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.