Self-Betrayal and Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches

So, I invited the sister missionaries over to my house for dinner tonight.
Let me rephrase that.
I answered a call around lunch time and said yes to a desperate woman in the ward who had made 30 phone calls trying to find a place for the missionaries to eat that night.
Having been in her shoes, I said yes.
Dinner went well enough. I made Hawaiian chicken sandwiches (teriyaki marinated grilled chicken breasts, a slice of cheddar cheese, red onion, fresh spinach, and tomato with mayo on a toasted whole wheat bun) with sides of green beans and mac and cheese. No dessert because I didn’t have time.
Over dinner, we talked about questions investigators ask, and I said, “Has anyone ever asked you about why God has to work within a set of rules, or a system that required him to kill his son?”
Blank stare.
Nope, no one had asked them that. I tried to engage a conversation, but it quickly fizzled as the sisters couldn’t really come up with an answer.
Well, on to the lesson, I guess.
After discussing the benefits of the Preach My Gospel manual for families, the senior comp challenged us to write our testimonies in a Book of Mormon and pray about to whom we should give it. Using the commitment pattern, she asked, “will you . . .?” to me and my husband. He said yes, and I just smiled. She wouldn’t let me get away with it. She asked me if it was a double commitment.
I caved.
After I asked the other sister to give the closing prayer, I quickly ushered them to the door. (Our little Tadpole was asleep on hubby’s lap)
Once we were alone I told my husband how bad I felt. Not because my testimony is weak right now.
No, I felt bad that I caved in. That I didn’t have the guts to say, “No, I don’t have a testimony to write in that book. I can’t do it.”
I said yes with no intention of following through on my word.
Maybe that dream last night about saying “No, I don’t believe that” to my Bishop was a signal that I was supposed to be honest to the missionaries.
But, I wasn’t.
My husband just laughed and said, “Well, if you had said that, it would have been awkward and she wouldn’t have known how to respond. It’s no big deal.”
Is it?
I’m not sure.
I am sure that I hate the commitment pattern.

But I love those Hawaiian chicken sandwiches.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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28 Responses

  1. JohnR says:

    This perfectly captures one of the things I struggled with as a doubting, but active, member of the Church: when is it okay to toss in a little fib to avoid ruffling feathers? And there were many, many occasions in which I was invited to make my belief apparent.

    I found that expressing a deliberately ambiguous struggling faith defused some situations. I’m not sure if it would’ve worked on missionaries in your home armed with the commitment pattern. And in some cases instead of subtly hinting that a good member should move on to other topics, it encouraged them to make me a project.

  2. DD says:

    This is exactly why I am doing drop off missionary meals these days. I can’t say no, I don’t want to say yes, I’d rather just avoid the question.

    Seriously, do the missionaries in your ward HAVE to be fed every single night?

  3. Jessawhy says:

    It is hard to know when to just nod and smile, and when to be honest about my doubts. My husband hates confrontation or social discomfort, so I’m sure that has affected my willingness to be honest in front of others.
    I really like having people over for dinner. My sister served a mission in Chicago and I know I always appreciated when the members fed them. I was unprepared for the commitment pattern. Most missionaries ask us to think of people, or some other kind of less aggressive tactic to be missionaries. It was not what I expected, and if I had known it was coming, I would have ended the evening right after dinner and skipped the lesson/commitment part.

  4. Stephen says:

    You can always tell them you aren’t ready for the commitment pattern.

  5. Kaimipono says:

    This one is easy, Jessawhy. You say that you don’t really have a testimony. So, your testimony is — nothing.

    Now open up that book to the front page. Get out a good pen. And very carefully, write in the front page — nothing.

    There you go. Commitment fulfilled. 🙂

    I hope that helps.

    It’s a good question though, really. What _do_ you say when a well-intentioned but clueless person totally puts you on the spot? To some degree, Mormon missionary culture depends on the natural response of non-confrontation, coupled with a dose of guilt afterwards.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You don’t have to bear your soul to anyone who asks you for a commitment to do something.
    “No, sorry.”
    “No, I’m just not comfortable with that sort of thing.”
    “I’m willing to commit to thinking about it. That’s about all you’ll get from me.”
    Being put on the spot is always awkward, but after a conversation like this, you can be more prepared for the next time someone asks you to commit to something you would not like to do, or cannot do.
    There is no REASON to give over explanations as to why you say no to anything. It is none of their business.
    Another tip is to not worry about silences. It is not your job to fill them with pouring out your guts when they are surprised or ask you further questions.
    If you need to fill the silence, or answer again, or change the subject:
    “Well, I just think its not going to happen. But dh said he’d do it!”
    “I’m sorry you are disappointed, but I’m not going to change my mind. Now, tell me more about……”
    “The answer is still no. I’m just not comfortable taking on that assignment.”

  7. Caroline says:

    That’s a tough situation. I think that both your impulses – honesty on the one hand and kindness/consideration on the other – are good.

    It’s scary to be open about doubts with church people whom you don’t know well. It took all my courage one day in RS to say something like “My relationship with the church has grown more complicated as I’ve gotten older….” Vague, but I felt good afterwards that I had alluded to my issues.

  8. AmyB says:

    Great post, Jessawhy.

    It’s hard to know how to navigate the culture of politeness while still being honest and direct about one’s feelings. The commitment pattern feels like straight-up manipulation, which I don’t really appreciate. It’s no wonder that the activity level of new “converts” is so low . . . how many of them were just being polite when missionaries pulled out the commitment pattern on them and didn’t feel they could really say they weren’t interested?

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea to plan a few replies that you can feel good about using in future situations. My favorite is the Bartleby response: simply “I’d prefer not,” said with a smile.

  9. Bored in Vernal says:

    Reminds me of how awkward it was when the Bishop’s wife came to our home in California with Prop 22 signs for our yard. After I politely said, “No, thank you,” she stood gaping for several minutes, totally at a loss for words.

    And things haven’t gotten any easier since then.

    Sorry I’m not much comfort.

  10. K says:

    What an interesting post. I’m hopeful that maybe these missionaries weren’t as clueless as they sounded, at least from the “blank stare” portion of the conversation. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but is there a chance you could’ve had a more substantive conversation? Maybe next time? I’ll have to try it at our house.

    When I was a missionary, one woman, RM, married in the temple, etc., just threw it out there that she didn’t believe in God anymore. Huge pause. It shocked us, but we ended up having multiple heart-to-hearts and now that I’ve been in real life for a while, I think of her often…don’t know if our conversations made any difference for her, but it was an important reality check for me and helped me ask myself some tough questions. Maybe give the whole startling-them-with-honesty thing another try next time with something smaller than your God working within a set of rules question? Just a thought. Damn that commitment pattern.

  11. mraynes says:

    That’s a hard one, Jessawhy. I try to find some middle road between being honest and not making people uncomfortable.

    DH and I teach the marriage and family class in our ward. In one of the lessons I was teaching, the Bishop’s wife asked, “Don’t you think its wonderful that the Lord has set it up so that men preside in our families?” I was completely floored. What I wanted to say was, “No, I think the presiding language sets up an unhealthy hierarchy in marriage.” What I think I said to her was something like, “I think it is wonderful that the Lord has made it possible for us to be equal partners in marriage.” It wasn’t a response to her question, but at least I could say something that I did believe and hopefully everybody else believes as well.

  12. mraynes says:

    P.S. Those Hawaiian sandwiches look delicious; I’ll have to make those for dinner sometime soon.

  13. CW says:

    You were put in an unfair position, where there really was no graceful out for you. You did what seemed the most gracious at the time, so no need to feel guilty about it. I have done the same thing in the past. The commitment pattern is, in my opinion, the biggest flaw in the Church’s missionary program. It is manipulative. I think we have to rise above it by refusing to be part of it. As one of my daughters once said to me, “Just say NO, Mom. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

  14. CP in practice says:

    “The commitment pattern is, in my opinion, the biggest flaw in the Church’s missionary program. It is manipulative. I think we have to rise above it by refusing to be part of it.”

    I must respectfully disagree. The commitment pattern is not the biggest flaw. The flaw is the missionaries who, in their training, invite people to do things when the Spirit is not present. Missionaries think that, if your read a scripture and present some canned message, the Spirit will without fail show up and touch people to movement. 90 times out of 100, it’s not there and invitations are awkwardly received. Go back to King Benjamin’s sermon. That is probably the best example of the pattern in practice. He did a lot more than read a scripture, and say “I know living righteously will bring us closer to heavenly father. Brother and Sister, will you commit to live righteously?”

  15. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. You were very understanding of my being caught between real self and polite but unreal self. I’ve been accused of being occasionally abrasive and confrontational in real life, so I’m working on the politeness, perhaps at the expense of my integrity. It is a difficult balance as has been mentioned.
    It’s so easy in retrospect to think of good responses to their “invitation.” But at the time, it was really hard to shoot down those bright-eyed, glowing, sweet sister missionaries.
    Hmm, next time I’ll be prepared.
    But, truthfully, you are all right. I should have been assertive and stood my ground. The truth is, for most of the evening, I enjoyed their company, and probably should have started with a smaller discussion question than the one I chose (although that is one of my fundamental questions, so any links to those topics are much appreciated).
    I also like the point that many of you have made that we don’t owe strangers, or even other church members, an explanation for our actions. “No, thank you.” is good enough.
    mraynes, I hope you like the sandwiches as much as I do.
    Thanks for the conversation.

  16. Jessawhy says:

    cp in practice,
    (we just cross posted)
    I’m intrigued by your idea that it’s not the commitment pattern as a tool, but the workers that use the tool that is the problem.
    How would that work if I asked those sisters and my husband if they felt the Spirit that evening?
    What if they all said yes?
    What if I was left out, perhaps by unrighteousness, or pride, or whatever, from feeling the Spirit?
    If so, then they did the right thing in asking my husband to commit to writing his testimony in the book and praying about whom to give it.
    I’m still stuck in the same situation.

  17. Deborah says:

    I’ve only had a couple of people challenge me like this — with the best intentions, I’m sure! I shut down. Emotionally, the walls fly up. I begin to feel suffocated. Does this approach meet with empirical success elsewhere? — because my reaction is visceral.

  18. CP in practice says:

    Technically, in the true sense of the commitment pattern, they are to help you identify the spirit, so that all present acknowledge the presence of the spirit and the truthfulness of the message being shared. If done correctly, those experiences are the seeds of a testimony, and they help the person want to commit to do something, which makes the whole commitment pattern work in the first place.

    I had an experience as a young missionary where, after sharing the first vision (usually a moving experience), I asked the person to share his feelings and how he felt. He said he felt nothing. Talk about awkward. Was the spirit there? I thought it was. Did it touch him? maybe he didn’t want it to.

    I can’t say what the spirit temperature was in the room during your experience. It’s just that the commitment pattern without the confirmation of the spirit can be seen as a manipulative tool, and from experiences that I have had with missionaries in my own home, they don’t often help (even members) recognize the spirit. Otherwise, it’s a great way to help people build testimonies.

  19. Lynnette says:

    I very much relate to this dilemma, especially as I’m a generally conflict-avoidant person who, despite my less-than-orthodox opinions on many subjects, really doesn’t like to cause tension. And when put on the spot, it’s not unknown for my brain to shut down while I cheerfully agree to do some crazy thing that I would never consent to if I just had a bit of time to think it over, or go along with something because I lack the presence of mind to find a way to tactfully disagree. (In that situation, I probably would have responded like you did, and then realized an hour later what I should have said.)

    I note that in those kinds of situations, I usually end up unsettled regardless of what I do–I’m either anxious because of worries about having caused tension, or frustrated because of having had to censor my actual feelings. And in a weird way, realizing that the situation is a kind of no-win one has been helpful, because I’m less likely to engage in excessive self-recriminations afterward. Though I am still working on doing a better job with the honest but not too antagonistic responses.

  20. Alisa says:

    I could go either way in this situation, but I’m most likely to handle it as you did. I usually save my true feelings for those closest to me. I wish one day we could all be more honest with each other, but it’s really hard to be honest by yourself.

  21. Jessawhy says:

    You’re right about not feeling guilty. I totally shouldn’t. Is a guilt complex part of American culture, or Mormon culture?
    CP in practice,
    I hadn’t thought about missionaries helping me identify the Spirit before they asked me to commit. It was a good conversation and I was interested in taking the righteousness assessment (or faith test) at the end of chapter 6.
    I probably would have committed to that, but not giving away a Book of Mormon with my testimony in it. They probably do the same thing with all the families, and didn’t think much of it.
    Excellent point about the no-win situation. When I frame it that way, I feel much less angst.
    I like your quote:
    “It’s really hard to be honest by yourself.”
    That’s so profound. You always impress me with your analysis. I’m glad you’re setting the example with honesty. It’s very refreshing. Thanks.

  22. Anonymous says:

    This a a pattern for life actually.
    If it doesn’t feel right for you at that time, you need not
    *over react or under react*.
    You just say “no thank you, not right now.”
    You do however, have to be comfortable with silence, jaw dropping or the quizzical look of the question or action at hand.
    Who is a yes person always or a no person always?
    Healthy limits and boundaries in and out of *church* experiences are emotionally necessary.
    Be prepared when you are in doubt or disbelieving of anything
    just say those polite,
    non-defensive words,
    “no thank you, not right now!”

  23. Zenaida says:

    I’m interested in how one decides that the Spirit is present to then be inspired to extend challenges like that…and also what does the missionary do if the Spirit never makes it’s appearance, or if she is the only one in the room feeling it? Can we fault missionaries for following through on their training even if that challenge is not divinely issued?

  24. AmyB says:

    I’m with Zenaida. It’s very complex and subjective to figure out if the spirit is present or not, and what that actually means. I think it’s a flaw in the program, not the missionaries.

    Conflict avoidance at all costs isn’t healthy. Being agreeable and polite all the time can end up being more damaging to everyone in the end. This is something I’ve struggled with tremendously. A good friend of mine said to me a while ago “How can anyone trust you if you don’t say what you really think?” That hit me hard and has helped me to be more honest in my interactions even when it’s initially a bit uncomfortable.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I am one who, if the spirit was there, and they issued such a challenge, the spirit would hightail it out of there. The spirit leaves when any form of unrighteous dominion is used. This kind of manipulation is unrighteous dominion. It uses guilt and social rules of politeness to force someone into a committment they may not want to make. Rather than long suffering, patience, and love unfeigned, it uses guilt to force a commitment. As someone who has been spiritually abused, I am super sensitive to any form of unrighteous dominion. Even the slightest manipulation, or guilt, or use of embarrassment, makes me close up and protect myself. I have always lied and then been very upset with myself and them after. I would NEVER invite the missionaries back after something like this.

  26. D'Arcy says:

    I’ve had the opposite problem this week. I actually shared my struggles with a person who I thought was my friend. This person, as I later remembered, is also my Relief Society President. Imagine my shock last Sunday when the second counselor in my branch presidency approached me and said “there have been rumors that you are having a difficult time with….” and he named a few things. I was at a loss. Had they read my mind?? How did they know this stuff?! I asked him who had said this and he said that the RS President had brought it up in the meeting that morning.

    I can’t tell you how hurt I was. I have been good friends and was looking forward to becoming closer, and now I feel like she takes what I tell her about my struggles and told it to not only the Branch Presidency, but the Elders Quorum Pres, the activities guy, and all the other people who attend that big meeting to discuss everyone on Sunday mornings. Everything I’ve been going through the past year summed up in a few minutes to all those strangers. Perfect.

    So, instead of denying my struggles, or pretending I was fine, like I would normally do. I looked at the second counselor and said, “I am almost on the verge of inactivity, in fact, I am leaning more towards it. The fact that there are “rumors” about my spirituality being passed around church doesn’t help sway me in the way you would want me to go, so I would really appreciate it if you could not discuss me in the future.” He was pretty surprised at my honesty, but actually responded really well, to his credit.

  27. Jessawhy says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that your confidence was betrayed by your RS President. Sharing your feelings with her was very brave, and I can only imagine how upset you are.
    Have you talked with her since you were confronted by the bishopric member?
    Good for you for being assertive to him and telling him to mind his own business. I’m interested to hear how things go for you in the ward in the future.

  28. Brooke says:

    Yes, AmyB! Love Bartleby.

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