Appearances are deceiving.
Sometimes I have felt that church is for married, happy people, with 4+ kids, a minivan, no mental health issues, no addiction issues, and rock-like faith who hold family scripture study, prayer, and FHE like clockwork and never yell at their children. In my head are caricatures of a perfect “Molly Mormon” and “Peter Priesthood” and their beautiful, happy family with color coordinated outfits in a perfectly framed family portrait. At times, church feels superficial, and the interactions with fellow members rarely gets beyond, “Hi, how are you?” and the only acceptable answer is, “I’m doing great!”
Let me get this out there – I am not a stereotypical Mormon. I’m a child of divorced parents, I did not attend BYU, I don’t live in Utah, I’ve struggled with depression, I’m a single mom with one child, I don’t drive a minivan, I yell at my child more often than I want to admit, and I don’t have a single color coordinated photo of my family.
There are so many church members like me that feel they don’t fit in to the stereotypical Mormon family or that feel they don’t fit in with people at church. This message is for you. (and me!)
Look Past the Illusion of Perfection
First, we need to realize that the illusion of the “perfect” Mormon family is just that – an illusion. Every family struggles and often the face that is presented at church, at social functions, or on social media is not representative of the real story. Even those families who are relatively strong, stable, and happy are faced with challenges. This is mortal life, after all. We were sent to this earth by God to be tested.
Second, remember that the church is made up of imperfect people. We come to church to partake of the sacrament, renew our covenants, and worship the Lord. We come to provide fellowship and help strengthen the testimonies of others. We come to participate and magnify our callings. Unfortunately, people will sometimes be judgmental and people may, knowingly or unknowingly, offend us with what they say or do. I implore you – don’t let other people’s actions or words prevent you from partaking of all the blessings of the gospel.
Don’t Forget to Serve
In the April 2009 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled “Unselfish Service” that really stuck with me. In it, he talked about the Savior’s command that we should lose our lives in service. He quoted Jesus from Matthew 16:24-25:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Elder Oaks said:
“Each of us should apply that principle to our attitudes in attending church. Some say “I didn’t learn anything today” or “No one was friendly to me” or “I was offended” or “The Church is not filling my needs.” All those answers are self-centered, and all retard spiritual growth. In contrast, a wise friend wrote:
Years ago, I changed my attitude about going to church. No longer do I go to church for my sake, but to think of others. I make a point of saying hello to people who sit alone, to welcome visitors, … to volunteer for an assignment. …
In short, I go to church each week with the intent of being active, not passive, and making a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Most of the connections I have made with people at church are from when I served them or when I allowed them to serve me. We may not be able to see it, but every one of us is fighting a spiritual battle day-in and day-out. We all need kindness, encouragement, friendship, and help. As we look outwards and focus on what the Lord would have us do for others, and open ourselves to receiving assistance from those around us, we can forge real connections with people.
Be Real. Be Authentic.
In talks, lessons, questions, comments and conversations, be a little more open about the real you. The Spirit testifies of truth, and I think that when we are authentic, it invites the Spirit even more because we are being more honest. When we pretend to be perfect, or when we pretend that we don’t have anything except surface problems, we can make others feel that they can’t relate to us and that we could never relate to them.
Give Up Your Checklist
Give up your “good Mormon” checklist. Stop judging yourself, and others, by your mental checklist of the outer manifestations of what makes a “good Mormon.” I’ve seen several articles and posts on Facebook recently about “checklist Mormons” who may lose sight of the Spirit of the gospel by focusing on the do’s and don’ts and cultural aspects of Mormonism.
Sometimes, it can feel like living the gospel is a checklist (go to church – check; go to temple – check; pray – check; read scriptures – check; do family history work – check; etc.). However, each of us is a unique individual with individual strengths, weaknesses, and temptations. We have unique life and family circumstances. These individual factors combine into each person and each family implementing gospel principles slightly differently. My Sabbath day observance may look different than your Sabbath day observance.
These outward manifestations (the “good Mormon” checklist) are not reliable indications of a person’s spiritual health. What matters is hidden inside a person’s heart. For example, do you strive to love others as Christ does? Do you live with integrity? Are you sincere in your prayers? Or do you just go through the motions?
In the April 2005 General Conference, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin gave a talk on the virtue of kindness and talks about not judging one another. He said:
“The Church is not a place where perfect people gather to say perfect things, or have perfect thoughts, or have perfect feelings. The Church is a place where imperfect people gather to provide encouragement, support, and service to each other as we press on in our journey to return to our Heavenly Father.
Each one of us will travel a different road during this life. Each progresses at a different rate. Temptations that trouble your brother may not challenge you at all. Strengths that you possess may seem impossible to another.
We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The Savior taught, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” He also taught that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?”
“If they are obnoxious?”
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”
The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.”
There is no place for being judgmental in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called upon to love, to encourage and inspire, and to serve.
Strengthen Your Testimony
The Lord knows you, inside and out. He knows all your deepest, darkest secrets and He loves you anyway. He has an open invitation to all to come unto Him, to be healed and to be washed clean. He will never turn you away or say you don’t fit in. If you find yourself wavering, or wondering if you belong in the church, go back to the basics of prayer and scripture study. Jesus promised:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7)
God loves you and will bless you with hope, peace and increased faith.
I hope that we can all remember to have more charity (the pure love of Christ) in our hearts for our fellow imperfect humans. Appearances are deceiving and we need to stop judging each other. Each of us is a beloved child of God. He judges us by our hearts, not by our appearances, the number of items we check off on our mental “good Mormon” checklist, or by the fake images of our lives that we project to others. We are each needed to help carry out the Lord’s work. There are hearts to lift, loneliness to lessen, burdens to help carry, grief to ease, and souls to save. Pray for inspiration on what the Lord would have you do. Always remember that you are a loved and necessary part of His church, even if you fall way outside the “stereotypical” Mormon image.