My temple recommend interview is coming up. One question that always confuses me is: are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?
I think this question is asked to make sure you are not lying, stealing, cheating, living a double-life, or conducting business fraud. However, I always interpret it as: Are you always 100% completely honest?
How do you answer that question? If I say “Yes” I am inevitably lying. So I always say “No.” To which my leaders usually chuckle and I quickly explain “I mean I don’t willfully lie or hurt anybody, but I’m sure I’ve told a lies in the last two years. In fact I’m lying to you right now by answering all these questions about prophets, belief and faith with one word answers because it is all so much more complicated than that.” I sometimes have the presence of mind to leave out the last part, but normally I have mouth diarrhea the second I am stuck in a room with an authority figure and cannot seem to figure out the line between information that my leaders need-to-know and what is none-of-their-business.
After one such meeting, I decided that I would try to live my life without telling any lies (mind you this was the hyper-religious OCD college Whoa-man at Ricks College in Rexburg and not the uber-critical culturally relative academic Whoa-man now). Right then and there I committed to being 100% honest.
I have many weaknesses, but some things I’ve never lacked for are determination, stick-to-it-ness, or obsessive-compulsive behavior. So when I say 100%, I mean 100 freaking percent.
That night there was a church fireside. In college everyone went to these because we were all single and spent about 90% of our time checking out the opposite sex. I arrived and saw some of my friends. One of them was named Andrew. He was a cute guy from the South. We were semi-flirty, just on the precipice of going out. We all sat together and just as we were taking our seats, Andrew noticed I had a Band-Aid on my finger and nonchalantly asked, “Oh, did you cut yourself?”
I automatically replied, “Yeah” as he took a seat a couple of people down from me.
Suddenly I realized that it had only been two hours into my new commitment to live a purely honest life and I had already lied. I had not cut myself. I had a wart. Yes, a nasty ewwy gross wart on my finger and I was totally embarrassed about it. Nothing is less attractive than a wart, right?
The next ten minutes were excruciating. I fretted, “Do I tell him the truth and look like an idiot and reveal that I have a wart? Or do I fail at my goal?” Both were equally unbearable.
For most people the choice was easy, but for me commitments are commitments and failure was not an option.
In retrospect, if I was going to go the honest route I probably should not have waited those ten minutes. Because when I finally decided (and my neurotic side won out- como siempre), I leaned across two people tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “I lied.”
“What?” he responded with a quizzical look completely unaware of our original conversation.
“I lied.” I repeated. “I didn’t cut myself.” I hesitated and then said it really quickly as though it would be less painful, “I really have a wart and was using the Band-Aid to cover it.”
He just stared at me. The sound of some older white male church leader droned on in the background.
From the look on his face you could tell that at first he was just totally confused. He had moved well beyond our greeting. I’m sure he didn’t really care if I’d cut myself in the first place. Probably but had just noticed my Band-Aid and said something.
After soaking in what I’d said you could see his face change. It became more of a “this chick is psycho” face. I’m really not. I promise. But what else could he think? I was nuts. To this day I am still royally embarrassed about this conversation with Andrew. Obviously he never called again. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have either. That girl was crazy.
After swallowing a huge pill that was uncovering my OCD masked as hyper-religious zeal I began working through it. I still cringe when I think of this story and the many more stories I have just like it, but it has been over a decade and I feel like I have a better handle on things now. That is, until I go to temple recommend interviews.
My last one was two years ago and a total fiasco. It was three weeks after the birth of my first child and I had come to the third hour of church just to teach the Relief Society lesson I was assigned. I had planned on just attending church for that one hour so that I could nurse my infant at home (I still did not have the nursing thing down). The executive secretary found me right after my lesson and asked if I could speak to a member of the bishopric. I did not know what it was for but never feel like I can refuse so I followed him and went into a small room with the Ted Kennedy lookalike 2nd counselor who informed me I was having an impromptu temple recommend interview.
My recommend was not expired but there was some anxiety about the fact that I had gotten it while living in Africa and it did not have a bar code. Also there was some ward drama where people were concerned about my “worthiness” due to my involvement with Exponent II and WAVE (that is another story for another time). All of this to say that I was caught completely off guard.
He began the questions without any conversation and I fumbled my way through the first part. It is very difficult for me to answer such complicated sentiments in one-syllable words, but I could tell that he was not someone who I trusted to talk about my doubts and fears and my breasts started leaking because it had been too long since I last nursed. I just steeled myself to get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. Then he got the question about garments.
I had forgotten that that was one of the temple recommend questions. Since I have never really had a problem with garments it must have just slipped my mind. His eyes peered up from his papers judgmentally at my hesitation and my eyes filled with tears upon remembering that I had not worn my garments that day. I was only planning on being there an hour. I was still so new at nursing and my daughter and I were really struggling in the process. I was leaking non-stop and had to almost get completely naked to even start the long process of getting her to latch properly. My nursing garments were all soaked through within a couple hours even when I worn breasts pads and I was still bleeding enough to require real underwear.
I could have worn my garments over my bra and underwear but no one had ever told me that that was okay. I could have felt confident in my no garments approach to post-natal recovery but no one had ever told me that that was okay either. So instead I sat there silently for a minute feeling horribly guilty, judged and a little bit angry. My mind reverted to its old patterns of coping and I immediately began explaining in great detail my lack of garments based on all of the bodily fluids still uncontrollably seeping out of my body. After I had sufficiently explained that I normally wear my garments without a problem but that this was my first kid and I was struggling to figure it all out, I finally clamped my mouth shut and bowed my head.
I was humiliated and his words did not help. He said something about his wife and daughters also having children and being able to handle garments just fine. Then he asked if I felt worthy to answer that question in the affirmative, as though he did not think so but would let me hang myself, and I silently nodded.
The rest of the interview went quickly and I did not look him in the eye. My guilt and humiliation quickly flamed into outrage and I seethed that this man who had never experienced childbirth and its after effects in his life was judging me. I was sad that I did not have any women in my life (yet) who had told me that I was normal and that garments were really hard to deal with after giving birth. I was disappointed in a system that praised motherhood non-stop but then made it so difficult to fully nurture an infant by mandating church approved underwear and inquisitions of their usage. I was dealing with so many new-mom emotions and physical changes that his condescension broke something inside me. The only comfort I received was a vision that flitted across my mind, one that makes me believe in a God with a sense of humor if it is not too sacrilegious, was a picture of this man leaking and bleeding from all his orifices and crying like a baby at the discomfort completely unconcerned with the concept of garments. I tucked that image away into the file of sins of patriarchy in the recesses of my mind and vowed to never talk to another man again about my physical body or underwear. He had absolutely no understanding. He had no right to make me feel shame. I would never let that happen again.
So it is with much nervousness that I approach my next temple recommend interview. I’m no longer a new mom but I cannot seem to quell the rush of honest revelations that pour out of my mouth every time I sit in one of those interviews. I think it is the question: are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men that reverberates throughout the entire interview and I struggle to find the balance with answering that question in the affirmative while maintaining some level of self-respect and distance from person asking the question.
How do you deal with that question? What does it mean to you? Do you think male church leaders should be asking women personal questions to which they have no experience? What is a solution? How can we be “honest” without revealing too much information? Help!