Saturday, January 14, 2006

Headbanging through Church

Although I relish VTing horror stories more than I should (it's really hypocritical of me to pray to forgive these people and then keep recounting and relishing their insensitivity), the aspect of Lynnette's post that interests me the most is this paragraph:

But this is one of the many areas in my relationship to the Church where I find it hard to delineate how much of the problem is me (my negative attitude? my lack of faith?) and how much is a legitimate mismatch between the program and myself. In other words, could I make it work for me if I tried harder, or would that be more akin to repeatedly banging my head against the wall and expecting it not to hurt?

When it comes to Church programs, I'm a lifelong headbanger. Young Women's, seminary, and now VTing and Enrichment generally just don't work for me. I go through headbanging cycles like this: guilt for nonparticipation, gird up my loins have more faith pep talk to self, try program out, and experience nauseating headbanging sensation and vivid flashbacks of why I quit before. Rinse and repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat.

What is the voice of God in all this? On the one hand, the official discourse tells me to participate, and sometimes, at least, I think I should. Quit being so hypersensitive and judgmental, I tell myself. Give it a chance. On the other, I've sometimes wondered after a particularly spectacular headbang if God isn't trying to tell me to quit beating my head against the wall.


Blogger fMhLisa said...

mum. this sounds so familiar. Except I've decided to move on. I know this isnt' very conventional, but I pretty much do what I want to do and I refuse to feel guilt about it.

Now I do try to really really monitor "why I want" to do something or not. And if I only don't want to do something for silly/selfish/stupid (and I give myself plenty of wiggle room here) reasons, then I try to make myself grow a bit,

But I've decided to let myself decide those things. No guilt. No pressure. I'm really enjoying it. I have to tell you. Very happy with this choice.

1/14/2006 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger Lynnette said...

fmhLisa, I find your attitude quite refreshing. I've found myself going more and more in that direction, but I periodically stop and anxiously wonder whether I've simply jumped on the highway to perdition. ;)

I've had a couple of periods in my life where going to church felt like one of the most difficult parts of the week, where I started to get a sinking feeling on Saturday (or even Friday). And I've felt much calmer about the whole thing since I decided to give myself permission to simply not go when I didn't feel up to dealing with it. I like the sense when I do go that it's a choice, that at least part of me wants to be there. (Considering my extremely conflicted feelings about the Church at present, I'm often a bit surprised to find myself wanting to attend sacrament meeting despite everything.)

However, I feel like an extremely wishy-washy Mormon for acting this way, especially since it's meant that I've avoided having callings for a while. Unlike the visiting teaching situation, I do feel guilt about that, for not really contributing anything to the community but just showing up sometimes. On the other hand, I know that if I get back in a situation where I'm under an obligation to attend every week, I'll be back to dreading Sundays. So at the moment, I'm pretty much just playing things by ear.

1/15/2006 02:08:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

fmhlisa, I too find your attitude very refreshing. It's impossible to take advantage of every Institute class, Know Your Religion lecture, temple trip, ward party, branch FHE, fireside, etc. So what is essential? And is it wrong to do just what's essential--does that make me what I once heard Mary Ellen Edmunds call a Molly Minimum?

I have a good friend who considers every attendance at every single Enrichment Night an absolutely binding moral obligation. On the other hand, I dragged through miserable years of YWs, youth Sunday school, and seminary, and hated it. (And one of the worst things I learend from my misery was that religion was a moral obligation to do what made me miserable!) As soon as I left home at seventeen and went off to college, I went inactive for several years. I'm active and have been for about twelve or thirteen years now, but I'm more or less constantly tempted not to go to church.

I was recently recently thinking back through my youth experiences and trying to decide what the ideal way to handle my misery would have been, to get some ideas about how to handle my struggle now. It's clear to me in retrospect that I should have dropped out of seminary. I knew from the first few days of my ninth-grade seminary class that it just wasn't for me, but I was surrounded by voices telling me how wonderful seminary was (and my parents, who had grown up outside Utah, had no experience with it; they didn't know how bad it was), so I didn't trust my own misery; I just saw it as a sign of my moral defectiveness that I didn't want to listen to the gospel get cutsied up into what Terebinth calls a vaudeville act. At one point, in desperation, I asked if I could just do home-study because I hated it so much, but they said no. I did manage to find a good compromise with youth Sunday school, which I hated because my class went through a series of teachers who never lasted and usually hadn't prepared anything; some weeks we had no teacher at all. When I was about fourteen, my mother finally said, (I'm sure she was understandably sick of my whining!), why don't you just go to gospel doctrine? I slipped in the back and tried not to be noticed, and it was infinitely better, just because the teacher cared, prepared, and adults in the class took the gospel as something worth discussing seriously. There was none of the jazz routine bending over backward to demonstrate the gospel's compatibility with Gap clothing that characterized so much of the youth program.

So what does this mean for me now? I think it means I have to find a way to make the program work for me. As Lisa said, there are times when I really don't want to do things because I'm selfish, lazy, or otherwise need to push myself. But sometimes, as I too am coming to realize, it's just time to quit headbanging. And probably only God and our own consciences can tell us the difference.

1/17/2006 12:59:00 PM  
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