As a rule, I do not feel like I fit well in Relief Society. I’ve mentioned this feeling previously on the blog. But this past year, have been making a good-faith effort this past year in trying to somehow assimilate into the ward wherein I reside. It has not been comfortable for me. The most common and prevalent conservatively-styled interpretations of lessons frustrate my heart, mock my life and scald my testimony. Nonetheless, I actually began look forward to fast Sundays. The stake I am in assigned the Relief Societies to teach a chapter from Daughters in My Kingdom for the first Sunday curriculum this year. With the inspiration of the Exponent Lesson plan series on the book, I have found light in even the most problematic lessons and teaching interpretations—and therefore not been as depressed and anxious as I am prone on other Sundays as I enter the Relief Society class (my ward skips all over the Lorenzo Snow book, so I am unable to marry up the Exponent Lesson plans in the same way.)
For the month of September, we hit chapter 9, “Guardians of the Hearth.” Oh, dear. The chapter with heavy emphasis on the Family Proclamation, which on many levels, all but crushes any residual testimony from me. And the teacher? A conservative woman, who is heavily seeped in Mormon cultural ideology. Still, she is a good woman, who seems to forgive my non-traditional interruptions (even when I speak without being called on). Lest you think my perception of her disingenuous, every time she teaches, she repeatedly welcomes comments from an intellectually disabled woman that have little to no application in the lesson, and with the skill of a loving sister, thanks her with sincerity and artfully weaves in these statements to the lesson. I admire her for that.
Still, I poised myself for an onslaught of stay-at-home mother advice.
It did not come. Instead was a lesson of the heart. She spoke of her hopes and dreams as a newlywed, but how her husband had always struggled to find and secure employment. She had worked for her entire marriage, and had been the primary breadwinner for her family for the majority of that time, including when she had children. She confessed that she resented her need for, as well as resented her employer when her firstborn was just 6 months old. Then, she taught how she found reconciliation because she was placing her family first by providing for her family. And how now, she feels at ease with her life, her family, her career and her testimony. The she taught of her regret that she had underperformed in her work because of her earlier resentment, and how she strove to always do her best now because of the blessing she has of being employed.
And with this month’s visiting teaching message on the subject of self-reliance, all I could think of was her story. Her truth. Her testimony. And I also thought about an article titled “Mormon Masculinity: Changing Gender Expectations in the Era of Transition From Polygamy to Monogamy, 1890-1920,” and how the authors discussed the emergent Mormon man of that era, and his institutional encouragement to find employment with a “higher purpose.” And I wondered. What would it be like if women were taught to be ready for employment that would provide for their families, and prepare them (from the message)
“for full-time Church service in the years to come,”
rather admonishing women to only work outside of the home in times of absolute need, and only for the purpose of money, or even suggesting that women’s income is only to provide “extravagances.” Because this is what I was taught as a young woman; that women only work for the money and no other reason. Almost as if working outside of the home was akin to prostitution, because proper Mormon women hated professional employment, and only do it if absolutely necessary.
This train of thought made me curious about the choice of scriptural references, namely Matthew 25:1–13, which is the story of the wise and foolish virgins, a parable of the Second Coming of Christ. In this, I wondered if the concept of Self Reliance was reflective of the start of new Era of Transformation in the church, where women and men are equal partners, or at times, the primary providers of temporal and spiritual well-being. If it is, am I one of the prepared wise virgins? I’d like to think so, and yet…. I am not sure I can fully answer yes if asked if I could provide temporally for my family on just my income, or provide for my family spiritually on just my testimony. Can you answer “yes” to both? What about the women you visit teach?
With this in mind, I thought about what do I need to do, in my individual situation to ensure I am one of the “wise virgins.” At the end of the formal message, there is a series of statements (below), and I like them. Because each is a talking point, mostly because some I over-do and others I under-do. Because I like the idea that this could be the next LDS “Era of Transition.” But mostly, because I want and seek to be self-reliant, in my own terms, without someone else telling me how to be righteous, what career I *should* undertake and, in turn, what kind of oil *should* best suit me as I anticipate the coming of the Bridegroom.
Learn to love work and avoid idleness.
Acquire a spirit of self-sacrifice.
Accept personal responsibility for spiritual strength, health, education, employment, finances, food, and other life-sustaining necessities.
Pray for faith and courage to meet challenges.
Strengthen others who need assistance
What are your thoughts on Self-Reliance?
Could this simple, yet direct instruction be a manifestation of a new “era of transition” in the church?
Cross-compare this to the last time Self-Reliance was a Visiting Teaching topic here.