Thursday, May 5, 2011

Episode 4: "Faith Needs Tension" — Sara's Story

Right click here to download the mp3.



Part of the aim of this podcast is to give voice to our stories as Daughters of Mormonism. This episode is an interview with Sara, who will be one of our panelists for future discussions. She shares her journey to this point and talks about both her struggles and why she stays with the church.

Sara will be watching the comments so she can answer questions or talk about issues that were brought up in the interview.

Resources from Sara's Story

25 comments:

  1. Sara, thanks for sharing your story. In one part you say something like "church is also about healing and meeting each other where we're actually at." I really love this idea, but I don't feel like this has EVER happened for me at church. I feel like I'm always supposed to put on a smile and be some sort of living proof that the gospel works. That it's "happy face" at church. And if someone is struggling, it turns into sort of pitying gossip and maybe a casserole or two. But we're really not supposed to wounded or hurt, and definitely not doubting or struggling. Am I missing something?

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  2. I don't think you're missing anything, Tansy; if there's one thing I've learned in the past few years, it's that the ward situation you find yourself in can make all the difference, and I think some areas are inexplicably prone to pretend perfection.

    Have you ever communicated your need or desire for healing in a church setting? I remember visiting a relative's ward once, and the Relief Society lesson was about charity to some extent, and in the midst of talking theoretically about how we all need to love each other and serve each other, a woman in the back raised her hand and said, "My family is struggling and I'm struggling. It's hard for me to admit that, but I need to because I need help from the women in this room." It was powerful stuff. I've also had experiences where women in RS would bear their testimony and, somewhat accidentally, share that they were struggling with infertility or some other situation; this gave the perfect opportunity for others to show their love and sincere desire to help.

    I don't think that every plea for help or understanding will be met, and it's a total leap of faith to say that you're struggling in some way, but those leaps are often rewarded. If you feel inspired to do so, I think it would be an amazing demonstration of humility and hope to share some piece of your need in a church setting, giving others a chance to heal you and meet you where you're at. If they don't step up, there is always the internet. =) I say that somewhat sarcastically, but it's true that the internet has been a huge piece of the puzzle for me.

    Does any of this fit for you?

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  3. I can see what you're saying. What if my need isn't, um, "socially acceptable"? You know, like struggling with church history or feeling like I don't want to come to church, that kind of thing. I'm afraid to say something like "I'm struggling with my testimony" because then I think I'll be judged as not having enough faith and that those who do try to "help" will just tell me to have more faith, or they'll get really concerned, but not because of ME but because they need to SAVE me. You know? I don't know. I'm afraid of being seen as a threat. I just feel isolated at church, and I don't know what I could say that wouldn't set off alarms.

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  4. That makes sense, Tansy. The danger that people will take you on as a project or think you're a troublemaker - those are distinct possibilities. Pretty much all of it depends on how understanding and kind your peers are, but I think there are ways you can approach this to make it feel a little safer.

    Phrasing things as questions (ie "I feel pretty confused about plural marriage, as I know a lot of people do. Would anyone feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on the subject?" vs. "I think plural marriage was a mistake" or something to that effect) is often helpful, if you can do so sincerely; I think people sense a genuine desire to learn more and want to support that desire.

    Also, sharing personal experience is huge for me. A certain Relief Society devolved into a discussion of same-sex marriage and Prop. 8 (two years after the fact!), and I raised my hand and shared a brief summary of my inner conflict over the subject. It felt like a peaceful thing, and the lesson got back on track, and people afterwards told me that they had had similar experiences. It was a lovely thing, and I think the reason people weren't threatened was that I was only representing me and my story; I wasn't talking at all about their positions or their experiences, implying that they were wrong in any way.

    My last bit of advice would be to slowly feel out who you might bond with in your ward. Do you have visiting teachers, and would you feel okay mentioning some of these ideas to them? Could you possibly bear your testimony and include some hints of your struggle, allowing people who are in a similar boat to recognize you and do the customary "Thanks for your testimony!" thing? These are just ideas. It can be very useful to just dip your toe in the water, to talk about one issue that you feel comfortable sharing and see where that gets you.

    All the evidence I've found, whether anecdotal or empirical, suggests that there are MANY more people who "struggle" to some extent than we suspect. More than likely, there are others in your ward/branch setting who are looking for you as well, just so they can feel normal in some way.

    I wish you luck. My blogger profile has my email address if you want to talk more privately.

    Do any of you listeners have suggestions for Tansy's situation?

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  5. I enjoyed listening to your story, Sara, but I must say that I'm amazed that you don't get a more negative reaction from your ward members or leaders. I relate more to Tansy's experiences and fears of what will happen should she open up than yours. It's happened to me repeatedly.

    In my experience as a more liberal, questioning Mormon in Utah, I've found little room for questions and even less room for tolerance. I'm not even abrasive or obnoxious--I promise!

    Have you ever experienced that, especially when you confess the idea that something isn't part of your testimony? I love that, by the way, and have often used something similar by saying that "X isn't really my spiritual language."

    I do like your recommendations for creating a safer place to be more authentic--your ward must be incredible because I just haven't seen it in the 4 wards I've lived in as an adult.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you all!

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  6. Lotus - The difference may be partially due to the fact that I'm in a married student ward at BYU. Everyone except for my bishop and his wife are part of Generation Y, and Gen Y is infamous for despising judgmental attitudes and valuing open-mindedness. We have a lot of lifelong students in our ward, and increased education tends to mean more curiosity and liberal thinking. Also, BYU tends to attract Mormon students from all over the country and world, so we end up with a lot of ward members who are converts or grew up in areas where the church was probably more politically, culturally, racially diverse than the stereotype of the Mormon corridor. These are just possible factors. My experience here in Provo has been good in this respect.

    My ward members learned about my "struggles" very frankly in a talk that I gave in sacrament meeting; my bishop had known about them before that, via interviews and such. After my husband and I spoke, the Sunday School presidency asked that we be called as Gospel Doctrine teachers, so my "struggles" weren't a deterrent there at all (and from various conversations, I sense that my discussion of those topics led directly to the calling). I've also had to get my temple recommend renewed in the last few months and was really straightforward in that interview with my bishop; he spent the whole time reassuring me that he seriously had no reservations about signing my recommend. Maybe this ward is an extreme oddity and maybe it's not, but boy oh boy am I grateful for it.

    I will say this, though: I exercise caution about "casting my pearls before swine," as it were, when it comes to my testimony. I don't talk about the tough stuff all the time, and I am much more likely to share thoughts about principles I understand and believe in. My testimony, warts and all, is very precious to me, and I don't want to fling open the curtains for everyone to see everything. I try above all to be receptive to the spirit when I'm thinking of sharing something that might be a source of strife.

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  7. Oh, and to answer your question: Yes, I have experienced a lack of tolerance and some negative vibes in response to questions before, but mostly in the early days of my faith crisis and only once in my current ward. I'm not sure how things will develop once I move on to a real grown-up, family ward setting. I cross my fingers that YW callings will be frequent. =)

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  8. Thanks for responding. Your open-minded ward sounds great--treasure it! May this be the future of the LDS rather than an anomaly!

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  9. You know, I remember feeling more accepted when I was in a student ward. I think your point about Generation Y really made something make sense for me. Gave me a different view on my framework or something. Thanks, Sara.

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  10. I never cease to be amazed by your articulate-ness, Sara. I'm glad that you've found this opportunity to share your story more widely; I have no doubt your thoughtful nature will be a great asset here and help people just as you hope to.

    Since I already knew a fair amount of your story, I think the main thing that stood out to me was your temple experience. I was just curious about whether you took a temple prep class of some kind -- it sounds like you were really taken aback by your experiences there and the covenants being made, which were not surprising for me at all. I'm not sure if this is the way it was in your case, but in my discussions with many other sisters who went through the temple due to mission or marriage, they never took a temple prep class at all and it seemed secondary to the other "events" they were preparing for. I'm sure I am biased by my own experience but since I was going through the temple for the first time on my own, for neither a mission or a marriage, I felt completely prepared for what was coming -- a year straight of temple prep classes (by my choice), two interviews with my bishop and two interviews with my stake president (by the Church's guidelines). My bishop was upfront with me about some of the things he thought I might find strange or surprising (without breaching the temple covenants, of course) and boy, did I feel ready. It was a wonderful day for me. Amazing. Still one of the best days of my life and best decisions I ever made. I wish everyone could have a similar first experience as I did.

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  11. P.S. LOVE Patricia Holland. Everything I have ever read of her writing has been insightful and thought-provoking. I love this piece of hers.

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  12. Isn't Sister Holland fantastic, Lindsay? Yeesh, I just love her.

    As for temple prep: I did have some, but it was all from my mom. She was wonderful about it and focused mostly on the stuff that she found surprising when she went for the first time, which makes sense; she was very thorough with me in terms of the ceremonial clothing, which would have been pretty weird to see if I hadn't known what to expect, and she gave me the basic outline of how the endowment goes (you watch a movie about the creation, you sit in a room with men and women on opposite sides, there's a couple who represents Adam & Eve, you share some things you learn in order to go into the celestial room, etc.). But I really had no idea what to expect. I wish I had been more prepared, and looking back, I don't think it was even possible for me to know how unprepared I was; I thought I was just going to learn some cool stuff and feel the Spirit. All of my preparation seemed sufficient based on that expectation. There was just a lot more to it that was never mentioned or emphasized.

    I'm so happy that you had your wonderful experience there. Maybe it sounds silly, but knowing that women I relate to had better experiences than I did really does give me hope for a change in my own experience of the temple. Thank you for sharing that.

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  13. Thanks for sharing your story, Sara! I think your ability to share your personal experiences without threatening others is a huge asset. I really liked how you were able to share your testimony by being authentic and sincere about what you do believe, particularly when placed in a situation where testifying about something which isn't part of your testimony is perhaps expected. I think you modeled some great examples of how to stay in the church being fully authentic without compromising yourself and I think that will be useful to others who want to stay, but aren't sure how they can make it work. I look forward to hearing your comments and insights on future panel discussions.

    Sybil - Sara seems like she will be a fantastic panelist from a rather faithful perspective. I look forward to being introduced to additional panelists from additional points along the faith continuum.

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  14. Mister Curie, thank you for your comment. We will be having panelists and interviews from along the spectrum, so that we have voices from within, voices from without, and voices from all the spaces in between.

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  15. Mister Curie, thanks for your kind words! I'm excited to see what we come up with in future panel discussions as well.

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  16. Sara,
    this was fabulous! I loved your take on what you feel it means to sustain someone, and how you explain what a testimony is to you. I very much respect you for speaking your truth, without having to negate someone else's.
    It is a difficult balancing act to graciously live your own truth, while being sensitive to others' truth, and you do it beautifully. Thanks!

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  17. You're so welcome, Juliane. It IS a difficult balancing act, and I don't think the answers will be the same for every person or every stage of life, but we do what we can.

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  18. Wow! This was one of the best podcast episodes I have heard. I listen to so many podcasts on Mormonism (I am a huge fan of MS and ME, etc) and I thoroughly enjoy them, but it is difficult to find people who have views that are very similar to mine. Sarah is a very inspiring person, and through hearing her story I feel spiritually uplifted. I love her approach and enthusiasm for the church even though she recognizes that she does not have all of the answers. I seem to have a similar approach to the church as her, and I am so grateful for you having her as a part of this podcast. Sybil, I love the podcast. My wife would probably be classified as TBM. So often I hear amazing podcasts that I would like to share with her, but she can be fairly sensitive when it comes to the church, so I often don't share them. I want to share this episode of Sarah’s story with her because it seems to be a good example of how and why I believe and act the way I do, as well as a good example of the kind of person I am trying to be. Great episode!

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  19. I appreciate your kind words, Brian. I can completely understand your wife's sensitivity to any perceived attacks or insults to her faith, and it's good that you, in turn, are sensitive to her sensitivity. Should you decide to share this episode with her, I hope it will go well! So glad to have you as a listener.

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  20. Brian, I'm so happy to hear how well this podcast resonated with you. Part of my goal in creating this podcast is give voice to many of the women within Mormonism so that people can feel this resonance you're describing. I hope that you're able to share this with your wife. You might also want to listen to Sara's Mother's Day podcast called "Not Perfect." It might be another you could share with your wife. Thanks so much for the feedback.

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  21. Gail KnickerbockerMay 20, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    I liked your story, Sara. I love it that you feel free to be honest and that you are allowed to have callings and participate with whatever testimony you do have. I love how you see yourself and the church. Very good. I have not found a way to be part of the ward with MY testimony which is very very very basic, love your neighbor. I really don't have any other testimony that I am so certain of. My husband listened to this podcast with me and when you quoted Camilla Kimball? as saying that she had to take things down off the shelf and shake them up a bit, my husband said "Hmmm where have I heard that before." I usually say it like this: When I get a new piece to the puzzle I have to tear the whole completed puzzle apart to fit in the new piece." He never has to do this, never feels the need. Interesting that I am hearing things I have experienced from other women. In real life I had NEVER known women who experienced my kind of life or view until I heard Mormon stories and it was not until just this week that I met one gal in person who had many many children as a result of the discourse found at church. I don't know where this getting to know others similar to me will bring me. We shall see.

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  22. I particularly liked what you said about finding where we share faith, rather than where we share the lack of faith. I think a lot of recent mormon podcasts lean toward the lack of faith (or the shifting faith) demographic, and it's important to put it out there that there are some of us who are strong in the faith, active "TBM" folk who are also talking about these issues without being disenfranchised.

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  23. Sara I feel like I share some of your characteristics, I am also very inquisitive by nature and love to understand how things work. I am excited to listen to the upcoming episodes of the podcast and hear more from you. Love what you ladies are doing!!

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  24. What a refreshing interview! I was agreeing with you every step of the way..My struggles are similar to yours, but when I bring them up with members that I hope may be understanding, I usually get the rote respponse that we should never question our leaders, just follow them in faith. it feels like a breath of fresh air to hear you speak, echoing my own trial of faith. Your candid honesty and realness is what invites the Spirit for me, as opposed to the rigid 'do as I'm told, think as I'm told'attitude o fmay members..
    Thank you for speaking out and sharing from the warth of your lovely , honest, faihful heart

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  25. I find it a bit unsettling how often you seem determined to believe even when you have clear reason not to. For example - you don't agree with the prophet's teachings, but then you rush to assure us that you believe he's a prophet; or when you struggle with other doctrines or the temple, etc, you state several times an assumption that one day you'll understand why something is the way it is, or one day you'll have a testimony of things that you don't feel able to agree with now. I also find it interesting that despite your consistent assurances of belief, when you listed why you stay, the church being true wasn't on the list.

    I'm approaching this as an ex-member, so it really stands out to me, this paradigm that the church must be true and that if the pieces don't fit the problem must lie with you and your testimony or your level of understanding. Is there anything you feel certain will NEVER be a part of your testimony?

    Just to be clear, I'm not questioning your right to believe. My comment is not about that. I am just curious about this consistent pairing of doubt + disclaimer; stating your struggle and then immediately reaffirming your overall belief. I'm curious to know if you only ever struggle with individual doctrines/policies/history or if there are times when you struggle with having a testimony at all.

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