Things I Regret Doing When the Church Told Me To

Sister Missionaries, one with a self-righteous look and a haloThere’s a lot of social pressure in the LDS Church: to conform, to be a good missionary, to do things the “right” way, to follow the party line. Here’s my top 10 list of things I regret doing when I felt that pressure. Be kind, please–this is a pretty emotional and honest list.

10. Trying to take the Mission Prep class at Institute. Hoo boy, was that awful: the local mission president and his wife came to talk about what they wanted in their missionaries, and–I kid you not–the wife said that missionaries should buy polyester shirts so they didn’t have to press them. I suggested that they buy good-quality cotton shirts and actually learn to iron. She responded that she didn’t really have anything to say to a young woman going on a mission. Come to think of it, there were very few Institute classes I took where I learned anything at all. And seminary was more focused on faith-promoting stories that played fast and loose with the facts than it was on theology. I did get kicked out of seminary for arguing that Santa Claus, despite wearing red fur, smoking a pipe, and taking attention away from Jesus, was not in fact the personification of the devil. I don’t regret that at all.

9. Thinking I should get married as soon as humanly possible after my mission. I dated the wrong guy for way too long and stayed in Salt Lake City for way too long, figuring that I’d get married soon if I lived in a city swarming with other Mormons. Guess what? I shouldn’t have worried about it. For me, the right guy was in Los Angeles, where I’d gone to college and was dying to return. And for many of the people I know and love, marriage isn’t the answer or even an option. (But there were SO MANY single LDS guys in Utah! Never mind that a crazy high percentage of them hadn’t finished community college and had no Big Plans with their lives yet.)

8. Being super hard on my third mission companion, who was a wonderful, sweet girl who never got my North American hustle. I’ve lost touch with her, and I wish I could apologize.

7. Not doing anything when another mission companion told me she’d been raped by her older brother. I should have raised hell. I should have taken it to the mission president and the local police and helped her make a plan to live in another part of the country after she finished her mission. All I did was hug her and tell her how sorry I was, because sister missionaries who had “agendas” were generally belittled by zone leaders and assistants.

6. Teaching that awful RS lesson about avoiding anger over a decade ago. I had no idea what I was doing. I should have said so.

5. Oo, while I’m at it: giving that really terrible talk in sacrament meeting (well over a decade ago) about following church leadership when they weigh in on political things. At the time, Pennsylvania was deciding on casino gambling, and while I’m REALLY not a fan (did you know that the average person who gambles spends about $300 on it per month? And that amount is pretty steady across income brackets–meaning that people who live below the poverty level spend about as much on gambling as the super-rich do?) I should have declined to give a political talk in a church setting. It was before Prop 8 but after Prop 22, and I’d been in California for Prop 22, so I definitely knew better. I should also add that I spent a day working on a Prop 22 mailing campaign and I regret it terribly.

4. Thinking my grandparents must not be very good people because they drank coffee. (Okay, I was about seven when I thought this, and my mom talked me through it extremely well, but I still feel really bad about it.) My grandparents were some of the loveliest and most Christlike people I’ve ever known. Grandpa, who’d almost let his drinking destroy his marriage, would hunt out another alcoholic, put his arm around him, and invite him to go to the next AA meeting with him. I can’t think of better work to be doing. (Oh, and coffee is delicious, and probably a lot better for me than my Coca-Cola habit.)

3. Giving up my Dialogue and Sunstone subscriptions shortly after getting married. I’m still Mormon because I read the heavy stuff, not despite it. It gives me comfort and increases my faith that there are other people out there who struggle with church culture and harmful teachings: it tells me I’m not alone, and it tells me that the gospel is more than a list of things to do to make myself look righteous.

2. Getting married in the temple. Both of my sisters and my husband’s mother were excluded, and though I was only a little uncomfortable about it at the time, I’ve learned that preserving the relationship with my family is much more important than being “righteous” in a public, visible way. I wish we’d had the option to do a civil marriage before getting sealed. And I’m very, very happy that future U.S. couples won’t have to make that choice.

1. Bullying my sister into going to church with me. I told her it was a family rule that everyone in the house had to go to church, but I was part of the family that made that “rule” and I was feeling oh-so-self-righteous. Sorry, sis. I messed up bad. I love you.


On prolonged sabbatical from her career in arts administration, Libby is a seamstress, editor, entrepreneur, and community volunteer. She has a husband and three children.

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14 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Love your honesty and vulnerability here, Libby. I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it for a while, I’d have a good list too. One thing that comes to mind — and it’s not like the church exactly taught this, but I think I picked up on it there — is that I regret not learning how to say no. I dated people I didn’t want to date because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings; I was too invested in being “nice.” I hope I teach my daughter better.

    • Libby says:

      I’m trying really hard to teach my daughters better. There are worse things than hurting a boy’s feelings, and I want my daughters to know that their safety comes first.

  2. Abby Hansen says:

    Oh man, now I’m making a list in my head.

    I’m sorry for emailing and calling you to repentance for delaying your mission for screwing around with your girlfriend, friend-from-high-school.

    I’m sorry for self righteously debating the woman who would later become my boss about how single unmarried people in my church were exactly like gay people because none of them could have sex – during our new employee work training.

    I’m sorry for being irritated at the 18 year old boy in my freshman ward who admitted to me he didn’t know of the church was even true or if he wanted to go on a mission. (I was just mad because I DID know it was true, I was smarter and more spiritual than he’d ever be, and I would’ve made such a better missionary than him and yet the bishop was personally helping him go out into the mission field while telling me not to go for at least 2 years, and hopefully not all (get married instead) ). I was so arrogant and lacking in compassion. I was a total jerk.

    Can we stop at 3? This is the worst – however, it also shows me how far I’ve come. So maybe instead of cringing at old versions of ourselves, we should be thrilled that the difference is so stark. What if we looked 20 years into our past and we hadn’t grown a bit? That would be truly terrible.

    Here’s hoping that in 20 years I’ve improved enough that my current day self will also make me cringe!

  3. ElleK says:

    I have my own list, too. Thanks for sharing yours.

  4. Chiaroscuro says:

    I think we could all learn a lot from this kind of introspection <3 thanks for the inspiration

  5. Wendy says:

    It takes a lot of courage to share this here, Libby. I admire your ability to hold your past-self accountable and I hope you show your present-self a lot of compassion around these things. You’re clearly someone who is committed to aligning yourself with your values, even as they’ve transformed over time. 💜💜

  6. Anon says:

    Humble pie. I could add many of my own arrogant words and deeds to the list.

  7. Heather says:

    Thank you the your honesty and vulnerably. I’m going to mentally start making my own list.

  8. Anon says:

    On #7, “raising hell” probably would have been more unhelpful than the approach you did take. At least according the reading I’ve done on how to help a sexual assault survivor, pressure to report the assault, get therapy, etc can actually re-victimize the victim; she lost her control in the assault, and she can’t heal if she loses it again in the aftermath.

    • Anna says:

      As a sexual abuse survivor myself, I was bothered by the idea that you now wish you had “raised hell”. No, best to hug her and tell her how sorry you are that happened to her. You might have added that it wasn’t her fault. But reporting for her is taking away her control over the situation. Being angry for her also has a reverse effect. She probably loves that brother who abused her, and will defend him from your anger. Yes, she needs to get angry and probably will when she is ready and feels safe enough to become angry. Mostly she needs to know that she is now in control of her life. What you think is best for her doesn’t matter. She needs to be in control of her life.

  9. Ari says:

    I think I’ve blocked out all the things I’d regret…

  10. spunky says:

    This is wonderful Libby. I have my own list. I think having a list makes us better people. Love you!

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