“Because I said so!”

Are you familiar with the old story about the newlywed and the pot roast? Surely you’ve heard it at the beginning of some sacrament meeting talk, somewhere. The newlywed bride is making a roast for her new husband. She cuts the end of the roast off before placing it in the pan. When asked why she did that, she replies that her mother always did it that way. The bewildered husband asks his mother-in-law about the roast amputation, and she explains that her mother always did it that way. Finally, the grandmother is asked about the mysterious technique. Her answer? “My pan was too small for the roast!”

Usually this story is met with chuckles about the silliness of the bride and how such silliness gets passed on until someone–the smarter one, the man–asks, “Why?”

I am in a place in my life where I ask “Why?”

Growing up, I really hated when my mom answered my never-ending “Why’s” with “because I said so.” I vowed that I wouldn’t do that when I was a mom. (Just one of the many, many words I’ve eaten). “Because I said so” is actually sometimes appropriate, especially with a toddler that cannot understand the rationale for every rule. But toddlers grow up, and by the time they are teens, “because I said so” often yields the opposite of the desired effect.

How many aspects of our religious observance answer “why?” with “because I said so!”?

Studying church history last year really impressed upon me the very human, imperfect, bumbling processes and opinions that led to so many things that are considered absolutes today. The variations of the Word of Wisdom, the varieties of dress standards, the hair/beard/piercing fluctuations (why in the world were men required to wear socks at BYU?), sabbath day observance, and the list goes on. So many points of contention and grief come down to “because I said so” even if it’s called something else. “That’s the way we do things.” “The unwritten order of things.” “Just because.” “We need to have faith.” “Line upon line.” “We’ll understand when we are on the other side of the veil.” Those answers kind of worked for me for a rather long time.

But now I am a grown up. And when I ask “why?” I want an answer.

I am not quite sure how to get my answers, but study and pondering and prayer seem to help.
I am looking at the fruits of various practices and traditions. If the fruits are good, that’s a good answer to “why.” If the fruits are not good, maybe the way things have always been done is not a good way. I haven’t figured everything out yet. Not even close. The fruit test is working pretty well. It is streamlining the gospel for me. Love one another, show that love through kindness, and respect each person’s autonomy is what I am going on at the moment.

How do you answer your “whys?”

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15 Responses

  1. Happy Hubby says:

    Beautifully said.

    It seems to me if we never ask “why?” we are not growing – we are just obeying. Certainly there are a lot of times that obeying will keep us “safe”. But within Mormondom it seems we have come to place more emphasis on “obey for the sake of obeying” and not enough on asking “why?”

  2. Wendy says:

    Great post, Ellen! You have articulated my thoughts as well.

  3. Dani Addante says:

    I agree. A lot of times the church will say, “We don’t know” or “It doesn’t matter.” I understand that there are some things we don’t know, but when there is an answer to something, it should be given when someone asks. And when people say, “It doesn’t matter” this makes no sense at all, because it does matter that there is inequality in the church. It does matter that blacks weren’t allowed to receive ordinances in the temple before. When I’m told to do something, I want to know why. Blind obedience is not the way to live.

  4. Ellen says:

    Hello HH, Wendy, and Dani- the obedience for the sake of obedience is maybe ok in matters of wearing socks, or other trivial matters, especially if it causes the individual to feel strong and committed or something. But, when the “we don’t know” causes real pain and harm to people, it is wrong. In particular I am thinking of the policy that doesn’t allow living women to be sealed to more than one man. If dead women, actually dead women! can be sealed to multiple men and we say it will all work out in the end, why can’t we offer that to real living women whose hearts are broken by this policy. It just makes no sense to me.

    • Andrew says:

      “why can’t we offer that to real living women whose hearts are broken by this policy. It just makes no sense to me.”

      Because they made their choice in mortality. You can’t go from spouse to spouse, being sealed to them all, until you find the one you want. That equally makes no sense.

  5. wanderer says:

    Seems to me that the more we say ‘because I said so,’ the greater the potential for dissatisfaction when an individual realizes that surrounding members and leaders don’t have answers to a lot of the questions, and that answers, if they come, require a lot of study, prayer, and hard work. I’ve spent a good amount of time angrily spinning my wheels because of this, not realizing at first that answers can be found–just not in the people.

    (Not that I don’t say it to my young son sometimes).

  6. Eskymama says:

    I have wanted to respond to this question. I struggle to make my thoughts clear in writing, but they are clearer in writing than in person. In keeping with the parable of the seed in Alma, those things that build me, that strengthen my faith … I keep, practice and enjoy the fruits thereof.
    Those things that cause me pain, that make me feel less than … “I would prefer not to.” Or rather, it is not the season for me to embrace a particular practice or teaching. If I grasp the line upon line building of faith, this should not be threatening to anyone or to a church, all are at different points in their journey of spiritual evolution. I do not seek to impose my current understandings on anyone. I dance around enough things with my mental health trying to keep it intact, “because I said so” is not a solid reason for anything anymore. I am done trying to see things through exclusively a male-centric view. The groves of Asherah beckon to balance.
    The gap between the gospel of Christ and a bureaucratic church is large. The bureaucracy will be held accountable for the pain caused in the long run. But I have to wonder if some of the things about inequality and power are less important to God than to us in the here and now. Like my daughter that was always mad because her brothers got to eat more pizza. She was full on two slices and they could each polish off a half an extra large at a single sitting. The amounts were unfair, but both were full. This is grossly exaggerating, but if there are differing spiritual needs as there are differing physical needs among individuals … why wouldn’t there be different ways of being spiritually fed? If the bureaucracy is in charge of the kindergarten, they are worried about getting the basics to the most people. They can not be the therapist or the Julliard for the individual with individual needs or talents.
    The take-away for me, I can’t know what another’s needs are or where in they are in their spiritual growth evolution … the current church is the kindergarten needed for people along their path … it is a useful structure for raising kids, and support of families … and me and my attitudes are sometimes a dropout. In seeking where to encourage myself to be more fully spiritually mature, I find myself reading, studying and praying on a wide range of authors. It takes work.

  7. Ellen says:

    Andrew- isn’t that what men can do?
    Wanderer- I have spent lots of time with angrily spinning wheels too. I’m trying now to put my energy into the hard work of finding my answers.
    Eskymama- Thanks for your thoughts. I really like “The groves of Asherah beckon to balance”. I agree that many of the things we find important may not be important to our Heavenly Parents. However, if foolish traditions of our fathers cause pain right now, why not ease that burden now? I also agree that there are differing spiritual needs, and a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy can’t possibly meet them all.

    • Andrew says:

      Ellen, yes and no.

      There would be a difference, given our current understanding of sealing doctrine. Which is that a God can have multiple Goddess wives. But a Goddess may not have multiple God husbands.

      So, in your scenario a woman might marry a man and be sealed to him. He might then die. She, being young, could marry again. If she were then sealed to him she would choose one of them in the resurrection. This would leave the other unsealed to anyone. But the choice to marry and be sealed to the first husband was made in mortality – where our choices are ours and have eternal consequences.
      If a woman is sealed to multiple husbands by proxy she still makes an eternal choice for one.

      A man who is sealed and then widowed, should he be married and sealed to another, does not have to choose to cut one off. He has both in the eternities.

      I stress, this is not my doctrine, but it does appear to be the doctrine of our Heavenly Father. The Entire House of Israel – the tribes of which we are assigned to in Patriarchal Blessings, is based around father Jacob and four wives.

      So it is different, and as such I do not see it changing.

      • nrc42 says:

        Of course it’s easy for men to believe that is God’s doctrine. Why would you question the divinity of an idea that promises you a harem?

      • Andrew says:

        You seem to be skating close to accusing me of being in favour of polygamy because I want to have an eternal harem. I don’t.

        If my wife, of 32 years, were to die I have zero desire to re-marry. She would be my only wife, and I am very happy with that. I was simply pointing out Church doctrine and why there is a difference in the sealing regulations.

        I am not in favour with polygamy, and am also not against it. If it works for those who choose it, fine.

  8. Ellen says:

    Andrew- polygamy is exactly the sort of “foolish traditions of our fathers” that prompted this post. It was always a hot mess in the scriptures, why would we think it is a good idea for us?

    • Andrew says:

      If, and only if, you don’t believe that Eternal Polygamy exists, and is God’s Doctrine.

      I do, and obviously you believe it to be false ( a foolish tradition ). And again, that’s fine.

      We are not required to practice it. Of course, it is possible that you die, and your husband gets sealed to another wife. It will then be interesting to see if it’s a doctrine.

      Because if it isn’t she will have missed out on the blessings of being sealed and enter the CK unable to be exalted.

      It is difficult to mess with this stuff too much is really all I am saying. Without further revelation at least.

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