Exponent II Classics: The Interview

A post devoted to an EXII classic is long overdue.

The Interview
(a short story)
Laura Hamblin
Provo, Utah
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.’”

*photo: “Family Reunion after the Partition, West Pakistan” by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Kirsten says:

    I can only say that this piece left me deflated and sad. I have a friend going through a similar divorce situation and I pray that whoever she speaks to is more loving and understand than this priesthood holder. I am curious to know what has happened in Laura Hamblin’s life since.

  2. Dora says:

    This piece makes me so incredibly sad and infuriated. It underscores the vast ecclesiastical power that a stake president has, in our lay leadership, to make or break the spirit of the people under his charge. President Clark is inflexible and self-righteous, little caring how his apathy wounds Laura Hamblin. I think that those who misuse or neglect their ecclesiastical authority will be called to repent at a time when they would wish mountains to cover their souls. Is it vengeful to say that I even wish it?

    What would I say to Laura? Only that I hope she can do what my dear friends have had to do … do all you can, and if that doesn’t work, be patient enough for it to pass. It would be a great shame to let the sin of the husband, or the apathy of the interviewer to occlude her path.

  3. D'Arcy says:

    I’ve asked these questions, I’ve prayed these prayers, I’ve said no when I should have said yes. My recommend is in little pieces too.

  4. madhousewife says:

    That’s an awful story. It breaks my heart.

  5. kli says:

    This is from 1984?! What happened to Linda?

    I am very conflicted over having an older male “judge” if I’m worthy or not to enter the temple. I recently had a disheartening experience when going in to get my Stake President to sign my rec. Instead of asking me the official questions, he started off by asking me to read from the Strength of Youth pamphlet about modesty of dress. I was so confused… I’m a 29 year-old married woman. But, I complied. He then asked me to bear my testimony. I tried…but I couldn’t. I stammered. I was honest, and told him I’m working on things. He said he couldn’t sign my recommend because he had felt like something was wrong, and “realized” it was my testimony. He said if I read my scriptures for 1/2 an hour everyday, then perhaps in the next couple months we could meet again and he would sign it. I asked why he had me read outloud from the pamplet- and he admitted that he thought I was tucking my garments. (I was wearing a a shade shirt- which is specifically designed to cover them). The whole incident left me so upset…and I nearly did decide to rip up my recommend.

    Instead, once our Bishop found out about what had happened, he was very upset. especially because we had been working together, and we both had felt good about my going to the temple. A few days later I got a call saying that the Stake Pres would be at our ward to sign my rec. the following Sunday. We met…he apologized for the misunderstanding and said my Bishop assured him was ‘worthy’ and he signed it…now I can go…

    But now I’m torn…I still feel ‘bitter’ about what happened. The good part is that my husband and I are closer after going through it- because he was able to see for the first time, what it’s like for a female. I’m trying to realize that this man is just human, and I don’t want to allow this incident to distract me from my own path… but I do worry about other young women who go to these men of authority and leave feeling miserable. And I worry about having a daughter and sending her through these same types of interviews with men who do not know how to relate…

  6. Caroline says:

    Kli, your story makes me so angry. Where was this guy getting off making your read out loud about modesty? And then asking you to bear your testimony out of the blue? Geez, stick to the script, leaders.

    I know what you mean about wondering if you want your daughters (or your sons) to be asked invasive questions and jugdged by a man they barely know. One conclusion I’ve come to is that leaders generally don’t want to have a heart to heart with you during a rec interview. They just want easy answers with no equivocation. I will encourage my kids to think of the questions in ways which will enable them to give the easy answers. After all, it’s up to us to define what “sustain” means, or “believe” or “wear day and night” or “keep the law of chastity.” If my leaders’ definitions are different than mine, oh well.

    I would have to have a lot of trust and a close relationship with a leader to pour my heart out to them about my fears and doubts. And if I did, I would want it to be reciprocal. I would want him to talk to me about some of his struggles. Then it becomes more like a real conversation, where both of us grow in understanding, than the one sided judging/advice thing that sometimes happens in these interviews. Ultimately, I just don’t like the idea of opening my most intimate self up to a stranger without the hope for reciprocity – it gives them a power over me that I’m uncomfortable with.

  7. madhousewife says:

    Ultimately, I just don’t like the idea of opening my most intimate self up to a stranger without the hope for reciprocity – it gives them a power over me that I’m uncomfortable with.

    Yes! This is exactly how I feel. It’s different if you’re going to your bishop specifically for some counseling, but in a TR interview–especially with the SP, who most likely doesn’t know you at all–this beyond-the-standard-basics questioning seems very invasive.

  8. jana says:

    Emily:
    Thank you so much for posting this poignant piece of writing.

    My recommend is still in my wallet by my health insurance card. It’s expired, but still there and not torn into pieces. For me it represents are part of me that’s still important, but is something that I chose not to renew–yet I’m sure if some man had misused his power to prevent me from holding a recommend, mine would be in pieces, too.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Oops, I forgot to note, Laura wrote this as a fiction piece–important piece of info! Sorry!

  10. Angie says:

    Examples like this story have led me to some ambivalence about the church. As I age (I’m now in my mid-thirties), the ambivalence grows more and more acute – because the leaders are now my peers.

    For right or wrong, this is how I feel now: that I have a direct relationship with Jesus Christ, and that this is all that matters in my spiritual life. From this relationship flows my beliefs in temples, priesthood, prophets, and the Book of Mormon. But if there is anything that interferes with these secondary beliefs (like the example in this post), then I will fall back on my relationship with the Savior.

    Sometimes I think that makes me more a candidate for the born-again mega church down the road?

  11. Angie says:

    Why do I go to the LDS church? Why do I persevere through things that cause me anxiety, sadness, loneliness or anguish? Because of this:

    “I recall a conversation I had with Elder Bednar one day when he served as president of BYU–Idaho. As a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy, he had been on a stake conference assignment the weekend before. He commented to me that if he were to be assigned one, and only one, point of doctrine to talk about for the remainder of his life, he would want it to be the enabling power of the Atonement.”
    (Betty Oldham, http://www.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2008_07_01_Oldham.htm)

    That’s all that matters to me. Jesus Christ and the enabling power of His atonement. Yes, the culture and the people of the church can hurt me sometimes, usually inadvertently, I believe. But the Savior and His atonement are all that matter.

  12. kli says:

    Caroline- Thanks for your reply. I’m still getting to the point where I can feel as you wrote “then if my leader’s definitions are different than mine,’Oh,Well’.”

    It’s SUCH a breath of fresh air to get onto this site a read articles about people who feel the same way I do about things. It makes me feel like I really can stay LDS and be true to my own conscience…

  13. gladtobeamom says:

    I too feel like this. I am wondering if He doesn’t answer my prayers or maybe he counts on people to be inspired to help others and everyone around me can’t be inspired.

    I too would like to know how and what she is doing now.

    Another case of sympathy instead of empathy. We should never feel as if we understand what someone is going through unless we have gone through the same exact thing.

  14. cchrissyy says:

    ack! I wish it had FICTION big across the top, then I wouldn’t have been bummed out unnecessarily!

  15. AnaCA says:

    Oh, heartbreak. I know someone who had a similar experience with her bishop during her initial separation from her now-ex-husband, a chronically depressed and angry emotional abuser who refused treatment over many years. I think it’s been 18mos-2 years ago since her recommend was taken. This month a new bishop was called in her ward. She’s hoping for the best.

    It might be fiction, but it’s pretty real. Even 24 years later.

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