Exceeding My Own Expectations

My first seminary teacher (the one who inadvertently persuaded me I shouldn’t be taking seminary) loved urban legends. He told about patriarchs placing their hands on a young person’s head and saying, “I’m sorry. Nothing’s coming. I have no blessing for you.” Of course, the next day, the kid dies in a car crash. So after that class, it was a little scary to get a patriarchal blessing.

My grandfather gave me mine. My first concern was, would there be a blessing at all? Might he say, “Margaret, I feel that you’re quite a sinner, even at this young age, and the Lord doesn’t have anything to say to you until you are worthy.” Or the “Bad news. No blessing at all. You’re pretty young, but have you made out a will?”

Fortunately, the blessing began. I listened for the various things any twelve-year-old Mormon girl listens for: Will I get married? (Check.) Will I have children? (Check.) Will I have a long life??? NOT THERE. No mention whatsoever of a long life. What else could it mean but “Have fun while you can, kid; your time is short.” My goal, then, was to get to fifty, which seemed a pretty ripe age. And I wanted to raise my children. That was it. Let me reach fifty, and let me raise my kids.

I’ll be fifty-four on June 7th. (Please plan to send me something.) In truth, I have already outlived both of my best friends–my friend from elementary school, who died of cancer, and my very best friend, whose death from a car accident still hits me at odd moments.

What is it with the fear factor thing in Mormonism? Why should fear have been even slightly present as my own grandfather placed his hands on my head? Is it any wonder that my favorite scripture is: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” ? That’s what I want shouted from the rooftops. People’s sins? None of my business. I want angels to sing praise and joy and comfort. I wouldn’t mind being one of the angels. After all, I’ve already outlived my life expectancy.


  1. Margaret,
    I think a very real portion of this is how the Church taught us in the 1960s and 1970s (I turn 50 this year). I joined in 1975 at the age of 16, and after being indoctrinated with scads of Elder Bruce R. McConkie and Pres Spencer W. Kimball quotes on salvation being earned and forgiveness is hard to receive; I was convinced for a time that Jesus’ role was really rather insignificant in our lives. People would say they weren’t interested in hearing our message, and as a missionary I’d think they would someday be sorry because they’d be burning in Telestial or Terrestrial outer darkness.

    It was also a time of speculation. Doctrine wasn’t as important as the speculating, whether it was Elder McConkie stating in General Conference about the “atomic holocaust” which was sure to occur, or Elder Benson explaining the importance of JBS and the dangers of communism, we all were primed for the worst in the gospel.

    Fortunately, I had a terrific patriarch, who sat down with me for 2 hours and chatted. He shared some special experiences he’d had with me. He also noted that many of the blessings he was then giving to the youth were stating they would be around for the 2nd Coming (whether that was his opinion or not, we’ll have to see, eh?).

    Anyway, congratulations on achieving the great task of raising your kids, and surviving it.

    Gerald Smith

  2. I got my patriarchal blessing at the ripe old age of 24. I’m convinced that the patriarch didn’t have the first idea of what to tell me, since I was already out of school and was obviously not getting married.

    I used to think that the Second Coming would happen before I got to live my adult life, which I think was a combination of growing up during the Cold War and also in the shadow of Saturday’s Warrior. It’s only been within the last five years or so that I can actually conceive of getting old enough to have grandchildren. Now I’m scared I may actually have to serve a mission with my husband once he retires.

  3. nonSugarCoatedReality says:

    For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” ? That’s what I want shouted from the rooftops.” – Margaret Young

    Isaiah 32:9-11
    Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.

    Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.

    Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
    People’s sins? None of my business.” – Margaret Young

    DC 88:108-110
    And then shall the first angel again sound his trump in the ears of all living, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the mighty works of God in the first thousand years.

    And then shall the second angel sound his trump, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the thoughts and intents of their hearts, and the mighty works of God in the second thousand years—

    And so on, until the seventh angel shall sound his trump…

    Apparently angels will make it your business.

  4. “and my very best friend, whose death from a car accident still hits me at odd moments” — Pun, I assume, was not intended.

    * chuckles ad feels guilty about it *

    Patriarchal blessings are wonderful things. I’ve posted about it elsewhere, but it seems we give more stock to these blessings than even the utterances of the prophet. Fear, though, was never part of my experience. It’s unfortunate that it was part of yours.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    #2, I’m guessing the 4th part of your moniker is probably the least applicable.

  6. Mine said I would live to be a very old age ONLY if I serve the Lord

    Talk about a crappy catch 22.

  7. NoSugarCoatedReality–Cool! Because of what you posted, my name will come up on a google search for that particular scripture. You might want to keep Isaiah appropriately contextualized, though.

    Angels are messengers of God. They tend to bring glad tidings of great joy, and sometimes warnings. I suspect that we will be hearing far more hallelujahs than recitations of sins, after all is said and done. The atonement is eternal and universal. That is the core of my testimony and the foundation of my joy in the gospel.

    Hearing my children’s patriarchal blessings was wonderful. The room was full of love and light. That is the Spirit of God.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    In another year I’ll be the age (51) my father was when he died of a heart attack. I figure anything after that is gravy.

  9. This reminds me of what my dad told me about his patriarchal blessing: It made no mention of any milestone beyond his missionary service. He assumed that meant he would be dead at 22. No, he married in the temple, and then had six kids, each of which married in the temple, and otherwise has lead full life (turning 64 last week) with much service to church, family, and community. Also, he was recently abducted and probed by aliens. You’d think that some of these things would have been mentioned in the blessing.

  10. Kevin–on June 7th, I will be as old as my Grandpa Blair was when he died–also of a heart attack. I do sometimes reflect on how many years I’ve had beyond what my best friend had. I will be visiting my daughter and my best friend’s daughter after MHA. They’re neighbors in Indiana (and, like their mothers, are also best friends). I got to be with my friend’s children at their weddings, and have gotten to hold my friend’s grandchildren. I am always aware at such moments of the time she didn’t get. The ache of her absence never fully goes away.

    My sister’s PB talked a lot about suffering–that she would see much of it. Of course, she was terrified that this meant she’d lose children, go blind–anything. Her service for nearly a decade as a Hospice Care worker seems a fulfillment of that particular “blessing.” And indeed, she has blessed many in guiding them through their losses.

  11. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear,…

    As I see it, just because God did not give the spirit of fear, that doesn’t mean that fear is inappropriate. In fact, I think a feeling of fear often reflects good judgment.

    My logic is: Free agency often leads to “evil”. Evil, in turn, may require a response that involves fear.

  12. TonyD–you have a point, but I’d phrase it differently. Wisdom requires caution, which is not the same thing as fear. The message of Paul’s words suggests to me that as we understand what the Savior did for us, our fear is overcome by love and a sense of the power we have in and through Christ, and an absence of confusion. Sin does indeed lead to confusion.
    I find angels saying “Fear Not” many times–and I never find them churning up confusion.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    My mother died at 38 and one of my grandfathers at 42. For a while around age 25 and 26, my statistical mind turned to wondering who of my cohort would be dead in 10 to 20 years, and feeling very certain that I would be one of them with a short life that had amounted to very little. Then I turned 27, and those thoughts diminished.

    It was an odd thing to each an age past my mother’s. She’s not my peer—she’s my mother, but I only know her as what I now think of as a young woman.

  14. Ugly Mahana says:

    I join in the hope that the shouting of sins will be short, and look forward to a much longer period of joy to follow. May you have the future you seek for a long time to come.

  15. I always figured I’d die young. I’m diabetic; my brother died at 34, my sister at 32. Here I am, turning 39 on June 4 (don’t send me anything). 39 is really old, right?

  16. There was a young man in my Stake (when I was a youth) who was told he would serve a mission with his father. Unfortunately his father had died a few years earlier. We all tried to come up with explanations of what it could mean, but it turned out to be a moot point. Riding his bike home from his SP mission interview he was killed by a hit & run driver.
    I try to not read too much into that as it seems to be a quite literal interpretation, but it always gives me pause when thinking about my PB over the years.

  17. Somewhat of a tangent… I’m dating a great non-member yet my patriarchal blessing clearly states I will marry an LDS man. It is that point and that point alone that keeps me from moving forward to a marriage commitment with him. Am I putting too much stock in my PB or was that wording really specific for me knowing I would be in this relationship and this time in my life?? Would love feedback.

  18. Wow. You actually trust us that much, Erin? I will confess an awful thing. I put way too much stock in what my PB said about my marriage. It said “in harmony with the guidance of your parents…” and then referred to my marriage. My dad was out of the country when I was making the big decision, and my mom was concerned that I’d never get married (I was 24 and didn’t date much) and so really encouraged me–even though the guy I was dating was not only out of the Church but actively anti-Mormon. (She thought I could help him. Alas, we both knew so little back then.) I honestly thought that the fact that my mother approved was a fulfillment of my PB. I married the guy in one of the great mis-matches of all time, and got divorced three years later. I can’t blame my mother, because I was the one who said “Yes” in the temple (he briefly returned to the Church to marry me), but I should have ignored my PB entirely for that one.
    If you marry the guy and the marriage fails, will you blame yourself for going counter to your PB? If you don’t marry him and then miss him for years, will you blame the words of your PB for happiness you might’ve had?
    Do you like him?

  19. Latter-day Guy says:

    Geez, nonSugarCoated. You’re a real peach.

  20. Margaret, I had a similar expereince with my blessing. I am just now starting to overcome the intense fear of dying young. Having undiagnosed illness for years hasn’t helped that much.

    But I’m sure learning through experience that fear and faith don’t go together well.

    Erin, I think it’s important to rely on it all, but mostly on direct prayer with Heavenly Father. I think if you are seeking His help, He can help you know what your patriarchal blessing means and how it can and should help you now.

    I think, though, that ultimately, our blessings are far more than we sometimes think. But I have also found that they dont’ always mean what we think they do, and it’s really only through the Spirit and with time and experience that their meaning really unfolds.

    Another way to say it is that trying to second-guess God rarely works. That can mean ignoring blessings or promptings, or reading too much into them, imo.

    That said, if I were you, I’d probably not move forward with a relationship that wasn’t with an LDS man unless I had a really, really clear witness that I should do otherwise. But I tend to think that that’s just plain ol’ good Mormon counsel anyway. :)

    Having unda

  21. and ignore the tail of my comment…that was the remnants of me misspelling “undiagnosed”

  22. Wow, I didn’t realize how many people were scared by their PBs! I thought it was just me. Mine says that those in sickness and in sorrow will seek out my blessing. Why would they unless I had some relevant experience with sorrow? I’ve worried about that for 20 years.

    It also says I’ll be RS president and become a great leader among women. I used to worry about that too, but it’s looking less and less likely now…

  23. Kristine says:

    The scariest part of mine is that it promises I’ll have “grit and determination” as a mother. “Grit” is really not a word you want to hear from the patriarch!

  24. I am glad I hadn’t seen these experiences before my daughter’s PB. She and I had been bickering on the way to his house and he must have sensed the discordance because he told her that nothing was coming through. She was able to go back a few weeks later and receive the blessing. She would have spent the whole waiting time locked in her room to protect her if I had read these first.

  25. lamonte says:

    Margaret – Although I’ve been a church member since I was eight, I didn’t get my patriarchal blessing until I was 34. Partially because my family was not committed to the church for most of my youth years and partially because I personally never felt it was necessary, I didn’t have the blessing until 14 years after being married in the temple. I assure you that I had much more to fear from that blessing than most people but I approached it with optomism. I remember thinking that it sounded kind of “standard” at the time of the blessing but in the years since then I’ve found great comfort and insight in re-reading it in times of turmoil. I turned 55 last December and although I haven’t done the best job of taking care of my health I have avoided the heart attacks and other issues that made my maternal grandfather’s life difficult, although he lived to be 80. My paternal grandfather was 95 when he died and my father will be 90 at the end of this year. I’m not sure I want to live THAT long. Tyhanks for sharing your thoughts.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 23 Kristine, so *that’s* why you wear that eye patch! True grit, indeed.

  27. Erin,
    It is very important that you understand what you may be up against. 85% of non-member spouses NEVER join the church. And a marriage between and LDS and non-LDS has only a 60% chance of lasting the first 10 years, while a Temple marriage has a 96% chance over the same period. If he is as committed to you as you think he is, then he should at least meet with the missionaries and decide NOW if the church is for him–before any further talk of marriage. The church is a major part of any LDS person’s life, and he needs to understand now that it is that important to you and to your future family.

  28. Lisa F. says:

    Margaret — This was wonderful. Thanks. That has been one of my favorite scriptures since we used it as a Mutual theme many many years ago. It speaks hope in times of despair. It always rallies my better sentiments, and has done so again today.

  29. All growing up, I’d never been afraid of death. Next decade, next year, tomorrow, it was all good to me. I used to think it was because I had grown up in the church and knew the plan of salvation, but now I’m wondering if it wasn’t partially my own body chemistry.

    My fear is of having to live too long. I have enormous respect for those who gracefully deal with illness and age, and I really don’t want my mettle tested in that way.

    I didn’t get my PB until I was 40, and I’ve always been active. As a kid, I figured I knew the mission, education, temple marriage progression and didn’t need to hear it from an old man I didn’t know. I was going to get it before my mission, but things got busy, and after my mission, things got even busier. Besides, having given blessings myself, I was very aware of the role played by the person giving the blessing. I was afraid of being given bad info, and didn’t want to waste this one-shot event. So I put it off. After ignoring several promptings in my 30’s, I finally got it at age 40. And it was an intensely sacred, spiritual experience, for which I’m very grateful.

    And I was told my years would be prolonged….

  30. Margaret, once again you are wise and thoughtful.

    My biggest concern during my Patriarchal blessing at age 16 was whether my girlfriend and I would get back together (we did not). I scoured it for hints. Nothing. Imagine my disappointment.

    Kristine, #23 I got no cool punchy Anglo-saxon words used in mine. (Although, there are a few famous ones that would have been descriptive of my life.)

  31. What strikes me about this post (to anyone who might be like someone above who said they are glad they didn’t see this before a child’s blessing was received) is that the point is that we really shouldn’t be so fearful. Just wanted to say that, because patriarchal blessings are wonderful. It’s glorious that Father would care enough to give us something of a road map…but it’s also something that is layered like anything else given from God (even that given through mortals). I continue to be amazed at layers that unfold that meant something so different than what I thought — blessings I thought would come easily actually have sometimes been my greatest challenges, and vice-versa.

  32. If a female survives until her 50th birthday, all other things being equal, life expectancy is increased to about ~82 (~78 for males in the same situation).

    Comparing life expectancies at birth: Someone born in the 50s can expect to live ~10 years more than their parents born say 30 years earlier. This is higher for females because this is the time frame women made the most gains relative to men.

    And no, I don’t sell life insurance :)

  33. Aren’t you from Tennessee, Kris? Maybe he meant to say that you’d have grits.

  34. My mother died by starvation and dehydration (her own wish) at 101. I seem to have inherited. The question is, what do you do when you are 95 and loosing your sight and hearing?

    Growing up in New Jersey, the patriarch said things just like you would expect one to say to a kid growing up in NJ. Compounded by the fact that I was experiencing vertigo as I sat in the chair with my eyes closed. Ugh. I read the blessing a few decades ago and decided that it did not portend much and did not admonish more than was already apparent.

    I sat through my son’s blessing a few years ago. Likewise, only for CA.

    As for fear? We LOVE horror movies. Fear is such a delightful anticipation. Why not get some at church? It is just good marketing.

  35. I’m a little late in responding to this but SO appreciate the comments made to my tangent comment. REALLY appreciate them!

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