Friday, December 9, 2011

Speak Up! Or How Anne Started Yelling in Relief Society.

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.


Anonymous said...

OK I read your post the other day and I have not been able to get it off my mind. I debated whether to comment on it or not, but my opinionated nature seems to have won out.

I guess what I want to say is why do you / did you let the story bother you? Why does it anger you? Why don't you let it go?

I have found in life that people get offended or upset by other's comments for two main reasons and that is 1. the person is insecure with the subject matter the other person is commenting on, or 2. the person misunderstood the intention of the comment and didn't take the time to understand the other persons perspective.

So you know my background I am a 35year old divorced dad with full custody of two little girls. I have served in 5 different bishoprics. To be honest, in all my experiences in these bishopric and in the church I have never once heard or anyone ever indicate that to be valued in the church a woman must be married. I just have never heard it or seen someone perpetuate that belief.

It doesn't mean it doesn't exist but I am hard pressed to believe that belief especially with examples of Sheri Dew and other single women I have come to know who fulfill very important callings in the church.

When I get angry about something and it really bothers mean, I always try and take a step back and ask myself those two questions 1. Am I insecure about the topic the person is talking about? 2. Do I understand what the person is really saying?

If we can be honest with ourselves do you truly believe President Uchtdorf was trying to perpetuate the belief that to be valued in the church a woman must be married? I seriously doubt that.

In addition, due to the fact that you say you are happy as a single woman, however still get upset and angry over President Uchtdorf's story, I ask myself whether you are insecure about the issue President Uchtdorf was talking about.

I find when I do ask myself the two questions I mentioned above and can be honest with myself I usually find that I am either insecure or have misunderstood the point of the comment. These helps me not to be angry any more.

I wonder what you will find if you were to ask yourself these questions and can be honest with yourself.

It is always easier to be angry at someone else for their comments and saying others are the problem than it is to look internally and to recognize the real problem is with ourselves.

I am just guy and so you may say I have no idea what I am talking about or have no clue what you are feeling because I have never been single in the church like you have.
Yes you may be correct there. I do however know one thing though.

Angry is a choice and that choice starts with you.

Just so you know, I don't believe woman need to be married to be valued in the church.

Rae said...

I was sort of surprised to read your reaction as well. I'm a single LDS girl in my late twenties. I get the impression I'm younger than the writers on this blog, however being single in the church at my age isn't easy.
When I heard this talk I absolutely loved it. I see SO many of my friends miserable and thinking, "I'll be happy when I'm married" and it just makes me sad. I get it, I yearn for it too. Every night when I go to bed alone I wish things were different, but overall I think I do a pretty good job of being as happy single as possible. Maybe this is pride, but I sort of took President Uchtdorf's talk as some guidance, and also a pat on the back. I didn't once feel he was saying to be valued in the church we had to be married. At all.
I'm not discounting your feelings and am glad you spoke up, and should continue to do so. I just really don't think the point of President Uchtdorf's talk was to say that ALL single women are bitter and unhappy. Sort of like when there are conference talks given to the men about pornography. It's not a problem for all men, and I don't think those who don't have that struggle take offense. (And yes, I know it's not ONLY a problem for men, it just seems that the talk is given more frequently in the Priesthood sessions.)
Hopefully I didn't say anything offensive, I really do enjoy this blog and appreciate those of you who write it. I am typically very inspired by it.

Anne Elliot said...

Thanks for both of your comments--

I've been thinking about whether I should respond, and I'd like to clarify with a couple of brief comments.

First, perhaps "angry" has the wrong connotation. "Frustrated" is much closer to how I actually felt.

Second, I think perhaps the point of the post got a little lost in the fixation on the initial emotion I felt. The point I intended to make was that the initial emotion served as an epiphany to be more open with my life at church. That, I see as a good thing.

And I didn't intend to say that Uchtdorf's intent was to devalue single women. I don't think that at all. I have been told many times by priesthood leaders and by women in the many different wards I've lived in the past 20 years that my single status was a problem, and my concern was that those types of people would look to his example as validation that they were right. One brief example: when I was 27 and a Laurel advisor, I was abruptly released. When I asked why, I was told that the YW Pres. felt I was setting a bad example (college grad, return missionary me) for the girls because I was single.

I'll be sure to be more clear next time I rant. :D

Anonymous said...

That is interesting that you were released as the laurel advisor. I have a good friend who is single and never married and she is the yw president in her ward. I think the issue is more with individuals than as a church as a whole. You don't happen to live in Utah do you because that could be the problem. Utah Mormons always seem to have a slightly different take on the gospel than those in the missionary field. :)

Scully said...

I had a similar reaction with something said in a CES fireside recently. I don't think it was actually what was said, but, rather, the expectation I have of how others will use and misuse it when talking to me about being single. Generally these people are NOT those in Bishoprics, have stewardships over me, or know me well. It is usually used by individuals who feel it their place to advise or instruct me personally or comment on singleness in general who use the words of general authorities in ways that wound.