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?
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?