Naomi Watkins is the cofounder of Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit organization that supports and encourages Latter-Day Saint women’s professional and educational pursuits. Currently, she works as an instructional coach in a Title I high school in the Salt Lake City area, charged with improving teachers’ literacy instruction and students’ literacy skills. She earned her B.A. in English Education from Brigham Young University, a M.Ed. in Language and Literacy from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a literacy emphasis from the University of Utah.
Since my teens, I had wanted to serve a mission, and knowing that a mission was a worthy path, I submitted my mission papers a few months before my 21st birthday. I didn’t bother asking the Lord if a mission was for me. Serving a mission was a righteous desire, so why would He say no?
One week after submitting my mission papers, and with some prodding from my parents, I decided to finally ask the Lord if a mission was indeed my next step, and I received a pretty strong “No” as an answer. I felt that this answer had to be wrong, and so I asked Him again, and I received the same no answer. How could the Lord tell me no? I knew that I would be a stellar missionary, and I was more than willing and able to serve. I had sincere intentions; I wanted to serve a mission—and not because I had nothing better to do or wasn’t yet married. I was confused and hurt and angry. How could the Lord not want my service and sacrifice? How could He refuse me?
I consulted with my Bishop and he told me, “I can’t tell you to go, and I can’t tell you not to go.” And so with a sad, but hopeful heart, believing that in a few short weeks I’d receive that “yes” answer, I pulled my mission papers.
That next year was a rough one. Not only did God put a kibosh on my mission dreams, but I also came out 0-2 in my dating relationships. As each new relationship began, I thought, “So he is the reason I wasn’t supposed to go on a mission.” Looking back, I can see how I put so much faith and purpose into each relationship, really wanting and working for this relationship to be the reason God had said no. As each relationship ended, I grew angrier and angrier with God. How dare He ruin all of my hopes and dreams? From my youthful perspective, how could there be other worthwhile pursuits outside of a mission or marriage at age 21?
In September, Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit organization that I cofounded that supports LDS women’s educational and professional pursuits, launched the #embraceyourAND social media campaign. This social media campaign initially began as a way to illustrate that women, even LDS women, pursue their educations and careers and also value their families—a response to the dismal college graduate rates for women in Utah and the dichotomous thinking that some young women engage in concerning their life paths. At 21, I saw my two choices as either a mission or marriage, and yet, God sent me down a completely different path.
I never did resubmit my mission papers (I found out by accident that I was called to serve in Russia). In the midst of those two failed relationships, I immersed myself in my studies. I continued and completed my undergraduate degree at BYU. I accepted a job teaching middle school English in Arizona (something I swore I would never do). I made plans to attend the temple, and I received my endowment. I studied my scriptures more intensely than ever before. I dated some more, and I enrolled myself in graduate school. And slowly, I crawled out of my depressed state. My anger towards God faded as time marched on and as different life options unfolded in my life.
Usually it is quite a lengthy and difficult process for me to accept and embrace the details of my path and especially the timing of these details. The Lord’s way for me is generally not one I’ve wanted or envisioned for myself. When I feel His promptings, especially when I have not sought them out, my initial reaction is usually, “Yeah, no thanks. That’s not something I want to do.” What He asks is frequently out of my comfort zone. He knows that it will require faith and vulnerability from me—and it’s usually more than I want and see myself able to give and become.
You want me to get a PhD, Lord? How about later when it’s more convenient, like when I’m older? Oh, you want me to start a non-profit for women? But I’m busy, God, and there are already plenty of women’s groups. I need to end this relationship, too? But there aren’t many other options, and he seems like a good guy. Ah, I need to move again. Really? But it’s such a pain to move. Can’t I just stay here? It’s a nice enough place.
On the other hand, there are paths, like a mission, that I try pushing onto the Lord, trying to force certain specifics to happen, cleaving onto a path in desperation rather than embracing His way in acceptance. Thankfully the Lord is patient and persistent. He continues to lovingly prod me, using others to do His prodding or His Spirit to figuratively poke and uplift.
Eventually I announce to Him, “Fine. If that’s what you want, I’ll try it your way for a bit.” It’s a mixture of resigned acceptance and stubbornness. And yet, with each little bit that I give Him—even when done begrudgingly—it expands into a whole lot more. God is generous like that. So why, oh why, do I fight Him every time? When I am doing well, when the path isn’t quite so rocky or scary, it is easy for me to remember that even though His path isn’t the one I envisioned, His path for me has turned out really well, and in many ways, it is so much better.
And that is worth embracing.