Exponent II Classics: The Interview
A post devoted to an EXII classic is long overdue.
(a short story)
Vol 11, no 1 (Fall 1984)
“Do you pray?”
He had no business asking that question. I knew he didn’t, and he knew he didn’t. It wasn’t one of the twelve required questions. I had been through an interview with Bishop Jensen before, point by point. I had honestly answered all of the questions. Bishop Jensen and I had talked a long time about things, and he had never asked me about my prayers. Besides, if I chose to answer, I could say “yes.” After all, I did bow my head once a week, during the Sacrament. And I did say “amen,” even if I didn’t close my eyes. That was a type of prayer. I could say I prayed…But I had just told President Clark that I was honest in all of my dealings. I paused with my head bent and meticulously picked some lint from my skirt. With my eyes still down, I answered.
“No, President, I don’t.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. “You want to go to the temple but you don’t have a personal relationship with the Lord? You don’t pray?”
“Well, I used to pray,” I said with my foot tapping back and forth. “I used to pray a lot, up until a month ago. But I don’t pray anymore.”
“Why don’t you?”
“It doesn’t work,” I said.
“Why would you say that? God answers prayers.”
“Well, I asked him to save my marriage, and he didn’t.”
“Linda, you know the Lord doesn’t work like that. What could you do to help your marriage?”
“I don’t have a marriage,” I said. “I’m divorced. But I could still be married if I chose to take care of John financially for the rest of my life, and if I didn’t get upset over his girlfriends, and if I smiled. Living with a depressed person is no fun.”
“Well, Linda, you know depression and discouragement are the devil’s greatest tools,” he said.
Thank you very much, I thought. I’ve lost my family, and on top of everything else I can’t even mourn without committing a sin.
“You’re probably right.”
“What exactly did you pray for?” asked President Clark.
“I prayed for God to touch John’s heart, to make his want to change, so that he would love me and love Luke, and want to take care of us.” I paused, laughing to myself, and then said, “I remember reading an article in The Ensign, which told the steps to a happy marriage. One step was to ‘say you’re sorry and really mean it.’ Another was to ‘pray specifically for your family and your relationships at least once a day.’ The article stated that it was even better if you could pray twice a day. Well, you couldn’t count the number of times that I prayed. I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. And it was a righteous desire too, a righteous prayer. Families are forever. I had faith, I knew God would make John change.”
“The Lord doesn’t work like that,” President Clark said. “He can’t interfere with a person’s free agency.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “He can. And he does for people that really matter. He did for Paul, and he did for Alma the Younger. He stepped in on their free agency, and it wasn’t because of anything they did. It was because someone else was praying for them. The only thing that tells me is that either John, or Luke, or myself, or the three of us as a family, aren’t as important to God as Paul and Alma the Younger were. You see, I knew that God would do it, it was a righteous desire. I had faith. We were married ‘forever.’”
“But those men you’re talking about were harming a great number of people. They almost destroyed the Church at the time,” said President Clark. “Besides, John still has his agency.”
“What does that say for the worth of a soul?” I asked. “Never mind, I don’t need an answer. I accept it, for whatever reason there was. I don’t know why God wouldn’t touch John’s heart, but he didn’t. Okay, I can accept that…
…The semester I left him he was on academic probation for the third time. Three of his professors sat him down and told him that if he didn’t start to make progress they’d have to let him go. But John’s got his ‘P.R.’ skills down so pat that by the end of the meeting he had a once-a-week dinner appointment at two of the professors’ homes. He probably told them that his wife took his beloved son away and he was at his wits’ end, conveniently forgetting to mention his understanding girlfriends. It wouldn’t’ have taken a miracle. He could have been expelled or ‘ex-ed’ or both, and if he had been, I’m sure he would have left the valley. He would have nothing to keep him here. It’s so hard for me to handle the hypocrisy I’m forced to deal with daily, having him here. It makes my whole life, my whole understanding of the gospel and the values I’ve been taught, a farce. John should not get away with what he has done. And it wouldn’t take a miracle. It would just take someone in some position of authority to be inspired enough to see through him. Well, God didn’t choose to do things that way. Okay. I don’t understand it, but I accept it.
So then I prayed for one last thing. I prayed for a friend. You see, after you’ve been called a bitch to your face for over three years, more often than you’ve been called your own name, you begin to think you are one. You begin to feel like a bitch. And when you look in the mirror, that’s what you see. I mean, my own husband didn’t love me, after all I did for him. When that happens, you look deep inside and you start to think that something is really wrong with you.
I didn’t pray for a lover, or a spouse, or even two dates in a row. I just needed to know that God was aware of me and my needs, and that he loved me and really wanted me to be happy; that this was just some terrible mistake and that he would work things out. I needed to know that I was okay, and that someone, somewhere, could find me attractive and want to spend time with me, of his own free will, not because he had been set up, but just because he thought I would be a person he would take pleasure in being with. I just wanted to go out to eat and talk with someone, or go on a walk, or, or anything. It could have happened. I try to keep myself up. I meet people at school and at work. It’s not like I sit home all day eating chocolates and watching soap operas. So I set up a time limit. I asked him for a date by the end of March. That should have been plenty of time. I was friendly to everyone I met and I tried to be happy. But I guess that was just too big of a miracle for God to pull off. He could feed the Israelites manna for forty years—when they didn’t even ask for it, but he couldn’t find Linda date.
So, anyway, I don’t pray. I have prayed every prayer. There were no prayers left in me. You see, if I were to set myself up, even one more time, and then be let down again, I don’t thinking I could make it.”
Suddenly I felt very silly. My eyes were burning. I held them open wide, looking down, hoping they would dry. How dumb, I thought, who prays for a friend? To have a friend all you have to do is be a friend, right? It seemed to work for other people. What do friends matter anyway? I’d gotten along this far without them. I had my son—he was my friend. I wished I had told President Clark that I did pray. One of the questions they should ask in the interview should be ‘are you too honest?’ You can get in as much trouble being too honest as you can not being honest enough. Besides, they didn’t really expect anyone to be completely honest. If they did they wouldn’t have locks on the temple lockers. I noticed I had pulled a hangnail loose and a tiny drop of blood appeared. Disregarding President Clark, I sucked it clean.
“You’re bitter and vengeful,” he spoke softly. “’Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.’ I can’t let you go to the temple in this spirit.”
“Yes, I’m bitter. But it’s natural to be bitter, and Bishop Jensen said that going to the temple would help. He said it would be good for me to be in the presence of the Lord’s spirit.”
“I don’t agree,” said Clark. “I think it would just be a bad experience for you at this time. Look, Linda, my wife and I had three lovely, healthy boys and then we had a baby with Down’s Syndrome. Do you think I was bitter?” He paused.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Of course you were bitter, I thought. Any normal, healthy parent who had a handicapped baby would feel bitter that their child would never enjoy the experiences this life has to offer. Either you were bitter or you were an emotional cripple.
“No. I wasn’t bitter,” he said. “I accepted what the Lord gave me. The Lord will never give you more than you can handle.”
Well that does it, I thought. I can see someone being bitter about having a baby with Down’s Syndrome and then working through his feelings and overcoming it, and President Clark could have been like that, but then why wouldn’t he say that’s how it happened? And if it did happen that way, he would be more understanding toward me. Christ was sympathetic toward the adulterous woman, but this man couldn’t be sympathetic toward me. And I hadn’t broken any commandments. And besides, that scripture simply isn’t true. God does give people more than they can handle, all the time. Just look at the alcoholics and people in the mental hospitals: They certainly have more than they can handle. This guy is sick, I told myself…
…“Well, Linda,” President Clark said slowly. “The temple is a very special place. It’s for special people.”
I know that, I thought with a sense of panic tightening my throat. Of course it’s special, that’s why I Want to go there. I’m a special person too. They told me in Primary that I was God’s favorite person.
“I just don’t think you’re ready to go,” Clark said. “You have some serious problems to overcome first. Divorce is very serious. Do you realize you’ve given up the right to an eternal family?” he asked…
…“Look,” I said. “It’s not that big of a deal. My best girlfriend is just getting married and she asked me to be there. But like I said, she’s my best girlfriend, she’ll understand.” I didn’t bother to tell him that my sister and I had planned on taking our boys to Disneyland while we would be in L.A. for the wedding. Nor did I tell him that Mom and I had talked about going to the temple every other Thursday, and then maybe out for lunch. It wouldn’t have made any difference…
…“Maybe the Lord has answered your prayers,” he said. “He has given you supportive parents. You should thank Him for that. Who knows—it might have been worse if He had done what you asked. Maybe you really didn’t need those things.”
“But I did need them.” I said. “Even if I only thought I needed them, that’s still a need. And if God is showing me how much He loves me by giving me such great parents, He must sure hate Luke to give him such a rotten father.” Yeah, I thought, God answered my prayers.
God said, “Linda, I don’t like you anymore, and I’m never going to do anything nice for you again.”
“Look, Linda, I really hate to cut this short, but I’m due at sacrament meeting in ten minutes to help bless my grandson. Just pray about it, please. God love Luke and wants you to be a good mother for him. Come back next week after you’ve thought about the things I’ve said, and after you’ve prayed. You simply won’t be happy until you can forgive John and accept the Lord and His ways.”
By now President Clark had risen and walked around his desk, holding out his right hand. I quickly placed the moistened recommend into my left hand and shook his hand politely.
“Let’s get together next Sunday,” he said.
By the time I turned my back and left his office, the tears had come. I wiped each one away quickly with the palm of my hands. At least I didn’t cry in front of him, I told myself, at least he didn’t see me cry. I tore the recommend Bishop Jensen had signed into twelve tiny pieces and walked toward Mom’s car. She had popped in and out of the stake president’s office just before my interview and had been waiting all this time for me. I opened the car door crying.
“What’s wrong, Linda?” my mom asked.
“Nothing really,” I said. “Except that I guess I won’t be needing this.” I let the torn recommend fall in the gutter beside the car, thinking, that’s one thing that can’t be salvaged.
“What happened?” Mom asked.
“I’m not sure. I guess I Didn’t study my catechism enough. I said ‘no’ when the right answer was ‘yes.’”