously mocking the path?…..or do you angrily describe the path?

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Sans sarcasm, my life is pretty good. It would be nice if both single women and men could be treated as spiritual equals without judgement in regards to their marital status. I am not at all angry. My path is the perfect path for me and most days I would not change it. But , I do feel distressed when people I love are so very worried for me. I wish that my marital status was not treated as a terminal illness of the soul. I wish LDS doctrine did not exalt marriage above all other sacraments.

  5. Laura says:

    I’m sorry, but that’s TOTALLY untrue, even doctrinally. We really know so very little about the next life, but what we do know does not actually say that unmarried women don’t qualify for the Celestial Kingdom. In fact, the only kingdom we know anything about is the HIGHEST DEGREE of the CK. But there is more than one! I’m sorry, but you CAN’T tell me that Mother Theresa isn’t making it into the Celestial Kingdom simply because she wasn’t married and wasn’t Mormon. If you look at what our scriptures and doctrine ACTUALLY say, not just what people mindlessly spout with zero research, it’s pretty evident that we are “saved” on our own merits, not those of our spouse. And not based on whether we HAVE a spouse. I went through a divorce myself several years ago, and I was worried about what that meant for me in the eternities. My ex-husband was no longer worthy, still isn’t, and I despaired of things like what my sealing now meant, what happened if I canceled the sealing, and where my life would end up. So many “what ifs.” I was told, VERY clearly, that I was not to worry, that I qualified for all the same blessings I had before. I had fulfilled my end of the bargain in our marriage, and Christ and God would never punish me for someone else’s choices.

    I get that many in the Church — most, probably — completely misunderstand this. But if you really look a little bit, our doctrine is not nearly so black and white. Marriage and family is the most beautiful thing, and it is divine. But there are still so many variables in this life, and God has more than compensated for it.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Laura, I agree that marriage and family are beautiful things. But I am not convinced that they are THE most beautiful thing. I have been witness to some really beautiful compassion and sacrifice between people who are not family or blood relation. Those moments were divine to me.
      Having served as a temple ordinance worker I am very certain that the words (paraphrased to avoid offense) in the temple state that women as represented by Eve will be queen’s and priestesses to Adam (their husband). Men, represented by Adam are the only individual at the altar making a direct covenant to God. I really do not like that this is what the words say.
      Many like my Grandmother have told me, “Honey it all works out in the end.” I guess my nature is to want it in writing. Or stated clearly in the temple script.
      Of course we are “saved” on our own merits and personal relationship to deity. But why doesn’t our doctrine consistently say this? Mother Teresa certainly counts as “saved” in my judgement. But, by Mormon standards she will only be saved if she accepts a Mormon baptism after death and marries in the Spirit World prior to advancing to a kingdom. Doctrinally, Mother Teresa is not making it to the Celestial kingdom unless she is vicariously baptized and wed. I do not believe we should be punished for the choices of others. But as a community, at least in my Mormon neighborhood in Utah, unmarried is not saved. Good people who love me are afraid for me because to them unwed is not saved.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Laura, it does say in D&C 131:2 that only married folks can reach the highest degree of the CK. There may be other degrees of glory in the Celestial Kingdom that we don’t know about that I’m sure are wonderful, but it still feels wrong to me to automatically exclude anyone (like Mother Teresa) based on their marital status from the highest degree of glory.

      When we have these scriptures and doctrine, it falls on us to ponder and pray over them and see what feels right. It sounds like you’ve already done that hard work in your own life. But, I think CM’s 3 examples illustrate just how pervasive this doctrine is.

  6. Maggie says:

    I agree with your assessment of the endowment and lds theology. And I just don’t quite know what to do with it. I want to believe in an infinite atonement. I want to believe that I can become like God. I want to believe that this life is about learning how to take care of one another irrespective of familial relation. But in believing these things, I feel that I stand in opposition to the very church that taught me these principles. It seems that the God of Mormonism is unable or unwilling to redeem their daughters and relies upon their sons to do so. And I don’t believe that kind of God is worthy of my worship.

  7. Violadiva says:

    Oh, I feel my compassion grow as I read this…thank you for providing such a valuable, beautiful and painful perspective to benefit me and my worldview. When I hear folks talk about these wobbly doctrines as if we *know* what will happen in the next life, who ends up where and what it will be like….I just shake my head. God is so much more creative. I just can’t see Heaven as an exclusive, whites only, straights only, couples only resort.

  8. Liz says:

    This is excellent, April. The part about “beginning to live when I die” was so poignant to me – so often we seem to want to punt on our responsibility to each other, saying that “it will just work out in the end,” as though that absolves us of caring for each other and our salvation NOW. This is a fabulous post.

  9. Damominator says:

    Thank you for this! I have often wondered if I was the only one feeling foolish for making promises to my imaginary husband, one step removed from God due to my femaleness. It rankles that we teach in Primary and youth classes the Second Article of Faith, which states that men will be punished for their own sons and not for Adam’s transgression, yet as adults in the temple we learn that this doctrine literally applies to men only. Due to Eve’s transgression, women will forever stand behind their husbands, who act as the go-between betwixt the female and the divine.

    • Damominator says:

      *sins, not sons. Sorry, I can’t figure out how to edit my comment.

    • Emily U says:

      Exactly. As Mormons we congratulate ourselves that we have such an enlightened view of Eve. But in fact we damn her and her daughters for her choice, just like most other Christians do.

  10. Emily U says:

    Thank you for this poignant post. The grandma quilt story is heart wrenching. And so is the story of how in a moment of extreme stress, your mother’s worst fear for you comes out – that you aren’t married! Your stories reminds me of a conversation I had with a Lutheran friend once, in which I told her that Mormons believe you have to be married to be saved, and she looked at me like I’d just said Mormons believe you have to eat green eggs and ham while standing on the moon to be saved. It sounds crazy on the surface, and it only gets more problematic as you look at it more deeply.

  11. N says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot in relation to one spouse being righteous too. The same principle you are discussing applies to women whose husband has been sealed to them but no longer qualifies for the Celestial. I have so many questions in addition to yours:
    Is the sealing ordinance all I need from my husband? Do I need to stay sealed to someone who no longer qualifies? Do I still need to go through my (unrighteous) husband in order to qualify for that top tier? Will I lose a tier if he does not honor the sealing or, heaven forbid, we cancel the sealing? I feel sometimes that I have this bo-between who is not imaginary, but is not present in the temple and might as well be.
    It would be wonderful if I could rely on direct, clear promises about righteous wives’ status like we have in other doctrines. I wish we had better, specific promises as individual women as well.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      It is maddening to me that there is so much specificity with something like baptism (white clothes-even underwear, hair completely submerged, witnesses, etc..) but that our doctrine on salvation is so fuzzy. Marriage is the most important sacrament to most Mormons, but there is so little direction on what happens in cases of divorce, inactive/unrighteous spouse, polygamy, widowed, remarried. Just the pat, “It will all work out.”

  12. sarah says:

    So if marriage is so all important and absolutely necessary for the highest kingdom of heaven, why did Christ not marry in this life? Or if he did, why is it never mentioned if it is so darned important? I really don’t get why Mormons are so obsessed with marriage, particularly when the ultimate marriage toted in the D&C is a polygamous one, which the majority of us wouldn’t want to touch with a 100-foot-pole. I simply don’t get it. Yes, marriage and family can be great. So can singleness and childlessness, believe it or not ;). I really don’t believe we are here to follow the same path and learn the same lessons, and I don’t believe we are all meant to be married and have children in this life. Then again, I’m not exactly a traditionalist.

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