A Sanctified No

saying-no-peopletoolsRecently, I was asked how I would feel about serving in Primary in my ward. I paused a moment, considering the painful stone still firmly lodged over my heart, and responded simply “No.” There are multitudes of layers as to why I feel that way, and to the hours of sleep I have lost with the struggle bringing me to that solid answer, but none of that was required in the question. It was simply a time for me to respect a boundary over which I had privately and personally labored and prayed. “No.”

I have no problem saying no. That wasn’t always the case.

When I was much younger, I cared very much about pleasing people. If something was asked of me, saying yes frequently was a shortcut to praise, smiles, and even commendation. Being liked and indispensable was powerfully narcotic, and saying yes gave me a sense of worth and power. It also came with some heavy tolls.

It took me years to figure it out, but when we say yes to something, we are making room in our lives for a commitment. This can be a beautiful thing. Saying yes is one way we serve each other in the world and in church. We say yes to showing up, to contributing, to joining our talents, time, resources and energy towards something we believe in. I could totally get on board with all that! Yes! Yay!

But then… the overload. The resentment. Oh, the resentment. The cascading effect of too many people calling on you, knowing you’ll say yes. Being indispensible is a form of validation- and when people need you, seek your talents, depend on you… you should feel good about this, right? You should be happy, because look at how many people need you… Only… no.

It doesn’t work that way.

I was pleasing everyone but myself. I was not indispensible; I was a doormat. When yes became my default, given without weighing my own needs or my current capacity, I burnt out, and the result was anger at the very people and situations I had invited in with my too-numerous yesses. I had gained brief approval, fleeting smiles, and temporary feelings of importance, but at what cost?

I needed to learn how to say no.

Saying no is scary when you don’t do it often. What if people don’t like you anymore? Who am I if I’m no longer…indispensable? This led me to wonder who or what friends and leaders liked in the first place, if overloading myself was how I got my worth? And why do I need to be liked? Big questions. Internally, it got very messy, very fast.

When I decided to say no, it was more than just a tiny word. It was a statement of self. Learning to say no required personal work, honesty, facing of fears, and a self-awareness of my own capacities and limitations. It was far easier on the surface to just say yes– but that’s a short game I wasn’t willing to play anymore; it didn’t lead me anywhere real.

I practiced on small things. I practiced by saying what I actually wanted when asked. I practiced by answering truthfully where I wanted to dine, or what movie I wanted to see. These may seem like small steps, but it was shocking how acquiesces to the will of others had previously defined my life. The disingenuous and pervasive “Oh, whatever you want…” was exiled.

Learning to say no taught me self-respect. It taught me that I matter, and that my current life-load, prior commitments and desires actually count and should be weighed in my decisions. Learning to say no was a radical means to understanding my capacity to stretch without breaking, and to trust my own knowledge of where that line lies. It didn’t happen overnight, but it changed my life.

No cannot be our default any more than yes. Truly giving an honest answer— be it yes or no— requires work. When we give an honest answer to something, we are acknowledging our own value and personal awareness of ability, and we are trusting and respecting ourselves.

Which brings me to my lived Mormonism.

Being an active part of a Mormon life requires service. We all serve in some capacity, which requires we say yes. Giving honest and self-respecting answers to questions can become particularly tricky when authority and faith are involved.

I offer my “No.” as a gesture of faith. I tell my leaders my answer may one day change, but for now, I know my heart, and I am at peace with my decision. I will continue to serve and attend and do my part in my small corner of Zion, but I cannot allow resentment or grief to attend my service.

Is this selfish? I don’t think so. Were I to accept a calling that was a breaking point, not a stretching point, regardless of the calling, the cost would be too high. My reasons would be wrong-hearted; approval and acceptance by leaders, that smile of validation, is not how I gauge my place in Zion. My husband, my children, my home life would suffer at my unwillingness to respect my boundaries and honor my own inspiration. My family comes first, and a calling that will bring too much stress, sorrow, anger or grief to me is one I cannot and will not accept. I do not need that kind of approval, and I do not believe it’s required of me by God.

This is a balancing act, I admit. Being in this space requires ongoing frankness and self evaluation. I need friends and loved ones to reflect truth to me, test me, call me on it if I am missing something, as I try and keep myself upright. But life has taught me it’s the only way.

It’s not always comfortable. I must trust my own inspiration and my ability to hear what God wants for me, while still navigating life as a faithful, sustaining member. I see my own sense of self experienced through the church as layers of light. Each of our unique light bends on a slightly different wavelengths, each are needed for the whole. It’s my job to monitor my own place in the spectrum, while acknowledging I am but a small part of an immense visible spectrum. It’s hard.

I would never have been able to do it if I hadn’t practiced saying no.

Comments

  1. Saying no is scary when you don’t do it often. What if people don’t like you anymore? Who am I if I’m no longer…indispensable?

    Haunting question.

    No cannot be our default any more than yes. Truly giving an honest answer— be it yes or no— requires work. When we give an honest answer to something, we are acknowledging our own value and personal awareness of ability, and we are trusting and respecting ourselves.

    It’s virtually impossible. I, too, am a “yes” man.

  2. Anon for this says:

    Thank you Tracy. I similarly have come to the view that members should decline callings when their personal revelation says to. Here’s my story in a nutshell.

    I was raised to always say “yes.” And I did so even as the weight of conflicting responsibilities drove me to the breaking point. That point came a few years ago when I was serving as bishop – in addition to being the sole provider for a family of seven.

    My counselors and I were asked to submit recommendations to the stake for a new seminary teacher (its now a stake calling). We felt inspired to call Sister A, but she declined because she needed to care for an elderly parent. We then felt inspired to call Sister B, but she also declined for family reasons. I was peeved. The inspiration was clear. These were really good sisters who I admired. Why were they not heading the call?

    Through prayer and study I came to see the reason. My inspiration was for the ward alone. Being bishop is an important stewardship, but it has limits. One of the limits is the family. Parents and members have the right to receive revelation for how to govern their family. Not me.

    I now count these sisters’ examples as a great blessing. Because of them, I really took to heart my stewardship as a husband and father and realized that I was failing them badly. Through counseling with the stake president, we both decided that a release was the best course. Some members of the ward were surprised. Most were just happy to learn that our family was not moving away.

    Maybe I’ll be a bishop again some day when the time is right. Maybe not. Regardless, I have come to see the wisdom of respecting each family’s authority to receive revelation for themselves. We preach that principle a lot in the church, but when it comes to callings we often fail to believe it. My family is doing great right now.

  3. It’s a ridiculously hard word to say sometimes.

  4. wow, anon, that is a very interesting story! putting family first is a true principle — looks like it can even cut against the Church.

  5. Anon, John, yes, putting family first is why I say no sometimes. My family comes before church obligations- even if that means sometimes we leave early or move things around to fit us better. Family comes first.

    Anon, thank you for your comment. I appreciate your candor and honesty. And yes, you’re so right- a leader’s inspiration does not cross the line into a private family.

    I cannot get my head around folks who devote time to church at the expense of the family. One of these things exists to serve the other. And too often we get the order wrong.

  6. Maybe if more people said yes, then the few who currently say yes wouldn’t have everything piled on them, like my wife who has more sisters to visit teach because there are so many who won’t visit teach. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to be bishop like the other commenter said if more people said yes and he wasn’t left to stress out over everything. The bishop has two roles – president of the Aaronic priesthood and being a judge in Israel – the only two items that can’t be delegated. Everything else should be delegated. He shouldn’t be making decisions about Sunday School classes or giving advice to the Relief Society about their activities, or anything like that. Those can be given to counselors and the auxiliaries and quorums to take care of. The problem is when everyone says no, the bishop has to take care of all the things no one else is willing to do. You can see why the law of consecration failed back in the day, because of the same thing we’re struggling with now. Lest you think otherwise, I actually totally agree with both comments and the OP. We need the no-men to say yes more often and the yes-men to say no more often. Just everybody do your share.

  7. This is so good Tracy–profound, honest, and essential. Thank you for your honesty and your invaluable perspective.

  8. Yes, everyone should pull their share… however, what that means is left to the individual. If your wife is overloaded, she needs to say no. If there aren’t enough people to do all the things all the time, then I suggest the programs be pared down. We have this idea that we must do all the things, but the truth is, much of what we do at church is superfluous, and if people are burning out, it’s time to reassess, not pile more on the “same ten families” who “do everything”. Stop doing everything.

  9. I agree with you Tracy, but I also agree with Don Bixby. Serving in a bishopric really opened my eyes to the many, many people in my ward that have no problem saying no, and I live in an active, thriving ward. When you see the same ten families doing everything it may be that the bishopric is myopic or biased in favor of a certain clique, charges I’ve read over the years on LDS blogs, but based on my experience it’s much more likely that they are the only people who haven’t said no. It really isn’t such an undeveloped skill for church members as many believe it to be.

  10. But I have to add that I think we ask members to do too much without thinking if it’s really necessary. Someone said somewhere, here at BCC or somewhere else I don’t remember, that too many church leaders see the time and energy of members as an unlimited resource available for their use. I agree with that. There are too many unnecessary programs, requests and assignments. Leaders, and by that I mean from the very top of the church on down, need to ask themselves whether what they are asking is necessary, wise, and important enough to impose on the members.

  11. “Leaders, and by that I mean from the very top of the church on down, need to ask themselves whether what they are asking is necessary, wise, and important enough to impose on the members.”

    Amen, KLC. This is what I meant by, if people are overloaded, it’s time to pare down.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Thanks for this, Tracy. It is a rough decision to struggle with. I remember the first time I said ‘No’. I was just newly married, with both of us in school full-time and working full-time, with schedules that overlapped in an odd way. Sundays were the only day we had to spend together. Early one Sunday morning, I was called by the Stake President to be the Executive Secretary of our Ward. I expressed reservations about this, but was met with what I’m sure is the standard “The Lord is the one issuing this call”. I consented, and left to attend my Ward. On the way, I was overwhelmed at how the extra meetings and time before and after Church would mean my wife and I would not be able to spend as much (little) time together as we had hoped. I decided that what was best for us was to decline the calling. I can’t say I had some profound revelatory moment, just a feeling that I needed to decide what was best, and that it was my right to make that decision. When I got to Church, I told all this to my wife, and what I thought I should do. I am grateful that she didn’t push back on this. We had been married for just a few weeks and, honestly, didn’t know each other well enough to anticipate where each other stood on this kind of stuff. I think she was also grateful that our time together wouldn’t be compromised. I have always felt that this experience, so early in our marriage, set a tone of always trying to put our (growing) family first. That was a tough moment, during a very uncertain time. Fortunately (unfortunately?), saying ‘No’ has gotten much easier since then.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post, Tracy. This is something I have struggled with. I’m a people pleaser (which seems to be a common characteristic among many Mormons), and my default mode is to say “yes.” In recent years I’ve come to the view that it is important for people to be able to say “no” if they need to. My own (limited) experience with this has been two times I was called to teach early morning seminary. I declined both times. In part that was because the logistics would be challenging with my long commute into Chicago, but that wasn’t the dominant reason. The fact is, I know myself, I have always overprepared my lessons, and having to prepare a new lesson every single day would have (eventually) killed me. Even though I knew that I wasn’t up to the constant demands of the callling and I was giving the right answer, it was very, very hard to actually say “no.”

  14. I want to point out that I said in the OP neither yes nor no can be our default answer. An honest answer requires things of us, and always saying no is as stilted as always saying yes. Honesty and personal growth, awareness of what we can and cannot do, are important components of making sane and healthy decisions.

    I did say yes to another calling, and it’s one I weighed and felt I could do, and do well, and still be balanced in my home and family life.

    I was trying to shine a light on the process of getting to the place of making aware, healthy decisions.

  15. Saying “No” to a Primary calling is not new, empowering or revolutionary. At least not in my ward. Love our community of Saints though!

  16. Thor, you missed the point of my post if that’s what you took away.

  17. anon for this says:

    I appreciate the OP, and the reiteration that “neither yes nor no can be our default answer.” To add a couple of layers that I think about —
    1. “when you are in the service of your fellow beings you are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17): I think there ought to be a bias toward service. With all the reasonable considerations, balance and family and health and more, the thumb on the scale ought to be on the ‘yes’ side.
    2. Life changing events: One of the current general authorities (unnamed because I can’t remember whether this is public or a private conversation) said that accepting a calling as a Stake Missionary, many years ago, at a particularly inconvenient time, changed his life. He could draw a path from that ‘yes’ straight through the next half-dozen jobs and assignments (professional and church). I could tell a story myself about one calling in particular (as a bishop) that changed the course of my life. Sometimes–probably not very often, but once in awhile–it’s the rest of your life that’s on the line.

  18. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think some of the commenters are implying that saying ‘No’ means you are rejecting a responsibility to a faith community, and are happy to let others do all the work, increasing their burden. However, I read Tracy as saying that sometimes ‘No’ is a very appropriate response, but that it shouldn’t be taken lightly or become the default position. It’s also important to note that the alternative to saying ‘Yes’ is not that you will just do nothing. Most of those who say ‘No’ probably already have a calling, and are happy to continue to serve in that capacity. They’re serving! Sometimes it’s appropriate to have no calling, but I don’t see that as Tracy’s position. Not all callings are equal. Some are a good match, others are not.

    Personally, I’m tired of callings being used to help someone “learn and grow” in an area they don’t have any experience with, or aptitude for. When someone just sucks at their calling, others may suffer. Please don’t call a SS Teacher who can’t teach, or a Primary Pres. who has no idea how to communicate with children. They may learn and grow. They probably won’t. Even if they do, others have to sit in classes and be miserable for some amount of time while they do so. Then, just when they get it figured out, they’ll be released and the cycle will repeat. If you really don’t think you’ll be good at a calling, you might be right. Speak up.

  19. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Hmmm…that last part of my comment got a little hostile. Sorry to vent like that.

  20. Plenty of people say “yes” to callings and then don’t put in the time and effort the calling demands. Better to just say no.

    When I served as EQP I much preferred being told “no” to a hometeaching assignment than being told “yes” in words and “no” in action. If someone refused to accept an assignment, I simply assigned it elsewhere. If someone said yes but then never did hometeaching, I had more to worry about.

  21. anon for this: There are lots of things, including service to self, friends, family, community, and world, that are also service to God. “No” usually means “something else” rather than “nothing” and there are lots of “something else” decisions with their own “yes” and “no” scales. Part of the trouble with people-pleasing is that others can often see only a single set of scales. I could alternatively frame each decision as “primary vs. family” or “duty to church vs. duty to self” or “personal vs. bishop revelation” and then it’s less clear where the thumb should go.

  22. I have mixed feelings about this. We said yes to a very heavy, time consuming calling for my husband when I was pregnant with my fifth. We are talking 20 hours a week, it interfered with his work schedule, his sleep as it was early in the morning, and I had 5 small children, one born while he was in the calling and didn’t feel like he could take any time off. We should have said no. He really enjoyed the calling, but I nearly left the church. I was so tired and so miserable trying to do everything myself, it made him miserable because I was so unhappy and he felt like he had to choose between letting me down, his boss down, or God down. I now see callings much differently.
    Like you, I also think the church programs could use paring down. I feel like we have this false idea that man was made for the church, when the church is supposed to be made for man. I have taught in primary for 10 years. Why is primary 2 hours long? My lessons to 6 year olds are so repetitive, and I get to teach them after already being in church for two hours. No one wants to be there. They are burned out and I am burned out, primary should just be sharing time and singing time, anything else is painful to these kids.
    That being said, I have a problem when people utilize church programs without contributing. Primary and cub scouts is a hard calling for 95% of people called to it. However, all the people who say no because they want to be with other adults or don’t want to be with cub scouts still feel fine sending their kids to primary and cub scouts. I feel like as long as my kids are in the kids’ program I need to be there supporting it, or we should just stay home and make the class sizes smaller so the ward doesn’t have as many staffing needs.
    Plenty of people are willing to throw elaborate Relief Society parties and be in ward executive roles where they talk about all the other ward members. They think others are better suited to primary, when in reality it is a hard and isolating calling that should have as many people as possible taking their turn and cycling out.
    To be honest though, I would rather deal with a repetitive lesson in primary and a headache than the sugary sweet Relief Society lessons and the repetitiveness and shallowness of adult Sunday School.

  23. I think the book “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” is a must read and your post gives good example of many principles it teaches.
    http://www.amazon.com/When-Say-No-Feel-Guilty/dp/0553263900

  24. One of the things I was taught was that sometimes leaders are inspired to give a call to give the person a chance to say no, not as some unimpeachable command that it absolutely must happen.

  25. I wanted to add, I don’t think primary callings are right for every parent at every time, but parents bringing their kids to primary should expect to say yes at least some of the time. Tracy M, it sounds like you have probably done your part in this-I don’t mean this to apply specifically to you.

  26. As a legacy member myself, I used to answer callings with an immediate “yes.” As I got older and (hopefully) wiser, if I was ever extended a calling, I would tell my Bishop I needed to go home and pray about the calling. In one instance a Bishop extended a calling and I gave him the above answer, and he told me he needed an immediate affirmation or decline; I told him explicitly, not only would I not give him an immediate answer, I COULD NOT give him an immediate answer. I got a telephone call from his executive secretary the following Tuesday withdrawing the calling.

    There is a problem that many people have, especially among legacy members of the church, and that is they they think every calling that is extended should be answered with a “yes.” I would venture to say the correct answer is more along the lines of “I will go home and discuss this with my family (if that is appropriate to the person), consider if/how I can adequately fulfill this calling with my schedule, and prayerfully ask if this calling is right for me.”

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a young elder, I used to look at the high priests and think, boy, those guys are lazy, it seems like they never do anything. But now that I’m high priest age myself, I have a different jperspective. Their long years of service in the Church have taught them that not everything is a fire drill; not everything is needful or important, and they’re not going to let some officious church bureaucrat push them around and make them do stupid stuff.

  28. Four thoughts:

    1. A smart bishop will begin an interview where he intends to extend a call by saying: “We’ve been prompted to consider calling you to serve in the ward as ______________. What do you think?” This way, the bishop can supplement the information he already possesses, adjust his “inspiration” accordingly, and then decide whether it is appropriate to extend the call. (I have had a few bishops actually do this over the years.)

    2. I have said “no” a few times, but never once have I been ostracized as a result. Why? Because even though I wasn’t willing to do X, I was ready to say “yes” to Y. Never forget that the church relies—like most non-profit organizations—almost exclusively on volunteer labor. Its leaders know this and, almost without exception, will take what you’re prepared to offer. Think of it this way: If the American Red Cross asked you donate blood twice a year, but you said your schedule only permits you to do it once a year, would they say: “Sorry, we won’t accept your donation on those terms”?

    3. It has been my experience that local leaders will RARELY release you from a calling or refrain from extending a calling out of sensitivity to your personal circumstances. They will, either wittingly or unwittingly, treat you like a doormat and suck as much out of you as you will allow. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each one of us to educate them so that they can refine their inspiration (see thought #1, above).

    4. The Kingdom of God is much bigger than the Mormon Church. It consists, among other things, of serving people outside of the church and pursuing everything that is praiseworthy and of good report. By way of example, when I was asked to support our ward choir by coming to choir practice, I declined because, during that hour, I play the piano for the local residents of a nursing home. I have never felt uncomfortable with that decision.

  29. “When I was a young elder, I used to look at the high priests and think, boy, those guys are lazy, it seems like they never do anything. But now that I’m high priest age myself, I have a different perspective. Their long years of service in the Church have taught them that not everything is a fire drill; not everything is needful or important, and they’re not going to let some officious church bureaucrat push them around and make them do stupid stuff.”

    Sometimes this may be true. But sometimes high priests really are lazy.

  30. Such a good post, Tracy. It brought to mind my very faithful and devoted grandmother who has mentioned several times how much she resented that my grandfather was often absent due to church obligations while she raised 7 children. She specifically cited his inability to say “no” as much of the problem.

  31. Marta, I think that story is sadly very common.

    Since nearly all of the managerial and leadership callings in the church are for men, it’s women who end up alone with the children. I think this is a pretty big problem for us, organizationally and practically, and since there are so few women in positions of authority (and none without a man overseeing her) women’s concerns don’t really get heard as often as necessary. I understand steps have been taken to rectify this, but we need to be honest in that they really are microscopic steps. We are still prefacing “missionary” with “sister” and “leader” with “female”. Until we are just missionaries and leaders, we will continue to have problems making our concerns heard.

    But that’s another post for another day.

  32. I know there are valid reasons to say no.

    But, speaking personally, my family was less active growing up. Two divorces, step families moving in and out, and just a lot of other difficulties for a kid.

    So I have profound gratitude for the “same ten families” in the ward I grew up in. Those are the families that taught me in primary, scouts, seminary, and in other youth organizations. They practically raised me. I am sure their sacrifice was not easy.

    Were it not for those families I would not have gone on a mission. Nor would I have met my wife. So I would’ve missed out on a lot of joy without them. So I am very grateful for their willingness to say yes.

  33. I’ve had actual Sunday School and Priesthood lessons where we’ve been told explicitly that we have no right to refuse a calling.

    In a prior ward, a dear sweet sister decided to spread some wickedly unfounded rumors about me, and I was released from a calling as a result. No calling at all for two years. There is nothing quite so strange in the Church and being completely unneeded. But, in my current calling, I’m easily at 15-20 hours a week. I dread Sunday. I’m slowly learning to say “no” to certain events, to have another commitment ready when I need it. And a discussion with the Stake President bore that out – priority needs to be Family, Job, Church. And I loved the comment above, recognizing that the Bishop receives revelation for the ward, but not the family or the individual. That’s an extremely polite and justified reason to say “Not now”.

  34. Recently, a general authority visiting our stake was asked a question where someone mentioned “members with multiple callings”. He asked why anyone would have more than a single calling. He said that if a church unit doesn’t have enough people to fill the positions, those units should scale back the programs (I wanted to yell “BSA!”).

    There are a multitude of reasons why someone might turn down a calling. Sometimes it may mean overcoming a fear, or they may feel a lack of experience in a given area. Other times it’s a matter of asking too much of someone at the wrong time. Having sat in a chair where I’ve extended callings, I’ve found it helpful to hear what is going on in the lives (and minds) of my fellow ward members. It helps me understand them, their needs, and abilities. Even if that’s accompanied by a “no”.

  35. As an executive secretary, I love this idea that callings come from some whim the bishop has, but honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. At least in our ward, there are 2 counselors, an executive secretary, and a clerk that all have to feel the same way about a call before it gets extended and we’re pretty good at talking the bishop out of bad calls — and in many cases, we get signoff from the auxiliary presidency. We get into real arguments (spirit-filled, of course) about whether Brother X or Sister Y needs to be working in the nursery.

  36. This reminds me of the last time I said No to a calling. Even though my answer was no, I believe the leader was inspired to issue the call, because it gave him a chance to meet with me and my wife and to learn about our current situation. There would have been no reason for him to talk with us if it hadn’t been for the excuse of issuing the calling.

  37. I think there is a time and season for all things, so I don’t discount the need to turn down a calling or assignment. Thanks to all those who do serve when they could be doing other things in life.

  38. CS Eric – I can attest to that. Sometimes the inspiration is there to extend the call and nothing more would ever come from it, because of what was learned during that process.

  39. “Recently, a general authority visiting our stake was asked a question where someone mentioned “members with multiple callings”. He asked why anyone would have more than a single calling. He said that if a church unit doesn’t have enough people to fill the positions, those units should scale back the programs (I wanted to yell “BSA!”). ”
    Bonjo, do you remember who said that? I have never heard that before and would love to hear that preached in general conference.

  40. Me too- that’s sound counsel I wish we’d heed.

  41. Beautifully expressed!

  42. Coffinberry says:

    Just wanted to say … in response to Bonjo and Sally, that there are some dual callings that do go hand-in-glove so that the persons served are more fully served because one person holds both callings. What comes to mind is my current dual set: Valiant 9 teacher and Cub Scout Bear Den Leader. (Similar with Activity Days Leader). The in-depth knowledge of the children and the intertwining of gospel lessons in both callings is very valuable. And no, it’s not overwhelming (my last calling was RSP, and this is a piece of cake time-wise).

  43. Just say no! I love this! I’m usually pretty good at setting appropriate boundaries and giving a no with minimal guilt. But right now I’m serving in YW, and I love it, but we are preparing for the youth temple cultural celebration and I see the kids and all the leaders and it’s twice a week and everyone is miserable and frantic and there so much negativity and burnout from adults and youth and I really wonder how this is supposed to bless all the lives of the youth. Because we are doing our best to make it a positive experience but it’s still like pulling teeth. It’s not like they are serving or reading their scriptures or learning about the temple to prepare for the dedication, they are being yelled at and scolded and have exhaustive, chore-like practices in lieu of all other activities.

    When does “more” become “too much”? I’m being positive snd encouraging with the youth and other leaders but I’m having a hard time seeing the point to all this.

  44. Jason Sager says:

    Thanks for this Tracy. A few years ago I was asked to serve as a Single Adult Stake rep. I really did not want to do it for many reasons I felt were legitimate, but I said yes anyway because like many of us raised in the church I was taught that you never say no to a calling. It was a major mistake on my part. After a particularly unpleasant experience, I knew that I could not continue in the calling and maintain my sanity, so I asked for a release for the first time in my life and I know it was the right decision. I wish I had the foresight to have said no in the first place.

    Ironically, I called into the primary a few weeks later and after nearly two years, it was a good experience. Just a long winded way to say, you’re right and you speak profound words of wisdom.

  45. CSEric
    I, too, once said this to my bishop, “I believe you were inspired to call me in to talk to me, just not for the reason you thought” I then unloaded and shared the hidden crisis that was going on in my family at the time, and no, didn’t accept that calling. Long ago I decided I would not accept a calling that I knew I was ill-suited for.

  46. No one can disagree with a personal revelation. It is the ultimate trump card.

    My wife was the Primary President and asked over a dozen people in the ward to be in the nursery. They all said no. Parents who had children, those who had no callings, those who usually said “yes” all said “no”. So in desperation my wife asked me to be the Nursery Leader. I said yes with the caveat that at least one other adult had to be there at all times. I was a natural because I love to play with toys and eat Graham crackers. I got down on the floor and played ball and catch and cars and dolls and whatever else I had fun doing — and I invited the kids to have fun with me.

    After a year it came time to say that it was time to move to another calling. Still everyone in the ward who was asked said “no”. So I stayed on for another year. When the end of that year came, the Bishop released me and there was a revolt. No less than five mothers approached the Bishop and told him that I could not be released. One mother in particular was persuasive. She had a severely brain damages daughter 14 years of age who had a mental age of 1 year. I did not know that she was supposed to never be able to recognize people, play games and interact. So i did. She told the Bishop that I was the only person ever who got her daughter to interact and play games. She insisted that I could not be released. So I stayed on for another year. That was the year that my youngest, my incredible daughter, entered the nursery. Some of the sweetest memories of my life occurred in that small nursery.

    What started as a duty that felt like a heavey burden and a very difficult assignment transformed into a work of love and pure joy. When they released me at the end of the third year, I was the one who cried.

  47. Another anonymous here says:

    One thing that bothers me is the practice of having husband and wife talk with the bishop/stake presidency member together when a calling is issued. Or, similarly, the practice of having the husband told/asked about the wife getting a calling before she is asked. I get that there is some idea this creates more spousal support. But it makes it very hard, especially for women, to express the needs of the family, or herself.

  48. Point that we haven’t really discussed: why the expectation that a calling must not only be accepted, but must be accepted on the spot? The person extending the calling has known about it for a while – maybe weeks – and has had time to discuss it with others and even pray about it. Why not extend the same courtesy to the person who is actually expected to fulfill the calling?

  49. In my experience that courtesy is extended to others. People will regularly say they want to go home and pray about a calling before accepting it and that is fine.

    I think a lot of times members of the church suffer from perfectionism and unnecessary guilt. Too often, we blame it on leaders.

  50. I believe I heard that “no multiple callings” thing in one of those video leadership trainings. I seriously thought people would run with it. A few years later, I feel like I am the only person who heard it.

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    No multiple callings is a great idea for the Provo 348th Ward. Absent a commitment to restrict the programs of the Church, it won’t work outside the Mormon bubble.

  52. My experience outside the Mormon Corridor: Doing the job of the EQP, EQP secretary, and sole 2nd hour nursery leader (the only nursery-age child was my child). When we moved out the Executive Secretary became the new EQP and the ward went without an Executive Secretary for quite a while.

    My current experience inside the Mormon Corridor: wife is given the assignment to create a poster for the upcoming RS birthday party, which takes considerable time on her part, yet the ward can’t find a second willing 11-year-old scout leader, leaving me teaching solo for 6 months.

  53. Perhaps some wards, especially large ones and ones inside the Mormon Corridor, need to focus on important things and not worry about things like decorating posters. Small wards outside the Mormon Corridor typically understand this.

  54. Clark Goble says:

    Tim (12:21), if you can’t find a second willing leader, stop doing it. That’s actually what the scouting rules require. It also puts pressure on the Primary Presidency to actually give you an assistant. (That’s what I did my first time in scouts)

    As an aside, I think the way so many Relief Societies go too far in decorating and/or crafts is a whole different issue. I sometimes think some of it is a “keeping up with the Jones” that’s a bit inappropriate. Usually it’s far from necessary. Maybe I’m just too naive and unobservant, but I just haven’t seen that sort of thing from say the EQ side of things in any of the wards I’ve been in.

    Another anonymous (11:32) I think the idea of having the spouse there is precisely for the opposite. So they can express their concerns and needs. Especially with kids there may be issues the Bishop may not be aware of that need to be expressed. I think the problem is that people for reasons I don’t quite fathom don’t want to actually talk with the Bishop. (In a few cases this may be a problem with the Bishop making themselves approachable or trustworthy but in most cases I think it’s just the members)

    esodhiambo (8:31) I think every ward is different, but often there are few people willing and/or capable of taking important jobs. What’s very surprising to me is how often even in the Mormon corridor people are unwilling to take callings despite being capable of doing them. It’s one thing to be upfront and say no when you’re not able to do it for various reasons. It’s quite an other thing to be able to and just not want to. To my eyes it’s the same as saying you aren’t able to pay tithing for some unforeseen financial reason and just not paying tithing because you prefer to spend money on other things.

  55. My parents’ stake in a rural area far from the Mormon corridor went by a one calling per person policy for several years. My parents’ branch started extending “assignments” instead of additional callings. This bugged my mom because she still did the work, but felt she missed out on some blessings by not being set apart. But there was a significant paring down of programs also. I still can’t figure out why early morning seminary teacher was considered an assignment that could be doubled onto a calling though.

  56. Clark–we met outside in the busy foyer so I wouldn’t be alone with the boys. And this was a failure on the bishopric, not a failure on the primary presidency. Fortunately, I was released a couple of weeks ago. Meeting in the foyer was a pain, but at least it provided weekly reminders to the bishopric that they needed to call someone else to the position. I considered stopping the meetings, but I’m already a big enough pariah in the ward.

  57. DeAnn Spencer says:

    When I was a young mother with four small children (ages 1-5) I was called as Nursery Leader. I cried when the call came – because I had gone through a very rough year and felt like a complete failure as a mother. But my tears were a heartfelt “thank-you” because this call came as a personal affirmation from my Father that I was a good mother and he trusted me with his children. I really needed that affirmation. Every one in the Ward thought that the Bishop should be shot for calling me as Nursery Leader, but I, for one, will be forever grateful that he had the inspiration (and guts) to issue the call.

  58. The thing about the overdecorating / crafts / over-prepared-lessons that can sometimes happen in wards, is that in my experience (as the professional ward Christmas Party coordinator for a number of years and a long time teacher) is that the ‘overdone’ part is as much about an individual expressing their creativity as it is about fullfulling a duty. Yes, it can be competitive (ugh), but for me (and I imagine many others) I just love creating. Regardless of what I’m going to be assigned it is going to be as creative as my time / budget will allow.

    We mock that sometimes as a waste of time, but for me creativity = spirituality. And a finished creative enterprise = a gift to God.

  59. RT, great comment.

  60. RT, yes. And, as it’s predominantly women’s work, we need to be particularly careful and mindful about disparaging it. Women work hard behind the scenes, and are often unheralded, to make social events nice and the food delicious. I’d be cautious in calling their offering frivolous.

  61. Perhaps part of the problem is that there’s often an assumption that because one person finds fulfillment or spirituality in a task, that others will also find that same fulfillment or spirituality. For some, there’s a big difference between spending hours on a poster or centerpiece and making a meal for a ward member in need. The first may provide fulfillment or spirituality for some people (but certainly not for all); the second is an act of charity.

    There also seems to be an assumption that it’s just women making meals behind the scenes. In my experience that’s not entirely accurate.

  62. That’s why I said “predominantly”. :)

  63. “Being an active part of Mormon life requires service.” As people age, the ideal, the healthy, young Mormon who has always been “active” has to come to terms with not being able to do all they once did. Illness is a real curve ball. It calls for “activity” to be defined differently from the norm.

  64. Thank you for promoting this point of view. If I had had this practical attitude about callings, maybe I would still be active in church today. Instead I really believed Boyd K. Packer, “Unwritten Order of Things”:

    “We do not aspire to calls in the Church, nor do we ask to be released. We are called to positions in the Church by inspiration. Even if the call is presented in a clumsy way, it is not wise for us to refuse the call. We must presuppose that the call comes from the Lord. . . . If some circumstance makes it difficult for you to continue to serve, you are free to consult with the leader who called you. We do not call ourselves and we do not release ourselves.”

    So I accepted a call that was unsuited for my personality, put my all into it at the cost of my mental health, because I thought God wanted me to. The experience led me to doubt my personal revelation, because it conflicted with the revelation of my leaders. My whole testimony was based on spiritual witness and personal revelation, and once that was gone everything else crumbled.

  65. Clark Goble says:

    Tim (1:22), I’ve done the “meet in the foyer” thing too when my co-teacher wasn’t able to come. I’ve often also met in my front yard with lots of people around. But those were more exceptions. However it’s just inappropriate for there not to be a co-teacher given scout regulations. If they can’t find one they should really merge dens.

    RT (2:28) Note I’m not necessarily criticizing. I did some wild decorating for a church dance when younger. But I think we need to keep in mind others around us too.

    Tracy (3:22) It’s less disparaging than creating a culture where that’s expected of everyone which I suspect is more of a burden on women. I’d add making it just a woman’s “job” is itself problematic too.

    Tim (5:39) That’s perhaps better said than I did. I think it’s more a question of where we spend our time in the aggregate. I just worry that as a church we sometimes get caught up in the superficial and miss the actual service. And again, that doesn’t mean individual cases are bad. As RT notes it can just be being creative. It’s a hard balance to set since we all have very different skills. What may be a great deal of work for one may be trivial for an other. So long as we’re not creating social expectations that put too much pressure on those without the skills I can’t say I’d have a problem with it. Although I confess I usually prefer more laid back activities myself – so perhaps my bias is just showing.

  66. Clark Goble says:

    Anon (8:34) I bet your leaders would have much rather you talked to them about the problem rather than just assuming it was all divine revelation and not to be questioned. While there’s no doubt some and often many callings are exactly where God wants you, often calling are also the Bishop trying to figure out how to give everyone a chance to serve and fill needed callings. ‘

    As the joke goes there are three “-tions” in the Church regarding callings. Inspiration. Revelation. And Desperation. I think the latter is more common than people realize. I also tend to think there’s more of a problem with people not taking callings they could than people taking callings they shouldn’t. But we shouldn’t neglect the latter. I’d note that Pres. Packer does suggest consulting with the leader. If we don’t do that and explain the problem we’re having I’m not sure we should blame Pres. Packer.

  67. I’ve never said no to a calling. My last two callings were in presidencies, and the time commitment (along with working part time and having young children) was very difficult. As the OP describes, I too felt resentful, especially each week when I would have bounce, cajole, and try to hush my frustrated toddler during hours long presidency meetings. I admire the time and effort that some put into their callings. But I think it’s important that we be totally fine with people who perform their duty without going overboard. I’ve noticed among some women, especially, that they invest a lot of time, effort, worry, resources into their callings, especially the “large” ones, and many of these ladies are SAHMs. I have to wonder if the fulfillment, admiration, feedback, etc. they are receiving is comparable to the satisfaction working people get from their jobs? Because I can understand that. It’s just setting the bar pretty high.

    I now feel comfortable saying no if I feel it will interfere with meeting the needs of my family. But “yes” for me might look a bit more pared down than it does for others, and I’m ok with that. And if it means that the primary program wasn’t a Broadway show, and you’re upset that your kid only had one week to memorize their one line part, I’ll take your criticism with a smile.

  68. While I understand your point of view, I do not share the same. I had a temple prep lesson once that started with the question… Will you accept the invitation to become closer to Christ? Our trials, friendships, family, and even callings are all opportunities to draw closer to Christ. Callings allow us to frequently remember that we certainly cannot do it on our own. We are constantly juggling our lives to make them run smoothly, but that’s not really what life is about. We can try our best to coordinate and spend our time the way we want, but what about the what the Lord needs? He needs our willingness to build the kingdom of God on earth. Those of us who make sacred covenants in the temple know that we are to sacrifice all that we have. I have not always been happy all the time serving in a calling, but that’s ok. I know that by working through the not happy part of callings that I have grown. I have grown the most in my life during difficult times and certainly accepting callings that are challenging are difficult. I trust the priesthood that feels inspired to extend callings or assignments. I trust the Lord. I do not want to imply that those that say no do not, but I hope this might encourage those that know a calling will be difficult to say yes and trust the Lord more. To accept the invitation to grow closer to Christ. I have heard many people say they cant give it 100%. You might face those that will say you aren’t doing it well, but if you are confident that you are doing your best and the Lord knows, that is all that matters. Sometimes accepting a calling isn’t about the calling as it as about how you deal with others being critical. Looking back on callings and I’ve realized it’s not the lessons I thought I learned, but the ones behind the scenes that I learned and grew the most.

  69. Rae, it’s great that that works for you- not everyone has the same reserves and abilities. One can have made the same covenants in the Temple as you (I have) and still faithfully arrives at a different place. That’s the beauty of a personal relationship with God- it’s unique. It’s personal. He doesn’t need or want all of us to be the same.

    Sometimes declining a calling isn’t about the calling, as much as it is about how you deal with others being critical.

    I don’t actually mean to be flip, but to shine a bit of my own light on your position, and show how I don’t actually disagree with your premise, but prefer to allow everyone to have their own way of exercising their agency and learning the very personal and unique lessons specifically for them from the Lord..

  70. Rae and Tracy, FWIW, I’ve had experiences both ways: i.e. both (i) sticking with a calling that was taking more time than I had for it and finding that the Lord made up the difference and blessed me and those to whom I was called to serve (and actually being sad when I was released) and (ii) saying “no” to a calling and finding that that freed up time and mental energy that I was able to use in ways that were more productive (for me, my family, the Lord, and His other children) than if I had said “yes” to the calling.

  71. Yeah. That’s what I was saying in the comment above yours, David.

  72. I admire those who truly “consecrate [their] time, talent,” etc. as if their time & talent & other assets of life are not their own, but the Lord’s.

  73. Cynthia S. says:

    RT, your comment was interesting. I’d never thought about an expression of creativity bringing one closer to God. Since that’s not enjoyable to me, I would have the opposite experience, but I’m grateful for the new perspective. I think as long as we can all be grateful for each other’s offerings it shouldn’t matter how over the top or simple something is.

    Tracy M, I really appreciate this post. A year and a half ago I was serving as Primary president in our ward when my husband was called as bishop. We were not given the opportunity to talk about it privately, and in retrospect I regret our decision to say yes. My stake president told me that I would need to be released from my calling and that I would not be able to stay on until after the primary program (which was just over a month away). I was crushed, and that began a long spiral down into a depression that I am still trying to climb my way out of. I am now at home all day and many nights alone with my young children, and I confess that I have at times been very resentful of the time that my husband has to spend away from us. In addition, I now have all kinds of issues with patriarchy in the church that before the call were just mild nuisances, but which are now before me all the time as a result of my husband’s position in our ward. Both my husband and I wish that we could have gone home and discuss the implications of the calling. We may have still said yes, but I could have stood up for myself a little better if I’d had time to reflect.

    queuno, a piece of your comment really bothered me. “At least in our ward, there are 2 counselors, an executive secretary, and a clerk that all have to feel the same way about a call before it gets extended and we’re pretty good at talking the bishop out of bad calls — and in many cases, we get signoff from the auxiliary presidency.” I think this attitude is a part of the problem with our church today. You shouldn’t be getting a signoff from an auxiliary presidency some of the time. They should be allowed to seek revelation for their own organizations and then confirmation can be sought by the bishopric. Give those auxiliary presidencies a chance to pray about callings for their organizations! Certainly names could be suggested, but I think it’s a shame that you’re overlooking their vital imput.

  74. A call as bishop can be hard on a family, Cynthia S., particularly a family with little children. So many responsibilities that were formerly distributed more evenly throughout the entire community, or were not even done by a bishop (semi-annual youth interviews, for example) can take up so much of a bishop’s time. A bishop can bless lives in important and unique ways, so it’s a challenge to draw limits and delegate and protect the bishop’s family, particularly with social and extended family networks so shallow for so many people. In other words, we hear you. It’s a complicated situation. Many blessings to you and your family.

  75. Sally,
    The statement about just one calling can be found in chapter 19.1.1 of Handbook 2 of the church.

    “If possible, a member is called to serve in only one calling, in addition to assignments as a home teacher or visiting teacher.”

    In the 2010 World Wide Training Broadcast, Dallin Oaks stated:

    “The general principle, stated in section 2.2 [of Handbook 2], is that “the programs and activities of the Church [are intended to] support and strengthen individuals and families.” Following that principle, we suggest that in issuing callings, bishops and branch presidents remember that their native urge to have all positions filled and all programs carried out is less important than the well-being of the families involved. We consider it desirable that members have no more than one major calling, especially where both parents of minor children have a major calling.”

    There is also this in section 19.1.1

    “Leaders seek the guidance of the Spirit in determining whom to call. … They also consider the member’s personal or family circumstances. Each calling should benefit the people who are served, the member, and the member’s family.

    “Although service in Church callings requires sacrifice, it should not compromise a member’s ability to fulfill family and employment responsibilities (see 17.2.1). Before calling a married person to an assignment that requires a significant time commitment, Church leaders consider the effect of the calling on the marriage and family.”

    Sitting with the member of the bishopric as he issues a calling is a very good time to give him an opportunity to do that considering. I know my bishop appreciates it and that he respects considered “no” answers.

  76. The resentment. That REALLY spoke to me. Even in other areas. I say yes and then i start resenting it! No one forced me to say yes, but I felt some pressure to conform or please (internal or external) and so I said yes. And then the resentment begins to simmer….