I hope anyone who reads this can do it with an open, nonjudgmental eye. Like Tirzah has felt in her recent posts, I’m a little nervous to be writing this out since I’m afraid others will react with pity, condemnation, disapproval, fear, or other manifestations of guilt-inducing negativity. I became part of ZD because I needed a place to write my truth since I felt so completely paralyzed to do so in my “real world” life and I knew others felt just like me. So…when you comment, please just give me a little kindness if you can. The only way to ever have a real discussion in this world is with kindness. Plus, this is a straight-faced fact finding mission as well as a confession-post, so I really would like to hear what you know.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided to accept a position to work for a couple years over in Europe. It’s a testament to how tormented I’ve been these past few years about my church attendance since the first, numero uno, number one “pro” about moving there was, “Won’t have to go to church in a ward…or ever…if I want.”
Now, you can say all you like about the idea that I never had to go to church here, when we’ve lived in the states. There are those who I know could just waltz right in here and say something like, “You have a choice. You have your agency.”
But, the thing is, not really. We were already established in our current ward as “golden members” by the time my husband and I really started feeling the need to push back a little…then a little more. But, it felt impossible. We live in a small town. Our bosses and a few coworkers are in our ward. My family calls us every Sunday and the first question is always, “How was such and such a calling today at church?” No one, of course, would have ever meant anything maliciously, but we are both people who want to be liked. We are both people who grew up as “pleaser” kids–the kind that would clean the kitchen for our mothers unbidden, just because we knew it made her happy. We were the kind that never needed any other discipline than the threat of the phrase, “I’m disappointed in you.”
So we have kept going every week…but schedule our flights on Sundays. And we keep going every week…but keep getting sore throats! And we keep going every week… but, “Oh shoot! The alarm didn’t go off!” And we keep going every week…only to first hour…only to the last two hours…only till we have to leave early because we left that pot boiling…
Please don’t condemn us, or call us cowards. We are just two people who have been trapped between our deep need to never disappoint and our deep need to finally reclaim a sense of spiritual autonomy. I think we are actually two people just straining against our childhood personalities, wanting to experience a Mormon rumspringa–an era where we can really hash out where we’ve arrived spiritually at the end of our twenties, and do it without the expectations of others dictating where we go, when, with whom, to say what, and how, and why… And do it without other people commenting on our choice every week with pitying, sad-eyed renditions of, “You will be sad…You will be sooooo sad…”–the self-fulfilling prophecy police.
We both have been pleasers for so long, our hearts and minds are screaming for a moment when we can feel like we made the decision to come to church–not because we felt like we “should” or because people expected us to but because we felt like it was good and right and what we wanted to do.
We just want to be allowed to figure out the truth by ourselves, because we already know how hard it is for our personalities to fight against the weight of the expectations of others.
SO…back to the beginning. We decided to go to Europe and I was elated because I foresaw a promised land! A place where I could go far away, where my mom wouldn’t ask me about church every week, where I could choose to seek out a congregation if and when I was ready, where I could choose to really find my spiritual center for the first time in my life, where I could actually feel like I was making my very own decisions about my soul… And, when and if I did return, it would be in a branch, not in the heavily Utah-culture dominated wards of the United States. There, I wouldn’t be a native speaker and I could just focus on loving my fellow members instead of trying to wade through wounding gender theologies and cultural pressures and …and…all that stuff.
I brought up these feelings to my husband and he was not as hopeful as I was. He pointed out that, if and when we did seek out that branch, he would most likely be immediately conscripted into church-service-servitude for the entire time we were there. He didn’t have the language barrier protection I had. He would be the priesthood holder. He would never have a night to himself again… He would automatically become the “alpha member”…or at least one of three…by virtue of his tie and nothing else. And therefore, to him, moving to Europe would, in many ways, be the opposite opportunity for him as it was for me.
For me, American wards were where I felt second-class, paralyzed, tortured, and belittled as I was simultaneously unable to break free because of my concern for my family’s approval and my entire, one-big-family local ward’s assumption of my Molly Mormonness. Europe meant something more personal, more flexible, and more accepting.
For my husband, American wards were where he felt better able to escape his doubts by becoming non-descript–a chameleon. He found freedom in the thought that, if he honestly couldn’t pull his tired heart up enough to go to another uncomfortable lesson, his small responsibilities could be covered by any number of other men in the ward. Europe meant being pushed into a spotlight, being forced into a leadership role that he would find painful, being expected even more than before to be the stereotypically meek-macho patriarch.
So, I bring it to you, bloggernacle. What is it like on the other side of the EU border?
Will our foreign travels be a place where we can feel free to ask questions, give ourselves thinking space and time if we need it, and participate in a congregation where we can just focus on loving our other members rather than endless doctrinal hand-waving, uber-politicized lessons, or weekly barrages of gender-theology pain?
Will our European branch be a place where Utah-culture stereotypes are even more entrenched and expected, where men and women are over-taxed by missionary work expectations and administrative commitments because there is no way to share the burden, and where we will feel even more pressure to bite our tongues, smile, and put on the face of the “golden member” once again?