A Joy and A Treasure

Lately, around the Bloggernacle I have noticed several individuals sharing the struggle they experience in observing the Sabbath with children.  I have felt their pain.  Deeply.  When my husband was called to be the bishop, we had a four year old,  a two year old and I was 3 months pregnant with our third boy.  Before that he had been both a ward and a stake clerk, so he had never been home on Sunday mornings.  By the time he was released, we had a ten year old, an eight year old, a five year old and a three year old.  To say that he missed the hardest years of Sundays, is a major understatement and in retrospect I am not sure that I endured it all that well.

I think about this time period of our lives frequently, but more recently in relation to a story told by orthodox Jewish feminist, Blu Greenberg.  In recalling the story of the inter-connectedness of her Judaism and feminism in Transforming the Faith of our Fathers:  Women Who Changed American Religion she recalls:

"First and foremost, it was communicated to me as a very young child that being an Orthodox Jew was a great gift.  It was not a burden as some would think, but rather a joy and a treasure.  My earliest experiences were grounded in the rich culture of Sabbath and holiday observance, kashrut (dietary laws), the special value of Torah study, and my parents’ deep involvement in communal institutions — all of this in a time and place in which Jewish particularity was going upstream against the process of American homogenization.

One example to illustrate how privilege and joy were communicated:  On Friday afternoons, an hour or two before the onset of Sabbath, my father would call out to his three young daughters, "Girls, who wants a mitzvah?"  A mitvah is a good deed, the fulfillment of a commandment; in this case, the fifth one, "Honor thy father and mother."  My two sisters and I knew this was a call for us to polish father’s shoes for the Sabbath, a chore reserved for children in those days.  Of course, we immediately jumped to the task, for who would not want a mitzvah?  His call was not simply a Tom Sawyer ploy of Orthodox Judaism; it was his way of transmitting to us the deep love he had for Torah and mitzvot.  We absorbed this into our bones."

During those grinding years of early childhood when I faced Sundays alone, I came to loathe and dread the Sabbath.  I am quite certain, while I never said this to my children directly,  that on some level they must have absorbed these stressful, unhappy feelings. For the parents of younger children, it does get easier, but I still wonder about conveying the joy of the Sabbath to my kids. 

I wonder if younger generations of LDS youth and children percieve their religion as a gift.  Do we as adults?  By running around to meetings and firesides, or emphasizing the "don’ts" of the Word of Wisdom in Primary, etc. do we present a "rich culture" to be celebrated? 

Despite, the challenges I have faced, I do feel that being a Mormon is a gift.  So, my question is:  How do we communicate to our children or others around us that the demands of our religion are not a burden, but a joy and a treasure? 

Comments

  1. It’s interesting hearing about this — as a single woman I’ve wondered what lies ahead for me when I get married and have kids… sounds a little daunting!

  2. My parents’ ward has provided a counselor in the stake presidency continuously since November 1988. It has been traditional for that counselor, if he finds himself in that ward on Sunday, to sit with his family. (Unless the rest of the presidency is there, then they all sit on the stand, of course.)

    The first calling I remember my father having was counselor in the bishopric – I remember sitting next to him on the stand a few times. Later he was ward clerk, stake clerk, stake executive secretary, and bishop (with some breaks in between, of course.) Sure he was gone sometimes, but often (especially when he was clerk) he took paperwork home and let me help him with it.

    Probably the hardest time there was his first few months as bishop. The beginning of the end for my sister with leukemia happened two days after Dad was put in. For several months she (and my mother) were in the hospital with leukemia more often than not. I remember several Sundays where my brothers and sisters and I had to wait for Dad to be done with everything.

    Myself, I’m an assistant stake clerk right now. I typically go over to the stake center on Saturdays for an hour or two, and bring home what I can. Pretty soon though, membership audits are going to start and that will mean I’ll be gone much more – something my wife of eight months hasn’t yet experienced.

    I do know the rank and file being away from their families is a concern for the Brethren. President Hinckley himself said at a leadership broadcast a couple of years ago that leaders owe their callings time, but they also owe their employers time, they owe their wives time, they owe their families time, and they owe themselves time. That’s counsel I’m always going to keep in consideration.

  3. I have no children of my own but have spent enough Sunday’s helping my sister get her darling girls ready for church while her husband is of at meetings (and not even the bisopric mind you) and then to deal with their antsy behavior through the entire three hour block at times. I feel your pain…through osmosis maybe. And firmly believe in the art of simplifying.
    An apostle, I don’t remember who or when, made the comment that we are constantly adding responsibilities to our lives in the attempt to be super people…or in this case, moms. He asked how often we look at our lves and remove the unnecessary that might be distracting ourselves from the more important. I believe this goes for related church duties as well. Fullfill your callings, but delegate, simplify the way you do so and if you dont have the time to do that, attend all the activities, attend ward temple night, AND be parents, well, cut something out, go to the temple another night. (I believe even bishopric members are allowed to play hooky and leave town or *gasp* attend another ward once in a great while.)

    All in my humble unexperienced, single sister opinion.

  4. Kristine says:

    My dad was a bishop when we were little (I’m the oldest of 5, and I was 9 when he was called), and he always had at least one child on the stand with him, and his counselors knew to jump up and conduct if he had to take one of us out into the hall. He also regularly took my sister to bishopric meetings when she was an infant (leaving my mother with *only* 4 children to get ready)–she still had to do an awful lot, but I think his obvious commitment to parenting sent an important signal to the fathers in the congregation (and this was early 80s, so involved dads were a little less de rigeur).

  5. Steve, Steve, Steve -

    Somebody had to mention it, I just had to fulfill my role :-) After all, women are never going to be asked to spend quite so much time serving the ward family (and certainly not in the same way) BECAUSE their ROLE is to be MOMMY, not to be congregational leaders.

    But we digress from Kris’ question – “How do we communicate to our children or others around us that the demands of our religion are not a burden, but a joy and a treasure?”

    As it was a mitzvah for the young Jewish girls to shine their fathers’ shoes, so it could become mitzvot to Mormons to:
    - make lunch for Daddy while he’s gone
    - have a special Sunday morning send-off breakfast
    - help out the wives of the bishopric members every chance we get (Maybe bring them a casserole? Sit with their children? Convince the bishop to ask the HP Group Leader to sit on the stand with him so his counselors can be with their families some weeks?)
    - find ways every day to bring religious moments into our homes and our lives. Part of Jewish tradition includes little things to do every day that remind you of G-d’s presence in your life. Maybe finding that G-d in your daily life will make wrestling with the kids alone on Sundays a bit easier.

  6. Arrgh… LRC, there you go dragging roles into it! Unavoidable, I guess. But I don’t think you need to mention roles when there’s already such a strong case to be made that it’s unfair to take up so much of one parent’s time.

  7. Kris – if my husband ever received a call to be in a bishopric while we had young children, I’d be the first one in line reminding the SP that families come first and that I would not be wrestling with kids all alone while hubby attends a day full of Sunday meetings and weeknights full of even more activities.

    Kids are only young once and it’s a pity that dads, especially young working dads, are asked to be away from them all day at work and then again for most of the day on Sunday and several evenings a week. It’s also a pity that the heavy responsibilities of leadership callings can result in, effectively, single parent families for several years.

    If they’re going to call fathers of young parents to be in bishoprics, do they need to require bishoprics to sit on the stand throughout Sacrament Meeting, watching their wives struggle with wiggly, crying, hungry kids? How does that help a family’s spirituality? What does it say to people visiting the church – “Family is important, unless you’re a bishopric member. Those men don’t get to worship with their families and their families don’t get to worship with their dads/husbands.”

    If we acknowledge that motherhood is the ultimate role for women, we need to acknowledge that fatherhood is the ultimate role for men and we need to make church meetings work around families, not the other way around.

  8. Thanks for that great post, Jordan.

    On the other hand, sometimes it makes me so mad that the fathers sit on the stand while their wives struggle with their children throughout the entire Sacrament meeting in the congregation below. The Church asks a lot of its mothers.

  9. Julie in Austin says:

    I have a bifurcated attitude towards these things:

    (1) For things that are truly necessary, I never begrudge dealing with my children so my husband can do stuff. For example, when he’s asked to go give someone a blessing, I feel very good about contributing to the cause by managing things while he is gone.

    (2) On the other hand, when he’s asked to do things that I don’t see the value in, it is very difficult for me to be supportive. My husband hasn’t been in a bishopric, but if he were, and I were left a lone woman in the pews with 3 wee ones, I’d be ticked. There is no real reason for all three members of the bishopric to be up there for the entire meeting every week. I can see having one person there, conducting and perhaps yanking the microphone from mental cases. But there’s no compelling reason to have the entire bishopric up there if they have small kids.

    You can call me a terrible, faithless person if you want, but that’s how I feel.

  10. wouldn’t I be excited and feel privileged to help build the kingdom? Would anything be too much?

    I think you can have a testimony that your husband was called to serve by the Lord, and still feel deprived when it comes time to get the kids ready and in the car on Sunday morning, only to face sacrament meeting spent sitting alone trying to keep them under control BY YOURSELF!

    And you did it! You suffered through it, Sunday by Sunday, for years. You may not have liked it,you may not have felt excited and privileged every Sunday while you were getting kicked by your kids and glared at by other ward members for not having perfect control over them by yourself every second, but YOU DID IT!

    So the answer to your second question is YES! At least for being a lone mother on Sundays while your hubby bishops and otherwise serves, that is not too much for you- you are tried and true in that regard.

    Regarding the first question: I’m sure there were times when you felt excited and priviliged to be building the kingdom as you sat there alone. But probably most of the time you didn’t, which makes it more amazing that you perservered. How would your faith increase if you always felt that you were doing something privileged and exciting? But yours obviously has, even if you would never want to do it again.

    Kudos.

  11. I don’t know danithew, it seems in little wards you can be just as busy with your four callings, speaking every week, driving large distances, etc.

    Perhaps it is just my lack of testimony. For instance in my case, if I really believed my husband’s calling came from God right down to my bones, wouldn’t I be excited and feel privileged to help build the kingdom? Would anything be too much?

  12. Kris, I don’t know that you lack a testimony, but rather perhaps a specific witness as to that calling. Those are two separate things, IMHO, and one doesn’t assume the other.

  13. danithew says:

    Maybe if wards were much smaller, there wouldn’t be so much to do … besides sacrament meetings I mean. When stake and ward organizations attempt to serve the needs of hundreds of Saints and organize the efforts of the priesthood and auxiliaries, it requires a lot of additional meetings just to get everything coordinated and addressed.

  14. Excellent question, Kris. Sometimes I wish I could have been a part of the early Church so that I could be there when these burdens evolved organically as needs developed. I feel like maybe we have the sense of having these obligations administratively imposed on us, rather than seeing how we are responding to the immediate needs of those around us.

    So, how to cultivate this? Maybe if we can learn to see how our actions help others, we will be more eager…

  15. I think part of the problem is that too much happens on a Sunday. We should be there to worship the Saviour and take the sacrament, but it is just part of a schedule, and I think that can take away some of the focus. I have the same problem with Sundays, but am starting to realise that the main bulk of worship should actually take place in our homes. This is where the joy of the Saviour and the gospel be manifest most effectively.
    In the last couple of weeks I have found my church experience better if my attitude is not so negative. I get more out of it, even if I am outside nursing child no. 3 or with ants in his pants no.2!

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