December 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: An Extensive Sphere of Action
Whenever Elder M. Russell Ballard speaks, I instinctively believe that he is not addressing me. More often than not, his orations are fixed upon those who participate in traditional family roles, with particular emphasis on women only in the role of a wife and or mother. As a result, his expressions are antiquated (at best) which makes this month’s message an exercise in irony when we consider the included Ballard quotes. If we are to believe that we, as women, have “an extensive sphere of action” as in the title, then why is the projection of womanhood is limited to only “lead the women of the world”? Why is the influence limited to family prayer and church callings? Why deflect Eliza R. Snow’s influence in organizing early Relief Societies by stating that she “assisted” bishops in creating local Relief Society branches? Cannot righteous women lead men as well? The message is an example of typical church rhetorical contradiction, wherein the role of “righteous women” is declared as limitless, yet consistently cornered to an area that only includes traditional gender roles and reserves the influence of women to children, or other women. So, in embracing the intention of the title, I have a story for you:
As a child, my mother instructed me that men would not take women seriously. Women’s influence was only within the home, so if I was to– heaven forbid—- need mechanical repairs, it was best to find a man, any man, to speak on my behalf. I absolutely believed this when I was a girl in my mother’s house. I believed that my influence was only within the walls of my own home, or with other women. I believed I could not ever be taken seriously in a man’s world, because my mother taught me that my influence was dutifully limited within the constraints of the walls of my own home. So I grew up. I went to university. I got a job. I even bought my own car. Then I moved into my own apartment by myself. I was independent, and I glowed within my own walls; I thrived in my sphere.
And then, my car needed repairs. I was convinced that I could not speak to a mechanic because he would not take me seriously. I was taught to believe that honest communication with a man would have me made a fool as it was out of my sphere of influence. So I dropped off the car, and anxiously waited for the mechanic to ring me at work. I asked the man in the office next to mine to speak to the mechanic when he called to discuss my car, thinking that as a gentleman, he would do so. But he said no. NO. No? I was stunned as thoughts of abandonment raced through my mind. “But… mechanics …. and… and… they don’t take girls seriously!” I said. Did he not know this? Did his mother not teach him that women’s sphere did not extend to the land of auto-mechanics? Apparently not. “You need to learn to take responsibility for yourself,” he said. “You need to learn this someday. It’s better to start now.”
Before I could process this out-of-sphere responsibility, the phone rang. I was scared. And angry! Why did this man abandon me? When I bought my car, although I paid for it on my own, I took a male friend with me to the car lot. This was man’s world! I did my job well; I even had my own office space wherein my influence thrived. My apartment was primed to be an RM marriage magnet. But now…I was faced with people. Men, outside of my sphere, and I was alone! Even though I was living in “the mission field”, I had never thought to prepare for this. I felt utterly unempowered in this sphere, just as my mother had taught me. The phone rang again. I picked it up and held it to my office mate, believing his gentlemanly core would understand that this was not my sphere of influence…
He promptly turned his back and walked out.
Because I did it. I took the call. I “handled” the mechanic! Most importantly, I learned that my sphere, my responsibility, my influence– none of it was or is limited to within my own walls or the walls of tradition. If I had continued to choose to delude myself into constructing false walls of self restraint, and believed that my influence was only found within a traditional role, then my personal and (extensive) sphere of influence would never be realised. Nor would I be able to influence and bless those around me if I did not comprehend who I really am. That was one of many days in my life when I was humbled to better understand in fullness that I am a daughter of Elohim. And when the daughters of Elohim are empowered by the spirit, our influence for good and righteousness knows no walls; our sphere of righteousness and service is limitless. Our influence is infinite.
The echoing impact of women, as daughters of God, is eternal. Because of this, it can never be limited to traditional boundaries. I have learned this time and time again in work, in friendship, at home, even on facebook. I have an extensive, eternal sphere of action. All women do. We all have an extensive sphere of action. From the message:
Sister [Eliza R.] Snow taught: “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least circumscribed [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed. … President Young has turned the key to a wide and extensive sphere of action and usefulness.”
Now, as December tempts us to forgo the message in light of the prophet’s Christmas message served with a side of gingerbread, I will tarry in the spirit of Christmas. In this I combine the themes of “an extensive sphere of influence” as well as the habitual reinforcement of women’s sphere being limited to tradition, by quoting Chieko N. Okazaki:
Ask yourself some questions about traditions. Are there some traditions in your Relief Society or elder’s quorum that perhaps were very functional a few years ago but just aren’t meeting people’s needs now? Are there some things we need to do in our wards because that’s the way we’ve always done them? Do we have stereotypes and attitudes about things that are left over from other days? Could the work move forward more effectively if we rethought some of those traditions?
Are there traditions of the fathers –and of the mothers- that represented goodness in times past but that may no longer be appropriate? Yes, there certainly are.
Are there some traditions that are still goods ones and to which we should cling even more tightly? Absolutely!
How then, do we tell them apart? Or will the prophet and our priesthood leaders tell us? I think it is inherent in the wonderful law of agency that God doesn’t do our work for us and he doesn’t except us to do each other’s work. The prophet’s job is to receive revelation for the Church, not for the individuals. Our job is to receive revelation for ourselves, not for the church. We have a responsibility to take our questions to God and struggle with those questions in the process of receiving revelation.
Will my personal direction from God be the same as your’s? I don’t think so. We’re individuals. God deals with us as individuals. This is the same God who made not just apples but pears and apricots and persimmons and grapes. He likes diversity. He invented it. (Chieko N. Okazaki, Disciples, p 50-52)
At Christmastime, like in the church, we tend to fall into tradition as a matter of course. The Christmas thing can be fun, after all– bring on the eggnog and I dare you to eat fruit cake! But as outlined in Okazaki’s quote, as well as the 1 Corinthians 12:4–18 reference included in this month’s formal message, we each own a personal cornucopia of gifts, life experiences and skills. We are unique individuals. Traditions are improved, amended, and developed. We are rightfully nostalgic about some of the old, but we need to consistently embrace and seek the liberation of the new.
So, should your cornucopia appear untraditional, or should the fruits of your labours appear different to mine, or should you prefer or choose to collect gifts that I do not understand or could not imagine… I beg you: please share. I need your diversity. I need your sphere of understanding. I seek to learn of you and your traditions so I can be liberated by sharing in your diversity. Your sphere is extensive. Don’t be bound by walls of limitations. Share with me, so we can nurture and develop each other. Share with the sisters you visit teach. Ask them to share with you. Liberate yourself from the walls around you so your influence is righteously, and rightfully shared for the good of all people.
And if you’ve never had an Australian Christmas Pudding, try it.
How can you encourage the sisters you visit teach to recognise and develop their spheres of influence? Have you experienced a challenge in your sphere of influence wherein you developed formidably, almost as if by fate? Have you ever had an Australian Christmas pudding?
Australian Christmas Pudding with Apricots and Chocolate1 Cup flour 1 tsp baking soda 125 grams butter (about ½ cup) ½ cup chopped pecans 2 Tbs. Brandy (get over it) or Orange liquor 1 cup firmly packed stale white breadcrumbs 600 grams mixed, dried fruit (I like cranberries, apricots and some citrus) 3 eggs, beaten ½ cup sugar 100 grams dried apricots 100 grams dark chocolate chips Sift flour and soda. Mix all ingredients. Place in a pudding steamer (or calico bag tied with string). If using a steamer, place in a saucepan with water half way up the sides of the steamer. (If using calico bag, hang bag in a saucepan above the water). Cover saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 ½ hours adding more boiling water as necessary to maintain water level. (for a more developed flavour, soak dried fruit in brandy overnight before mixing) Remove pudding from water and let stand 10 minutes. Remove, glaze and serve. If making more than a day in advance or to develop the flavour, hang pudding in calico in a doorway (or otherwise) to dry. When ready to serve, steam pudding for 30 minutes, then remove and let stand for 10 minutes. Prepare glaze of 2 Tbs. golden syrup (Corn syrup will do in a pinch) and 1 Tbs. Grand mariner or similar orange liquor. Brush glaze over pudding. Serve warm with whipped cream.