When our spiritual timeline doesn’t correspond to religious life events

Let me start with an admission that I have never publicly made: I didn’t want to get married in the temple.  At the time of my marriage, I had only recently had my endowment, and I was still struggling to absorb the ceremony.  I wanted my marriage to be a time when I could focus on my spouse and family; I didn’t want to relive a temple experience that I found more secret than sacred.  Although I ceded to my family’s desires that I be married in that only acceptable place, my memories of my temple marriage are primarily ones of panic, because I didn’t feel that I  could in good faith go through the ceremony and make covenants that I wasn’t ready to make.

Over the course of several years, however, I have come to a state of relative peace about the temple.  As I have become more involved in genealogy and have gained a more historical perspective on the temple, many of my concerns have ceased to bother me as much as they formally did.  For the first time since I got married, I am beginning to feel a desire to go back to the temple.  Although I don’t know if I should have waited to get married in the temple or not–my faith has grown and I have been spiritually blessed since that event–I suspect that if I had waited I would have found the experience far more sacred and would have had a more pleasant wedding day. 

However, this post is not about decisions that I did or did not make in the past.  At the time, I felt there was no real choice.  This post is about what happens to some Mormons when they arrive at moments such as missions or marriage when they are expected to testify or make covenants that they do not feel spiritually prepared to make.   Given the intense social pressure to make the proper Mormon decision–and the stigmas that attach to Mormons who don’t make those decisions–I suspect that many Mormons who can’t perform these roles in good conscience face sub-optimal options: either a) play along or b) leave the church because there is no acceptable middle ground.  Those who play along might gain a testimony after the fact and even be blessed, but they also risk being denied a valuable opportunity that they could have later.  Those who leave the church, well, also lose future opportunities to grow in faith. 

Most of these people I suspect are good people who live the commandments, probably even exceptionally honest, serious, and thoughtful people who sense the importance of the action they are asked to take.  Most likely, they just haven’t been given the gift of faith on a timeline that corresponds to key Mormon events that require important covenants to be made, even though they may want to remain as active as they can in the church.   We talk about God’s time being different than our own, but within our current culture, members pay a heavy price for not spiritually developing in a way that conveniently corresponds to these institutional and life events.  

What can we do to help these people?  If there was a middle ground, such as service missions for missionaries who feel uncomfortable with proselyting but who want to obey the church leaders or civil marriages that could occur without having to wait long for a temple marriage, would it help keep people within the fold and provide them the love they need as they seek after faith?

Comments

  1. Great questions, Natalie.

    I didn’t want to get married in the temple, either. I nearly broke off my engagement several times over the issue. If I were faced with the same situation now, I don’t think I could do it again. And yet–for reasons I can’t begin to understand or articulate–I’m also glad I did. Similarly, my mission demanded sacrifices that were very individual and very difficult, and although I remain conflicted about some of those sacrifices, I’m also very glad I served a mission.

    It seems to me that there’s a very fine line between the point at which the expected timeline challenges someone in a healthy way to take hard steps toward maturity and the point at which it challenges someone in a destructive way, pushing him or her away from the faith or into a breakdown or out of the church altogether. Worst of all, maybe sometimes both kinds of challenge are going on at the same time. (I tend to think that was the case for me.)

  2. Ugly Mahana says:

    This is a very thoughtful post. My first answers seem flippant in comparison. But I think something must be said about making sure that all are prepared to make covenants or testify when they are called upon to do so. My guess is that the author of the post would also agree that this is the best solution, but then ask: “What should happen when that outcome is not acheived?”

    My feeling is that the proposed middle ground solutions would sap away people who are prepared, but who do not feel comfortable in the way they are asked to serve. For example, I was spiritually prepared to testify when I served my mission, but was terrified of the public contact required to do so. Given a choice, I may have chosen a service mission – not because I lacked a testimony, but because I was shy.

    I tend to think that the solution lies not in a changed program, but in a changed people. We should not judge those who need more time. We should not judge, period. Let the Lord, who looketh on the heart, do that. We should just love. Unfortunately, that’s harder than a program.

  3. When we got married I simply didn’t think to write on the announcements that we were getting married in the Temple. This simple omission led to wide speculation that we didn’t actually get married in the Temple*, with the implication that it was because we were living in sin. When we visited my parent’s ward one of my old YW leaders accosted my husband in the hallway and interrogated him for a good 15 minutes about his mission, family, schooling, career plans etc. Almost as if she had got the idea that he was a skeevy deadbeat (who shattered my temple marriage plans), but was happily proven wrong.

    I hate to think how thoroughly ostracized and judged we would have been if we had actually had only a civil ceremony.

    Part of me thinks that if it weren’t customary to broadcast our religious bona fides (such as bragging about where the wedding takes place) then it wouldn’t be so noteworthy (and scandalous) when someone doesn’t follow the script.

    *On the plus side my Anti-mormon aunt sent us a wedding gift where she didn’t send one to any of my other siblings.

  4. To add to what Ugly Mahana said above, I wonder if it’s possible for an institution to challenge us without that challenge destroying some people. It’s a terrible thought. I have no idea what the answer is.

  5. Kind of like Ugly Mahona, my answers might seem a little flip, but the way I see it, the problem lies in the culture of Mormonism rather than in faith or with the Lord.

    While my circumstances are not the same as anyone else’s, I did wait. And wait and wait. I waited almost 6 years from the time it was “OK” for me to attend the temple, until I finally decided I was ready. There were questions, there were looks, there were occasional queries by the ladies you would expect to ask. And I just didn’t care. God knew, I knew, and that’s all that mattered.

    I makes me ill to think of fellow saints being judged or ostracized because of deeply personal decisions regarding their relationship with the Lord and their faith.

    No one, and I mean NO one, has the right to judge another’s faith or relationship with God.

  6. When we visited my parent’s ward one of my old YW leaders accosted my husband in the hallway and interrogated him for a good 15 minutes about his mission, family, schooling, career plans etc.

    See, I would have had some fun with this…

    (In fact, I did for a long time when people would ask the “so when are you guys moving home” question…)

  7. One of the best pieces of counsel I ever received was when I was at the age where I could serve a mission. My mom knew I was a dutiful person by nature (which in and of itself is not a bad thing, imo). But I think she knew I would need anchors if I were to go on a mission. She said to me, “Be sure if you go that you know it’s the right thing to do.”

    Honestly, I didn’t want to go, so it was all the more important to find out what was right. I made the choice not to go, and took that choice to God.

    I sought God, and I found out what He wanted me to do. (It was made very clear that serving was the right thing to do.) That didn’t mean I was fully ready to face all that a mission meant. I was in many ways ill prepared for the rigors of missionary life. (But who’s really ever ready for the real challenges of life? We often do learn as we go!) In addition, I ended up meeting a guy I thought for sure I would marry, and that made leaving all the harder.

    But in the end, I knew it was right for me to serve, and I learned that God cared about me and my life and would help me at least know the next step. That gave me the confidence to face the trials I had.

    I think sometimes duty can help us find faith (a la John 7:17), so I don’t think we should ever apologize for what sometimes may feel like ‘institutional pressure.’ Commitments and covenants exist to help us grow and progress, but they don’t mean we won’t have hard times. When and if we have ever acted out of duty, I believe the Lord can and will bless us.

    But I think the faster we can understand the principle of agency and the importance of acting and not being acted upon — to really learn to look to God and actively make choices with His help, the better off we will be.

    Ultimately, it’s not ‘the institution’ forcing anyone to make choices. We each have agency, and we need to embrace that to really find power and peace in our lives. I think that is how we help people — by helping them understand that doctrine. And to realize that the institution exists to help us find God, not to force things on us.

    Yeah, I know, easier said than done. But sheesh, it’s such a waste of time and energy to worry about what others think. I know; I have lived way too much of my life with that as a driving force, even as duty-bound as I have been. More and more, I rejoice in the principle of agency, and think that that is so critical to these kinds of questions.

    So, I don’t see this as a dichotomy – that people either have to ‘play along’ or leave, even though I know sometimes it can feel that way. The truth is that people have choices, and God can help them make them. Imo, we should help people understand truth and then learn to turn to God to know how to act upon it. To learn to embrace the power of agency in their lives.

  8. “Ultimately, it’s not ‘the institution’ forcing anyone to make choices. We each have agency, and we need to embrace that to really find power and peace in our lives….But sheesh, it’s such a waste of time and energy to worry about what others think.”

    Personally, I find the institutional and social pressure of the church much more complicated than any other kind because it’s entangled with the will of God. So it’s not just a random institution pressuring someone to do something, or a matter of what people think; it’s a matter of coming to terms with a divine requirement. What if God (via the institution, in the case of nineteen-year-old men) requires someone to go on a mission and he just can’t handle it, for example? I’ve known of more than one young man who had psychotic breakdowns on their missions. That’s where I see the high institutional expectations that can result in great spiritual growth for one person destroying the soul of another.

  9. This is not meant to sound trite, so please don’t read it as such.

    The most important thing that anyone can know or learn from this Gospel, the most important message and the most central truth to every piece of the plan of a million doctrinal, social, and spiritual pieces is that God loves ALL of His children.

    Everything He does, everything He doesn’t do, everything He challenges us to face, everything He gives, everything He withholds, everything He takes away–it’s always out of love.

    And sometimes these experiences are unpleasant because they have to be. If we aren’t willing to handle the suffering that God has prepared for us, how can we expect to handle (or to be given) the joy? Have we forgotten that these are days of preparation?

    Making things easier is hardly ever the solution. Stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for ourselves and what we know to be true–THIS is what will help us all survive the challenges that are to come in the future. Anyone who cannot do this is not fit for the fullest inheritance in the kingdom of God. (Luke 9: 62, D&C 101: 4-5)

  10. I understand what you are saying, Eve. Life (and life in the Church) can be complicated for many reasons. That’s part of why we are here…to learn to navigate the messiness.

    I never suggested, though, that the “institutional pressure” is “random.” And even w/in the institutional teachings, ultimately, a fundamental teaching is that it’s still the individual’s responsibility to figure out what God’s will is — to sort through the institutional to find the personal inspiration. To find out if God’s power and voice really is in this Church. If the counsel given is really true and real. And if it is, what that should mean in one’s life. It’s that whole general patterns/specific lives’ thing, imo.

    We aren’t supposed to be passive participants, just living in some way cuz there is “pressure” to do so. The whole reason programs, etc. exist is to help us find the power of truth by experience. That’s messy in an imperfect world, but embracing agency and owning our choices can help people get there faster, imo.

    I think we also have to be really, really careful about being too quick to blame the institution or the culture for people’s individual struggles. Take your example (which is difficult to be sure). Are we sure that breakdowns on missions are the result or proof of institutional pressure? Are crises of faith to be blamed on the Church?

    Of course there are things that can be improved in the culture (people make mistakes, sometimes they judge wrongfully, etc.), and the institution hasn’t reached the peak of perfection (part of the price of being involved with mortals), but in the end, that is all part of the journey, and God can help us navigate all the messiness.

    I’m not trying to minimize the complexity of decision-making or the journey of faith or any of these things. But I do think that truth empowers, and agency to me is at the core of truth. The devil wanted to force us all to live a certain way. That’s not God’s plan, and so the institution should never be misconstrued as existing to put that kind of agency-robbing pressure on people.

    So in my mind, I think a key thing is to help people understand why programs and commitments and milestone goals, etc exist in the church. They aren’t arbitrary pressure points in a person’s life; they aren’t for performance points from the institution. A person still has choice, and God is there to help us figure out the next steps all along the way in our lives. The more we help people really turn to Him, the better off people will be. In our teachings, that includes participation in the institution, yes. But we need to be sure that we help people avoid putting the cart before the horse as it were. “The institution” still is ultimately all about turning people to God, pointing their souls to Christ. I think sometimes we forget that at many levels.

  11. Great Post!

    I have thought about this before and you are right, there is no middle ground.

    In my experience there is a young man or woman who feels unintentionally pressured to do the expected thing (mission, marriage, priesthood advancement) yet they feel uncomfortable, not ready or maybe unworthy. It is unfortunate that this commitment with The Lord and this decision almost has to be explained to all the family, friends and the ward in which you reside.

    “Why isn’t Jonny serving a mission?” Well, perhaps he has a worthiness issue, but hey, what has that got to do with us? Lets just support him however we can regardless.

    I think it is right to be expectant of our youth to do the right things but these personal commitments and your preparedness for them seem so public and hence uncomfortable.

  12. Pressure and expectation were the impetus for me to get serious about seeking a testimony before I went on a mission. Ultimately it was a good thing for me, but I have family members who I think might be in the Church still if serving a mission wasn’t such a strong expectation.

    It cuts both ways, but I don’t think that can be avoided. I don’t know that I would change this aspect of our culture. I think I would like to see less direct pressure placed on mission-aged young men by bishops and families. It seems like a culture of expectation and stigma is enough to nudge forward the people who are nudge-able, though I’m sure there are people who have benefited from a bishop’s harping.

    Certainly, I think we need to express love and support for those close to us and not make a big deal out of it if they don’t hit all the milestones at the “right” time.

  13. Maybe I can put my thoughts another way.

    The post asks what we can do for people who struggle not feeling quite up to the expectations, but only suggests that middle ground can be found by the institution making changes. I believe there is much that an individual can do by really turning to God in earnestness in such difficult times. As much as I love the institution of the Church, I’d hate to put someone’s well-being on hold until the Church somehow made some change that was perceived to be necessary in order to create a middle ground. Also, the idea that somehow they have no other choice but to ‘play along’ (which sounds passive to me — different from choosing to hold on even though things are hard) or leave the church just doesn’t settle with me at all. It feels awfully hopeless, and as hard as things can get, I don’t think they are ever hopeless because of who God is and how He wants to help us. So my answer to the question of ‘what do we do for these people’ is to encourage them to earnestly and humbly seek His help and guidance for what to do in their lives and circumstances. If institutional changes end up happening, then great, but ultimately, I think people can find help from God. HE is the best ‘middle ground’ when there is tension or struggle, imo.

  14. And, yes, of course, it’s critical for those of us who know people who struggle to be supportive and kind in the process…to respect their agency and love them along the way!

  15. Our entire culture has age expectations.
    5=school
    16=driving-not mandatory, but an expectation that is rarely bucked

    In LDS culture you can add baptism, dating, as well as mission. You could also add priesthood ordinations which are done on birthdays as a matter of course, as if maturation happens on a conveyor belt with a nice, even, universal development.

    Interviews can help…especially the in between years when progress is not tied to a socially expected event. It would be nice for young men to feel like the reason they were ordained is not that they have survived 12 years on earth…but that they are prepared to serve. It would better prepare them for age 19, when the expectation to serve is much higher.

    I agree with the not judging.

    Frequent temple attendance helps make the physical aspects more comfortable and leaves room for the spiritual aspects to dominate. (at least that’s how it worked for me-I am forever grateful that my parents had us go twice my first day through. I left with a much different feeling about the temple-less rushed confusion and focus on the physical, and more relaxing, peace)

  16. In considering Natalie’s questions, it might be useful to reflect on previous instances of institutional adaptation–the replacement of the higher law with the Law of Moses (in the usual LDS interpretation), the end of formal consecration, and changes to to the temple ceremony spring to mind. We generally understand the first two as adaptations of a higher law to a people unwilling or unable to live it, so it seems there’s both a condemnation for that unwillingness or inability and a release from the condemnation of a higher obligation they can’t meet. Interesting tension.

    I once heard of the 1990 temple changes described in such terms, but that’s far from the usual interpretation; instead, we see the ongoing adaptation of temple practices (shorter garments, for instance) to contemporary ways of life as progress rather than the adjustment of a standard to a people unwilling to live a higher law.

    From what little I’ve heard anecdotally, I wonder if the church’s raising the bar for missionary service has ended up functioning as the kind of institutional adaptation Natalie’s considering. The health and mental-health exceptions and the other kinds of missions available to missionaries with health problems have adapted the missionary experience so it’s available to people who otherwise might not have had it, or who might have been unable to manage the rigors of a traditional mission.

  17. In 2004, one of my (male) friends went on a service mission. I don’t know the reasons.

    There are days when I am just in shock that I married at 19. Had we not been juniors at BYU, I don’t know if we would have married so quickly (11 months after our first date). I love him, and I am thrilled to be with him, but I am starting to understand why my dad was so upset about me marrying young.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons we rush people to the Temple is that we see it as a sign of our own personal (collective) spiritual success – and fear that failure of these things to happen exactly on schedule is a sign of our personal spiritual failure. We sometimes rush people to baptism for the same reasons. It seems to me we can do better letting these things be what they are – among the most monumental personal decisions that can be made, where folks will make the most serious promises they’ll ever make. _Scheduling_ them on a time table out of sync with the spiritual condition of those involved is so damaging. ~

  19. I didn’t get married in the temple because I wasn’t ready. My husband was a recently returned missionary, and while we were both technically worthy, I didn’t feel fit and/or ready to enter the temple. We consulted with our Bishop, and he agreed to marry us in a civil ceremony, and we agreed to work towards being sealed a year later. We didn’t put anything about the temple on our announcements, so people made the obvious assumptions.

    There was a lot of whispering and wondering about it. A friend of mine told me that she overheard guests at our reception making bets as to how long our “non-temple marriage” would last. Our parents, while supportive, endured all sorts of “aren’t you embarrassed?” questions. It was a marginalizing experience, to say the least.

    But honestly? We were sealed just over a year later. Seven years later, I’m a fully active member of the church. If I had received my endowment during the intense ‘crisis of faith’ that I was experiencing at the time of my engagement, I honestly believe that I would have left the church and never looked back. I’m glad that I had the time to think and pray and ponder on my own terms, and I’m immensely grateful for my husband who was willing to undergo the scrutiny and shame along with me so that I could better develop my testimony to the point of being ready to attend the temple.

    Yes, it was annoying. It was marginalizing. But it was one of the best experiences in my life, because I took a stand for myself and stood up for what I strongly believed in, which was not attending the temple if you weren’t BOTH worthy AND ready. It took a lot of support from family and friends, but ultimately, it was well worth it.

    I hope/wish that we could raise our youth to have courage to ‘buck the trend’ and follow their own spiritual path.

  20. My son leaves for the MTC on the 22nd – at almost 21 years old. His college major has a natural break between the sophomore and junior years, and he took an extra year to slowly work through preparation and decide whether to serve a mission or marry a young woman he loves deeply – who is not a member of the Church. When I was nagging him a bit a few days ago about how I thought he should be spending the last few weeks prior to leaving, he said to me:

    “This is how I made my decision to go on a mission, and it’s how I want to prepare to leave. It was a hard choice, since I really want to marry A. – but I made it on my own. Let me decide how to prepare on my own, as well.”

    He will be a better missionary and is a better person by making this difficult choice on his own, according to the timing that is best for him. I believe firmly that he is far more prepared to serve than he was two years ago – and I know without a doubt it was his (thoughtful, careful, conscious) choice. I’m proud of him for that, every bit as much as I would have been had he left at 19.

    I also would have been proud of him had he made a different choice – disappointed, but proud. We need to learn better collectively to teach the correct principles and let people govern themselves. We tend to be in each others’ business WAY too much, imo – fully accepting them only if they appear to be what we want them to be not for who they are at the moment. We tend to judge those who we believe to be “sick” in some way – and too often blame them for being sick in our eyes.

    Absolutely, we need to teach standards and have general expectations of our children, youth, young adults, and adults – even with the attendant “pressure” that always entails. Absolutely, we need to allow all to make their own personal decisions regarding these general standards without condemnation and additional pressure. There is an inherent tension between those two statements, but if there must needs be opposition in all things perhaps that means “competing (good) choices” just as much as it means a battle between good and evil. I think we shortchange that concept greatly when we limit it only to stark black and white choices.

  21. Ray, I assume that my youngest will be about that old, if he chooses to go. I think he will go. I’ve told him he should serve a mission only if his whole desire is to invite souls to Christ, that others’ opinions should stay out of the picture as much as possible. But those are easy words, aren’t they.

  22. Huh. I guess I just matured spiritually really young, because I had only been in primary for a week or two before I Hoped They’d Call Me on a Mission.

  23. StillConfused says:

    I felt pressured into a temple marriage. It was obviously not the right thing to do, in hindsight. The problem was that everything was so secretive that it was not until I was going through it that I really knew it wasn’t my thing. It never took for the then-spouse either. So am I supposed to feel bad that I did it and didn’t care for it? Is it better not to do it at all?

  24. I can testify that it is often better for many people to wait to make big decisions in their lives. I am a shining example of this. Here is a list of things I did that were later than usual and when those things happened.

    Baptism (9 almost 10)
    High School (19 I sort of failed 7th grade, long story)
    Mission (turned 21 in the MTC).

    I was not late per se when my wife and I got married in the temple 9 months after I got off my mission and 4 months after we met. I only say this because, had I done everything else on the “normal” schedule, the most important decision of marriage might have been off schedule as well. As it stands, I couldn’t be happier.

    Anyway, I hope you understand my meaning.

  25. I think the whole timeline thing has a lot of problematic consequences. First, there’s the observations you made about how the timeline might force some people into decisions and experiences that they’re not ready for. Second, there’s the problem that if your life doesn’t adhere to the timeline (especially if things like marriage or children are “delayed”), you often can be seen as deficient, less-righteous, less of an adult, etc.

    I understand the purpose of general timelines–I think it makes sense for a religious institution to give people an overall trajectory for their spiritual lives. But I think we need to make our timelines in the Mormon church (be they cultural or whatever) more general/flexible and less specific.

  26. The problem, as I think many have pointed out here is not that there isn’t a middle ground, but that we get judged for our motives if we move off the “schedule”. As one who didn’t serve a mission, even though I had been raised in the church, I felt a lot of the negative pressures around that decision. I chose not to go because I really didn’t feel ready to go, and I think had a lot of fear, and in retrospect, probably some pretty selfish, petty reasons. But they didn’t seem so petty and selfish to a 19 year old.

    It also corresponded to a time (1971) when I had let my hair grow out, wore patched jeans, and had a peace symbol on my car, which only exacerbated the problem. However, at age 20, I married my wife in the temple, long hair and all, and that drastically reduced a lot of the questions. I’ll admit that I didn’t really get the temple at the time. but with my testimony of the church, I really wanted a temple marriage, so we got our recommends and got married. It took me a long time to get a better understanding of the temple, but that has gotten better over the years, but I never regretted that part of the decision. While I do regret not going on that mission, I would not trade my marriage for the experience. Chances are my wife might have still been around when I got back, but equally likely she wouldn’t have waited.

    We can set the example by not judging others, and when we hear people speculating or judging, gently letting them know we don’t agree. I guess I don’t see a need for the institutional church to make accommodations as much as the culture growing up a little.

  27. I agree totally, kevinf. Ray already described our son’s situation and decision, but I wouldn’t change a thing about how we decided to do things. People talked about us while we were dating (young and exclusively). We need to grow up culturally. I really like that. -

  28. Mark A. Clifford says:

    This is a troubling and thoughtful post. Reading it, I am gripped by an urge to rush home and hug my 13 year old son (or the 11 year old, or the 8…). What hard things we require of each other, and how little we feel disposed to be patient with each other. I know that if any of them decide not to serve a mission, or to be married in the temple, or to stay LDS, then that will be when my test comes. And not when they fail theirs. I believe that Jesus is pretty patient with us, and does not view time lines as we are wont to.

    I take instruction on time lines, and great comfort from, this parable of Jesus (the “parable of the laborers in the Vineyard”):

    “And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house…
    But he answered one of them, and said: ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? …Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’”
    [Matthew 20: 9 and so on]

    I think, and I hope, that in the beginning Jesus knew something about us that Satan missed. That is, that His love is more powerful than our weakness, or failings, or sin, or anything else. Trusting that might mean that we should love each other while we let God draw us in His own time, believing that He will draw us all.

  29. My experience was very similar to m&m’s. I had decided early on that I did not want to serve a mission. Even in primary, I remember mentally inserting a ‘don’t’ in “I hope they call me on a mission” song whenever it was sung.

    It wasn’t until I was 21, when I was participating in the missionary discussions of a dear friend, that I had a complete change of heart and finally decided to turn to the Lord and honestly say “I will do whatever you want me to do. Should I serve a mission?” And the answer was clear and profound to me. So at 19 I was not ready, but ready at 21 and had many wonderful experiences on my mission.

    If there was some sort of ‘out’ I would have snapped that up in a heartbeat at 19. Yes, I felt the weight of expectation on my shoulders, but fortunately I did not feel it from other members or even the bishop. If I did not have that sense of expectation I would never have gone, and from a personal perspective I would have missed out on experiences that continue to shape me, and help me, on a daily basis.

  30. I agree that there are pressures for members to get to the temple and also to serve missions (among other things). I think for the most part this is the right approach. I think without those expectations more people would miss out on the blessings that are available.

    We should also remember ourselves and help our children and others within our influence to understand that the gospel (including ordinances) does not require that we be perfect or to know everything beforehand. With a basic testimony we move forward with faith knowing that our understanding will increase with time and experience. If prophets claim that they are just beginning to understand the temple (which I have heard but cannot site a reference) we shouldn’t expect to be fully prepared before entering for the first time. That is the beauty- we can return as often as possible and hopefully learn each time.

  31. A couple of thoughts –

    1 – I think that the original post is correct in stating that there is no middle ground, because both of the options listed (playing along and leaving the church) are both, to some degree, on the same side: a road to decreased (or obsolete) faith. While faith is a gift from God, it is a gift given to those who seek it. I don’t believe that whether we have faith or not, or even the level of our faith, is completely out of our control. And while everyone has their own unique circumstances, I believe that whether I was prepared or not for one of these events (such as serving a mission) was my responsibility, and something that I had control over. I don’t think it helps to look at faith passively, waiting for God to deliver it to us in a neat package instead while we watch our favorite saucy show on HBO instead of actively searching the scriptures, meditating, petitioning and counseling with the Lord through prayer, and acting in accordance with what we receive.

    Of course, one of the hardest things to do is helping someone to simply have a _desire_ to want to have faith in the first place (and perhaps this is what the post is getting at).

    2 – I think we need to be careful about our assumptions of others judging us. Most often it is untrue. In my own experience (and I think this is common), this tendency stems from my own insecurity when I know that I may not be acting in line with what I think others expectations are of me. Yet with those individuals described in the original post, I am certain that the vast majority of individuals around them view them with a desire to be compassionate and understanding (if they are viewing them at all – cue sermon on apathy). What always kills me when I fall into this trap is this striking thought: accusing someone of being judgmental is itself a form of condemnatory judgment (ie, the kind that isn’t “righteous judgment” according to the JST). Unfortunately, I don’t think that someone who is struggling with faith gets a free pass on that one. I have honestly felt that, with some of my family and friends who are less active, one of the biggest hurdles for them is to get past the (false) idea that others think less of them and that they will get a bunch of “I told you so” looks if they come back to church. Yet at the same time, I can’t blame them for having those thoughts, because I know I have that same tendency and would likely do the same in their situation. [End of tangent]

    To answer the heart of the post’s question, though, I think we need to individually be compassionate and understanding in these situations. Listen to them. Support them. Love them. And the “pressure” (ie, the strong encouragement) should be applied much earlier, such as in primary or in the deacons quorum. Putting pressure at the moment of decision is, like others here have pointed out, forcing faith or a spiritual experience, which usually doesn’t turn out well. Preparation by the individual is needed.

  32. It would be a sad, sad world and a very broken and Bishop-less church if the programs were incredibly adaptive to people’s various comfort levels.

    I can certainly sympathize with someone’s uneasiness about going on a mission (particularly at 19), getting married in the temple (particularly shortly after unpleasant first impressions in the temple which are far from uncommon), or starting any new calling. However, I don’t think the solution lies in offering more and more different kinds of opportunities to “fulfill” these expectations.

    The Church already offers alternate missions in the form of service missions (admittedly there aren’t a ton of them and I don’t believe they’re particularly available to a young man who just doesn’t feel too prepared for or enthusiastic about a proselytizing mission). Anyone who stigmatizes a young man for not being on mission is just wrong. They are in gross violation of several commandments. That attitude has no place in the LDS gospel so it shouldn’t have a place in the LDS culture. (That said, it’s there and we’ll have to deal with it. Unfortunately, the young man who’s being judged for not being on a mission is probably having a hard enough time and it seems sad that we have to just call on him to develop a thicker skin but that’s probably the only option.)

    A couple can have a temple marriage one year after a civil marriage. What would be a more appropriate/comfortable time frame? Should there not be one? It seems appropriate for the Church to require some time period between the two ceremonies to help underscore the value of the temple ceremony. Two weeks? Six months? Admittedly, the one year line is already pretty arbitrary. But I don’t see how making people’s sealing ceremony more comfortable/pleasant is compelling reason for such a change. My wife and I got married less than two years ago and have already forgotten most of the details about our sealing. I would say that the real blessings that come from temple marriage have absolutely nothing to do with ceremony itself other than the fact of its occurrence.

    It’s sad that people leave over silly things like these and I would certainly love to have any of them back at pretty much any cost. You want 7.3% tithing for a decade? Done; just come to Church. You want a civil wedding and then a temple wedding three months later? Done and done. I’m not sure that God or the Church are quite so myopic though. The gospel isn’t meant to be easy or convenient. Marriage or a full-time mission cetainly aren’t either.

  33. Zack, I think you’re oversimplifying when you call these things “silly.” To feel ostracized by your religious community for not living up to a faith timeline is not a trivial thing. See Natalie’s recent post “Building communities: what we do best.” If she’s right there–and I think she is–that one of the best things about the Church is how it promotes community, then it shouldn’t be surprising that being marginalized by that community can really hurt.

    Also, even if the gospel isn’t supposed to be easy or convenient, it does not necessarily follow that any difficulty the gospel brings into our lives is therefore good. If we followed the logic that making the gospel easier was always wrong, then surely we would do things such as ban driving to church (it’s typically easier than walking; the gospel isn’t supposed to be easy; therefore walking is better).

    That being said, I think Eve summarized it well in #4. It’s difficult to imagine a challenge that’s of any value to some (or many) people without being too much for at least some others.

  34. What do you suggest Natalie?

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