The ward Relief Society Presidency and the Primary Presidency were both reorganized this week. Both changes impacted me greatly because I have a calling in the primary, my team teacher was called to the Relief Society Presidency, and of course, I am technically a member of the Relief Society, although I haven’t been active in it for almost a year.
I thought I would be full of gratitude and hope with the changing of the RS Presidency. I do have great hopes that the new leadership will be able to make a safer and more inclusive environment, but my relief at seeing the old leadership released was full of mixed emotions.
How could I have done things differently? Could I have done more to support the leadership? Could I have prayed for them more? Could I have been less combative? Between managing my three year old scribbling on one side, and my nine year old drawing a Yoshi character on the other, I tried to journal some of my thoughts during sacrament meeting.
I tried to be fair. I have gone through a period of tremendous growth this past year and a half. As an introvert with major depressive disorder, going through one of my worst depressive episodes, going to weekly therapy sessions for over a year and taking several medications, this has been a hard time. Instead of understanding and support from my Relief Society, I got judgement and shame and minimizing of the difficult burdens I carry. I believe that it was not the intent of the sisters to hurt me. They simply misjudged me as people are apt to do. Still, Satan used them to magnify his messages in my mind, to drive me to despair, to delay my recovery. The effects have been real and significant and I refuse to minimize them. They were insensitive and slow to listen.
On the other hand, I see the difficulty of a lay ministry, untrained and unpaid, put in the unenviable position of being the go-to people to help all the sisters in the ward. There is no possible way to prepare for such a calling. This is no way to possibly please everyone. There is the creation of activities that people ignore or complain about, there is the inevitable cruelty and cliquishness that women engage in, there is the laborious efforts to write and distribute a weekly message that is most often unread. (I probably read two or three of the weekly newsletters in the past year.) To be in leadership is to be criticised, blamed, and then expected to keep giving the same amount of effort with little to no appreciation.
Who is to blame? Where do I point the finger that is itching to find someone responsible whom I can vent my furious outrage? I watched the former Relief Society President walk to the stand and with a defiant tone, commit to support the new president and charged all of us to do the same. She offered her sympathy to the new leadership and her relief that her service was over. It was a strange talk closing a strange chapter in my church life. Could I have prayed more for her? Yes. Could I have made things easier for her? Perhaps. But by making her life easier, I would have been forcing myself to stay silent and uncomfortable. Would that have been preferable? For whom?
I tend to think that it’s better to speak out, to make my feelings known, to be honest. Even when it makes everyone else a little uncomfortable, I still think it’s often the right thing to do. Thing is, in every human construct, there are people who are comfortable and people who are uncomfortable; people who fit well and people who feel like outsiders; people who speak and people who listen. Problems come when the people who are comfortable and fit well are the only people who are allowed to speak. The people who feel like outsiders and are uncomfortable are forced to endure the pain in silence to make everyone else feel good. That’s not right. People who are uncomfortable and outside need to be heard from too. People who are comfortable and fit well and church is working for them, need to understand that it isn’t that way for everyone. That’s okay! It doesn’t even necessarily need to be fixed, just heard.
I’ll use an example. My dad has a bad ear. He doesn’t have a hearing problem exactly, its more of an auditory processing problem. Certain sounds are almost unbearable to him making him irritable and anxious. A crowded chapel full of chatter, the microphone static, the organ; all of these things can cause severe distress to him. I’m sure he would never expect everyone to change their behavior or stop using the microphone or organ, but it might be nice for people to understand that if Brother Cutler walks out of the meeting holding the side of his head, it’s nothing personal and its not a moral failing. Maybe some days he skips sacrament meeting all together. Before you judge him, try to understand him. The fact is sacrament meeting can sometimes be significantly draining and not the spiritual boost that I would like it to be. There are others who have confided to me their own struggles with the meeting. Claustrophobia, PTSD, and panic disorder can all be triggered by sacrament meeting. That isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s good for those who are sitting comfortably in their seats feeling the spirit to understand that it isn’t the same for everyone, and there are many reasons there are empty seats in our chapels that have nothing to do with someone being unrighteous. The easy path is judgement and condemnation. The harder path is love and compassion and understanding.
So now that we have new Relief Society leadership, where does that leave me? The fact is, the same sisters are in there. There are new leaders, but that doesn’t mean that anyone has changed their opinions of me and there’s no guarantee that I won’t be hurt again. I definitely don’t feel like waltzing back into a RS class and spilling my guts. Still, I am hopeful that I can build some relationships of trust and start widening my circle of support with more sisters. Will I continue to make things uncomfortable? I don’t know. I’m going to follow the promptings of the spirit and hope for the best.
As disciples of Christ we are commanded to be one body and bear one another’s burdens. The head can’t say to the foot, I have no need of thee. If a finger is in pain, the other members tend to it, they don’t ignore it or cut it off because they don’t want to deal with it. As a church, we can do the same. The first step is to listen.
So I am going to start a habit of praying for my leaders, particularly for my bishop and RS president. I’m going to pray that they will always listen before they speak, always understand before they exhort, and always consult before they dictate. I’m going to pray that they seek the Lord’s approval and praise, and not the member’s approval and praise. I’m going to pray that they can know when to say they’re sorry and have the strength and courage to do it. And finally I’m going to pray to know what I can do to make their jobs a little easier while still being heard. Hopefully this new chapter will stimulate a flowering of love and compassion within our ward family where we can more closely mirror the example of the Master whose name we all take upon us. Amen.