It’s an innocent question, but it rips at my heart a little more each time it is asked. I have too many skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have two baptism dresses in my closet, one that I couldn’t resist because it was on sale at Costco, and another that was given to us. It was all so simple then, back when I was on auto-pilot to heaven. The path was steady and sure. My plane was headed straight toward the Celestial Kingdom and all I had to do was sit back and check things off my list. Married in the temple, check. Motherhood, check. Endure Sacrament Meeting with toddlers in tow once a week, check. Ten years of smooth sailing from the temple to my first-born’s baptism. Of course she would be baptized right after she turned eight, and taut her new cleanliness by wearing a pure white dress to church. That was one more thing to check off my list.
Then I woke up.
When I realized that I was flying on auto-pilot, I also realized that my path wouldn’t necessarily lead me to heaven. The dread set in. You mean I actually have to learn to fly my own plane? The flying lessons were short because I was already in midair. Now I am awake, and I am flying, and I am thinking about the covenants I make. I don’t want my daughter to grow up on auto-pilot. I want her to think. I want her baptism to mean something to her right now. When I mention that to others, they tell me that she can’t understand it completely right now, but she just needs to do it so that she will be saved in the next life. Isn’t the current moment the most important one of our entire existence? If it doesn’t mean something to her right now, how is it going to help her for eternity? If we aren’t changed and made better by our rituals, how are they magically going to save us for eternity?
I want her baptism to mean something for her and to change her. I want her to choose it, not out of fear for her eternal salvation, not because it’s what everyone else wants for her, but because she wants to use it to be a better person. I don’t remember much about my own baptism. I just flowed along, immersed in a cultural current. It was peaceful and serene. I had no idea at the time that the slightest move against the current could be so painfully exhausting.
Looking back at all the rituals I have been a part of in the Church, I know that I have had some beautiful and sacred moments. I don’t want to trivialize the sacred experiences people do have. But at the risk of sounding heretical, the symbolism and rituals are old. I bet they meant a great deal to the early saints. When I study church history I feel their fire and passion. They were not on auto-pilot, they were actively engaged with their faith. Now I feel like all we have left is lack-luster. I look around during Sacrament Meeting and see people sleeping, reading, and playing on their phones. The fire has simmered, yet we continue to go through the repetitive motions in hopes that our actions will benefit us in the next life.
When I was on auto-pilot, I found the temple boring and had a hard time staying awake, yet I thought going faithfully was enough. Now I want more. I want my covenants to mean something to me now, not just when I get to heaven. I want the fire and passion of the early saints. Since I am flying my own plane now, I have chosen rituals of my own to help me to feel the presence of Heavenly Parents and to become the woman I want to be now. I wear pants to church and covenant with God not to judge others. This covenant surrounds me with an intense love that I have never felt while taking the sacrament. I am planning on attending the Ordain Women Priesthood Event to join with others in sending my prayer to God for more equality in the Church. These rituals affect me internally, deep down to my core. They change me.
I can no longer travel a safe, steady course that doesn’t really lead to heaven. Now I fly, and I make choices, and I actively engage with my path. The two baptism dresses may have to continue hanging uselessly in my closet for the time being. Right now I am more concerned about teaching my daughter to fly before she is actually in the air.
Jenny graduated from BYU in humanities. She spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, running, and writing.