I’ve heard a lot of people get up in sacrament meeting and say it was no accident that they were asked to give a talk on a particular topic because that topic was one that they had always struggled with or had been struggling with recently. I haven’t been asked to speak in sacrament meeting since I moved into my current ward. Incidentally, I moved into my current ward a little more than five years ago. My husband has spoken in this ward a couple of times, but I haven’t, and since they no longer have husbands and wives do tag-team sacrament meeting talks, I think that as long as we stay here, I am safe from ever having to give a talk again. We live in a very large ward, where people are always moving in and seldom moving out, so there are always plenty of people to talk in sacrament meeting without having to ask old Rebecca J to dust off her scriptures and wing it for ten minutes.
Being fairly indifferent to the matter of speaking in sacrament meeting, I don’t take offense or feel slighted or anything like that. My theory is that the bishopric(s) see that I’m constantly wrangling these four demon-possessed unruly children and also that I’m always looking tired and/or angry, and they think, “We may need her husband, because he’s got the priesthood and organ-playing ‘skillz,’ but if we ask this woman to do one more thing, she’s either going to die or kill us all.” And that’s why they stuck me in the library and why they don’t ask me to speak in sacrament meeting. It’s not just compassion; it’s also smart management.
Really, my life isn’t so difficult; I just make it look that way. (I’m sorry, but it’s a gift. It can’t be taught.)
I was thinking, though, that if I ever did get asked to speak in sacrament meeting, assuming that there’s some cosmic reason behind the opportunity, I would probably get asked to speak on patriarchal blessings.
When I was a Laurel, my Young Women president told me that I should get my patriarchal blessing. I got called in for an interview with my bishop, and he said, “I understand you want to get your patriarchal blessing.” I said, “Do I?” He said, “Isn’t that why you’re here?” I said, “You tell me.” Well, probably I didn’t say, “You tell me,” but I do recall the whole thing being a little odd, and while I left with a recommend for a patriarchal blessing, I did not end up calling the stake patriarch to schedule an appointment because I didn’t actually want a patriarchal blessing.
I wasn’t trying to avoid getting one, but I do remember thinking I couldn’t be bothered to make that phone call and maybe I wasn’t really ready for a patriarchal blessing–whatever it means to be “ready” for a patriarchal blessing. I don’t know. I guess I thought you had to be “spiritual” or something, and “spiritual” was something I was definitely not. I didn’t dislike church, particularly, at that time, but neither was I some kind of fanatic who went out and got special blessings. I guess you could say I felt unworthy, but I think it was more that I was apathetic. Also, patriarchal blessings had always struck me as having a kind of mystical power, and not being a mystical person, that scared me. I guess I did feel unworthy. But I was also lazy.
I was active in church during college, but I think that was mostly due to the fact that I was the only Mormon at a Baptist college, and I was living out this perverse need to be contrary. (I’m not ashamed of it, I’m just saying.) I don’t recall the subject of my patriarchal blessing ever coming up. I think everyone assumed I already had one.
My older sister got her patriarchal blessing at 14. I don’t know when my younger siblings got theirs. I never asked. I had a profound lack of curiosity about patriarchal blessings, despite the fact that I considered them mystical, and ordinarily mystical stuff interests me, even if I’m not willing to participate in it. But again, there was the unworthiness. And the laziness.
So fast-forward, after college: I was 24 and I was serving in the Relief Society presidency in my singles ward. I was a pillar of the ward, actually; I had a testimony and everything. I’m not saying this to boast. I just need to clarify that I was going through a period of optimism and non-jadedness at that time. Okay, maybe I’m boasting a little bit. I admire my younger self greatly. But boasting is not the point; I’m just setting the stage. I was in Sunday School, see, and we were talking about patriarchal blessings that week–what they were, why they were important, etc. The teacher said it was like a road map for your life. People were talking about what their own blessings meant to them, how they had helped them make critical decisions in their lives, blah blah blah, and since it was a small class and everyone was sharing, I felt like people expected me to share something, too. So I shared that I didn’t actually have my patriarchal blessing, that I hadn’t ever gotten one.
I want you now to imagine a collective gasp of horror that filled the room upon this revelation. That, followed by a chorus of You haven’t gotten your patriarchal blessing? But you just have to have a patriarchal blessing! It’s a road map for your life! Your life! And I’ll be honest with you, I was a little bit embarrassed. I mean, here I was, non-jaded and a pillar of my ward community–they were letting me serve in the Relief Society presidency, for the love of Mike, and I did not even have my patriarchal blessing. Well, now that I thought of it, what was I waiting for?
So I got myself a new recommend (seven years after getting the first one), and this time I actually made the appointment with the stake patriarch. I thought this was going to be good, because it seemed like it was so good for everybody else, and I was kind of excited about it. I was very curious about what it would say. A blessing just for me. All for me. Me me me. A road map, no less. FOR MY LIFE. I was very, very interested in how it would turn out.
So I met with the patriarch, and he asked me some questions about what I was doing with my life, if I was going to school, if I was working, my plans for the future, etc. I told him I was out of college but planning to attend graduate school in the near future, having been accepted to a couple of MFA programs in creative writing. He asked what I planned to do with that degree. Oh my, how I hated that question. Not that he asked it in a snide or otherwise offensive manner, but I really didn’t know what I was planning to “do with it”; it just seemed like the thing to do because it was the thing I was good at, and also, I was young and single and if there’s ever a time to pursue a completely worthless graduate degree, it’s while you’re young and single and have nothing to spend money on but the fruits of your own narcissism. I couldn’t very well admit that, of course, so when I hesitated to answer and he asked if I was planning to teach, I said, “Ah…I’m considering it”–even though I wasn’t considering any such thing. I just felt like I had to look responsible, since I was there to get a Very Important Blessing, and I wanted to appear worthy. And not lazy.
I think that was my first mistake. My second mistake was when he asked if there was any particular issue that I wanted guidance on. Now, I was not particularly full of angst at this time, but I’m sure if I’d thought about it long enough, I could have come up with an issue or two to get guidance on. The only thing that was really springing to my mind was Heavenly Mother. I was mostly at peace with the whole Heavenly Mother business; that is, I was at peace with not knowing anything about Her (or Them, or Whoever), and I didn’t spend much time or energy worrying about it the way I once did. The truth was, I had taken a tremendous leap of faith to reconcile myself to the fact that I was never, ever going to get satisfactory commentary on such mysteries in this life. Yeah, I know, it’s not a real inspiring story of faith–not up to Joseph Smith standards or healing-cows-on-the-plains standards–but I had worked really hard to get to that point; it was what had allowed me to move on with my religious life and embrace the gospel at long last. I was really not keen on taking a step backward and admitting that it still bothered me, at least a little bit.
So when he asked if I had any issues, I just shrugged and said, “Not really. Surprise me!” Okay, I may or may not have said, “Surprise me!” That was certainly in keeping with the spirit of my actual remarks, though, and I know I was thinking it. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I have to admit that I was testing God here. God and the stake patriarch, too, maybe. If this blessing was really important, if it was really supposed to be a road map for my life, then I really wanted to know what God had to say to me that He thought I should know–not what I thought I should know. I know, it almost sounds like it was about faith, rather than a lack thereof, when I put it that way. But that’s neither here nor there. My point is that I was not as forthcoming with the patriarch as I could have–maybe should have–been, and I will always wonder how much difference it would have made if I’d simply told him what was really on my mind.
You see, I got my patriarchal blessing, and let’s just say I was underwhelmed. I continue to be underwhelmed to this day. Now, there’s nothing wrong with my patriarchal blessing. It’s fine. It’s nice, even. It basically tells me to keep the commandments, which is always good advice. In my (quite extensive, I assure you) research for this post, I read some e-articles and a lesson from the Young Women manual about patriarchal blessings, and from those (extensive) readings I learned that some people have certain promises in their patriarchal blessings and that it’s important to bear in mind that those promises are not necessarily to be fulfilled in this life. Apart from thinking that it would be funny to put that little disclaimer in the fine print on your blessing’s hard copy, I also thought I must be pretty lucky on this front because my patriarchal blessing doesn’t promise anything particular, so I have no cause to be impatient or disappointed. Score one for me.
The only problem with my patriarchal blessing is that I thought it would tell me something about myself that I didn’t already know. I wanted to be surprised–but I wasn’t. In retrospect I think that this must have been wisdom on God’s part. (Him being God and all, what else would it be?) As I get older, I realize that I don’t actually like surprises all that much, so asking for one then was asking for that which I ought not, and we all know how God feels about that sort of thing.
When I think on it now, I realize that what’s in my patriarchal blessing is exactly what I’d expect God to say to me, which is to say, not much. Which is not a bad thing, actually. It used to rub me the wrong way, but these days I’m more inclined to believe that God is just letting me fly under the radar–exactly the way I like it. After all, to whom much is given, much is required, and I’ve got enough going on without some pesky blessing-attendant-upon-my-faithfulness to worry about.
I jest, but…not really. Where once I thought the take-home message was “you’re not that special, get over yourself,” I now think the take-home message is “life’s not that complicated, get over it.” The former was kind of off-putting. The latter is exactly what I needed to know then as well as now, and fifty years from now I’ll probably still be trying to ram it through my thick skull.
The road map analogy is apt. In real life, I get annoyed when people try to give me directions with too much detail. It’s confusing. I like to stick to street names and compass directions. In fact, I’m sure that if I’d just waited a few more years to get my blessing, the patriarch may very well have said, “You know what? Just Google it. It’ll be faster.” Yes, God certainly knew what He was doing when He told me what I needed to know instead of what I thought I wanted to know. Just as I allegedly thought it should be.
And I didn’t even have to speak in sacrament meeting to gain that valuable insight. That’s what I love about being me.