When You are “Called”… and it doesn’t quite feel right

We’ve all been there.


It happens. Maybe more than we know.


A calling is extended and it just seems like the weirdest concept ever. When I was a YSA, I believed all I was told and tried to put a good face on and do it. But now… I am not so “Y”, nor am I “S”, and maybe I am a little more cynical on the “A” side of things. As a friend of mine once told me, “Whenever I get a calling, I ask ‘Is this inspiration or desperation?’ before I accept. I’d rather fill in till they get the right person, than accept a calling that isn’t right.”



I wish I had her hutzpah. But I don’t. I’m a people pleaser, and feel the guilt of not accepting a calling, even when it isn’t right for me.



The thing is, I do feel good about this calling—but not right now. We’ve just moved, I am still setting up house in a new country, trying to support my children, navigating a new medical system, starting a new job and about a million other things. I want another few weeks to a month before I stack on a calling that I fear will break me.


But the auxiliary (I know, wrong term) president who called me said she knew I was right for the calling the second she met me, two weeks before our records were even in the ward. And though I am stressed, I feel happy– so when people ask, I say, “I am overwhelmed, but finding my feet…” which I think they perceive as my way of saying I am just fine. But I am starting to cry more often than I’d like, a sign that I am getting overwhelmed. But then…  I was sustained—much to my chagrin—before I officially accepted the calling. Ugh. So don’t even get me started on how much I dislike being “set apart” (a whole ‘nother topic for another day).



Is all this needing a bit more time to find my feet a good enough reason to “postpone” a calling?


Well, I asked Sister Google. And Sister Google provided a copious number of guilt-inducing articles and blog posts about accepting unwanted callings and the never-ending blessings associated with doing so. Sister Google overwhelmingly said “No, humble yourself and repent for questioning Heavenly Father (when did He show up?) and just do the calling and you’ll be blessed.” In case you are interested in a very recent example, there was a talk last General Conference by Larry S, Katcher wherein he tells the story of a man who wanted to avoid being called as stake president, so he skipped town during a local conference, and was in a terrible accident–  spared because he was supposed to be the next stake president. After repenting, he accepted the call… which implies that to turn a calling down is a sin.


So now am I too sinful for the calling that I said no to, which created my grievous sin? Chicken or the egg argument, anyone?


Startlingly, many of the articles that popped via Sister Google were about being called to Young Women presidencies and not wanting to serve in the Young Women. Is this possibly because we know that many things we were taught as Young Women aren’t right for us and we have no desire to repeat that experience? Nor can we feign testimonies and teaching the “benefits and blessings” of a patriarchal system that teaches us to swathe ourselves in layers of clothes on the hottest days when the Young Men can openly go shirtless, and then being coerced to testify to a system that feels icky at best? In considering this, I feel like I need a counselling session to dissect it all…


At the end of the day, I do not doubt that blessings for serving are real, and being called to personally challenging positions can be a learning experience. That these experiences can teach us something utterly new about ourselves and increase our testimony to the point of euphoria. At least sometimes. And maybe even most of the time. I also absolutely believe in being blessed for service of any kind– whether inspired by Christian, Wiccan, Islamic or just good human motivations: genuine service is blessed service.



And yet… I can’t help but recall the missionary I met as a youth. A brilliant young man who converted to the church when he was 18. He had a testimony, but he wished he had not joined the church until he was older, so he didn’t “have to” go on a mission. He was miserable. And faithful. But mostly miserable. With a beautiful testimony. My heart ached for him, because even though I was quite young when I met him, I already knew the back-breaking, weighty encumbrance of church-inspired peer-pressure.



So, dear feminist sisters. What do you think? Are callings “ready, set, go”—or take a breather and make sure you are in a place to do the job? I’d like to know. Because ghosting the ward is only going to work for me for so long…





Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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18 Responses

  1. Beth Somerton Young says:

    I had a very similar experience many years ago. I knew being in YW wasn’t a good fit for me right then, due to a new baby, post-partum depression, new house in a new state, and burned out from serving in YW in our previous ward. I even prayed for over two hours one evening, about whether or not to accept. Eventually the guilt-tripping of being unrightous if I didn’t accept the call won out. Although I made the most of it, the calling wasn’t a good fit at that time. I’ve never made that mistake again. Callings might be inspired sometimes, but I think that most come from desperation. It is up to us and personal revelation to keep the system honest. Overwhelm is real and is like a traffic signal letting us know to Go, Use Caution, or Stop.

    • Bailey says:

      “Use personal revelation to keep the system honest.” Yep. Being married to someone who has served in a bishopric in one capacity or another (counselor, executive secretary, etc.) for most of the nearly 25 years we’ve been together, I was super surprised to see how often callings are not inspired. I suspect that inspiration is rarer than we think and that is why stories about inspired callings get told – they’re unique stories.

      • spunky says:

        “I suspect that inspiration is rarer than we think and that is why stories about inspired callings get told – they’re unique stories.”

        That is an interesting consideration! Oooh! I like it!

  2. Cass says:

    A calling being desperate should not be a reason to accept it. Years ago, I was called as ward chorister (in a very small ward). I do not have a musical bone in my body and it turns out I have neurological issues that mess up with internal rhythm. At the time, I accepted (because I still was under the indoctrination that one does not refuse a calling) but asked them why they called me and the bishop said someone had told him that I was a good piano player – really, I play the piano? I accepted anyway but it was a disaster. I actually went and took directing lessons from a musical friend almost every week for a year and most of the time she covered for me in Sacrament meeting. Once I totally lost where I was in the middle of a hymn and made the pianist start the song over. After 2 yrs of torturing myself and the ward, I asked the bishop to release me and he said no. I said if you do not release me, I will move out of the ward. He still said no. That Friday night, I went to a party where a friend announced that he had just bought an apartment as capital that he wanted to rent out to someone. That someone turned out to be me. That Sunday, the bishop had changed his mind about releasing me. I told him that was good because I was moving out of the ward that week.

    In a different experience and different ward, I was asked to be Primary counselor. I prayed and got an emphatic no to accept it. And I stuck with that even though the entire bishopric and the new Primary leader all tried to talk me into it – because it felt good to them – well, it absolutely did not to me. Right after that, we as a family went through some huge and in hindsight inevitable changes which meant us moving. Had I accepted, they would have had to call someone new right away.

    • spunky says:

      Cass, my heart breaks thinking that you opted to move because of that calling– and yet, I have done that myself. (in college, just moved dorm floors- not hard, and I had forgotten about it till now)

      I love that you are on better footing now, and I am grateful for your insight. Thank you for commenting.

  3. Alexis Cooper says:

    I consider callings a matter of stewardship. Yes the bishop/auxiliary president have the right to extend callings to me. But I am first and foremost the steward of myself. If my revelation or feelings tells me that this isn’t a good time or I’m overwhelmed, or any number of things, then I honor myself and my revelation first, even if it means turning the calling down. I have learned that I am a better friend and a better person when I am taking care of myself and meeting my own needs. The church will take everything I am willing to give, and has a vested interest in demanding as much service as possible from me, so I have to be extra cautious in protecting myself. Stories like that shared in conference are manipulative and tell me to doubt myself and my own relationship with God in favor of listening to men who claim to speak for God. That does not align with God’s will, IMO.

  4. Katie Ludlow Rich says:

    Fascinating insight into why so many struggle to accept a calling in Young Women’s. While of course the time commitment likely plays a factor for many, I think you hit the nail on the head.

  5. Fairy says:

    I was always taught by my parents as well as church leaders, that you should “Never say no to a calling.” I felt bound by that saying until the day we were moving to a different state. The moving van was in the driveway and the movers were packing up the furniture and boxes. We would be leaving the house and the state that very night. That’s when I got a call from a very inspired stake person to take on a very responsible calling. That person expressed that it was a calling from God. That was before I had the presence of mind to tell the caller that I was moving that very day. After that experience, I have taken on the job of deciding for myself what is right for me.

  6. Anna says:

    Feeling overwhelmed after moving is valid reason to turn down a calling. I wish that I had known that when I was in my 20s and a young mother and married to an Air Force officer. In the 20 years we were married, we made 20 moves. They were not all to different states or different countries, some were from an apartment into military housing, or the Air Force is remodeling the housing you are in, so you have to move into this other housing. And I had three children during that time, and my pregnancies were all high risk with ordered bed rest, hospitalizations and 4 miscarriages, and with some of the miscarriages, there was bed rest to maybe save the pregnancy, or complications after. With my high risk pregnancies, I should have had the good sense to turn down callings when I was pregnant, but I always hoped this pregnancy would go well.

    But the idiotic way the church calls women, by asking the husband first, put even more pressure on me because there was my husband smiling and so proud of me that I had been called to be primary president, then Relief Society president. It gave me no chance to even be honest with the bishop, or private time to honestly talk with my husband. Well, we all survived my time as primary president, with two hospitalizations to get my second baby safely here, then overhearing my ob doctor and the pediatrician arguing if the baby was going home with me or staying in the hospital until she reached 5 pounds, then a broken leg and me on crutches with a premie who was breast feeding and a pediatrician still yelling at me because she was still way underweight. But yeah, we all survived, but only because it was a small married student branch, with lots of Sunbeams, and only one child over 6. It was a miniature primary, and I only had one counselor and not even a secretary.

    Then another move and we were not even unpacked when I was asked to be RS president. If the bishop had told me the reason that he picked me, I would have informed him that his reasoning was way off base. Yes, I grew up in Utah, but that does not indicate that I know how the church/Relief Society should be run and all these locals don’t understand the real church. I had never even been in a “real” RS and grew up with inactive parents, only half active myself in a ward that did not accept my family or support the children’s efforts to be active. Then, single student ward, with me hitching a ride home for the weekend to see my future husband, then married student ward, then a couple of small military branches, then back to married student ward as the USAF paid my husband to finish college and get his commotion as an officer. I had never attended RS in a regular ward and had been in this ward for one month and didn’t know the women and back before the Sunday block, had 30 positions to fill, because military/local ward had high turnover in military, was recently split, and I knew only a couple of people. And there was lots of resentment of the locals toward the military “Utah Mormons” who like the idiot bishop and his buddy the stake president (both military Utah Mormons) who thought that the locals were idiots who didn’t understand how the church should be run.

    Can I say that accepting to be RS P was an unmitigated disaster both for the ward and for me. It was the most uninspired calling I can even imagine. I was disgusted with the idiot of a bishop by week 2 in the calling, as he turned down the names I submitted and dictated whom I should be inspired to call. Luckily there was one person remaining in her calling, after a summer break and the ward split, and she became my best friend and really the only woman who truly supported me. She was the only one I could talk to about who to put in various positions. I had to demand that my counselors be locals with real experience in running a RS, not 20 something military born in Utah. The majority of the women hated me, the locals because I was a 20 something military wife, and the military, because they felt that I sided with the locals because of the counselors I picked, and because, let’s face it, I did a hell of a lousy job. Some of the lousy job was me. I had no experience even attending a regular ward RS, so I really didn’t know what I was doing. I am too much of an introvert to even be in a calling like that, that demands a supper high level of people interaction. Bus some of it was because my idiot a**hat bishop was gone of military assignment 70% of the time, so I couldn’t get his signature to do the welfare stuff. I couldn’t meet with him for the one on one that bishops were supposed to have, never had one. The welfare committee treated me like a servant to do their bidding. So I would bring up a desperate problem, family A has no food. They would inform me that they would discuss it in PEC, that I was not invited to, next month and get back to me. I had no idea how to overcome the arrogance of the Utah Morons…I mean Mormons, I think I misspelled that. Or overcome the resentment of the locals toward the military, who came in for a couple of years and thought they knew so much more about how the local ward should be run, then left without seeing the consequences to the ward of trying to force it into a Utah mold. And me still with a baby that the pediatricians worried about because she dropped off the bottom of the growth chart. Then a miscarriage. Then a another high risk pregnancy. As RSP, I was expected to find babysitters for another woman in the ward with a high risk pregnancy and I was threatening miscarriage myself, but my duty as RSP was expected to come BEFORE protecting my own pregnancy. I was done with the demands my priesthood leaders were putting on me, without any respect for my own health or my own unborn baby. My priesthood leaders were on the phone to me demanding that I take care of others and not even listening to me that I was under doctors orders to stay flat on my back. Having been trained to respect priesthood, I didn’t even realize it was time to tell them to go to hell.

    Not only was it an unmitigated disaster for the ward, it damaged my relationship to the church in ways I have not recovered from in 40+ years. It made me lose trust in other women, and taught me to distrust and disrespect priesthood leadership.

    I look back at the queasy feeling I had when called, the absolute knowledge that this was wrong for me, but the pressure to never turn down a calling, the pressure of my husband already feeling great about the calling, and the bishop and my husband then ganging up on me to accept, and it was all wrong. I was given zero chance to honor my own feelings that it was wrong.

    So, I learned: 1. your first responsibility is to yourself and your *personal* relationship with God. Take care of yourself first. If you are overwhelmed already with moving and taking care of all that is needed, then be honest and tell them to give you a month or two to get settled. 2. Your second responsibility is your children. It takes a while to get children settled into a new area with new schools and everything. They have emotional needs for support that only mom can give and that takes time. 3. Your third responsibility it to your husband. A move often means a new job situation and my husband always needed extra support. Once again, that takes time. 4. If you are employed or looking for new employment after a move, that takes precedent over church. 5. Then comes the church in your order of priorities. Way down at #5. Only the church wants to be your top priority, claiming that God should be your top priority. But people forget that the church is not God. Putting God as your top priority is up there in taking care of yourself and your personal relationship with God.

    I destroyed my personal relationship with God by giving into pressure from the church to accept a calling that God was screaming at me was wrong. I ignored my personal revelation from God and gave into pressure from a bishop whose arrogance from growing up in “Zion” interfered with his ability to receive inspiration. I lost track of priority #1 because of unfair pressure from priority #5. It damaged my personal relationship with God, because the impossible stress made me resent everything to do with “his church.”

    • Beth Somerton Young says:

      What a mess for you and your health and your family. We talk a lot of how important and sacred the family is, but too often place high demands that actually are detrimental. This is just one of many churches that claim to be the True Church, yet nearly all, including ours, is small “t” true. High demand, fundamental churches are rarely healthy places for women’s spiritual growth. I’m glad you were able to find your way forward after that experience.

    • spunky says:

      Anna, I cannot process all that you went through, but I absolutely believe you. I am so sorry. I wish I could travel back in time, go to your ward and give you the time, care and attention that you needed. I LOVE your #1-5 priority list. I needed that, and you served me better than any relief society president in my life because of the list. Thank you so much for sharing here.

  7. Cate says:

    I have several (very disjointed) thoughts on this one. First, in Relief Society this past Sunday one woman said it was okay to say no to callings however often you want to. Her comment was met with a deafening silence, which I assume meant nobody agreed with her. But I get her point: this is a volunteer organization and nobody can tell you that you HAVE to do anything (after all, you can just walk away). The problem comes when people try to tell you that you do. Or that they know what God wants you to do.

    Second, as a never-married, I have never been extended a calling in the YW program. Nor do I ever expect to be.

    Third, we had a big boundary change several years ago. I was moved into a ward where I knew hardly anyone, and it was a full year before I was extended a calling. I’m not complaining; I know that sounds pretty good to a lot of people; but it certainly makes you feel invisible.

    • spunky says:

      I relate so well with your comment on feeling invisible. For me, I am big into Ministering because I took charge, visited my assignees regularly and developed friendships that way. It too me time to learn that, but it was a good lesson.

      I love the woman who made that comment in your Relief Society on it being okay to say no to callings. I’ve heard fables of wards where no one accepted a calling because they didn’t want to, and then the church in that area “just died.” So much guilt. Good mental health is not guaranteed in serving in the church (and in some cases, mental health is harmed).

      Thank you for commenting, I am grateful for your voice. And I am so frustrated that more single women don’t serve in Young Women– for heaven’s sake– wasn’t it Elder Gong who reported that married couples are in the minority in the church?

  8. Bailey says:

    She knew you were the right person two weeks before you moved into the ward – that’s awesome for her. Your life and your agency are still your own. Even if you happen to also agree that you are the only right person, you still get to decide if it’s the right time. It’s called agency. It’s something the church supposedly believes in; supposedly this life is about making choices to learn from our choices. But as Susan and Cynthia at ALSSI say, we don’t believe our own stuff.

    As for getting sustained without accepting and the story about the stake president, both sound like bullying bordering on spiritual abuse. Definitely go to therapy, consider asking this ward to pay for therapy as a condition of doing this calling/job. That is, if you decide service in this area is what you need right now to grow your soul and connection with God. There is nothing wrong to say thank you for thinking of me, you are not able to do that right now and to check in with you again in six months, a year, etc.

  9. Joni says:

    I had an epiphany about callings a few years ago. Normally, when someone asks you to do them a favor, you are the one that dictates the conditions of that favor. The Church asks (actually, tells) you to do them a favor and THEY dictate the conditions. And if you don’t fulfill all expectations of said favor, even if those expectations were never stated, they will release you and make you feel like you were the one that messed up and not that they are asking too much. Oh, and we get to pay a significant amount of money for this privilege.

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