Nobody in my ward understands me. And I keep getting called to the nursery. Help!

Dear readers!  It’s busy time at Ask Mormon Girl while we get ready for a launch at a new location.  While we’re packing our handcart, we hope you’ll make do for a week with an oldie-but-goodie.  Stay tuned for new location info! 

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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7 Comments

Filed under Friendship, social connectedness

7 responses to “Nobody in my ward understands me. And I keep getting called to the nursery. Help!

  1. NateT

    I sympathize with MS, because I have been in the same position more quite often in the last few years.

    In my last ward we did not have a calling after being in the ward for two years. We never had a home teacher come to visit and felt generally forgot about by the ward. No one seemed to care about us for most of our four years there, except for our last few months, when people suddenly seemed to discover us.

    Our current ward is about the same. As a ward almost entirely made up of young professionals we have a relatively high turnover rate coupled with more than 150 kids under 12. I got called to teach sunbeams and my wife still does not have a calling 6 months in. I cannot really say I have made friends there.

    The thing is, after allot of disappointment, I stopped expecting much from my wards. I go to church, usually avoid listening in sacrament meeting because most talks are not that inspiring to me, do my calling to the best of my ability (sometimes in a primary class of 5 four year old boys that means just surviving), and call it a day.

    My situation exists not for the lack of trying. The thing is, I am an outgoing person. I talk to people. When I attended classes, I offered my opinions, even when they were not within the mainstream of Mormon thought on the lesson (like the time I said I kept the law of chastity as a teen because I was fat and ugly, it’s the truth).

    Under most circumstances, wards are just hard places to gain friends and feel accepted, especially if you are relatively new to the ward and put into primary. For me right now, the ward is a place I go to serve others and reaffirm my commitment to the covenants I have made, not to find anything else. It is kind of a let down, but that is what my ward is and has been to me.

  2. A.L.

    Story of my life!

    When I got married about 3 years ago, my husband I moved across the country for work. Within a month of attending our new ward, I was called to be in nursery (as a side note, the experience has put off our plans to have children for years). I felt isolated and alone – I didn’t know a soul, and this calling made it extremely difficult to meet anyone.

    What I did was just what the MormonGirl suggested, I made a friends outside of church, mostly through my job. This experience has proven to be very enlightening, and I have learned so much about other religions, cultures, and general ways of doing things. For the first time in my life, I feel like a unique individual who is respected for my differences.

    Another piece of advice, don’t be afraid to ask to be released. After serving for two years, I finally broke down and asked the Primary President for a calling that would allow me to attend Relief Society. Since that point, I have made many new friends in the ward and really enjoy going to church each week.

    IMO, callings aren’t always made of inspiration, but sometimes out of desperation. If you feel in your heart that you need to move on from your current calling (whatever it may be), don’t hesitate to discuss it with with your bishop.

    Good luck!

  3. Cher

    I think most people have felt this at some point or another! As mormons we are conditioned to look to our ward for socialization. I totally agree with mormon girl that you should try and branch out. I think once you connect with people outside of your usual circle you will find the friends you are seeking. Honestly, you are just breaking the mormon mold and they probably don’t know what to do with you. But people outside the church wouldn’t think twice about you not having kids! Try joining a bible study at a local church, they often have these on weeknights and it’s so great to get different perspectives on the scriptures. Or libraries have book clubs and would read a lot more interesting things than mormon fiction. Volunteering in the community is huge. Just put yourself out there and you will be so glad you did!

    As for callings, it is possible to let them know that you are struggling making friends and that it doesn’t help that you are in nursery during the two hours of adult interaction at church. Try asking for something that would put you in a position to help others- compassionate service, etc.- so you can get to know the women and show them who you are through serving them.

  4. TW

    I too have had the feelings of unwantedness. My wife and I have been married for 14 years and have 5 kids all born in different states. We both grew up in Utah and then moved to the midwest. We too lived in a transient type ward in Ohio. Full of med students and dental students. We had a hard time fitting in because we, unlike the others our age, were not students but fell into the student age bracket. My wife, bless her heart, is a very outgoing person and forced me to get out and meet people and I did, but didn’t enjoy the activities. We moved within a year to Minnesota and there faced the same type of ward. Med students and us not being one of them, made it hard to fit in. But what we found was that there were others in the ward that didn’t fit in, and were feeling the same way that we felt. They had callings where they were looked upon as being less educated than those that were in the Medical studies. While that was hard to deal with and I am sad to say nothing changed with the callings, the one thing that did change was we found many of the med students that wanted to be friends with some not in the medical field. Talking medicine day in and day out was less than fun, it was like going to the doctor!
    We then moved to Texas! A trial of our faith, but spiritually the best move we have ever made. We have taken what we have learned from each move and applied it to this one. We have members that have grown up in Utah and expect everyone to act like they have been members all their lives. We have other memebers that are in the social click that everyone dreads not being part of and we have those that are not concerned outwardly about what happens. The long and short is that in every ward that we have lived in we have seen the above groups and members and the only way to overcome the thoughts of unwantedness is to do as Pres. Hinkleys father told him on his mission and lose your self in the work. Become involved in everything and anything. We started out in the ward, doing everything that we can to support others and to be part of any and all baptisms and ward activities. As you do people quickly become aware of not only who you are but that you care about them and their needs. I honestly have to say that we learned this from several of the members that we had in Minnesota who moved into the ward and because they didn’t know anyone and had no idea of where to go for fun, they attended all church functions so that their kids had something to do and in so doing they quickly became a strong part of the ward. I am the first to admit that this is not always easy but the rewards are wonderful. Lose yourself in the Ward and its members.

  5. author

    You can say no to callings. It drives me crazy when people think they have to accept. I understand it doesn’t go over well with some ward members / bishoprics, but it is perfectly within your right to do so. When I moved into the ward I am in now I said no nursery or primary callings, when you have something for me that doesn’t fall into those categories I’ll be willing to talk. They respected it, and I am subsequently willing to put a lot more effort into my currently calling (R.S. Teacher) because of it.

  6. RachelJL

    Just found this post, so I don’t know how helpful I’ll be, responding this late in the game, but wanted to try anyway.

    I have two kids, but I’m also divorced, and have health problems, so my understanding of your situation comes from a different angle of sorts. Although I don’t know what it’s like to be lonely from childlessness, unfortunately I can relate to it on other levels. No one here responded to the health concerns, so I wanted to address that. Mentioning health issues to strangers is (for various good reasons) a tricky thing, but I have found through painful trial and error that I think it’s better to mention your health issues than never bring them up. If someone asks me to tell them about it, and I don’t want to, I politely decline. More often than not, though, I’ve been surprised when I feel up to giving them a brief synopsis. By doing so, you may find other friends in unexpected places who understand your situation and can be a listening ear.
    It won’t always work. I was in one ward, unfortunately, where I felt completely out of place: however, I also felt the spirit telling me that was where I needed to be, at least for a time. But I wasn’t disappointed when I left! I think I’ve lived in about 25 wards and branches in my life (I’m including my mission areas) and only two were that difficult, thankfully. All wards have challenges but some are better than others, and I think even in most wards, it is difficult to get to know people.

    You may find, for instance, that people who have had difficulties having children (some of them) will gravitate towards you because they understand. Some of them may never understand how you can have the ability to bear children, but maybe not be able to take care of them, and still decide not to have them. In those situations you may need to just learn to forgive, and check yet another person off your list that will probably never be your best friend! But a slowly growing “list” of people with past health issues (that they may or may not reveal until they know of yours) and people who weren’t able to have as many kids as they wished will be there. As well as, happily, people of all circumstances who like you just for who you are.

    Hope I haven’t rambled too much. :) I have had enough bad and good experiences that I just don’t have time to enumerate here, but let it be known that you’re not alone.

    Oh, and with my health issues, my bishops have always relied on me to tell them when I wasn’t feeling up to something anymore. Just something to think about. Sometimes I do better than I think I will, but I have also kept a calling for too long, out of guilt, that my bishop was all too glad to release me from when I finally went to him!

  7. TH

    After years of experience working with our (well-meaning) bishopric, as a member of a Primary Presidency, I have come to know that not all callings are “inspired.” That has been both a difficult and liberating realization. I struggle already with the patriarchal nature of the Mormon church, and these experiences reminded me that, as always, I am entitled to revelation for myself and will take it upon myself to to receive that and act upon it. After watching our bishopric call an entire Young Women’s Presidency (including teachers!) of super social ladies who were BFF’s in our ward, I decided that it was incumbent on me to find my own ways in which to serve those who needed what talents and love I had to offer, and that waiting for a bishopric to tell me when and how to serve was ridiculous and ignorant on my part. I have since found so many fulfilling ways to serve others and in doing so, I have listened more closely to promptings I receive about who may need me and how I might be able to show love. If I were to receive a calling from a bishopric member that I felt inside was where I needed to serve, I would accept it, but for the time being, I have been so deeply satisfied and affective by following my own inspirations. Also, because I am following where the Spirit tells me I am needed (right now it seems to be with academically struggling youth from non-traditional family situations), I am interacting with members and families of my large ward that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have the privilege to cross paths with.
    I hope that your situation has improved since your post and that you have found the strength you need to walk your own path and to communicate (without apology) about your needs to your bishops.!

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