Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stake Conference and Personal Revelation

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I made it through finals, more or less. (I’m still waiting for several grades. I’ll never figure out why it takes the professors so long to grade exams. It’s been over a month.) I had a week off from classes, and for the past two weeks I’ve been juggling work with an internship for credit. However, that’s not the topic of this post. (That’s the topic of tomorrow’s post.)

The topic of this post is stake conference, personal revelation, and how it’s my lot in life to be misunderstood. Today was stake conference. Elder Trythall of the Seventy was the presiding authority. This morning, before the general session, he held a meeting for all the YSAs. The meeting was a question and answer session. Nobody seemed interested in asking a question, so I opened up a can of worms by asking a question that seems to crop up frequently in the Bloggernacle, most recently at Zelophehad's Daughters in Seraphine’s excellent series about being a 30-something single in the church.

For background, I’m 28, so while I’m technically still a YSA, I’m on the way older end. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m in law school and feel strongly called to use my God-given talents in the legal profession, most likely in legal academia. This tends to make me unattractive to the typical LDS man who wants someone who is 19, blonde, and with little ambition. (I've been told that the reason I'm single is that I'm too ambitious and too smart. Don't even get me started there.) Anyway, here’s the question I asked:
There are considerably more active single women than active single men in the church. The numbers diverge more sharply as people get older. By my age, the ratio is about 3:1. Given these demographics, there are righteous women who will not have the opportunity for temple marriage in this life. When the choice comes down to remaining unmarried or marrying a non-member, what advice would you give to someone navigating this decision?
He shifted uncomfortably and then asked the rest of the people gathered what they thought. The answers varied. One guy who couldn’t have been a day older than 18 mumbled that there’s always the afterlife. I’m sure he meant well, but telling me that things will be better when I’m dead is really not a helpful answer. A few other people chimed in, and the divide was very gender-based. The men seemed to fall on the don’t worry about it side, and the women seemed to understand the point of my question. Some women said to stay unmarried and have faith, and some women said marry a non-member and have faith. Although they didn't share any tips on how to arrive at that answer, at least they were engaging my question.

Elder Trythall didn’t really answer my question, but honestly, I didn’t expect him to. I understand it’s a hard question, and it’s one that the Lord and I have been discussing for a few years. Anyway, I’m pretty sure Elder Trythall misunderstood where I was coming from. He went off on a tangent about men with goatees, and basically said that we should look to what the church leaders are doing and copy them. He then delivered his opinion about facial hair, using iphones for scripture study, and what we should wear after church on the Sabbath.

He paid lip service to personal revelation, and he invoked Elder Oaks’s famous talk about general rules and their exceptions. Then he pretty much said that people really shouldn’t be exceptions. (That completely misses the point of the talk in my opinion.) Then he preached the importance of temple marriage. This was really unhelpful. I know temple marriage is important. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was what to do when temple marriage isn’t possible in mortality. I don’t know whether that will be the case for me, but even if it isn’t, there are women (and men, but mathematically speaking, more women than men) like me for whom that will be the case. We need answers!

After the meeting, Sister Trythall spoke to me. (She had been sitting near me in the meeting.) She was much more helpful. She had misunderstood the question when I asked it, and she took the time to really understand what I was asking. We had a good conversation about the pros and cons of each option, and I really felt like I was being taken seriously.

I went over to speak with Elder Trythall after the meeting, and that’s when I realized that he completely missed my point. He said that I needed to take an eternal perspective and that I needed to gain a testimony of eternal marriage. I told him that I was taking an eternal perspective and that I did have a testimony of eternal marriage, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was math. He made some glib remark about mortal math and told me I was being too logical.

Last time I checked, my brain came from God. We’re told to study things out in our minds. Anyway, I told him that I recognize that if I don’t have a chance to receive the sealing ordinance in this life that I’ll have a chance to receive it in the next. However, my concern was with this life. If my choices are to marry a non-member and have children, or to stay single and die alone, I need to figure out how to navigate that. He looked at me completely uncomprehendingly. He seriously seemed not to be able to grasp that anyone who wasn’t sealed in the temple could possibly want to have a family. He didn’t quite come right out and say that it would be unrighteous to have children with a nonmember, but he came pretty close.

I left the meeting frustrated and near tears. I’m not one to share my deepest thoughts and emotions very often because I get misunderstood when I do. Anyway, then I had to put on a fake smile, pretend everything was ok, and make my way to the general session of stake conference. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the talks. I was still thinking about the earlier meeting. Then I realized that I already had my answer to the question I asked. Personal revelation.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Lord and I have been discussing this issue for a long time. I got my answer in September of last year. I went to a singles' conference praying for an answer to that very question. The answer came that I should marry a good man who loves me and who I love, and whose dreams I can support and who can support my dreams, and that I should not concern myself with whether or not he is a member of the church. I’ll admit that wasn’t the answer I expected. I still don’t know how that will play out. He might be LDS, and he might not.

So, when it comes down to it, it would appear that I’m more in the Chieko Okazaki camp and not the Sherri Dew camp. (I’m only bringing them up by name because they’re two female church leaders who I can think of who had to wrestle with this situation, and they were guided to different results. I’m sure they both followed the will of the Lord for them, even if for Sister Okazaki it meant marrying outside the church, and for Sister Dew, it meant staying single.) To my knowledge, the church doesn’t have a position on which option is better.

On the one hand, I wish I hadn’t asked the question, since it clearly made everyone uncomfortable, and I did already have an answer. On the other hand, it was an excellent learning experience for me. I was reminded powerfully that I am entitled to personal revelation for my marriage situation, and that the decision rests solely between me, my soulmate, and God.

If I follow the direction to find a good man without regard to religion, then if I am not sealed in this life, God will work it out in the eternities. He will not punish me for following what He has told me through His spirit.

The closing hymn at the general session was “Press Forward Saints”. I love that hymn. It’s a reminder to keep going when the going gets tough. I don’t know what’s in store for me, but I know it will be amazing. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9.

33 comments:

Deborah said...

I love this and really want to respond more fully! I am literally up to my eyeballs in moving boxes. So "great post" will have to do for now . . .

Stella said...

I made my decision about five years ago. It baffles me that nothing has changed in five years with regards to answers of even understanding. I hope you are able to come to the answer that best suits you.

Aimee said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! I was directed to your blog through a friend and was delighted to read your thoughts.

I have been unable to locate an email address to contact you privately, but would love to correspond with you about the possibility of publishing. I am the co-editor of the Exponent II magazine and this smart and incisive piece would be a perfect fit with our publication. Please feel free to reach me at exponentiieditor@gmail.com if you're interested.

Again, thank you for this!

Ryan Hollist said...

Although notably different, I have had similar issues dealing with the conflict between personal revelation and church idealism. I even wrote a letter to Elder Dallin H. Oaks first thanking him for his talk about exceptions, then asking for any advice as to how to deal with local leaders and members when it came to them giving me well meaning advice to go against my revelation. He, like others, seemed to miss the point and sent a response about making sure I wasn't just using his talk as a justification to commit sin.

Deja said...

Deborah pointed me to your post. As someone who married a nonmember, she knew I'd be interested. ;) I'm so glad you asked your question! It seems like one that the general authorities need to able to answer, and hopefully answer better than they did in your case.

I followed personal revelation in my decision to marry my husband, and it went against the advice/opinion of quite a few church leaders. We've only been married for a few years, but so far I'm not sorry. My husband is Catholic, and I've been surprised by how beautiful the overlap of our faiths has been, how much I've learned from him.

I'm not really trying to make a case for marrying outside the church, as I have a testimony of temple marriage, too, and it's definitely come with its own set of challenges, but I feel like it's been such a powerful, beautiful, ultimately faith-building experience for me.

If you want to hear more about what it's been like for me, I just did a guest post on Segullah: http://segullah.org/up-close/puddles-of-blossoms/ And it comes up on my personal blog quite a bit as well: http://dejavuearley.blogspot.com/

Thanks for your post!

Caroline said...

Wonderful post. You bring up some real issues that I hope one day our leaders will be willing to address in a thoughtful and articulate way. I'm astounded that Elder Trythall could only respond to your important question with tangents on goatees, Sunday attire, and iphone apps. (!)

Jules said...

Great post. I just recently have started to acknowledge that the math isn't there to support what I've been taught. I'm not discounting the whole "loaves and fishes" idea when it comes to eternal vs. temporal math and logic, but while I have a testimony of temple marriage, I don't have a testimony that I'll be married at all if I hold out for a temple marriage.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts/insights...it's given me quite a bit to think about.

Keri said...

Wow, I had no idea this post would generate so much interest. Thanks for your comments!

I hope I didn't paint Elder Trythall in a bad light; I don't think he was being unfeeling or anything. I think he just didn't get that I was trying to figure out what to do about mortality. Sure, it's a short period of time in the grand scheme of things, but it's a really important short period of time.

I wish he had either stated the church's position on the issue, or in the absence of a position on the issue, stated that the church does not have a position. That's really all I was looking for. I wasn't looking for permission to marry a non-member. I was looking for guidance on how to approach the question.

Mike H. said...

I think you to ask for inspiration whenever you start to develop a relationship now. I'm not try to sound trite here, but it is possible that you are supposed to marry a non-member.

Yet, looking at Wendy Watson, sometimes a worthy member does come along.

As a father of autistic children, I know what it's like to be outside the LDS "normal" situation.

Donnell Allan said...

Personally, I think that you should marry a non-member, but be sure that he does not have a goatee. ;0)

Ziff said...

Great post, Keri!

He didn’t quite come right out and say that it would be unrighteous to have children with a nonmember, but he came pretty close.

Oh, the cluelessness! I'm sorry, but I just can't see a better way to describe it. I guess if you're male (so the numbers were in your favor to begin with) and you pretty much associate with married people, it just never occurs to you that a 3:1 female to male ratio among YSAs would even matter.

For what it's worth, it seems to me that Spencer W. Kimball was really adamantly against anyone daring to marry a non-member (goatee or no), but since he died, GAs have been much less willing to condemn people for making that choice.

Emily A. W. said...

I told him that I was taking an eternal perspective and that I did have a testimony of eternal marriage, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was math. He made some glib remark about mortal math and told me I was being too logical.

Last time I checked, my brain came from God. We’re told to study things out in our minds.


Ahh. Your experience makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I was 28 when I married and had the same question before I married because of the same reasons you mentioned.

I think you were smarter than the 70 and you stumped him. This is the classic "if you have a problem with the doctrine - its because you are flawed, not the doctrine" answer typical in the church. Why do we let men in leadership positions get away with this stuff?

Next time, promise me you won't let him talk down to you like that - you're a kickass lawyer!

My opinion - Marry a loving and kind non member if you find one. God is no respector of persons. I believe God's words more than I believe men even if they are in leadership positions. God trumps mens opinions. Amen.

Diana said...

What a thought-provoking and insightful post! Came here from FMH, and glad I did.

Juliane said...

Keri,

loved this post! Let me tell you that I thought your question was very precise and unless you were super nervous and simultaneously stuttering and mumbling, I don't get how it was so difficult to understand for the GA.

I hope you will find a fantastic man, mormon or not, who loves your heart and brain equally :)

Zhen said...

I stumbled on your link from another site (i'm also in norcal) and enjoyed reading this post.

"He looked at me completely uncomprehendingly. He seriously seemed not to be able to grasp that anyone who wasn’t sealed in the temple could possibly want to have a family..."

It sounds like you were very thorough in your explanation. Is it possible that what you interpreted as misapprehension was actually him trying to figure out what a guy like him in his position of authority should say to a girl like you? My inclination is to feel sorry for the authority. Maybe he does get it, and he's simply bound by his position to come up with (or inanely grope for) pre-approved answers.

:) I can relate to being branded the one not to date because she's too "career-oriented", but I know the stars will align for you and you will be happy either way you choose.

-Z

Ben S said...

Your experience reminds me of something I've read about one of my spiritual role models, Carlfred Broderick, called "The Core of my Faith" (If you want a ecopy, I can send you one.)

"One last experience in my late teens might perhaps be cited as contributing to my differentiation between spiritual leadership and doctrinal sophistication. As a seventeen-year-old freshman at Harvard, I had the great privilege of getting to know my first General Authority on other than a conference-visitor basis. Elder S. Dilworth Young , one of the Presidents of the Seventy, was the mission president and would invite students over to his home for firesides once a month. I was delighted at the opportunity to get an informed opinion on many of the doctrinal imponderables that I and the little clutch of faithful LDS Harvard students debated in our weekly Sunday afternoon discussions. For starters, one evening I cornered him and asked how he had resolved the paradoxical issues around the nature of our spiritual birth as described in the early chapters of the Book of Moses. It took several minutes of confusing noncommunication before it dawned on me that this great man not only did not have an informed opinion on the matter, but he scarcely understood the issue and frankly had concerned himself very little with such obscure doctrinal points. Once more I had confirmed the lesson of my childhood—that spiritual maturity and inspirational power (which this man unquestionably had in abundance) need not be packaged together with advanced intellectual questing."

Anonymous said...

I just came across your post from FMH and I'm somewhat similar to you - same age, single, a PhD candidate with no marriage or dating prospects. I don't think there's a clear-cut answer as far as whether it's better to not get married or to marry outside the temple. I think it's going to be different for all of us. My mom was similar to me, and ended up marrying my father outside the temple in her late 30s. He later joined the church and now has a very strong testimony of the gospel. If she had ignored the revelation she received to marry him simply because he wasn't yet LDS, he may not have had the opportunity to learn about the gospel in this life. The Lord sometimes uses unusual situations to bring to pass great things.

I'd also like to say, though, that at least in my experience, there are quite a few men outside the church who are also not interested in marrying women who are too ambitious and smart, as you put it. My answer to the question for myself is that I will date anyone I'm interested in and who is also interested in me (which hasn't happened too much) and if I become interested in marrying someone, LDS or otherwise, I will prayerfully consider what the Lord would have me do.

ESOdhiambo said...

I am certainly not an Okazaki expert, but the fact that Chieko's husband served as a mission president indicates to me that he too was LDS.

Keri said...

Thanks for all of your support. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

ESO- When Sister Okazaki got married, her husband was a non-member. He converted about a year into the marriage.

Matt W said...

Keri- This was an interesting read. When my wife and I started dating, I was a "non-member" (such an odious term!). I think there is nothing wrong with being in a relationship with non-members. I know there are struggles that go along with it, as those on the outside do have challenges in understanding the standards of the church, and the truism "give them an inch, and they will take a mile" comes to mind. I can not tell from your writing if you are in a serious relationship with a non-member or if this was all merely hypothetical, but I think the idea of limiting our relationships with other Children of God to within our own cultural parameters to be odd to begin with. Further, marriage is a natural step in the progression of a relationship, so it would really depend on the relationship, not the membership of the man.

Matt W. said...

That came out sounding self-righteous. Sorry.

Keri said...

Matt, I agree that the term "non-member" isn't the best, but I'm not sure what other term to use.

The question I posed was hypothetical, though I have previously been in serious interfaith relationships.

meems said...

As someone who married a nonmember I can only tell you that you never know what the lord has in store for either you or your (future) spouse. You really have to pray hard about it, and it sounds like you have, and go with the answers you receive from heavenly father himself.

Ms. Jack said...

I loved this post, Keri. I had a somewhat similar experience writing to Sheri L. Dew when I was 17 years old and investigating the church. Much to my amazement, 8 months later, she actually wrote me back (with adamant apologies for taking so long to respond). I was touched by her sincere concern for me, and astonished that someone so relatively high up in the church would give me the time of day.

But I was also rather disappointed with the letter. She didn't really answer my questions, she mostly just bore her testimony. I was amazed that even women at the highest levels of the church weren't grappling with the problems I was grappling with.

Anyways, earlier this year I did a post about my husband's decision to marry a non-member, "Why My Husband is Like the LDS Adam." As I see it, Mormons in your situation can see themselves in an Adam-and-Eve-like situation where they choose which commandment to keep: the commandment to marry inside the faith, or the commandment to have children.

Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

since everything else was covered, what did he say about goatees, iphones, and sabbath attire???

Keri said...

@Anonymous 8:05 PM - He said members shouldn't have goatees, shouldn't use their iPhones to look up scriptures during church, and should wear church clothes all day on Sundays. He also said that these things were his personal opinion and not church doctrine.

Interestingly, when he attempted to answer my question about marriage, he did not state one way or the other whether his statements were opinion or doctrine. I'm construing them as opinion because it was all rolled up into one muddled interfaith marriage/goatees/iPhones/church dress non-answer answer.

Cynthia L. said...

Thank you for sharing this experience. I have so many dear sisters (literal and 'in the gospel') who are living this issue. The church NEEDS help with this issue. I really mean the church, not just the sisters who are caught in demographic limbo. The health of all of us depends on this.

Kristine N said...

Yep--find a man who loves you, who supports your dreams, and whose dreams you can support. I'm married to a non-member (who I cajoled into joining the church and marrying me in the temple, but the whole member thing didn't exactly stick) who is a good man and loves me. We have a wonderful daughter and a great life together, and I don't believe my happy, fulfilling life is any offense to my Father in Heaven.

The gospel's important, the ordinances are important, but happiness is important, too. Human connections, family relationships, are a big part of that.

Good luck!

Mom2mykids said...

This was me, nearly 20 years ago. I was in my late 20s, single, no prospects of the LDS variety in sight. I had dated one guy off and on for about 8 or 9 years, only to realize that our goals and desires never seemed to mesh. I had pretty much decided that I would never marry, and frankly that depressed me a lot.

Fast forward a little bit, and a young man (is 33 young?) moves into the building where I'm working. I meet him. I think, wow, he's pretty cute, wonder if he's single. (LOL) Yep, he was single. Not LDS, but single and interested in me. It took us a while, but we started talking at work, dating, and voila! Seven months after our first date, we were married. He has since been baptized (on our 5th anniversary, actually), and we were sealed in the temple as a family the next year. We have two great kids (yeah, I broke the mold there too), and life is generally pretty good. Do we have problems? Sure. Do I wonder sometimes if I made the right decisions in my life before and after my marriage? Sure. But I followed the inspiration I received when I prayed about whether to marry this man, and I'm not sorry about that.

I do truly think that men and women have totally different perspectives when it comes to choosing a mate. Women think about having children, having a companion, having somebody to grow old with. Men ... well, honestly I'm not sure what they think about sometimes! And I've been married almost 20 years!

Anyway, not sure if this comment will help you or not, but please know you are NOT the only woman to go through this experience. It's not easy, and whichever decision you make, you will second guess yourself. I felt ostracized when we first moved to our home because I had *gasp* been raised in the church and yet I married a non-member. It's been years, but I still feel the pangs of those feelings. I wish sometimes I had stood up in church and said, I am married to a non-Mormon. He's a good person, he loves me, we are happy, get over it. I'm sure many people have made much more horrible decisions, yet they are still welcomed at church. So yes, I understand the whirlwind of feelings. There are not any easy answers. Hugs! Just know you're not alone.

Anonymous said...

My apologies in advance for this blatant thread-jack. I am struggling so much with my faith right now that I was struck by the clear and very specific nature of the personal revelation you received last september regarding marriage. If it is not too personal, or difficult to describe, could you please relate the process of this revelation? Was it a voice, a warm feeling after a specific question or just what? I would sincerely appreciate your input...I don't think I have ever been able to distinguish between emotions, hopes, fears and the spirit.

Keri said...

Anonymous 5:34 PM - No worries; I don't consider it a threadjack. It's actually a question deserving of its own post. I'll need a few days to get my thoughts together (I just had a family emergency), but I'll write a post for you about it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. Looking forward to your post.

susie said...

I came from FMH. I thought this was really neat to see your personal revelation. I can see that the GA would be "stuck" because it reminds me of the talk Elder Holland gave us before a stake conference televised about teaching the "patterns" at church, like to sew a shirt. You give everyone the same pattern and say, this is how you sew the shirt, see? And it's a reliable pattern. That's why they talk about temple marriage, having kids, joy in families, etc. Then God will give you inspiration to alter the pattern when you ask and make it fit what your life needs. And maybe the GA was waiting for inspiration to answer your question and God didn't give him any because he had already given you some so the GA was left to himself and obviously fumbled. That might be annoying for me to have said, but I've done the same thing and gotten the same results is all and realized later why.

I think it really is our job to say, okay, this is what the church teaches. No, they're not going to give us every little instruction and when we ask for the details (like goatees, what the? my dad had one when he had alzheimers because he couldn't shave and his facial hair didn't grow on his cheeks--I promise you God did not care one whit) then we all get a whole bunch of annoyed at the answers we're given because it's not revelation and we can feel it.

I think it's like Elder Oaks said, I teach you the principles, you figure out the rest. Don't write to me, figure it out because in the end it's between you and the Lord. I find that really refreshing.

I for one never thought marrying outside the church was a sin. As someone who is now an adult seeing the effects of that, sometimes it's just fine, othertimes the spouse ends up becoming anti and turns the kids to his/her side, the family becomes split, and it's toxic to the marriage. Plus, God sees the eternal perspective for you and your sig. other so He answers based on that, which makes the answers that much better and more applicable. I think it's a truly beautiful aspect of God's kingdom that we learn principles and the rest is between us and the Lord. A reminder to not judge others, as well.

As an end note since I've said to much already, my friend was born in the church, left as a teen, went through a whole bunch of sinning, bad choices, then wound up pregnant with her boyfriend as a twenty something year old. When she called her mom, her mom cried for days. In the end her mom's answer was "this is my plan, this is how it's supposed to be." Fast forward a few years and they got married, she became active again, he got baptized. We really can't judge how God works, you know?