Jana comes to BCC as a special guest representing Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.
What happens when the good, the bad, and the ugly are one and the same?
Yesterday in Relief Society, we had a special visit from two newish missionaries in our ward. The more senior elder opened by thanking us women for our marvelous goodness, which was certainly a sweet thing to say. The trouble, of course, is that he has never even met me. And the more he talked, the less good and charitable I felt. The lowest point was when he praised the new sister missionaries who were sitting in the front row, telling us what wonderful sisters they were, and how committed to the gospel. All very sweet and noble. But as I sat there watching the sister missionaries, their eyes demurely downcast to the floor, I wondered how we had come to this: we had two living, breathing, and reportedly wonderful sister missionaries right there in Relief Society, but they opened not their mouths. Instead, the floor belonged to two younger men who lauded all us sisters sight unseen, placing us on a pedestal so high that I found us utterly unrecognizable.
Contrast this to what happened twenty minutes later, when the RS teacher reached deep into her soul and produced a lesson that was so raw and emotionally powerful that it was actually painful to hear. This young woman has had an annus horribilis for about three years running: major health problems, a car accident, an infertility diagnosis, unemployment and its consequent dire financial straits. It wasn’t one of those tidy lessons where someone who is now on the sunny side of despair offers easy platitudes about how it was tough, but the Lord got her through it. Although the young woman expressed tremendous hope in Christ and faith for the future, she is still very much in the wilderness. Most powerful of all was a community chastisement: through all of these trials, she said, not one home or visiting teacher has ever come to see her. Ouch.
It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t nice. It was honest and vulnerable and real. And in the end, I vastly prefer her frankness and authenticity to the overly generous platitudes that the missionary, with all kindness and good intentions, had offered before. I want to see more of my brothers and sisters in Christ have the courage to tell their stories, warts and all. As Sondheim says, “nice is different than good.” Give me good any day of the week, but please, oh please, especially on Sunday.