Ask Mormon Girl: No one in my ward understands me. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

My husband and I are getting really frustrated by not being taken seriously or treated like grownups in our ward. We both have gone to college and have good jobs. We own a home. We have been married for seven years. But we don’t have kids. This is not just a choice because of infertility but also because of health issues. We are in limbo at church and get only nursery callings. We also get unneeded advice about how we are missing out on our ‘blessings.’ How do we grow closer to people in our ward without everyone assuming we are newlyweds and/or infertile? No one seems to want us for our own sake. Living in the most conservative county of Southeast Idaho might have something to do with it, but we like it here because of the mountains and climate. Moving isn’t an option. The sisters in the ward don’t want to be friends unless I’m in a playdate with them or reading church books in a book club. Help?

Thanks,

MS


Dear MS:

I sure can hear your frustration. You probably grew up in a Mormon ward that served not only as a spiritual but also as a social and cultural home. And now that you’ve made a home of your own, you want to experience that same sense of belonging in your ward. You want to be known. You want a calling that allows you to become a more visible and recognized member of the ward community, especially since there is a tendency within LDS culture to grant social status to Mormons with certain types of families and certain classes of callings. You want to be valued both in and beyond those terms. You want to be understood.

But that’s not happening.

And you are lonely.

Years ago, I went on a solo pilgrimage to the city of Santa Fe and found myself (in a moment of cosmic loneliness) standing in the beautiful Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. There, I picked up a card imprinted with the prayer of St. Francis, including these two marvelous lines:

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand.

There are more than a few of us Mormons who (from time to time, and for various reasons) feel lonesome or invisible or misunderstood in our wards, our stakes, and sometimes even our own families. And yet, as these lines from the prayer of St. Francis suggest, the best way to survive this loneliness is to redirect our tremendous hunger for connectedness. For we have no power to make others understand or value us; we can, however, make a spiritual practice of trying to understand and value others.

I know it is not easy to unplug from the powerful patterns of Mormon social organization that reward a certain profile of Church member. But you must try. And try if you can to let go of your feelings of self-consciousness.

Sometimes when I find myself feeling a bit isolated at church, I challenge myself to look around the room and find something to love. Maybe it’s the white-haired old ladies in the front row of Relief Society who remind me of my grandmother. Maybe it’s the old school zip-up baptism suits hanging in the hallway closet. Maybe it’s the kid having a meltdown in Primary. Look around the room and find something to love. Give it a try next Sunday. See what follows.

If you are feeling a bit underutilized at church you might also consider opening your circle a little wider to the world beyond the wardhouse. You sound to me like a very capable woman. I’m betting that there are good causes in southeastern Idaho that could really use your anxious engagement and where maybe, just maybe, you can meet some like-minded fellow travelers.

Readers, what do you think? What other suggestions do you have for how to survive a ward where you feel lonely and misunderstood?

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10 Comments

Filed under faith transition, family, social connectedness, Women

10 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: No one in my ward understands me. Help?

  1. My first thought when I read this was, “I feel your pain.” My husband and I have also been married for 7 years with no kids and I have had some of these same feelings. I often feel isolated and lonely. Most times that I have felt good about my church experience have been outside of church such as visiting teaching or since I am my husbands partner, home teaching. It is amazing how much more connected I feel with someone when I have been in their home. My suggestion is to find someone that you would like to connect with and invite them over for dinner. It’s a small act, but it seems like this has helped me to find friends at church. Again, I understand what you are going through and it can be very frustrating at times. Best of luck.

  2. B.

    I too live in Southeast Idaho and I don’t know if it’s the area, but since we’ve lived here (3 years now) I have felt totally left out from our ward. Although I have children, I am not the “traditional” Mormon mom…. I work, go to school, do not scrapbook, do not do playdates, etc. On occasion when I do go to church, I force myself to remember what my mom has always said (“you don’t go to church for the people”). This helps me get there, but is no help when I sit in Relief Society and no one speaks to me. Not even the cute old sisters. Our situations are different but I think our experiences are similar. Perhaps my mom’s advice will help you more than it has me…. I guess you could consider us “inactive” because I just have no desire to go to church when I end up crying and feeling worse than if I weren’t to go at all. Be confident in yourself and your chosen path in life and remember that there is one person who understands (Jesus Christ).

  3. I don’t know if MOs will be offended by a JW trying to address their issues, but many of them are shockingly similar down to the smallest detail, especially this one (as well as a couple previous queries about belonging/identity, etc.).
    I suppose it comes from having a belief system that differentiates you from “the world” and creates an insular, prescriptive, and sometimes sharply circumscribed community.
    Sure, hypothetically our beliefs allow for many different approaches to faithfully serving God (He created us with all our variety, our capacity for free will, our individuality and imagination, right?), but I’ve noticed the human tendency towards rigidity is most pronounced in such small and interdependent communities as ours. A congregation, depending on its location, its demographic, invents its own “normal”. And it becomes a powerful thing-it sometimes becomes more important to members than the spiritual purpose for which the congregation was formed. It sometimes supplants the Word of God as the arbiter of what is right, good, or normal. That’s disappointing. We’re led to expect more from our people, aren’t we?
    B’s mother (above) was right-your job is to “make sure of the more important things” and serve God, not the expectations of the members of your ward.
    But I know (oh, how I know!) that this “take the high road” approach doesn’t fix the way you feel or cure your loneliness or give you someone to hang out with on a Saturday night.
    I actually don’t recommend investing too much energy in trying to befriend or socialize with these families, at least right now. I think this will only disappoint you and confirm your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
    Instead, I think you have to stop wanting what you don’t have. I think having unfulfilled expectations is what hurts so much, and it can make you sick and miserable….and then inactive and bitter.

    Instead, dwell on this: fitting in is hard and soul-crushing work. Maybe it’s not the warm, cozy fun you think it is. It requires that you dress, speak, act, spend your time, and procreate in a narrowly defined way. There’s not a lot of joy, freedom, or self-expression in such a mandated existence.

    Don’t miss the experience of fully living to have the supposed benefits of fully belonging. Membership has its price and I don’t think you should pay it.

    I’m so happy to tell you that you’re different. And you’re just going to have to continue to do the hard-but ultimately more rewarding-work of being yourself.

    Much love from your JW sister in spirit.

    Keep the faith, yo!

    • Natalie

      I am so grateful for this reply! I realize now that I have been putting so much pressure on myself to “fit in” in my ward and I am forgetting who I am, constantly coming up short and feeling so sad and lonely. My husband and I have been ready to move to solve this problem, but after reading this reply, we think that we will stick it out another year and see what happens with a new perspective. Thank you!

  4. Joanna’s advice on finding something else in the community is great.

    I joined several online communities, got my dog going to a playgroup (don’t laugh, we met good people that way) and met great friends. They don’t share my belief structure, but I learn from them and they accept me for me.

    I also didn’t hesitate to turn down a primary calling, feeling that it wasn’t where I was supposed to be and not where I was going to meet adults. Now I’m in Young Womens and couldn’t be happier!

    It did take us at least 2 years to feel comforable in our ward though.

  5. Having grown up in southeast Idaho, finding community outside the wardhouse would be tough. Church and community pretty much completely overlap (as I’m sure MS knows).

    My parents always required us to find something to love about the people or situations we were complaining about. Drove me crazy as a child, but it kept me functional while I lived in Idaho and is a valuable life-skill now.

    I ended up feeling like my small town was like the Shire in The Hobbit, where people had a very clear ideas about who and what was normal and were not so much hostile to other options as indifferent. If you lived and looked like they did, you were accepted; if you didn’t, you were just odd. Not rejected, but not accepted either. This leaves you the social space of being the eccentric neighbor. Enjoy the mountains and the climate. Do the things you love. Go to church or not, as the spirit moves you.

    And be strong.

  6. Cathrynn

    I have been in this situation as well. I don’t live in the “most conservative county” in southeast ID, but I do live in SE ID. We were married 7 years without children and it seemed hard to meet people in our ward.
    My mom gave me some advice (they are just good at that) to invite new families for dinner, they are probably having just as hard of time meeting people. She also told me it takes about 5 years in this community to feel accepted in a ward (sad but true), we are just starting to feel like we have friends at church (kind of at least people talk to us each week).
    So try to be a friend to those new people, and see if your bishop would look into a calling where you can attend RS and meet other adults.
    Also you could try to be friends with some of the older women in your ward (lat 30’s – 40’s) they don’t have a need for play groups either and probably would love a new friend. Good luck. Keep trying.

  7. MS – let’s be friends. Seriously. I have been in SE Idaho for three years. It’s been hard to make friends, and the few friends I have made moved away. It has been a strange and lonely time; I have never had difficulty making friends before. Luckily, my husband of five years is an amazing friend. Still, one generally needs friendship outside of marriage.
    While SE Idaho is a nice place to live, I have found the people of this area to be a bit homogeneous (in many respects) and a bit less tolerant than one would hope, two things that tend to go hand-in-hand in my experience.

    (If you are looking for a service opportunity, I know some students who are trying desperately to learn English who could use some one-on-one help. No experience required.)

  8. Anna

    I understand your pain. I used to live in SE Idaho I really liked it there. I moved to Utah and have lived here for years. I have never fit in. I have joined clubs in my town and have many friends who do not share my religious belief. I am still trying to fit in my ward. I have only two children that was all we were able to have. I have decided some things I can’t to anything about so I’m trying to focus on the things I can change. It haelps to keep very busy.

  9. Sarah

    Geeze, these responses make it seem like SE Idaho is the place to be!

    It really does suck. I’m 25 years old. I’m starting a grad program that will occupy the next 5 years of my life (and there is no way I will try to juggle work, school, AND babies) and I feel like I am about to commit social suicide within the ward.

    How I have dealt with it is not basing my entire social circle on LDS members. I have a few friends at church, but I also have friends from work and my neighborhood. (I do the doggy play date thing, too!!) I have learned that my identity is not just “MORMON” but “social worker” and “friend” and “student”. I hang out with people who are like minded- which a lot of the time, are not SAHM’s. (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them, I’m just saying that our worlds are totally different).

    Hang in there.

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