Am I Saved?
A part of each work day for me is spent sitting, being, and sharing with people who are at the end of life. Cancer treatment has failed and as they face the reality that death is imminent we speak of what has brought them meaning and joy. Frequently there are tears and that deep emotional connection that in the LDS community we call “Feeling the Spirit.” Often I find that in these moments of connection my patients take an interest in my salvation. They want to know that someone who has been there for them in a difficult moment meets the criteria for entrance into their version of heaven. For the most part I take this interest in my salvation as an expression of love and regard.
Recently I shared one of these deep conversations with a middle aged man from an evangelical Christian background. He recited favorite memorized New Testament bible verses and together we reflected on their significance to life in general and to this patient in particular. From a place of loving sincerity (and with teary eyes) this patient then asked me if I was saved; “Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”
Although my concept of Jesus is constantly evolving, it was easy to share with my patient a little bit about the joy, love, and grace I have felt through Jesus and his example in my life. My patient appeared relieved as I confessed belief and acceptance of Jesus as my personal savior. We had each given and received love in our encounter. As our encounter ended I expressed how honored I felt to share a moment of truth and goodness with such a loving person.
A few days later I found myself engaged in a similar conversation with an equally kind middle aged man of the LDS faith and his wife. Facing the end of life far too soon, he expressed concerns and hopes for his family. I provided the man and his wife with practical end-of-life planning information they requested. He mourned deeply that he is too weak to travel to the beautiful mountain lakes where he has felt the greatest joy in his life. We spoke of gratitude for life and receiving the love of Jesus. We reviewed the many important relationships the man has nurtured in his lifetime. Once again there was deep tenderness of feelings shared and we “Felt the Spirit.”
At the close of the conversation my patient got that look in his eye and I thought, “He’s going to ask me if I am saved.” I was surprised and confused when the man asked, “Are you married? How old are you?” Without thinking I quickly confirmed that I am indeed single and reassured the man that I feel God has a purpose and plan for my life. I continued to process his question even as I observed that this man seemed to be trying to “share goodness” with me. He was so worried for me! Almost as if I was the one with cancer terminally metastasizing throughout my body.
I tried to soothe him with surety that my life is on track and that I have had life shifting experiences and relationships as a single person that would not have been available to me as a married woman or mother. I confidently proclaimed that I am known to God and that my life has meaning. I held his hand and spoke to him of how he is known to God. His life and suffering matter. He squeezed my hands with strength and shared his fears that he has not done enough. That he is not saved. I assured him that the grace of God is sufficient and that when he passes he will be received in love.
Later, as I pondered on this interaction and the odd question of my marital status, I was reminded of a travel adventure with my mother. She was reluctant to spend time in Mexico City because of fears that we might be kidnapped by drug trafficking narcos. I reassured Mom that the capitol is one of the safer places to travel in Mexico. All was well until our final morning. We were significantly delayed in our attempt to return to our hotel and catch a taxi for our departing flight. Trying to make our way around the closed off plaza of the Zocalo we were hindered by closed streets, movie sets, and a pedestrian bottleneck caused by filming of the James Bond movie, Spectre. I stopped to snap a cell phone picture and lost my mother who walked on with resolute focus to not miss our flight. Only two blocks from our hotel, I searched the crowd and determined it would be best to make my way to our hotel room and wait. After a few cell phone calls to a helpful aunt in southern Mexico I worked out that my mother had a nervous breakdown when she realized we were separated, but that a helpful local was walking her back to the hotel.
My mother was still tearful upon our reunion as she related to me how she traveled at least a block before she realized I was gone and fell to her knees on the sidewalk, screaming and crying, “My daughter, my daughter, I have lost my daughter. I’ll never see her again. What if kidnappers have her?” Kind strangers knelt down to soothe her and asked, “How old is your little girl? What does she look like?” and provided reassurance, “There are lots of police here for the filming. She is safe. We will find her.” My mother finally calmed enough to speak between sobs, “She is forty years old, but (sob) (breath) (sob), she is NOT married!”
As I helped wipe her tears in our hotel room. I did not laugh. I did not laugh for several hours until I had a quiet moment at the airport to marvel and smile with some chagrin at my mother’s deep fear that I was lost to her, and maybe lost to this world. Neither of these losses was as terrible as the notion that I was lost AND unmarried. Like a small child, I was not ready to walk back to a hotel or heaven alone, because marriage is salvation.
The words I am told to repeat in the temple affirm that women are saved through their husband. I am one degree removed from God, a queen and priestess to my husband. He is God’s priest. In this version of salvation I am an eternal adjunct. Or I could be, if I were wed. But I am blessed, baptized, confirmed, endowed and not married and therefore I am not saved. In fact, my life is not really a life because I am unwed and childless. Maybe one day after I die I can be sealed to a man in the hereafter and begin to live when I am dead.
These attitudes and beliefs that exalt marriage above baptism, temple endowment and daily application of Christ’s atonement have destroyed the LDS Church as a space of worship and community for this single female. I come to Church and Temple to serve and learn about Jesus Christ and how to be a more authentic, kind, and loving person. I get idolatry of the family. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not enough to save a righteous single woman. I need to be sealed to a man. I need to be fruitful and multiply. Without the ultimate saving ordinance of Celestial Marriage, I am lost.
My Grandmother tells me to ignore the words of the temple. She say’s it is silly to take seriously that language about being a priestess to my husband who is the priest to God. She tells me I am saved too. But she gifts a handmade quilt to each grandchild when they marry in the temple. She is 92. Anticipating death, she has already made quilts for the unwed 7 and 9 year old grandchildren. There is no quilt for me or my single brother in his thirties. She does not anticipate that either of us will wed in this lifetime.
She tells me to ignore the temple words I find so hurtful, but in her actions she denies me inclusion in a family ritual that signals transition to adulthood and qualification for salvation. There is no legacy quilt of Grandma’s love and approbation for the unwed. There is no quilt waiting for me in the attic expressing her faith in my salvation through matrimony before death. In my Mormon world, I am not saved.