Keeping it Real in Relief Society
A few weeks ago, a teacher in Relief Society asked me to prepare a few remarks on my experience with conversion and testimony for her lesson on that topic. I asked her if she was ok with an unconventional conversion story, and she said she was. So I got up and said the following. I was worried that I would make some people uncomfortable, and no doubt I did, but it felt good to be honest about (some of) my struggles.
“I have a very unconventional conversion story for you. Despite having been raised and married in the church, I would say that my most profound conversion experience happened about 5 years ago in 2008. It was time for me when everything church-wise was falling apart for me. This was the time of Prop 8, and I was really struggling with it. As someone who supports gay marriage, I was upset, and I was angry. I look back at that time, and I recognize now that I was close to giving up on Mormonism. My husband was scared that I was about to leave.
I say this not to make any of you who were supporters of Prop 8 feel uncomfortable. I say this because I want to be honest about my journey.
Instead what happened is this. I decided to take a break from church while there was so much election drama going on. And I started attending another Christian church that was an open and affirming congregation, i.e. welcoming to LGBT people. And it was during those months when I was on the cusp of chucking religion out the window, when I was attending this other church, that I was able to rebuild my faith, to rebuild a Christian discipleship that really worked for me. In learning how to embrace a Jesus who was constantly reaching out to the most marginalized, the most despised in society, I was able after a few months to return back here, strengthened by the insights I gleaned at this other church.
Looking back at that time now, I feel like God led me to that other church as a place for me to heal, to rebuild and to experience a more profound conversion to Jesus than I had ever experienced before. But I also feel like God led me back to this one. I feel pretty strongly that this is where God wants me. While I love the insights of the various churches I visit and the various faiths I study, my worldview is unshakably Mormon in a lot of ways. I treasure Mormon insights about eternal progression, about personal revelation, about agency and about Heavenly Mother.
Some people have iron rod spiritual journeys–they cling and move forward no matter what. That’s not my journey. My path in this church is destined to not be straightforward. I find so much inspiration in alternate paths and systems of thought that I am quite sure I’ll be spending the rest of my life reading stuff from Dalai Lama, or Buddhist monks, or Catholic nuns. But even as I explore other worlds, I love knowing that this faith community is my home. It’s my foundation. It’s my history. It’s my community, and I love and appreciate its unique insights.”
I think Relief Society is at its best when we are willing to be vulnerable, when we open ourselves up to rejection for being different, for being weak, or for not following the typical Mormon script. This moment a couple of weeks ago when I was honest about one of my struggles was my attempt to help create a space where other women could likewise take risks and be vulnerable. That said, I recognize that while my story had unconventional elements, I also consciously tied it up with a somewhat pretty bow in the end–I had my faith crisis, and now it’s resolved. Reality, of course, is that much of my pain (particularly about the status of women in the church) is not resolved. Reality is much messier than my little story might indicate. But nevertheless, I hope it was a step in the right direction.
What are the dynamics in your Relief Society? Do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable and admit to issues, doubts, or weaknesses? What’s the bravest thing you’ve said or heard there?