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To Speak Openly, Frankly, and with Love

http://www.heqigallery.com/index.html“Emily, you have to let him preside in the home.  He should be the one to lead prayer, call everyone to Family Home Evening, and direct things in matters of the priesthood in general.  If he’s not doing that, you need to help guide him to be the presider.”

This was the last piece of advice Sister M. ever gave me, and it didn’t bother me one bit.  Her last calling was given through the stake to help young families have better FHE’s. So, at an Enrichment activity in November a few years ago, as we were sewing stuffed pumpkins, I was asking her what I could do to get my husband to participate more in Family Home Evenings.

I wasn’t crazy about her answer, but because it came from Sister M, it just didn’t bother me.

As she talked to me, I could tell that this was something she had thought a lot about.  Though her conclusion wasn’t what I might have come up with, I have to admire that this was clearly a subject she had pondered and knowing her and her husband, I can see how this answer would have worked for her.

The biggest reason why it didn’t bother me however, is because she didn’t say it with any judgment and she said it with a frankness that told me she cared enough about me to tell me exactly what she thought. She was interested in having a discussion with me even when we didn’t agree.

A couple years ago, she passed away suddenly after a brief and terrible battle with cancer.  I still miss looking for her in sacrament meeting, getting to sit by her in Relief Society, and watching her organize something for the ward (whether it was the Christmas program or a service project, you knew Sister M took it seriously and expected the same of all participants).

On the outside, we could not have appeared more different.  She turned 70 the year I turned 30.  She was a convert with 9 grown kids, all active in the Church.  Most days, my three children feel like about a million, and I was born into a family that has been Mormon for generations. She was conservative in her politics and in her religious observance.  I am, decidedly, not.

Yet, I loved her and I know that she loved me.

Because Sister M showed her true self and didn’t judge me, I felt like I could do the same with her. In my ward, I so often don’t say what I’m really thinking. After years of small interactions where I have felt misunderstood or judged at Church, I’m careful about revealing my true self to most member of my ward. And, sadly, I feel the same way in my interactions with progressive Mormons and even with some of my fellow Mormon feminists.

Do they really want to open this can of worms?

It’s a rare gift—the gift of unconditional acceptance. Sister M didn’t look down on me because of my views.  She treated me as her equal, someone she could speak openly and frankly with. I have friends who have been deeply wounded and have left the Church who offer me the same love and solace.

And, I wonder how I can better cultivate and give that gift. It wasn’t what Sister M said, it was the feeling of love and openness that one felt in her presence. It’s the feeling I get after talking to my post-Mormon friend about a difficult Sunday School class, and though she has left so that hurt doesn’t continue for her, she’s still willing to sit with me while I process mine.

How have you received the gift of acceptance? How do you give it? Is it possible to have a ward community that shares this gift?

At her funeral, Sister M’s grandkids compiled a list of some of their favorite quotes. I can’t resist sharing a few.

“Obey your husband.”
“Put on some lipstick before he gets home.”
To any Native American she saw (much to her children and grandchildrens’ chagrin), “You’re an Indian?  Well, have I got a book for you!”

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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11 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    This was so beautiful and I relate very much to many of the sentiments you shared. I also do not share my full and true self because I can sense that acceptance will not be reciprocated. I have friends, however, who do not care and express themselves with abandon! May we all cultivate these feelings of love and acceptance of one another, especially those with whom we don’t share the same ideas.

  2. Caroline says:

    I love this, Emily. This is exactly the kind of attitude and spirit that I hope to one day cultivate. I want to be that person that others can be vulnerable with, even if they know I may not agree. I want to be that person who is brave enough to be vulnerable and honest with others.

    As a Mormon feminist, I feel like I inhabit a liminal space. I’m not Mormon like the rest of my fellow ward members. And in grad school, I’m not feminist (enough) because I identify as Mormon. This is one reason why I really value the Mormon feminist community. I often feel like I can be honest here in a way that I can’t in other areas of my life. Though even within this Mormon feminist community I sense divides, particularly between the practicing and non-practicing Mormon feminists.

    It’s a great question — how to cultivate that attitude of love and acceptance. I hope others have some good ideas.

  3. Ziff says:

    I love your description of Sister M, Emily. She sets a high standard. I tend to be insecure, and so I speak more often with snark and/or bitterness. 🙂 It’s good to know that there are people who can speak, as you said, openly, frankly, and with love, even when disagreeing. Maybe I can learn this too because I am not so good at disagreeing without being a jerk about it.

  4. Kirsten says:

    I feel that age might have something to do with this. (Though I know plenty of older women without such a charitable outlook…) As I get older and go through the ups and downs of life, I feel I’m beginning to become more compassionate and understanding of the differences in others. My views both politically and spiritually have shifted around over time and I do my best to remember how I “used to” think. Some people are very passionate about their beliefs– which is good, unless their passion refuses to allow others to have their own ideas. I often remind myself that our faith began with a question from a young boy. It is okay to question and search for answers. How wonderful this is!
    One of my favorite quotes goes something like this:

    “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

  5. sartawi says:

    A rare gift, indeed. I have yet to find my own Sister M.

  6. Amy says:

    What’s the picture and who’s the artist? I love it.

  7. MKOH says:

    Beautiful post, Emily. One of the things I love about my inner-city ward is that the need for people and for workers is so great that over the years I have enough opportunities to serve that other members don’t question my commitment to the Church. So now I can make comments that might otherwise bother people. I can give a talk that honestly addresses the history of the RS. I can be upfront about my concerns in my RS Presidency meeting. I can be my true self because others are just grateful that I’m in there doing the work.

    My surprise in all this has been how many people have opened up and been vulnerable with me in return. I have ended up being the recipient of charity and love as people have accepted me and even expressed appreciation for the difficult line I’m trying to walk.

  8. ashmae says:

    Thank you for this lovely post and reminder.

  9. Lily says:

    As a child, I had a piano teacher like that. She would literally say “Mozart would roll over in his grave if he heard how badly you played that”, and at the same time you had this overwhelming sense of love and acceptance.

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