Borrowed Light for Your Sister

We have a lot of platitudes. We have things we say as Latter-day Saints that might be unique to our own speaking patterns and vernacular. It took me years of being a member before I had the gist of some of them- I wondered for several months who Bishop Rick was, and I’m still unsure what the Activity Girls are doing or where their ages fall.

Church has become a minefield of platitudes and unintentional hurt lately. Aside from furthering the wounds by insisting if I am offended, the fault lies with me, I thought it might be cathartic to jot down a few ideas on how to make a divorced or otherwise less-than-perfect member feel welcomed and loved.

Treat her like a whole person. Because a woman is divorced or has never been married, does not mean she is a fraction of human being. She is a divine daughter of God, just as she is, and does not need to be reminded how important marriage is, or how sad it is that her children are lacking a father, or that someday all will be made right. The presumption and condescension in such remarks say more about the person tossing them off than they ever will about a single woman’s standing before God.

If you are her priesthood leader, her home teacher or her bishop, when you come to visit her home, please do not sit in the car in the driveway rather than accept her invitation to come in and visit while you wait for your companion to arrive. If you are her bishop, please do not stand on her porch while you interview her, insisting that you cannot enter her home with only her and her children present. It’s humiliating and underlines her institutional vulnerability when her ecclesiastical leader cannot trust her enough to enter her home. Yes, I know the reasons given for this behavior- but it’s wrong. I don’t care if once, somewhere, something improper happened- men and women work together in the world all the time, and manage to keep their clothes on and behave as civil, responsible adults. Please do so at her house as well.

If she is a single mother, and there are issues with her child(ren) in Primary, please take the issues directly to her, as a starting point. There is a certain status and standing given to a married woman that is denied a divorced or single woman, and while it’s very subtle, it is also very real. This goes back to treating her like a whole person, rather than a fraction of a functioning whole. If she is the custodial parent, please, deal first with her. Any concerns you have will likely be much better received if you communicate honestly and directly. The stewardship of a primary president, such as it is, does not trump a sister’s motherhood, even if there is no father present.

If you catch yourself looking around for an object lesson or fishing for something to say, and a platitude bubbles to your lips, please bite your tongue. Telling a single sister that she can be sealed to her children after she dies is not even the coldest of comfort. Comparing your life to hers to make yourself feel better and then telling her how much comfort that gave you is downright cruel. Telling her you understand being a single mother because your husband travels for work is likely to leave her speechless. Bite your tongue until you taste blood if you have to, but stop and think about what you are actually saying.

Yes, there will be lessons on things that will inevitably be painful for a divorced or single sister. Single women understand this, and steel themselves- they know its coming. But there are ways to deal with topics like temple marriage, family sealing, children, and celestial glory without causing more harm. Focusing on the teachings of Christ is a sure way to never go wrong, and make all people feel included in the Gospel.

Allow her to be of service to her community in a meaningful way. Allow her to serve and stand beside her sisters and brothers in her ward as their equal. Do not pull her from meaningful service, work or teaching because her domestic situation does not mirror the ideal.

Sisters, if she is talking to your husband in the foyer or hallway in a polite or friendly manner, please don’t feel the need to come up and loop your arm through his with some pressing need  he must suddenly attend. The chances of her actually being interested in your husband or of trying to hit on him in the foyer of the church, is close to zero. If you feel threatened, please speak to your spouse about it privately. Brothers, it’s okay to talk to a single woman. A conversation is not a gateway to danger- it’s just a conversation with a fellow Saint- who happens to be a woman.

As alluded earlier, please stop saying that if she feels offended, it is her choice. This idea can be a self-righteous blanket of invincibility for a person to say something cruel or insensitive, and then further places the blame on the person who has been wounded. “Intent” is not a band-aid for harmful words. This is a cheap cop-out and a very clear way of saying that someone simply does not matter. This harms all of us.

I think that about covers it for now.


Comments

  1. This is great.

  2. Glass Ceiling says:

    We have brainwashed eachother into the idea that singles are “less than.” The married portion of the Church unconsciously resents singles because they see us as an unnecessary burden. Our presence makes them analyse the cracks in their own marriages.

    And we also limit their ability to complain about their lives. It’s like a mental depression support group suddenly seeing a comatosed burn victim in the hallway. It kinda limits their complainability.

  3. Mommie Dearest says:

    I dunno, I don’t see my flaws as making me the equivalent of a comatose burn victim, nor do I see an unmarried adult member as being that way either. I look at all of us, temple-sealed, civilly married, and singles, as being more or less in the same boat regarding our standing before God and with each other, at least I start from there. It’s always a bit of an unpleasant shock when you are reminded once more that you are perceived as “less than” for these superficial reasons. It’s very subtle sometimes, and it is something that you steel yourself for. Tracy’s description was painful to read. And she is right about being blamed for being offended when someone clumsily gives offense. It’s hard enough to handle without being made to feel responsible for someone else’s clueless snobbery on top of it all.

  4. Glass Ceiling says:

    Mommie,

    I exaggerated my point in order to make the point. You are right, we are not burn victims. But we are often resented for reasons we can only guess at. I believe that most of those who resent singles would not immediately and intelligently be able to explain why.

    But many do resent singles, and they often show it by their insensitive pious rhetoric.

  5. +1.
    3rd to last paragraph (“Sisters…”): +2. Thank you.

  6. Glass Ceiling says:

    Here are a few reasons why some married members nay resent singles :

    -most singles are inactive.
    -those who are active often are not “valiant.” (Nevermind that singles cannot get callings that most would see as important callings.)
    -aome singles require a lot of the Bishop’s time.
    -attractive single women can be perceived as a threat to married women…particularly when that woman’s husband is a HT to an attractive single woman.
    -single men are naturally seen as “the biggest problem in the program because he is a “menace” and refuses to grow up and ask women on dates/propose to a woman.
    -singles are perceived as care free adult children and/or failures at marriage.
    -singles and their children are seen as bad examples to married member’s children.
    -singles’ worthiness are often suspect.
    -singles make the Church look less perfect. Their mere existance raises questions about how and why they are not getting married. Someone or something is to blame. (It must be singles exclusively , and not any element of the Church organization itself. No matter what they may say about the problems of the singles program itself, IT MUST BE THEIR FAULT . )

  7. (6) – I’m a member of a singles’ ward. These attitudes are far too prevalent and do a lot to piss me off.

  8. Thomas Parkin says:

    ” lot to piss me off.”

    Dear sbagdadley,

    Please do not use the phrase “piss me off.” How do expect the Holy Ghost to dwell in that kind of potty mouth? Perhaps you would be more likely to find an eternal mate is you weren’t driving her away with your unrighteous use of the English language. Remember that the tongue is an unruly member, at times setting the whole body on fire.

    When I was young, I sometimes used the term “dogonyou!” I was reminded that I didn’t really want a dog on anyone. And even if I did, I shouldn’t say so. Similarly, is someone really pissing you off? I’m not even sure what that might mean, but it draws attention to body parts we must find unfortunate at least until you’re married and your life begins.

    As a single member, your words should drip from your tongue like sweet, innocent honey, attracting bees and butterflies from all across the field. Consider how much more attractive than “piss me off” are these words by the poet:

    She walks in beauty, like the night
    Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
    And all that’s best of dark and bright
    Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
    Thus mellowed to that tender light
    Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

    One shade the more, one ray the less,
    Had half impaired the nameless grace
    Which waves in every raven tress,
    Or softly lightens o’er her face;
    Where thoughts serenely sweet express
    How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

    And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
    So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
    The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
    But tell of days in goodness spent,
    A mind at peace with all below,
    A heart whose love is innocent! – the Poet

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for helping us see clearly these kinds of things from your perspective, Tracy. I agree on all counts.

  10. Tracy, thanks. Here’s one you forgot :)

    If my children misbehave, please consider that there could be an explanation other than my divorce. Also, unless you are actually a psychologist who is treating my child, please don’t try to diagnose him. Even if you were a psychologist with a professionally-informed opinion about the cause of my child’s difficult behavior, it would be unethical to speculate about it at Relief Society book group.

  11. Comparing your life to hers to make yourself feel better and then telling her how much comfort that gave you is downright cruel. Now, now, people do that all the time to me. You know, sometimes it just is normal humanity. It is my choice whether or not to be offended. Do I decide to be brittle and hostile and spend all my time being wounded? Do I let what has happened to me become me or do I let it just be part of what I have been through in my life?

    Do I go through life taking offense whenever someone mentions children or blessings or miracles?

    But maybe singles are much more damaged and sensitive than a parent who has buried a child or two or three. Maybe the emotional trauma is greater. Though, if that is so, it calls into mind a great deal of other thoughts.

    There are lots of foolish things people do, things I would not recommend, but I would balk at calling them cruel.

    #6 — nicely said. I think that if people explored what they think and why, where it is true and where it is not, we might all treat each other much more kindly.

    All said, my last ward had a single relief society president. When she was released, they moved her to teaching gospel doctrine. I’ve always thought that singles should be treated as individuals and as people, which is where I and the OP agree.

  12. Even if you were a psychologist with a professionally-informed opinion about the cause of my child’s difficult behavior, it would be unethical to speculate about it at Relief Society book group.

    Same goes for my daughter with Tourette’s Syndrome. Except every time they rebalance her medication there is an adjustment period with issues.

    Unless such speculation is a call for kindness, extra concern and support it is mere gossip. If it is a professionally-informed opinion, it is a breach of professional ethics to share it in the manner of gossip. If it is not, it is just gossip. From proverbs I note that gossip is on the list of the things God hates rather than just dislikes or refuses to allow.

  13. Tracy M, thanks for this.

    Your comment: “If you are her priesthood leader, her home teacher or her bishop, when you come to visit her home, please do not sit in the car in the driveway rather than accept her invitation to come in and visit while you wait for your companion to arrive. If you are her bishop, please do not stand on her porch while you interview her, insisting that you cannot enter her home with only her and her children present.”

    My lesson in this matter came early. I was a 14- or 15-year old home teaching companion to my father. We home taught a divorced sister who had joined the church precisely because it was a place of peace. Less than a year after her baptism, we sat in her living room as she openly wept about the overwhelming sadness she felt at seeing complete families each week and comparing them to her own situation. My father did the only thing he could do: he walked to the woman and put his arms around her as she freely cried.

    At least that day, she knew that she had a shoulder to cry on.

  14. “It is my choice whether or not to be offended.”

    If you called me a bitch, I would be offended, and rightly so. Using that word to refer to a woman is considered very rude in our culture, and I would only be able to conclude that you held my feelings and worth in low regard. To say that it is my own choice to be offended in this situation or that being offended is my own problem is the excuse that a bully uses in order to avoid responsibility for his actions.

    None of the actions Tracy mentioned are as directly offensive as calling a woman a bitch, but all are thoughtless and all are motivated by troubling underlying stereotypes and prejudices about single women or single parents.

    I agree with you that single parents or childless adults can’t go through life balking at every mention of marriage or children. However, a resolute insistence on never taking offense at any actions or words means that others may never have the impetus to more closely examine their own thoughts and actions, which deprives them of an opportunity to become more Christlike.

  15. Katya,
    Stephen’s solution is not everyone’s solution, but let me assure you he came by it the hard way. Go read his blog if you’d like to see how.

  16. I’m aware of his situation, but I stand by my statement that the advice never to take offense can as damaging as a propensity to be too easily offended.

  17. I think it’s a good default, though. It will never be fullproof, but why not try try try to give people the benefit of the doubt? I have said and probably will say plenty of stupid, thoughtless, painful things to people and I am very grateful for the people who decide I probably didn’t mean it that way. Good intentions are not universal, but I’m not sure what we gain from filtering what people say through our most painful realities. I could stand to never hear “I don’t know how you do it” ever ever agin in my whole life, but it is generally said lovingly. I’ll take that.

  18. Thanks for this, Tracy. I agree with every point you made. We really do need to be much more aware of the things we do and say and the messages our words and actions send.

    In that light:

    Glass Ceiling, fwiw, I believe deeply that nearly all married people in the Church don’t see single members as a burden. I believe they simply don’t know how to help, are oblivious to the unconscious messages they send, don’t understand the issues Tracy highlights here and – like the rest of us, including you and me – hurt those they really do love because of everything I mentioned above.

    It’s worth considering that your comments in this thread are every bit as insensitive to and stereotyping of married people as the actions you decry from those people – and I think that is directly relevant to the main point Tracy is making here. We simply have to stop segregating and separating in the Church – and we have to be more aware of how we do so.

  19. Should be canon.

  20. I also think we miss the most important part of this post if we start arguing theory. These are concrete suggestions, and getting side-tracked by philosophical discussions only detracts from what I believe in the pure power of this post.

    This is one case where I think we really don’t need intellectualization. We need practicality, which is what this post provides.

  21. May I add my current peeve, Tracy? When a sister’s life doesn’t fit your idea of the ideal, don’t become a linguistic contortionist in a silly pretense that fools nobody: “Well, you teach Gospel Doctrine, so it’s kind of like you’re a mother and we’re your children.”

    (What’s next? “You’re really lucky to have those horrible scars on your face, because it makes you more Christ-like. You know, like in ‘no apparent beauty that man should Him desire.'” Or maybe, “Too bad you killed all those people. But you were ushering them into the next world, so it’s more like you’re a mother than a murderer.”)

  22. ::applause::

  23. Ardis,
    Are you saying I shouldn’t have killed all those people?

  24. The advice to not take offense is like the advice to forgive. It is not about blaming the victim. It’s that being offended or refusing to forgive damages the person far more than it does the offender.

    In Stephen’s case, is he going to let the insensitivity of others who are trying to be sensitive cause him more pain than he has already gone through? Why let others heap coals on your head for something of which you are genuinely innocent?

    My advice is hard-earned, and not meant to downplay some of the points in the OP which are valid. It is helpful to point out where actions are needlessly painful. However, it is MORE helpful to point them out to the person in the moment. If someone says or does any of the aforementioned things, blogging about it won’t help (except insofar as it helps solidify one’s own feelings.) What WILL help—and has helped me—is to speak up.

    I called my bishop on the hurtful attitudes he was unintentionally communicating, and I tried to do it as forgivingly, lovingly and non-offendedly as possible. Being offended by him or by others only hurts me, cutting me off from people who should be my support. It doesn’t touch them.

    And if they mean to offend, why give them what they want? I have had to deal with this exact thing with my ex.

    THAT is why the advice to refrain from offense is so apt . How does it go? “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

  25. We’re told that being offended is a choice. Sometimes it is the right choice.

    Sometimes we describe certain evil things as things that “offend the Spirit.” Assuming that this is a real phenomenon rather than just rhetoric, then it means that even the Holy Ghost sometimes chooses to be offended. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to take offense to something that is truly offensive. We also strive to exercise charity toward the offender, but that does not mean that offensive behavior is not offensive. You know, love the offender, hate the offense.

  26. John C., no, no, no. You were RIGHT to kill all those people. It was a GOOD thing. Give me a minute and I’ll bastardize some platitude to prove it to you.

    But blogging does help, SilverRain, for at least three reasons: (1) In the moment when something strikes you out of the blue and takes your breath away with its unexpectedness, you can’t always “point out where actions are needlessly painful,” no matter how “helpful” it might be — and it *isn’t* always helpful in the moment, or with some people, to point out the problem, especially if you haven’t had time to think about how to phrase the “pointing out” so that it isn’t combative. (2) It very often helps to talk out painful things in order to understand exactly why they were so painful — blogs act as a combo diary and best friend for working out those things. And (3) many regular participants on these blogs seem to appreciate knowing how they can better deal with their fellow Saints; if the situations Tracy outlines haven’t occurred to them before, they may consciously adopt some of these suggestions and avoid carelessly and needlessly inflicting pain on someone in the future.

    And I think you know as well as I do that some people do use advice to forgive or not be offended *as a weapon* in a deliberate effort to cause additional pain to the injured party. Your ex does that. Some of the self-righteous strangers who take me to task at Keepa (their comments generally don’t get posted) are clearly — “clearly” because they do it in such bitter tones and with such direct imperatives that you wouldn’t use to a friend, much less a stranger — trying to inflict pain. “You are a wicked woman who deliberately chooses to be offended when I say intentionally abusive things” is called trolling when it’s on the blogs — what do you call it when it is said over the pulpit or in a Relief Society discussion or by your visiting teacher?

  27. I’ve been discussing this a LOT lately. I’m in a singles ward too, and this is the first time in my church life where I’ve started to notice this stuff. I don’t know if I’ve noticed everything in (6) and (7), but maybe a little general uneasiness from married folks or church leaders. I got a free pass on marriage and family business while I was still an undergrad, but now that I’ve been working for a few years, some of the whisper stuff gets a little louder.

    This also hits particularly home to me, since I was raised by a single mom. We just had the family responsibility lesson, where we get an hour of the ideal leave it to beaver family, followed by a hurried “oh, if you’re a single mom or your family isn’t perfect, i guess that’s okay too!”, which leaves folks who come from less than traditional family situations more than a titch awkward.

    God loves everybody, and the church should love and care for everybody, regardless of whether they are married or not (which is nobody else’s freakin’ business), or if they have kids, or if they are widowed, or whatever. The Gospel doesn’t change, and the way that we interact and serve each other shouldn’t either. Otherwise, it seems that we aren’t grounded in practical reality.

  28. I love this post! I often tell people that I have been almost every minority in the church and this post gave me a great laugh because I identified with all Tracy’s points, having experienced all of her challenges.

    Luckily for me when my former spouse cheated publicly with another member in our stake and left me with 6 children I realized at the Sacrament meeting immediately following that my status in the ward had completely changed. Overnight! from Sat. evening to Sun. morning. I believe the Holy Ghost inspired me to just not care what anyone thought , ever again. Somehow even though I was overwhelmed with what had happened to my family my faith was never challenged. I learned to never take offense and never back down and never be quiet and never feel lesser.

    I remarried a non-member and learned a few more things I had never realized about my fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel, I get great enjoyment telling about some of those experiences too!

    I know, if the members of the ward are insensitive or unkind, that is their problem, I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they won’t ever chase me away, I need Christ, everyday and every minute and nothing will separate me from him. He carried me everyday though the dark times and in the end has returned to me beauty for ashes!

    I’ve been reading your posts for a long time Tracy, you’re strong enough to make it!

    It has taken a long time for all of this to resolve but it was worth every pain it took and lesson learned to get here!

  29. Really valuable to have you share your insight and perspective here. Thanks, Tracy. I feel like my heart has grown/expanded by reading this.

  30. One more thing–it’s posts like these that strengthen my commitment to treat each person with respect and care as an individual, not on how well they fit any perceived “role” in the Church. We are all individuals, first and foremost, and should be treated as such.

  31. Ardis—Good points. I think the difference is those who are advising to forgive or not be offended out of genuine concern and personal experience vs. those who are doing it because they feel uncomfortable with their own actions.

  32. Oh Tracy, I hate reading posts like this. I must be so socially awkward. It’s so hard for me to know what to do or say, and people respond with the platitude “just treat them like a normal person”. Oh yeah? Well, I thought I was. I treated them exactly how I’d like to be treated. And then I found out I was insensitive. So then I tried to be more sensitive, and found out I wasn’t treating them like a normal person.

    Don’t get me wrong. I really appreciate your perspective. The problem is, once the fear of being misunderstood is there, the personal gap becomes all that much harder to close.

  33. #11, Stephen M. (Ethesis): “Comparing your life to hers to make yourself feel better and then telling her how much comfort that gave you is downright cruel.”
    Now, now, people do that all the time to me. You know, sometimes it just is normal humanity. It is my choice whether or not to be offended. Do I decide to be brittle and hostile and spend all my time being wounded? Do I let what has happened to me become me or do I let it just be part of what I have been through in my life?
    Do I go through life taking offense whenever someone mentions children or blessings or miracles?

    ——————–
    I’m sure you’re a good guy, Stephen, but I worry about how some people use the same type of language you’ve expressed to justify their lack of compassion. Please don’t take what I say next personally – this is just a subject I’ve thought about a lot.

    When this issue is discussed, we should differentiate between feeling “pain” or “hurt” and feeling “offended”. When someone says something thoughtless or insensitive to me, especially something which connects to to a current or recent deeply-felt tribulation, the feeling of pain or hurt is spontaneous. And IMO, that’s a pure feeling which is not unrighteous. The next step, feeling offended, is where I can go astray.

    The problem with many otherwise-righteous but clueless members who say insensitive things is that they focus solely on the “being offended” aspect of this issue. Hence, the seemingly-automatic response that “well, divorced members shouldn’t get offended at things that are said”. Well, Bishop Eliphaz, home teacher Brother Bildad, Sister Zophar, and any other supposed comforters of Tracy or other divorced members, are all missing the point. The point is not whether Tracy or I feel offended at what you said. The point is that we were already in pain – and what you said didn’t help. In fact, it made it worse. So now you have a choice. Are you going to take responsibility for your thoughtless words and actions, and apologize? Or are you going to focus on my “feeling offended”, which provides a convenient excuse for you to not have to change your behavior? The scripture says Charity never faileth. Does that include you?

  34. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Last week Elder Oaks gave a talk in a CES fireside. I went to watch it last nigh but only got through Sis Oaks great talk. I guess she and Elder Oaks are recently married, and she had never been married until marrying Elder Oaks at the age of 53. You should go listen to it. It was a great talk and touched upon issues of being single.

    Interestingly, Elder Nelson also remarried a never-been-married but powerful educated woman of a similar age.

  35. Again, I don’t think anybody needs to lecture Stephen on how people deal with pain. I provide this as a public service to you all in order to mitigate potential embarassment when you learn what he’s been though.

    Also, lecturing folks on how they ought to react to pain is pretty much the same thing as telling them they shouldn’t feel any. We all have to get through our pain in our own way.

  36. TOBJones–there are 12 apostles. If _all_ their wives predecease them, that will provide the possibility for 12 out of at least a million valiant unmarried single women to marry. Thanks for providing that ray of hope.

    (I suppose if one of them married a divorced woman, _that_ would be news maybe worth mentioning in this context. I’m not holding my breath.)

  37. John C, are you addressing me? If I have offended Stephen, I apologize. I tried to make it clear in my comments that I wasn’t addressing him directly, but rather the implications of what he said as they are used by other members. I was trying to address a generalized total audience, rather than one person. If I wasn’t effective, I regret that. If I have offended you on Stephen’s behalf, I apologize.

    If you felt I was lecturing, I apologize. I tried to write in a clear way, but apparently you felt the tone was wrong. Is that because you think I was attacking Stephen? I wasn’t trying to do that. If I was lecturing to anyone, it was to the insensitive members who Tracy has to deal with, week after week.

    If my comments on dealing with pain offended anyone here, I apologize. I was trying to make helpful comments based on the experiences I have had as a divorced man with a divorced mother. Members of my family and my quorum know some of what I’ve gone through, but I won’t share it here.

    Sorry.

  38. Fear not, Zefram. I am not offended. Nor did I intend offense. But I’m occasionally dumb. It’s likely this was one of those times.

  39. Our stake has had a “support group” for divorced members, meeting every few weeks for the past six months. It’s been helpful for those dealing with divorce to support each other and learn together. For the priesthood leaders who attend to facilitate and listen, it’s been a powerful education. Would that more Church members were willing to listen and learn with open hearts!

  40. i’ll read the comments later. love you T. all great advice. as a recent convert, and as one who is accustomed to dealing with men in all circumstances (grad school, courtroom, my own business), the inability of a LDS man to enter my home b/c my husband isn’t home bugs me to no end. i have 4 kids present — seriously, what do you think untoward is going to occur. can we get off my front porch already? the neighbors are talking.

  41. David K, does your stake’s support group include both men and women? Or do they meet separately?

  42. My sister and I decided that in preparation for those times where people say inappropriate and hurtful things that leave us speechless in the moment we would practice saying the phrases ‘what an unkind thing to say’ and ‘what an inappropriate thing to say’ in a very matter of fact tone. The point being to give ourselves the words ahead of time. While I haven’t yet used either of those phrases exactly, I’ve found that I’m more able to respond in the moment. A friend of mine called that a way of standing for truth and righteousness. I find I’m less likely to let the hurt fester (or even remember it) and I’m hopeful that the people I give immediate feedback to are able to think more clearly the next time their words might hurt someone (who may or may not be me and may or may not be in an emotional place in that moment to respond well).

  43. Thank you, John C, for monitoring this thread- I’ve been AWOL all morning due to domestic fires, and I appreciate your help.

    John is right- saying anything to Stephen (Ethesis)about pain or loss is misguided. I understand what Stephen was trying to say- he and I are friends and have mutual respect for each other. His points are valid.

    In no way in the OP was I saying I wanted to go around being offended all the time- anyone who knows me knows this is far from the case. I turn my cheeks readily and often. But, there is also validity in what I say. Intent matters, but its also not a Get Out of Jail Free card, letting anyone say anything and bounce the responsibility back to the harmed person. That’s juvenile and if we are to be adults, we need to be responsible for our words, and the consequences they may contain.

    This was not meant to be a parsing out of doctrine, as has been said. It was my experience, and my hope that sharing it might be helpful to someone.

    Ardis wrote an excellent post on this subject a few months ago at Keepa, and it should be required reading in RS, imho.

    Anonfornow makes another excellent point in pointing out misbehavior by children from divorced families is not automatically (or even likely) caused by the divorce- perhaps, like all children, they are just being children.

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

  44. Just curious…how many members of your ward know about/follow your online writing? If i were in your ward, you would terrify me. Not because you’re divorced, but because no matter how well-intentioned something I said/did was, it might be fodder for a sanctimonious dogpile on Monday morning. I promise, I’m not trying to troll or offend, but do you really want to tag yourself as ‘the divorced lady’ around whom everyone has to walk on eggshells? HTs don’t go into houses by themselves with women whose husbands aren’t home. Period. They do this for protection of themselves as well as the person they are visiting. It has nothing to do with social status. Why be hurt? It sounds like the greatest sin of which your ward is guilty is callously ignoring your somewhat unique (to Mormons) emotional situation–it’s no small omission, but why don’t you ask your bishop for the opportunity to say some of these things to your ward in RS or Sunday School? Maybe you already tried with no joy. Bit you’ve got to address this with them. To dime someone out on the internet without addressing the issue with them first seems to me the very definition of ‘backbiting.’

    Standing by for the flames…

  45. Mommie Dearest says:

    Josh, clearly you don’t know Tracy. But here’s some food for thought, for me as well as for you.

    About the giving and taking of offense. The person who has been offended is the one who gets to decide when and how to handle this. Some situations are easier to overlook than others, and the solution always lies in overlooking your hurt in order to forgive the person who caused it. Sometimes that hurt is caused with intentional malice. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but the underlying judgmentalism cuts to the bone that day. Sometimes it’s the 2974656th time it’s happened and you’re fresh out of forgiveness. There are a lot of reasons why someone might be slow in processing the offense, it’s not your job to encourage them to speed it up. Even though you might be correct that their taking offense is causing further problems, the point is it’s YOUR problem, not theirs. Maybe you should just deal with that, and let them have space to deal with their own stuff. Someone who regularly gets trod upon like this, knows well the value of forgiving and turning the other cheek, but a person can only take so much bruising, and it can take a while to heal and get back up to speed.

    My question is why is this such a common problem among the body of the church. Why are we so blind to each other? There are a number of reasons, but the first one that comes to my mind is the myth of the perfect family that we perpetuate in church. In an honest effort to be helped, we are taught a superficial version of the gospel (get yourself a temple marriage at any cost, have a bunch of children and keep them in the center of the freeway to perfection that we’ve built with all these lovely programs, don’t commit any of this handy checklist of Extra Bad Sins and we won’t make a list of those other Easily Hidden Sins to annoy your conscience, and thus you can feel real good about the great trajectory you’re on. And here’s a service project we want you to complete by Tuesday) And we shamefully neglect the vital, uncomfortable truths of the real gospel that Christ taught, and in this climate it’s very easy for some members of the church to not feel real fellowship with others that they perceive to be Different Than Them. That’s the error, or at least one of the main ones. People like me, married to a heathen with “failed” children, or the divorced sister who couldn’t keep her family intact, or the single sister who never could get one in the first place, or the brother who never married because (offensive reason here), or heaven forbid, a gay person(!)–we are really all pretty much in the same boat with Stake and Ward Leadership Club, we are all fallen, mortal, in desperate need of applying the atonement in our lives, and gonna die someday.

    One can always tell when they are in the club and when they are not. The truth is, there is no club and we are all pretty much the same, and only in this climate can you have the healing love that will be needed to help lift up your fellow being. Otherwise it is condescension, which is out of place between two fallen mortals such as we are.

  46. Interesting, Josh.

    I have a wonderful ward, and I’ve written about them extensively. What in the OP gave you the impression this post was about anything specific to my ward? This is about broad generalizations that will help women in my shoes- many of whom I’ve conversed with online and IRL. I post links to my BCC pieces on facebook, and stand by everything I’ve ever written.

    You can read about my ward, if you’re so inclined:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/05/15/handled-with-care/

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/02/27/moving-day/

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/12/06/circling-the-wagons/

    Just to give you a few. Then come back and ask how I feel and am perceived within my own community.

  47. I apologize to you, Tracy, and once again, to Stephen. I agree with and support your sentiments in the OP, Tracy.

    All I see on the website are words on the screen. I have no idea of the subtext to or backstory behind commenters’ comments. There is no “previously on BCC” video teaser to show me what was happening in your lives before today. So unfortunately, the comments I made in response to certain ideas or memes are being seen in context of people’s experiences which were hidden from me. The only reason I mentioned Stephen in my original comment was because he had expressed the meme I wanted to comment on.

    So once again, I apologize.

  48. Zefram, it’s perfectly okay- there are backstories I have missed and surely have stepped on toes before. It’s not a problem. Please continue to comment and engage with the community.

  49. And Tracy, I erroneously assumed that the behaviors you were describing in the OP were things you had gone through in your ward. Per your most recent comment, that is not correct. I apologize to you and your ward members.

  50. Thomas Parkin says:

    “but do you really want to tag yourself as ‘the divorced lady’ around whom everyone has to walk on eggshells?”

    It isn’t about getting people to walk on eggshells, but to speak honestly to create a space where people can learn the effects their language and behavior is having. And it isn’t directed at known offenders in spite as much as at an entire culture so worshipful of one kind of family arrangement that an enormous percent of believers(very far from “your somewhat unique emotional situation”) have pain in just moving freely among the flock. It’s a sad state of affairs. If someone is hurt, they should try harder not to be offended.

  51. One of the hard things for me is knowing when to treat singles like everyone else. A single sister joined the RS book club a while back, and has come to be a valued member who enjoys it a lot. But at first she was like, “Can I join if I’m not married?” And we were like, “Well, yeah, it’s RS, and we have non-member women as well.” It never crossed our minds that she would not feel welcome, so we didn’t do any special outreach.

    At the same time, the singles in our stake have had a twice-monthly scripture study for years. I would love to crash it, because teaching primary, I don’t get much adult spiritual input. But it’s for singles, so I can’t go.

    As to the not-being-alone with opposite sex thing, it is designed to protect everyone. A universal precaution, like a dentist wearing a face mask. We have taken out insurance that will help us defend my husband if he is accused of wrongdoing in the course of his charitable work. It’s a really sad state of affairs that there would be such a product, but that’s the reality. If it was my husband coming to visit, I would come along and play with the kids while the two of you talked, and the chaperonage would seem less weird. But I can see both sides of that one.

  52. it's a series of tubes says:

    The married portion of the Church unconsciously resents singles because they see us as an unnecessary burden.

    Beg to differ. Way to throw your fellow Saints under the bus, though.

  53. Yeah, I don’t actually feel that way at all. I think it’s just a matter of seeing the humanity more fully in each other and increasing respect for differing situations.

  54. FlyOnTheWall says:

    “Elder Nelson also remarried a never-been-married”

    There’s a policy (too strong a word?) that remarrying Apostles should not be sealed to women in situations where such could cause pain or confusion to the new spouse’s families or children. That’s likely why both Apostles have married never-been-married women.

  55. Tracy, this is so helpful. Please keep more of these coming! Thank you.

  56. it's a series of tubes says:

    I think it’s just a matter of seeing the humanity more fully in each other and increasing respect for differing situations.

    That’s a great way to state it. Thanks for this, Tracy.

    FlyOnTheWall – I had to chuckle about your statement regarding “pain or confusion to the new spouse’s families or children”. Through a short grapevine, I know certain of the Nelson children were none too thrilled.

  57. One of two reasons I’m glad I had a failed marriage: I get it. I know what divorced women are feeling, and I am able to offer a shoulder and empathy. People are often surprised that I was once a divorced, single mom. I’m the bishop’s wife now, and have a good marriage. In some ways, our family might even appear ideal. But that image would only last until you got to know us.
    All of us who have been through this, whether we’re men or women, are tooled to help others who never imagined they’d be one of US.
    Biggest reason I’m glad I had a first marriage, even though it failed: I have my oldest daughter, one of the true joys of my life. I would do it again just for her.

  58. Amen, Margaret. My marriage was a disaster, but my three children are reason enough that I would it all again to have them. And I know my capacity for empathy has been exponentially stretched.

  59. If this blog accommodated a “like” button, Tracy, I’d click it after your comment :)

  60. Zefram – all are invited to come. There were weeks where we had only women (about 85% of the divorced members in the stake are sisters), but a couple of men have started to come as well. It’s been helpful to hear both perspectives! Obviously each case is different in details, but it’s amazing how many things there are in common.

  61. Excellent post, as usual Tracy. A side note to the discussion about the marriage of Apostles a second time: Howard Hunter’s second wife had been divorced. Don’t why that might matter, but it was mentioned in some of the comments, so I thought I would share.

  62. We had a member in our last ward, a single female, who caused some trouble during a hometeaching visit. Fortunately she was not visited by just one man. She became less active and shortly thereafter the men in the ward (including the missionaries) received strict instructions from the Bishop to not visit her in her home. I’m not sure if she was hitting on her hometeachers or if she was accusing them of something (I do know the men were entirely blameless), but either way, it was a bit of a cautionary tale for me.

  63. How did you get a cautionary tale out of Tracy’s post? And somehow, the woman you describe falls right into the “crazy lady in the attic” category or the seductress one. Those are the standard binaries. The invitation of this post is to not presume either. In my single mom days, some thought I was a seductress. Far from it. I was reeling from pain and guilt and everything people who have never gone through a divorce fail to understand. Hence, women grabbing their husbands protectively. There’s cause for caution in all sorts of circumstances, but the stereotype of the “hot to trot” divorcee has been going on for far too long.

  64. Tim, I understand the reasons- they’ve been given ad nauseum. But then I would ask, what of interactions with women in the real world? Does a man avoid female coworkers? Does a man refuse to ride in an elevator with a woman? Should a man, as the story goes, leave a sister to walk home in the rain rather than offer a ride with him alone in his car? What about a taxi or car at the airport? What about a myriad of professional situations that men and women interact in mature and responsible ways every day?

    This idea that a man is not safe with a single woman (or vise versa) in the church objectifies women further and functions outside the normal paradigm of human interactions.

  65. And also, everything Margaret said. The stereotype is cliche and tired. Trust me, I have all I can handle with three children, no child support, applications to grad school, prepping for the GRE, 19 units this quarter and writing my senior capstone. I am not interested in anyones husband. And I wouldn’t be even if I was bored.

  66. My wife never hurriedly ushers me away from my conversations with single women in the ward. I’m suddenly worried about what that means.

  67. Zefram — you are right. we should differentiate between feeling “pain” or “hurt” and feeling “offended”.

    And people should be aware, or try to be aware, of when they are causing pain and do their best not to do it.

    The point is that we were already in pain – and what you said didn’t help. In fact, it made it worse. So now you have a choice. Are you going to take responsibility for your thoughtless words and actions, and apologize?

    That is an excellent point.

  68. Tracy — ward counsels and bishops need to read essays like yours.

  69. “The invitation of this post is to not presume…”

    When I lock my door I’m not presuming my neighbors are thieves. But I still lock my door. When I take another man or my wife with me to visit a single woman, I’m not presuming the single woman’s either a temptress or crazy. But I still take someone else with me. Of course there are times when there might be a good reason to deviate from that rule (I’m not going to leave a woman walking in a rainstorm, for example). And that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t have private conversations with other women, single or not.

    I should mention–my wife and I had this woman, mentioned in my comment above, over for lunch after church one Sunday. I helped her move. We gave her rides to and from church. Had I visited her at home by myself, I could have very well ended up being falsely accused of something I did not do, and I would be without witnesses to support my side of the story. So you’ll have to excuse me if, in the future, I make sure someone else is there when I visit single women. I’m not presuming anything about the woman I’m visiting, I’m fine having private conversations with her over the phone or in a public area–say, on a bus or at church. it’s just that my neighbor had his house broken into, and so I’m going to do the smart thing and lock my door.

  70. Glass Ceiling says:

    This is one if the reasons I mentioned resentment earlier. Mormons are conditioned in this way. Some do and others don’t stoop to it.

    In any case, some women feel justified in being suspicious of single women who are in any proximity to their husband. And when such a woman fails to prevent her husband from saying on a Sunday morning , “Hi. How are you? ” to the single woman he home teaches, this wife gets resentful. She gets angry at her husband, but she resents the single woman just for being a single Mormon in her ward.

    Again, this kind of resentment and other kinds of it are usually unconscious and cannot easily be identified. But singles know it when they see it.

  71. By the way, I have plenty of friends who are women. One of them has called me every few months for the past five years or so just to chat. Others I’ve hung out with in class or sat next to as we rode the bus. Most of my coworkers at my last job were women. I think men and women should interact with each other–as friends–at church and elsewhere.

  72. Let’s remember that some women don’t want to feel pressured to invite some random man into her home just because he has been assigned as her home teacher. This is as much about protecting women from the men, than vice versa.
    It is great that Tracy has male ward members that she feels entirely comfortable inviting in alone. However, the church does “assign” these people to do visits and it is supposed to be two HTers. Also it is supposed to be two VTers. We may feel comfortable sliding on the VT visits and go ahead and go inside without our companion, but it is a good policy.
    I have NO explanation for the women who keep marking their territory just because they are talking to you. I never see it myself so I don’t know what to think. Weird.

  73. Glass Ceiling says:

    Stephen,

    Repeated pain or hurt can cause offense. Justifiably so. An abused child is justified in being offended. That child will one day stop the hand that slaps from continuing. Same with an abused spouse. So why not singles in the Church? I have a guess. Maybe it is because married folks’ emotions are more important than single folks” emotions. Heaven forbid we make a member of a marriage feel chastened. It might rock the marital boat. So much being at stake and all.

  74. I’m occasionally dumb. It’s likely this was one of those times.

    Me too.

  75. Glass Ceiling says:

    Stephen,

    I wouldn’t say that. I just think emotions run deep for offended singles as well jealous married folks. It isn’t as though this stuff gets discussed from any pulpit.

    And it’s understandable for both parties. Singles feel pretty much forgotten by the Church anyway, and married people

  76. Glass Ceiling says:

    And some married people feel as though their marriage is being bombarded by the big bad world.

  77. Steve Evans says:

    #62: cautionary tale FAIL.

  78. observer fka eric s says:

    Wait. Does this thread mean that the Mormon Cougar is a myth?

  79. When a society has a long history of institutionalized abuse — even soft, “I’m not doing anything to you why you mad” kinds of abuse — it develops blame-the-victim rationalizations to allow people to go on doing it instead of examining consciences.

    A lot of LDS church teachings and cultural beliefs blame the victim.

  80. The chances of her actually being interested in your husband or of trying to hit on him in the foyer of the church, is close to zero. If you feel threatened, please speak to your spouse about it privately.

    Hence, women grabbing their husbands protectively. There’s cause for caution in all sorts of circumstances, but the stereotype of the “hot to trot” divorcee has been going on for far too long.

    I shocked an LDS Therapist the other day when I told her how “catty” some married LDS sisters are to single or divorced sisters. And, this was NOT a one time event, I hear about this problem from diverse places. Yes, it happens too often. And, even if a jealous, insecure married sister manages to chase away all single/divorced sisters from even noticing the existence of their husbands, what will they do to keep husbands from going after non-member women, if said husbands want to “wander”? Incidents like #62 may happen, but I hear a LOT more of single/divorced sister being shunned or chased away.

    Also, a former Bishop & his wife in our Ward were both previously divorced.

    Stephen M (Ethesis): I can really feel for you, I have 2 high functioning autistic sons. I can’t say everyone in my Ward is understanding of the issue. Too bad more members don’t read the LDS Disabilities web site.

  81. Glass Ceiling says:

    Mike H,

    What is the address of the website?

  82. Glass Ceiling says:

    Thank you Mike. :)

  83. Ray,

    “We simply have to stop segregating and separating in the Church – and we have to be more aware of how we do so.”

    It can start by ceasing to cordon off singles into special needs groups, aka YSA wards. That way the married population of the Church can actually function as a resource for YSAs on the ward level throughout the most important decade of their life, aka their 20s.

    Such a move would also eradicate the transitions in which we literally hemorrhage active members, aka “the jump from YW to RS” & “the 31-year-old gentle shove”.

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