One of my favorite quotes states “The essences of a lie isn’t the words you choose but the intent behind it.” Unknown. I feel like this can be applied to many things in life. What is your intent behind the things you do?
Growing up in my small town Mormon world, I was always asked, reminded, and told, to “make the right choices” and “what will people think”. Of course there were always different variations of those statements. But my motivation and intention in life was to live according to LDS standards and because my dad was a prominent member of the community, I had to always be aware that people were watching and judging what I did.
I was very good at playing the role, putting on the mask, and saying the right things. I would complain and whine about having to go to church on Sunday, for all 3 hours. I would try to find excuses not to go to mutual or any of the other church activities they would have. It wasn’t very often that I was able to get out of it. And so, I would show up, I would put on the face, and go through the motions. All the while, the intent behind my actions was because, I had to.
I feel like this is a common practice in the Mormon church. They often talk about service and doing things for others. They boast about the service they do. Yet the service that is done, is often out of requirement to earn their position in Heaven, and not out of a desire to worship God.
When Brian and I had our first born and I was in the hospital, the Relief Society President showed up, unexpectedly. We had lived in the ward for several months but we hadn’t been to church yet. She decided showing up at the hospital was a good time to stop by and introduce herself to me. I had no clue who she was. My labor was long and difficult and I wasn’t up for meeting new people. I don’t believe she was there for me. She was there to check the box off of her list, “did her good deed for the day”, “met her obligation as Relief Society President”. Needless to say, I don’t remember her name, what she looked like, or even what we talked about. I’m not sure if I even ever saw her again. We lived in the same ward for about 2 years. We were still living there when we had our 2nd child. Did she come to meet with me out of true care and concern for me as a human being that she wanted to get to know, or out of obligation to her role in her church? I believe it was completely out of obligation.
Sadly, this was a very common theme in my adult experience as Mormon. Wherever Brian and I lived, it was common for us to have a knock on the door and there would be our home or visiting teachers. They would come in for their brief visit and then they were gone again until next month. We were always welcoming and friendly. Sometimes they would bring cookies or little gifts and I was always kind. We would let them share their messages and never argued or contradicted their teachings.
When we moved back to our home town, things were a little different. By this time we had started attending a Christian Church. We weren’t outspoken about our Christian faith but we weren’t open to Mormonism at all, and weren’t willing to have that discussion. We were what is considered an “inactive” Mormon. We were still on the list, so the check mark still had to be made. We still had to have visiting teachers and home teachers, but because we were going to a different church, the rules must have been a little different. At this point our son was starting be involved in community sports because of this we were more involved in the community than we had been in other places that we lived.Every month at a game or practice the same guy would come up and talk to us. Ask us about the family how things were going. We would engage him in conversation for a few minutes and then he would go back to his side of the field and go back to his life. It didn’t take long to figure out he was our home teacher and this was his way of being able to check the box off the list. “Did you meet with the Johnson’s this month?”
One of our neighbors, was a guy I went to high school with and I soon realized his wife was one of my visiting teachers. Every month at the beginning of the month she would stop by for some reason or another. She stopped by with a catalog of something she was selling. She stopped by with cookies. She would stop by just to say hi. But it was never to get to know me. It was never to see if I needed anything. What was her intent? To check that off her to do list.
When this neighbor moved, every month I started getting a letter in the mail with no return address that had the visiting teaching message for the month in it. And I guess that counted as the check mark too. Because at least they were sending me the message. This was more insulting to me than than anything else. I would have preferred someone to say, “Hey, I’m your visiting teacher and I know you’re not Mormon anymore but can I stop by once a month and say hi to you so I can do my calling?”
Another great example is when I had my youngest daughter, I was very sick and she was born 2 months early. I was in the hospital 40 minutes away from home. At this point, Brian and I had not been attending the Mormon church for 3 years. Due to the problems I was having, they kept me on the surgical floor for 3 days and I don’t remember much during that time. They had finally moved me up to the maternity ward and I was starting to feel better and become more stable. One day, I was sitting in the bed, in my hospital gown, I hadn’t been able to shower for several days, and I was pumping some breast milk. I had a double breast pump and in walk the whole bishopric from our ward. I of course looked horrified. We had never been to church. I only knew them from my childhood. I’m still not sure why they were there. I don’t remember much about the conversation. I was focused on making sure my blankets stayed up so I didn’t reveal myself to these men that I only knew from when I was a kid. It still mortifies me to think about. Why did they drive 40 minutes without calling to see if it would be OK if they stopped in? I don’t believe there was any intent to worship or connect with Brian and I out of true care and concern. I believe it was to,check the box.
Since becoming Christian and finding our home church, I have learned a lot about service and the intent behind what you do. When we started attending Journey Church, I was just finishing my bachelors degree. I started my Masters program shortly after, which was only a 1 year program. When I was done I need to come up with $300.00 to take my licensure exam. My church family organized a fund raiser to help me pay for my exam. I was blown away. They raised enough money for my exam and gas to drive to Utah where the testing center was. I felt so unworthy of such a blessing. What was their intent? To be of service and worship God by helping others. There was no box to check off.
The other thing that changed in the aspect of worship as a Christian at our home church is, when people talked to us and interacted with us, it was authentic and genuine. We have friends who reach out to us during the week and we also reach out to them. We know their struggles and they know ours. We have people we pray with and read the Bible with and truly share our lives with. This is the truest form of worship. Not who we are on Sunday or at a church activity, but who we are in our daily lives and our willingness to accept and connect with people regardless of where they are at.
I have seen my church family come together and build a tree house, paint a house, bring meals to families, and to raise money for medical needs. We have come together for weddings and funerals, for Sunday service, and Bible study. The intent of coming together at these times isn’t out of obligation to earn our salvation. It isn’t to make sure we are trying hard enough or doing enough. It is completely, 100%, because we have a desire to worship our God!
The most telling part, to me, of the intent behind the actions of the Mormon church, at least here in this small town, is… When the ward bishop came to us and told us we needed to remove our records or face disciplinary action. When I was in grad school, the ward bishop approached Brian and I about removing our records, honestly I was a little surprised. I was unsure why he felt it necessary for that to happen. I had thought about it, but never felt it was that big of a deal. I didn’t care what they did with the paperwork they had on me. Brian and I spoke with our pastor about it, and he advised us that removing our records would be the right thing to do. Just a way of “playing nice”. It would create less struggle and problems for us and our kids since we planned to continue living in the community. The bishop came to our house several times to ask us about this. He had never spoke to us ever. But for some reason it seemed like it was his personal mission to make sure we had our records removed on his watch as bishop. The bishop told us, “You’ll still be part of the community, you’ll still be invited to do things with the ward”.
We of course removed our records, not out of fear of disciplinary action, but because we felt it was the right thing to do. Just a few weeks before his time as bishop was completed, he stopped by to verify when he would have our letter. We turned it over just a week before he completed his calling. When I asked Mormon friends why he would do this, the only answer I have gotten is that for some reason he feels some sort of obligation for our salvation. Since then, many people from the ward who would at least say hi to us won’t even acknowledge us. And that bishop won’t even make eye contact. The motivation and intent behind doing any thing in Mormonism is because they have to do it, not because they want to. It’s all about making sure they are trying hard enough and has nothing to do with God.
I’m just a small town girl… living in a checkbox world.