Guest Post: Auto-Pilot to Heaven


by Jenny

baptism dresses 4“What day is your daughter going to get baptized?”

It’s an innocent question, but it rips at my heart a little more each time it is asked. I have too many skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have two baptism dresses in my closet, one that I couldn’t resist because it was on sale at Costco, and another that was given to us. It was all so simple then, back when I was on auto-pilot to heaven. The path was steady and sure. My plane was headed straight toward the Celestial Kingdom and all I had to do was sit back and check things off my list. Married in the temple, check. Motherhood, check. Endure Sacrament Meeting with toddlers in tow once a week, check. Ten years of smooth sailing from the temple to my first-born’s baptism. Of course she would be baptized right after she turned eight, and taut her new cleanliness by wearing a pure white dress to church. That was one more thing to check off my list.

Then I woke up.

When I realized that I was flying on auto-pilot, I also realized that my path wouldn’t necessarily lead me to heaven. The dread set in. You mean I actually have to learn to fly my own plane? The flying lessons were short because I was already in midair. Now I am awake, and I am flying, and I am thinking about the covenants I make. I don’t want my daughter to grow up on auto-pilot. I want her to think. I want her baptism to mean something to her right now. When I mention that to others, they tell me that she can’t understand it completely right now, but she just needs to do it so that she will be saved in the next life. Isn’t the current moment the most important one of our entire existence? If it doesn’t mean something to her right now, how is it going to help her for eternity? If we aren’t changed and made better by our rituals, how are they magically going to save us for eternity?

I want her baptism to mean something for her and to change her. I want her to choose it, not out of fear for her eternal salvation, not because it’s what everyone else wants for her, but because she wants to use it to be a better person. I don’t remember much about my own baptism. I just flowed along, immersed in a cultural current. It was peaceful and serene. I had no idea at the time that the slightest move against the current could be so painfully exhausting.

Looking back at all the rituals I have been a part of in the Church, I know that I have had some beautiful and sacred moments. I don’t want to trivialize the sacred experiences people do have. But at the risk of sounding heretical, the symbolism and rituals are old. I bet they meant a great deal to the early saints. When I study church history I feel their fire and passion. They were not on auto-pilot, they were actively engaged with their faith. Now I feel like all we have left is lack-luster. I look around during Sacrament Meeting and see people sleeping, reading, and playing on their phones. The fire has simmered, yet we continue to go through the repetitive motions in hopes that our actions will benefit us in the next life.

When I was on auto-pilot, I found the temple boring and had a hard time staying awake, yet I thought going faithfully was enough. Now I want more. I want my covenants to mean something to me now, not just when I get to heaven. I want the fire and passion of the early saints. Since I am flying my own plane now, I have chosen rituals of my own to help me to feel the presence of Heavenly Parents and to become the woman I want to be now. I wear pants to church and covenant with God not to judge others. This covenant surrounds me with an intense love that I have never felt while taking the sacrament. I am planning on attending the Ordain Women Priesthood Event to join with others in sending my prayer to God for more equality in the Church. These rituals affect me internally, deep down to my core. They change me.

I can no longer travel a safe, steady course that doesn’t really lead to heaven. Now I fly, and I make choices, and I actively engage with my path. The two baptism dresses may have to continue hanging uselessly in my closet for the time being. Right now I am more concerned about teaching my daughter to fly before she is actually in the air.

Jenny graduated from BYU in humanities.  She spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, running, and writing.

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13 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Beautiful thoughts, especially the analogy to learning to fly in mid-air. I had some struggles about this when my first-born was preparing to be baptized. Mostly because I was baptized as a convert at age 18, and the decision he was making looked so different from the one I had made- less aware, and less of a “real” choice. In the end, I came to feel that the purpose of baptism isn’t a box to be checked so we can be “saved”, but rather an ordinance that signifies our commitment to keep on learning and growing in this life, and that culminates in our receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is a critical tool we can use in navigating that path. I wanted my son to have the choice to have that tool. Just my take on it. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Howard says:

    Beautiful discription of your awakening!

  3. Emily U says:

    Thanks for this, Jenny. It resonates with me in many ways.

  4. Caroline says:

    Beautiful post. I identify with it on so many levels. Flying your own course is scary. And rewarding. I was listening to Brenne Brown this weekend and she talked about living the whole-hearted life. I think that charting your own course, embracing your truths, and exposing yourself to vulnerability and rejection are hallmarks of that whole-hearted life.

    And as for the symbols being old. Yes! What gets me particularly is the temple liturgy. I think we really need some major changes there. Not only will the current liturgy strike more and more people as irrelevant, it will also strike more and more as offensive. (I’m thinking of the gendered aspects of it.)

  5. Alisa says:

    I too am learning in mid-air, and I too long for a time where covenants can mean something to us now, and not just in reflection. For this reason, when I’m at a child’s baptism, and I’m doing this a lot lately, I always write the child a card that says not to worry if they don’t feel different immediately, but that they have a lifetime to learn and change and begin to understand the Holy Ghost. Maybe setting the expectation differently can help.

    • Rachel says:

      Alisa, I love those things you write to little children, and hope to remember to share them with my little C if and when the time comes.

    • Melody says:

      Wonderful idea, Alisa! Perfect. Really. Thanks for your perspective.

  6. EFH says:

    This is a great talk on baptism. It has to be chosen even by the 8 years old children. And if they do not understand it, then it needs to be postponed until they understand better the action and its consequences. I am averse to the deadlines we use in church for many rituals such as baptism, missions and so on. People need to do things when they are ready.

  7. Laura Penn says:

    I am struck by the analogy of flying blissfully along, completely unaware. I had a startling and vivid dream a year or so ago — now that I think of it, it may have occurred just before Ordain Women was launched — I dreamed that I woke up to find that I had been dead asleep, laying across the bench seat of an old truck barreling down a two lane highway. I had an instant of absolute panic in which I called out to Heavenly Mother and Father to help. Everything was fine, except that I had been asleep and somehow the truck had stayed on the road. I wasn’t blithely floating in the current of the church at the time, but I was also taking a break from attending because I was so exhausted by a tumultuous few years of life that I couldn’t get out of bed on Sunday morning in time to get to church. I felt like the dream was a call to pay attention.

  8. liz johnson says:

    This is so great, and so timely for me as my son is also turning eight in a few months. I also love the comments – so many good suggestions for helping it be a meaningful choice and ritual (without the pressure and potential shame!) for the whole family. Thank you for this!

  9. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this, Jenny. I really like the auto-pilot description. So true!

  10. Olea says:

    I know this post is a little down the queue now, but I’m just catching up, and I really wanted to let you know, Jenny, that my baptism meant something to me, at age 8. It was a deeply moving and profoundly changing experience. It bothers me when people dismiss out of hand that 8-year-olds can have this kind of spiritual experience, because they’re kind of discounting my truth.

    I know you’re not saying that 8-year-olds can’t feel that, I just want to put my hand up as someone who did. My prayers were personal and heartfelt, and sometimes more sincere than they are now, and baptism felt like a way to deepen and strengthen by relationship with Heavenly Father (it’s true, too, that I didn’t have as full an understanding of things back then, I certainly hadn’t imagined a Heavenly Mother).

    And yes, this is your individual child’s path, and you should no more push them through on autopilot than stop the plane from taking off. I love the idea of you being there for her while she figures out what the buttons do, and pointing out some options for flight paths. Beautiful analogy. I think she’s going to have an excellent flight.

  11. Melody says:

    Thank you for sharing your very personal experience here. I love the flight imagery. And I love that your children have a mother who thinks, and who wants to fly right. You’re a courageous woman. . . (and now I’m singing Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me in my head.)

    Please fasten your seatbelts and observe the “no smoking” sign. God bless you, Jenny.

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