I’m at a tricky spot in my religious life, and I’ve let my temple recommend expire. Now, my best friend is getting married in the temple. Help?

Dear AMG,

I was born and raised in a fairly orthodox Mormon household in Southern California. My parents are still active, but three out of their five children are not (I’m counting myself as one of the “active” ones). I married an LDS man in the temple, but he has since left the church. His questions led me to question and now I’m not entirely sure what I believe. I attend a few Sacrament Meetings a month, but don’t hold a calling or pay tithing, and basically fly under the radar at church. My temple recommend expired this last May. My brothers’ inactivity has been pretty hard on my parents. As was my husband’s decision to leave. I consider my parents to be pretty open-minded, and they’ve always been very loving and accepting, but I know they are saddened by this on a daily basis.

This brings me to my current predicament—my best friend will soon be getting married in the temple and I have to make some choices. I have been pretty quiet about my questions about the Church. I don’t live near my childhood friends or family, so it hasn’t been very hard, but I am absolutely dreading this wedding which will be held in my hometown. I will either have to A) go talk to my bishop, be honest about my situation, start paying tithing, and see if he still decides to give me a recommend, or B) be honest with my parents, siblings, and friends about the fact that I don’t know if the Church is true and make everyone sad and upset. I don’t think either option is very palatable. The thought of feeling like I let parents down is heartbreaking, as is the thought going to the temple when I feel this way. I don’t know what to do.

I would love to hear any advice you may have.

Thanks,

K.

Dear K:

If option A is to suck it up and get worthy enough to pass for the wedding, and option B is to drag yourself from door to door to confess your faith transition to everyone in the world, let me offer an option C:

Take your best friend to lunch. Tell her how thrilled you are for her. Tell her how much you care about her. Then, let her know that you’re in a season of spiritual change and your temple recommend has expired. Stress to her that there is nothing to worry about. You’re okay. You’re just trying to honestly sort through some feelings you are having about Church activity. Ask her to keep your confidence. And think of a special way to share the day or preparation for the day with her. Can you give her or lend her a little piece of jewelry she can wear inside, so that she can feel your love and support? Is there a special support role you can play for the bride on her big day? (Brides always need an extra hand while the rest of the family reverts to its preferred patterns of psychodrama.) It is, after all, her wedding. Offer your friendship, love, and support. Do not apologize, and do not over-explain.

The same goes for everyone else—-parents, friends, siblings, the whole hometown crew, your old seminary teacher, the boys you kissed at the stake dances—-you owe them no explanation. On the day of the wedding, you get dressed up, you show up, and you make yourself useful. Smile and hold your head high. Tune out the chatter. Breezily say, “I’ll meet you after the ceremony.” And inside, take satisfaction by knowing that you are going about the next step in your lifelong spiritual journey with integrity.

Because really, that’s the heart of your query. You are a grown woman on a spiritual journey. And our spiritual lives don’t run on other people’s timetables or according to other people’s priorities. When I read your letter, I see a grown woman who is putting everyone else’s feelings before the integrity of her own spiritual growth. Your husband had his faith transition. So have your siblings. You’d like to spare your poor parents any more trouble, not to mention your best friend. But what about you?

Sure, it might have been nice—-super perfect Molly Mormon nice–if you could have timed it all perfectly to speed along your faith transition and end up temple worthy just in time for your best friend’s wedding. But, alas, you are a human being. And thank heavens for that.

In ten years, only a handful of people will even remember whether you were in the sealing room or not, and they may not even care. But in ten years, you will still have your soul, and its questions, and you owe it to yourself to take them seriously. You also owe yourself a dignity and privacy as you work your questions out.

Let me leave you with what may be my favorite scripture ever: “What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly before God?” (Micah 6:8) Hold your head up high, and get on with your walk, Sister K. I’ve got your back.

Who else? Who else knows what K is going through? Have you been on the outside of the temple wedding looking in, or the inside looking out? How have you managed the expectations of the community when your spiritual journey takes a turn?

Send your queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “I’m at a tricky spot in my religious life, and I’ve let my temple recommend expire. Now, my best friend is getting married in the temple. Help?

  1. As a bride, I was actually relieved to have a couple situations like this among my circle of friends and family. They did what Joanna suggests–approached me beforehand and said, what can I do for you in that time? And we did need their help, very much. My husband is the only member in his family, and so his family couldn’t join us in the temple. Having some people that my inlaws knew were *very* special to me outside the temple helped make it seem like they weren’t alone out there and it didn’t mean we didn’t love them. This was a huge blessing to me and my husband, knowing that they were in very sensitive and wise hands.

    • birch

      This is a great view. I got married in the temple, with my parents, husband’s parents, and several of my siblings inside with us. My husband’s siblings had to stay outside and I’ve always been sad that they had to wait by themselves. K can definitely have an important, loving role outside the sealing room. Just hold your head high, like Joanna said, and be confident in the love you show your friend on her wedding day.

  2. Dear K, can we be friends? I am worried about the same event happening in my life soon. This requires a lot of courage.

    Once I was a tad late to my friend’s sealing and I missed it. I was heartbroken, but it worked out OK too. It isn’t the most honest way to live though.

  3. Unfortunately, your friend does not have the option of a more inclusive marriage ceremony followed by a more private temple sealing. If your friend were getting married in Europe, she would have this option, but the church has elected to set up policies here in the U.S. that prohibit it. Keep in mind that this is a calculated institutional “rule” that is designed to put folks like you in the difficult you position you now find yourself. . . As Joanna so elequently put it, don’t frame this unfortunate dilemma as a binary choice between A and B–there are other options that leave you in control–and retaining control in situations that are designed to leave you powerless is almost always the best approach. . .

    • Kirsten Shumway

      Some countries do not recognize a Mormon temple wedding as legal, so couples MUST be married outside of the temple and be sealed later. Britain is an example. In some countries, distance to a temple makes it impossible to be married inside a temple. Some people don’t have the money, can’t take time off of work, etc. So there are reasons why people in some countries first have a wedding and later go to the temple to be sealed. Sounds perfectly reasonable.
      I sincerely doubt the Church has it in for people like K and is trying to force her into this difficult situation. A temple wedding is about the bride and groom. That doesn’t mean that others aren’t important, but the wedding is about the couple. Everyone has someone who can’t come into the temple for whatever reason. That’s just how it is. It isn’t good or bad, it just is. If couples had to wait until all of their friends and family could go to the temple, I don’t know that anyone would ever be married in the temple.
      Life happens, we find ourselves in places that we didn’t expect. Start from where you are and go forward. You know what helps and what doesn’t.

      • Jonathan Blake

        So it’s OK, for example, that I would be kept out of my daughters’ weddings? Over the first decades of their lives, I make the same huge sacrifices that all conscientious parents make, and I just want to be a part of this momentous occasion in their lives, but the LDS church says, “Sorry, you’re not worthy enough (i.e. good enough) to see your own daughters get married.” That’s OK?

        Life happens, but I thought that being Christlike was about bearing someone’s burdens to make them lighter. In this case, I don’t think the LDS church has tried to make burdens lighter. Otherwise, they could solve this problem with a small change in policy to bring it into line with how they operate in other parts of the world.

        I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but when I try to figure out why the church leadership hasn’t already changed this policy, the only things I can come up with are that they are indifferent or that it brings in more tithing money to leave things as they are.

  4. annegb

    Great advice. I’m adding this site to my morning sites daily folder. I’ve actually done A, B and C.

  5. me

    Last January I went to a wedding. I may or may not have been worthy in some peoples eyes to be there. Then six months later my husband told his family that we were leaving the church. His brother felt very offended that we went to his wedding six months prior. He asked if we had been worthy at that time to be there. We felt it was better to go to the wedding then to ruffle feathers at that time. I actually wanted to “come out” at that time, but went with my husbands wishes of not doing that since it was his family. I can say that Joanna’s advise is perfect! Know, you are not alone in that. A lot of us have your back.

  6. Catherine

    I think Joanna gave some great advice. But if it were me in your situation, I’d vote more toward option A. First, in my family not going to the sealing would be a Big Deal. I also think it’s helpful to not “come out” to most people (excepting those who are supportive and non-judging) until you’re sure about your decision, and not attending the sealing (in my case) would bring about at least some “why weren’t you there?” questions. Second, I believe in “good faith” participation. I think it would be wrong to go into the temple if you’re sure you don’t want to participate in the Church, but I think it’s fine if you’ve got questions that you haven’t yet worked out. If you can be honest with your Bishop and he’ll still give you a recommend, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going even if you’ve got doubts.

    If you can’t resolve the feeling of not wanting to go because of your doubts, though, then for sure do what Joanna said. :)

  7. B.

    I totally agree with Catherine’s comment. Hubby and I just renewed our recommends only because we thought his brother was getting married soon…we’re going along with Catherine’s “good faith” participation rule :)

    Weddings are such a stressful time with heightened emotions…when my brother couldn’t come to our sealing because he hadn’t attended enough sacrament meetings that year, I was heartbroken. He didn’t want to tell me when he found out, so I think I found out the week of…the whole thing just made me sad. So you might make your decision based on how this will affect the couple first, and then decide when/if you want to bring all of this up at this particular time.

    GOOD LUCK! Know you are not alone…there are lots of us who have to make decisions like this all the time :/

  8. Anna

    I had this situation with a very close friend. I was very open with her and she was really understanding about it. I’ve been very private about the inner conflict I was having over my beliefs and i was heartbroken not to be there, but our friendship was not impacted negatively by that decision. If anything my openness with her about something so private brought us closer.

    Best of luck — both with the wedding and working through your personal feelings.

  9. Chrissy

    As I have read this dilemma for K, my heart goes out to her. It again proves to me how religion, no matter what religion it is, causes division among human beings. The division it causes is, ” I am better than you for what I believe in/ what I am doing”. If these barriers could be lifted there would not be this kind of disheartening stories, and trust me this is not the only story that this “division” causes. If the human race could just begin to see that we are all equal in our life journeys; peace and love would abound and I am sure that this kind of hurt and discord would end, but we do not live in a perfect world. The advice you have given is wonderful and there are other options that can be taken not just A or B or even C. It is simply living from our soul and when we do that we live from Perfect Love and Absolute Truth. One can not go wrong there. This I know. Much love to you all in your life journey’s and to K,
    be true to you…that is all that truly matters. :)

  10. Anna

    The point of the temple isn’t to “disclude” people. Joanna’s advice is totally spot on. If you know you aren’t living your life to temple standards, or you are doubting its importance, be honest and don’t go. Personally, it would hurt me more if a family member or friend came to a very sacred moment in my life knowing they didn’t believe the same things anymore.

    • Jonathan Blake

      I’m sure people getting married in a temple don’t necessarily want to exclude friends and family. To them, that’s not the point of getting married there. When I got married in an LDS temple, I certainly didn’t want to exclude people from it.

      Nevertheless, that is the effect. If it is an unintended consequence, that only blunts the sting of being left on the outside only a little. An LDS wedding, rather than being a time of coming together in celebration, can become a time to separate those on the inside from those on the outside. It becomes about us and them. Obedient Mormons and all the unworthies.

      Why does it need to be this way rather than allowing a public wedding followed by a private sealing?

  11. Mayan Elephant

    The described dilemma is a calculated and deliberate predicament that the LDS leader want this woman, and all members, to feel and experience if they are not active and obedient members of their church. I believe the suggestion from Joanna has a practical feeling to it but it doesn’t address the core punch to the gut that the letter writer is feeling or about to feel. I also think the comments here address some practicality but miss the core message from the LDS church, which is, when you leave this church you leave your family forever. If you chose not to have a temple recommend, you are, in effect, choosing not to join your family forever.

    K is right to be reluctant to discuss this with a Bishop or Stake President. Their reactions are predictable. It is a humiliating and pointless exercise. If K’s husband has left the church, discussing her position with the bishop could be disrespectful to her husband.

    K should know that there is a world of support for people leaving the church, all of it is on the other side, there is no support for that decision on the inside. And, she should know that the internal fear what Mormons experience when they leave the church is real. For a mormon person, their entire life has been conditioned around the so-called eternal family, and the importance of having that temple recommend to prove it. Not having a temple recommend is not as simple as attending a mormon wedding on the inside of the temple, or suffering the humiliating glares while waiting for the pictures on the outside.

    This experience that K is describing is part of EVERY mormon wedding, and yet, it keeps happening. Nothing changes, and nothing changes because it works. That threat and fear of breaking up a family by choosing not to go along with the lies, works. It keeps people in, and may be keeping K in to perpetuate the same fears and threats to her own children.

  12. Bill

    While I still have a recommend, my wife is disaffected and does not participate in church activities anymore. I have 3 girls who still participate with me but I have told them that when the time comes, I will be with their mother on their wedding days, wherever that wedding occurs. If they choose to marry in the temple I will not leave my wife with the “outcasts” while I witness the wedding. It makes me sad to think that we will face a bad situation no matter what. The only way for it to be better would mean they all marry outside of the church which would also make me sad. No easy solutions here….Damn!

  13. Steve

    An event that should serve to bring families and friends together creates divisions, confusion, feelings of awkwardness, and a lifetime of hurt. Ask my grandmother, who still struggles with the fact that she missed her daughter’s wedding years ago. As a sub-culture within the US, we are unique in this recurring dilemma. It doesn’t need to be this way. A wedding and an eternal sealing are different and can be treated as such. And how many times has a couple performed some cheesy ring ceremony at the reception after the wedding, and the bishop uses the forum to testify of how the sealing earlier in the day was the “real deal”…or even more awkward uses it a missionary opportunity to testify of the restored gospel. I’ve seen it happen, and I can tell you it’s not the time, nor the place, and further alienates those who already missed the wedding. I’m trying to keep an open mind and be an obedient “servant”, but this is the kind of cultural goofiness that sets us back in the name of “not lowering our standards”. It has nothing to do with standards, and I’ve spoken to too many people, including my mom, who regret shutting the most important people out of the most important family event of her life. Can we all just agree and say that other countries have the formula right? Wedding first, include everyone, then sealing. If I could do it over again I would have just made our sealing a private event between the two of us, and done a big wedding first for everyone to participate in.

    • Bill

      Steve, doesn’t the Church make you wait for a full year (in the US) to go to the temple if you have had a civil ceremony first? I may be wrong, but I think that is the policy.

      • wry catcher

        Yes, you do have to wait a year in the US, but not anywhere else in the world, that I know of. Seems ridiculous on its face, but it keeps people in the TR-worthy mode, including tithe-paying presumably. Hard not to be cynical about an “eternal law” that only applies to one political entity.

        I will never forget when my grandmother (no one in my family outside my immediate family, who converted when I was a kid, is Mormon) privately approached me at my wedding and tearfully thanked me for getting married where she could attend (outdoors, in a canyon, it was beautiful), as she had sat outside the temple for all three of my siblings’ weddings. I felt so bad for her, having kept it to herself all those years, and really happy that she and my grandpa and all other “unworthy” sorts were there to celebrate with me and the mister.

  14. JC

    People are going to react to it exactly how they choose to. Yes, it sucks that some people are left out of the ceremony and that often in the U.S. there’s no real remedy for that. Heck, 3/4 of the people who could have attended our temple marriage because they had recommends couldn’t come because the sealing room only holds 25 or so. Some loved ones couldn’t attend simply because they were too young to enter the temple.

    But the wiser of our relations who couldn’t be in the ceremony still understood that being married in the temple was more important to us than even having all of our loved ones be able to witness the event. They didn’t harbor ill will toward us or the church for somehow contriving to exclude them. They also understood that this was just one event–an important one, but not the only one. They’d continue to be integral to our lives and very much loved and needed for all the years to come.

    We’ve also had relations at ours or other temple weddings get very bitter about not being able to be there. That’s their choice, I guess, regardless of how included they are in every other event surrounding the marriage. We can do our best to make everyone feel loved and needed, but we can’t control how they ultimately see it.

    I personally have no problem with a formal ring ceremony or something similar that has the trappings of a “traditional” wedding that everyone can attend. If lots of non-Mormons are going to be there, I would think that would be a wonderful thing to plan. You’re still not going to please everyone, but hopefully more people will feel like they could share this event with you.

    • Jonathan Blake

      I wonder if LDS folk would be more sympathetic to this problem if they were also being shut out of wedding ceremonies simply because they’re Mormon or “not Christian” in the eyes of the church where the ceremony is held.

  15. JJL9

    I have to say that the suggestion to give her a piece of jewelry that she can wear inside is a horrible suggestion. My wife was born under the covenant, but her parents later divorced, and her mother left the church, or at least stopped practicing and became unworthy to enter the temple. When we were married in the temple she gave my wife a letter and asked us to read it on our wedding day inside the temple.
    We were embarking on what was probably the most important day of our lives. We were worthy to enter the temple and so were most of our family members. She chose not to be. She chose not to be there. That’s her choice. But it was selfish of her to ask us to take something into the temple to distract us from what we were doing in the temple, to distract us from those that chose to be there.
    She was there at the luncheons. She was there at the dinners. She was there at the receptions. That was fine. But she wasn’t there at the temple and there was no reason to pretend that she was.

    • Jonathan Blake

      If it was her choice to leave the church, then it was also your choice to be in the church and thereby exclude her from your wedding. Instead of family members pointing fingers at each other, I’d rather we put pressure on church leadership to change their policy which causes so much trouble.

      • JJL9

        Jonathan, consider the absurdity of your statement, “it was also your choice to be in the church and thereby exclude her from your wedding”…. As if one might consider disobeying the will of the Lord, denying the witness of the Holy Ghost, renouncing one’s testimony of the truth, ignoring God’s warnings to us through his chosen Prophets, jeopardizing one’s eternal salvation, and all of this for what? So that someone else who has done the same, who has consciously made those decisions, can attend the wedding?

        The decision to “be in the church” is not an arbitrary one that one would base on convenience. I did not “exclude” her from the wedding. She was invited to attend.

      • Jonathan Blake

        I agree that it is absurd. It’s absurd going both ways. That was basically my point.

        The decision to leave the church is often based on a person’s conscience. It would be easier to stay a member, to stay with the status quo, but some people people decide to follow their hearts and what they believe to be the truth. They face rejection and uncertainty, but they gather up the courage to live according to the truth as they see it.

        People on both sides of this divide are trying to do what they believe is right. It’s absurd to punish people for trying to do the right thing. The Christ-like thing to do would be to acknowledge that and change the policy that doesn’t allow couples in the United States to marry in public and then get sealed shortly thereafter in private.

      • Jeremy, welcome to ask Mormon girl. I see you’ve just found the site. One of the things AMG is about is offering a peaceful, supportive, respectful space for working out issues that defy black and white answers. Write unto others as you’d like them to write unto you.

      • Chrissy

        Jonathan, thank you for last response! How wonderfully you stated,

        “People on both sides of this divide are trying to do what they believe is right. It’s absurd to punish people for trying to do the right thing.

        This is profound! As I expressed in my earlier comment. These type of situations cause a division among us as human beings. This happens when one allows themselves to feel “better” than another because of a path they have chosen to take in their lives. These feelings cause division and so much so that much resentment, pain, and deep soulful hurt comes from these situations. I really liked how you stated that it is absurd to punish people for trying to do the right thing…and I would add…for themselves. What may be right for me could be what another would not find right for themselves.
        I also agree with you on the acknowledgement of the current policy that is in place concerning the civil marriage before the temple marriage, however, this would defeat the purpose of what the policy is in place for…. Division….
        It works for many and the sad part is…it continues to work, leaving in its wake, heartache, resentment, division of families, friends, and even within one self, dividing them from one’s true purpose.
        There are many ways to see and do things. It is always wonderful to get others insight on something that is of concern. Ultimately there is never just “one way”. There are many.

  16. John Paladin

    While Christ’s message was predominantly about love and service He was also aware that his message would cause divisions – even between family members…
    For my wedding my family could attend, my wife’s family couldn’t. Of course, other loved ones also couldn’t attend (nearest temple in another state) but it didn’t make my wife’s family any happier knowing this.
    There simply is no easy answer to this but some of it perhaps lies in knowing that only a few people are actually necessary at a wedding – the couple, the officiator, and the witnesses. Everyone else is superfluous. The act is about two people becoming one – the audience is just a bonus.

    • Jonathan Blake

      The people at a wedding can be much more than an audience. They are the community that comes together in their mutual interest in the success and happiness of the couple. The wedding symbolically represents the creation of a new family which joins this community. Ideally, not only does the couple pledge their faithfulness to each other, the community pledges through their presence their support for the new couple. A marriage is a community event.

      This is part of why this policy upsets me. It causes rifts in the community that should be coming together in their support for the newlyweds. If only the LDS church changed its policy and allowed U.S. couples to get married publicly outside the temple then get sealed privately shortly thereafter (like couples can in some other countries), they would show their commitment to putting “family first”.

  17. AMG,

    There’s no rule that seeing “grey” is more truthful than “black and white”.

  18. annegb5298

    I have mixed emotions about this. It depends on who’s going through the temple. As it is, I just grit my teeth and answer the ritual questions as if I were a Stepford wife. Because at the end of the day, it’s all good and most of my bishops (and stake presidents) wouldn’t understand anyway. Or probably care all that much.

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