To Speak Openly, Frankly, and with Love
“Emily, you have to let him preside in the home. He should be the one to lead prayer, call everyone to Family Home Evening, and direct things in matters of the priesthood in general. If he’s not doing that, you need to help guide him to be the presider.”
This was the last piece of advice Sister M. ever gave me, and it didn’t bother me one bit. Her last calling was given through the stake to help young families have better FHE’s. So, at an Enrichment activity in November a few years ago, as we were sewing stuffed pumpkins, I was asking her what I could do to get my husband to participate more in Family Home Evenings.
I wasn’t crazy about her answer, but because it came from Sister M, it just didn’t bother me.
As she talked to me, I could tell that this was something she had thought a lot about. Though her conclusion wasn’t what I might have come up with, I have to admire that this was clearly a subject she had pondered and knowing her and her husband, I can see how this answer would have worked for her.
The biggest reason why it didn’t bother me however, is because she didn’t say it with any judgment and she said it with a frankness that told me she cared enough about me to tell me exactly what she thought. She was interested in having a discussion with me even when we didn’t agree.
A couple years ago, she passed away suddenly after a brief and terrible battle with cancer. I still miss looking for her in sacrament meeting, getting to sit by her in Relief Society, and watching her organize something for the ward (whether it was the Christmas program or a service project, you knew Sister M took it seriously and expected the same of all participants).
On the outside, we could not have appeared more different. She turned 70 the year I turned 30. She was a convert with 9 grown kids, all active in the Church. Most days, my three children feel like about a million, and I was born into a family that has been Mormon for generations. She was conservative in her politics and in her religious observance. I am, decidedly, not.
Yet, I loved her and I know that she loved me.
Because Sister M showed her true self and didn’t judge me, I felt like I could do the same with her. In my ward, I so often don’t say what I’m really thinking. After years of small interactions where I have felt misunderstood or judged at Church, I’m careful about revealing my true self to most member of my ward. And, sadly, I feel the same way in my interactions with progressive Mormons and even with some of my fellow Mormon feminists.
Do they really want to open this can of worms?
It’s a rare gift—the gift of unconditional acceptance. Sister M didn’t look down on me because of my views. She treated me as her equal, someone she could speak openly and frankly with. I have friends who have been deeply wounded and have left the Church who offer me the same love and solace.
And, I wonder how I can better cultivate and give that gift. It wasn’t what Sister M said, it was the feeling of love and openness that one felt in her presence. It’s the feeling I get after talking to my post-Mormon friend about a difficult Sunday School class, and though she has left so that hurt doesn’t continue for her, she’s still willing to sit with me while I process mine.
How have you received the gift of acceptance? How do you give it? Is it possible to have a ward community that shares this gift?
At her funeral, Sister M’s grandkids compiled a list of some of their favorite quotes. I can’t resist sharing a few.
“Obey your husband.”
“Put on some lipstick before he gets home.”
To any Native American she saw (much to her children and grandchildrens’ chagrin), “You’re an Indian? Well, have I got a book for you!”