This week's email was about the upcoming lesson/council/discussion. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in nearly ten years, but I read the email just because I was bored... and then I had a lot of strong feelings about it.
Here's the email:
I called my mom to see if she would be in this meeting. (She's the stake primary president, so she is often not in Relief Society, because she is taking care of stake business.) She will be in this one, so I asked her to say something. My family did a great job of helping me know I was loved when I left the church. (You can read about it here.) I like what I wrote, but I love what my mom wrote in the comments even more,Agenda for Sunday Relief Society Council Meeting, 03/04/2018Reading Assignment: “Apart, But Still One” by Elder Joni L. Koch, of the Seventy (November 2017 Ensign, P.110)Sharing: Last month our action item was to look around us and to become aware of the needs that were around us, and to seek ways that we could help with those needs. I want to give you an opportunity to share any thoughts or experiences you have had this past week on this topic.Today's Council: How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?
- As we talk today about this topic, think about someone who was once active in the gospel, but has now become less active, or think of those who were less active and have returned (this could even be yourself). I want you to make comments that you feel prompted to share. This council should invite the spirit to give each of us personal revelation as we share information and experiences.
- Iceberg Example from Sister __Possible Discussion Questions:
- Our reading assignment of Elder Koch's talk, “Apart but Still One,” pointed out a few possible events that can occur among members of the church that can contribute to disunity among members. Did you find any insight from the article that relates to our topic that you would like to share?
- What experiences have you had or observed that have brought loved ones back to the faith?
- Read messages of hope from our living prophets (taken from quotes page that will be passed out at Relief Society)
- Action Item: What is one thing you can do this week to help or accept a loved one or associate who has become less active?
"I had some preconceived notions about what a family looked and felt like and that's what I tried to bring about, but eventually I figured out that what a family looked like, didn't matter. What a family felt like did.She has some wisdom she could share, but I know how hard it is for her to speak up in a group. (She struggles with it even more than I do, and that's saying something!)
I know you think we aren't normal, but I think there are a lot of people like us, who just love their family no matter what they look like to the rest of the world.
Thank you for being so patient with us while we grew up as parents. Love you tons!"
My mom suggested sending an email to the Relief Society President. I don't know what to say, so I thought I would start with just writing here and see what comes out.
Dear Sister __
I know I am not the target audience of the emails to the relief society. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in more than ten years, and have no intention of changing that. I know many people think it is sad that I have distanced myself from the church I was raised in, and I know many people want me to come back - for my own good they say - because they don't understand why I left and how a different path could be good for someone. I understand that. I was once a member who believed there was only one path and one true way to happiness. I was wrong.
I am happy for the members who are happy being members. I am so glad the church and its teachings bring my family so much happiness and peace. I would never want to take that away from them. I also want to say many of those same doctrines and teachings brought me misery. You've known me since I was a teenager, and probably remember how I didn't fit in even when I was 14. I tried. After my teenage years, I gave it a really good try. In the end, for my own health and well-being, I have left the church behind me.
Many members (including the gentleman who gave the conference talk that was the assigned reading for this week) give reasons for people leaving that aren't complete. I am sure there are people who stop going to church for the reasons listed in that talk, but there are so many more reasons why people stop attending and/or resign their membership. For the purpose of this email, I don't think it's important to list those reasons... In fact, I think it is really important to ask people who no longer attend what their individual reasons are. Most probably won't talk about it, or they will try to protect you from knowing what they have learned. Many won't trust that you REALLY want to know. My family has had to work really hard for me to trust them with my own thoughts and reasons for leaving, because I didn't trust them in the beginning. I'm grateful for the work they have put in. I'm grateful they have asked me why I chose to stop attending instead of assuming they knew. I am grateful for their unconditional love and acceptance of who I am.
I'm really glad you are having a lesson on how to interact with and love people who no longer attend. I know way too many people who have been completely shunned by their family because they have left the church. Last week, I spent hours listening to three different men who are facing the possibility of divorce because their wives don't know how to be married to (men) who don't believe the church is what it claims to be. They are losing everything, because they are being honest about what they believe. It's heartbreaking. I have witnessed other men and women who have children, parents, siblings, and friends who will not spend time with them because they have left the church. They have been disowned by their families completely. It is beyond heartbreaking to know that your family can't love you and doesn't want you, no matter how old you are.
I sincerely considered coming to the meeting on Sunday, just so that I could say one thing:
"PLEASE, please don't love people so that they will come back to church. Just love people. Don't try to manipulate them or coerce them. Just love them. Trust them in their journey. They might come back. They might not. In the meantime, your love could be a lifesaver.I also don't know if I would be heard. I am an outsider now, and I know it. I also feel nervous sending this email, because I enjoy coming back to accompany (my brother and sister) in their musical numbers at church. I would hate to be excluded from that in the future, because I tell you what I really think and who I really am. (If I actually send this message), I guess I have decided it is worth the risk.
I honestly believed my family would prefer I was dead than that I left the church. I almost made that happen for them. Luckily, I decided to give them a chance first. Luckily, they took that chance and supported me and loved me wholeheartedly. I am alive today because of that choice.
I told my mom she could just stand up and tell the whole room to be like her, but that's not really her style. But seriously, be like her and my dad."
I know part of the goal of the relief society meeting is to bring relief to those sitting there. Offering people a way to bring their loved ones back may bring a lot of relief. I have found love, friendship, community, compassion, and relief from outside that space, so I understand it's asking a lot to think about me while sitting in that room and in that meeting. It might be selfish of me to ask, and I guess I'm doing it anyway.
Please think about me and others like me as you have this discussion on Sunday.
Much love and gratitude,
(I did not send the following, but I thought about it. I just decided it wasn't the message I wanted to send right now.)
P.S. In case the above wasn't enough, here are a few other thoughts I had:
This blog post was written a while ago, and it might help you understand how to be helpful.
It's not a Mormon perspective, but it fit with what I needed (and probably still need) from "church people".
Some things church members can do:
- Talk to us with no goal of trying to get us to do anything.
- Invite us to social events (especially the kind where there won't be lessons)
- Ask us how you can be a good friend to us.
- Acknowledge how hard it is to leave what we have known all our lives. We are pioneers, and it is hard to be a pioneer.
- Tell us you don't know what to say, but you also don't want to say nothing.
Things not to do:
- Don't send us scriptures, ensign articles, or links to why we should do something different.
- Don't call us to repentance or tell us how to live our lives. Even if you really, really want to.
- Don't tell us what to do.
An hour after I sent the message, she had responded with the following:
"Dear Jen,I am happy with the exchange. My mom says she'll report back on how she feels about the whole discussion. I thought about going, but would rather get together with our Uncorrelated Mormons group (which meets at the same time).
Thank you so much for your absolutely honest and sweet email. I love you whether you are in the church or out of the church. And I know many others would do the same.Yes, we will respect your journey. You are correct in understanding that families are heartbroken when their children leave the church. But, it is because they do strongly believe the doctrine of eternal families.Sunday our discussion will include how to love and accept the decisions of those who have chosen to step away from activity. And, yes, we do plan to discuss how that talk illustrates just a few of the many many reasons that people do not want to be a part of the church.I always enjoy seeing you when you come to play your beautiful music or when I see you at other activities. I hope we will always be friends.You would be so welcome at our meeting on Sunday. And I hope that your mom will be there and share her thoughts, if you are not there.Love you lots,__
Also, if it seems OK with you and it seems good as I proceed through the council, may I use A few of your statements in your email, if I don’t give names?"