Last Sunday's lesson in Relief Society was a revisiting of Elder Uchtdorf's talk in the Relief Society General Meeting about Forget-Me-Nots. I loved the premise of this talk—his first point about how we need to stop punishing ourselves for our weaknesses is something we just don't hear enough.
But then he got to his third point—a perfectly valid point of Forget Not to be Happy—and rather than illustrate his point with an anecdote about someone who did just that, he told the story of a woman who wanted a husband and family so badly that when it didn't happen, she turned into a bitter old school marm who alienated everyone around her, including her students.
I remember being upset about it when I heard him give the talk, and when the teacher started the lesson, I thought, “Surely she's not going to retell this story.” She did have someone read it, and I stewed. Do I say something? Do I just let it go?
Well, I said something. Loudly. Vehemently.
“This made me so angry when he told this story. I know dozens of women who are single and NOT like the woman in this story—why couldn't he have shared their stories instead? It just perpetuates the cultural myth in the church that to be valued, women must be married.”
And wow, did I open a can of worms.
I didn't mean to, and as someone who teaches Gospel Doctrine and occasionally has to deal with lesson-hijackers, I really try to be sensitive and NOT do that. But I just couldn't stay silent any more. I wanted those women to know that while I'd love to be married and have children, I'm STILL happy with where I am. I love my job (most days) and I'm able to really, truly affect change in my classroom and with my piano students. And I know I'm not alone! Marnie and Stella, plus at least a dozen others I know in the same situation. We aren't bitter, and we ARE doing something with our lives, and we ARE happy.
And even though I was the only single woman in the room, I was shocked at how many women agreed with me. I was sitting next to the temple matron—a woman who has known me since I was 8 years old—and she said, “It makes me angry, too, that the image we have of single women in the church is bitterness. Anne is an example to me, and a role model for me, and I'm a grandmother. It doesn't matter that she's single.”
I was going to apologize to the teacher afterwards, but then a thought came to me. Maybe it was stubbornness, maybe inspiration. But here's what I thought: Maybe Elder Uchtdorf didn't have a better story to share because we are silent. We don't talk about our careers or volunteer work or whatever it is we do, because it sounds self-aggrandizing. We don't share what makes us happy because...well, I'm not sure why. Is it because we think it's not important to the members of our ward families? Is it because deep down, we feel no matter what, it's never going to measure up to the women who get to raise families?
I don't know. But I'm done being silent about it. It's time I stopped apologizing for and complicit-ly ignoring the life I've built by not being more vocal at church about the good things I'm doing with my life.
If I get to listen to the women in Relief Society share their stories about sleepless nights with newborns, then I should share stories of my sleepless nights caused by my job. If I get to listen to stories of funny toddler sayings, I should share stories of funny work colleague sayings.
If the women in Relief Society share their family life with me, I should share my single life with them.