Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spirit, Priesthood Power, Virtue and Accountability

This may be an over simplification, but it has been bothering me since I was first called as YW President, and it is still bothering me. Actually, it is bothering me more today than it has in the past. Mostly because of my own children. So, read this at your own risk.

Years ago when my husband and I had been dating for about a year, a coworker recommended I read the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. We were not having any major problems in our relationship, other than the typical petty stuff. We were happy, extremely happy. And then I started reading that book.
Within a week of beginning the book, we were fighting on a daily basis. It was ridiculous. The smallest things would set us to arguing. After about a week and a half of this, my (incredibly perceptive) sweetheart, said something along the lines of, "For crying out loud, why are we fighting so much." Then he looked on the coffee table and saw that book. He said, "That's why! This all started when you started reading that book." He was right. It was the book.

Now, I am sure the book was actually good for some couples. My sister swears by it, and bought every book related to it. But, after that week and a half of reading the book and fighting with my sweetheart, I realized something about the book. There was a formula in the book that went something like this:
  1. This is what a man does that bugs a woman.
  2. This is why it bugs a woman. (Also known as: this is how that makes a woman feel.)
  3. This is what a woman can do to fix the problem. (Also known as, this is how a woman can resolve her feelings and feel something else.)
Nowhere in the book did it encourage men to take responsibility. The problem with the book is that it put the responsibility for change on the woman. It put the responsibility of the direction of the relationship on the woman. Last time I checked, the responsibility for a healthy relationship falls on both parties involved.

Fast forward 20 years. I am a happily married mother of sons, who happens to have just been released as Young Women President. In serving in this calling, I realized something:  The church puts too much emphasis on how young women can lead men into temptation. It actually puts too much responsibility on the Young Women for the (potential) thoughts and actions of young men.

As a mother of sons, this bothers me. In a recent talk by the YW General President, she said that the action of young women (she was specifically talking about sexting) can "cause them (the young men) to lose the Spirit, their Priesthood Power and their virtue.” Again, this bothers me. My sons are in charge of their own relationship with the Spirit, their own Priesthood Power, and their own virtue. Why on earth would I ever let my sons believe that these things are in the power of a young woman?

Can a young woman cause impure thoughts in my son? Of course she can. Can a young woman tempt my son to do things that he shouldn't? Of course she can. But at the end of the day, who is in charge of his thoughts, his actions, and his agency? MY SON IS!

To shift it a little bit: Can a young woman help encourage my son to go on a mission? Of course she can. Can a young woman be virtuous and righteous and inspire my son to be the same? Of course she can. But in the end, who is in charge of my son's thoughts, actions, and agency? Once again, MY SON IS!

I am not saying that young women do not have a certain "power" over young men (and that they are not accountable for how they use that "power"), but what I am saying is that it is certainly not the fault of a young woman if any young man cannot control his own thoughts, impulses, and actions.

Regardless of whether a young woman is inspiring/encouraging good or bad, moral or immoral, the bottom line is that my son is in charge of his own agency.

Why should young women have to shoulder this burden of being guardians of virtue to the young men? In thinking of this talk, it reminded me of the book from 20 years ago, only with a different spin:
  1. This is a weakness in a man.
  2. This is what a woman can do to help the man overcome the weakness.(Also known as, this is what a woman needs to do to ensure that the man keeps his Spirit, his Priesthood Power, and his virtue.)
  3. This is what happens when a woman does not help a man overcome his weakness. (Also known as, if a women tempts a man, he will lose the Spirit, his Priesthood, and his virtue.)
The book basically told women that in order to be happy, they need to fix the men and adjust their own attitudes. The message to young women is that in order to raise righteous young men, we need to teach young women that it is their responsibility to keep men righteous. Really? That seems like we are putting an awful lot on the young women and not enough on the young men.

We each have our agency and, tempted or not, we are each responsible for our own actions. As a mother of sons, I teach my sons that they have their own virtue and that virtue must be protected. I also teach them that no one else can protect their virtue more than they can. Ultimately, my sons are responsible for their own relationship with the Spirit, their own Priesthood Power, and their own virtue. I teach them that no one can cause them to lose any of these without their own consent.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Then and Today...

I didn't like myself very much when I was 14. I was smart but not smart enough. I was cute but not cute enough. I was thin but not thin enough.

I was constantly trying to be something I wasn't. I wanted so desperately to just fit in. I was a typical teenager with atypical problems.

And then I found the Gospel. Or rather, the Gospel found me. A friend brought me home, only to a home that I never knew before. To a home where I learned that I was a child of God. That I had a Divine Nature. That I was more than I thought of myself.

It took a few years for me to fully grasp what that meant. Then, once I thought I understood what it meant, I decided to listen to the world. Then, as a young adult wanting to experience the world, I ignored what I knew for a few years.

It took falling in love with my unborn child. That was when I truly understood. That is when I understood what it meant to love a child. That is when I learned that as much as I loved my child, my Heavenly Father loved me more.

Then, as a fourteen year old, I struggled to ignore the whisperings of Satan that told me that I was not worthy of love. Today, as a thirty something year old mother, I still struggle to ignore those whisperings. Oddly enough, they are not that different. Satan knows my weaknesses. He still knows how to make me doubt myself.

Today, I like myself a lot more than I did when I was 14. Today, I know I am smart enough. Today (thanks to a husband who reminds  me daily) I am not only cute enough, I am downright sexy. Today, I know I am confident enough to do anything. I still struggle with feeling good enough, but today, I know better than to turn my back on what I know to be true.


Then, I struggled. Today, I still struggle. Then, I pretended to be strong. Today, I am strong.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Relief Society

It's not like I don't want to go to Relief Society. I really enjoy Relief Society. I like interacting with women and sharing Gospel experiences, thoughts, and ideas. I like leaving church feeling spiritually fed rather than spiritually drained. I even like sitting in a room and not having any responsibilities over agendas, lessons, and people. It is nice having no responsibilities in church. (I need to knock on wood because clearly this is not going to last very long.)

My problem is that I don't feel comfortable in Relief Society. The problem is mine. It is no one else's. I just truly feel like I am intruding on a secret club. Part of it is because I have been removed from RS for so long. (In the last 9 years, I have only been able to attend RS for around 10 months, and that was during the ward transitions and a brief stint in the RS Presidency before a new ward was created.) Part of it is that the very women who spent a good chunk of the last year gossiping about me are in RS. I see these women and I have one of three reactions: 1. I want to smack them and tell them to grow up. This reaction is mainly because I have seen first hand how their gossiping affects their daughters. Daughters tend to act like their mothers. 2. I want to be sweet and kind to them because I bear them no ill will. This is the reaction I pray for.  3. I want to pretend they don't exist. The problem is that I never know which reaction is going to surface at any given moment. I am sure you all know these reactions, have felt these reactions in your own life.

I want to only feel the second one, and some days I truly feel no ill will towards these women. Some days the Spirit whispers to me to be like my Savior and turn the other cheek. To truly forgive these women. This is actually the feeling most days, but every once in a while when I see them, the first and third reactions take hold. It is not their problem. It is mine because I know that somewhere deep in my heart I have not truly forgiven these women. But, because I know this, I am trying. I have tried serving these women to keep that second feeling in my heart. I have prayed for these women. I have prayed for myself. I know this is just another small challenge in my life. I know that I have to put one foot in front of the other and walk into RS with a prayer in my heart. I know I can do this. My comfort in RS lies within me and no one else.

So here is to hoping for a #2 reaction tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Change...

I was released from my calling two weeks ago. I absolutely cherished my time as Young Women's President. I learned some incredibly valuable lessons, and I really love those young women; however, I am not sad. I am ready. I know that my release came from the Lord because I have more to do elsewhere. I know that the Lord knew it was time for me to focus on other things. I am grateful that my Bishop felt that inspiration.

I have been in many callings in the last 15 years. I have served in each of the three "women" auxiliaries. I have served as president, counselor, and secretary. I have taught. I have learned. In reflecting on the last 15 years and the callings that I have held, I never felt ready when I was released from each calling. I always felt that I could do more, that I could learn more.

I do not feel that way in this calling. When the Bishop called me in to tell me that I would be released, I felt nothing but peace. As I talked with the Bishop about my release, I told him that I knew that I had accomplished what the Lord wanted me to accomplish. I told him that I knew I had learned what the Lord wanted me to learn. The last three years have been some of the most difficult years of service for me. I have struggled with some of the girls. I have struggled with some of the mothers. I have struggled because of the words which were not said to my face but said to my friends, my girls, and to other women in the ward. I have struggled when the youth could not separate the YW President from the teacher in the school. I have struggled when the youth thought they could take advantage of my in the classroom because of our relationship in the church. In the face of these difficulties, I learned on that I serve the Lord first and the girls second. I learned that inspiration comes when I least expect it. Inspiration comes for my calling and for my teaching. I learned that some lessons that the youth needed could not be taught at church. I learned that some lessons needed to come at school, and I learned that I was the only one that could teach those lessons because it was part of my calling. It was part of what was said when I was set apart. I did not completely understand the words at the time, but I understand them now. I learned to follow the Lord with all my heart, and He will guide all that I do.

I may not have been the best Young Women's President to ever serve in this calling, but I know that when I stand in front of the Lord, I will be able to tell him that I served on my knees. I listened to the promptings that I received. I can say to Him that everything that I did was a result of inspiration and prayer. I did my best to do all that was asked of me. I loved the girls and worked to teach them and to inspire them.

I am sad to leave the girls, but I am also excited to watch them grow and continue to learn under a new group of women. The girls have a sisterhood that they did not have when I was called. There is more work to be done, and I am grateful to those women who will continue the work.

Change is a good thing. A truly inspired thing.