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Choosing Church Inactivity

CBR from Southern California, writes:

Hi, Mommas.

I am a stay-at-home mom, pregnant with baby number five. We have lived in our ward for a couple of years and I have recently just given up on church. We were married in the temple and I have a firm testimony, but I just can’t take the treatment of the “sisters” in my ward anymore.

It seems that our family hasn’t lived in this town for enough generations to be accepted in the ward. Some women avoid me and most of the others gossip about me. I’m not being dramatic or overly sensitive. They don’t like me and they don’t mind that I know it. I have been snubbed repeatedly and so have some of my children, particularly the older ones.

We cannot move at this time, and there is no way for us to attend another ward because of distance.

Please help. I don’t want to become a statistic, but I’m at the end of my rope!

Alison says:

As you will see, I am blessed to write with two such wise women. I have only anecdotes to add to their advice.

When I was a new sophomore at Orem High School (a high school that only included 10th-12th grades), I was scared to death to speak to people I didn’t know. Although I’ve never been a really quiet person (surprise, surprise), I still spent years being terrified of speaking to people. One day my sister (who was attending BYU) told me that the younger sister of her friend, who also attended OHS, had said that I was acting “stuck up” at school. She said I had walked by her in the hall without saying anything at all. Now realizing that I had to be the most insecure person on the face of the planet, I nearly fell over at this news! “Stuck up??? Me???” Horrified at the thought of rejection and being spewed further into the pit of unpopularity is more like it.

Funny thing is, to this day I remember the moment I walked by her in silence. She was right. I didn’t say a word. But it had nothing to do with feeling superior. I approached her as she stood near her locker talking to friends, her back toward me. My first inclination was to say hello, but then I thought that a senior would probably be embarrassed to have some stupid sophomore dork act like they were buddies. So I pretended not to see her and stayed glued to the opposite wall as I passed. I thought I was doing her a favor by avoiding any kind of socialization. And how does she thank me for my consideration? By spreading nasty rumors about some supposed stuckupedness!

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a new coinage for you, Circle readers!! Say it out loud. I think we should pronounce the “ed” as an extra syllable. Don’t you? It’s really a pretty useful word.]

[Non-editor’s Note: Yes, the “ed” is vocalized (further proving the vast wisdom and insight of our editor). Kind of scriptural-sounding, don’t you think?]

Anyway, I learned a valuable lesson that day.

Another incident that comes to mind is more specific to church. One Sunday a couple who had recently moved to our ward gave the obligatory, “Hi, we’re the Johnsons and I thought I’d spend a minute introducing our family” talks in sacrament meeting. The husband’s talk rather startled me, though. He described how his family had not attended church for some time prior to moving to the new ward and he explained why they had become inactive. “Our home teachers didn’t come.”

I puzzled and puzzled over this situation. Wouldn’t this criterion, I wanted to ask, remove 99% of all active members from meetings? And when he became inactive did he continue in faithfully fulfilling his own stewardship as a home teacher? If not, were his home teachees justified in excusing themselves from church activity? And if they became inactive due to his failure to home teach them, were their home teachees also relieved of the burden of church attendance? (And so on and so on and so on ?)

Don’t you wonder what your children will learn if they see that church attendance is based merely on one’s own comfort or someone else’s behavior?

CBR, I sympathize. I empathize. I want to give you a hug and make all the women in the entire church stand up and shape up and become an army of true women of God. I want each woman to go to church and feel the support and love of the most awesome, Godly women on earth. I want to clone Sheri Dew eight million times (and become her myself). But the church is made of human women who, while sharing a value set, also share the distinction of being miserably imperfect and desperately in need of God’s grace not to mention the distinction of being very imperfect reproductions of Sister Dew.

When I heard this brother’s talk, it occurred to me that our responsibility to do what God would have us do is independent of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. There may be many ways to solve this problem or it may be a long-term issue, but doing something that is contrary to God’s commands can never be one of the resolutions.

Perhaps the commandments are much more pertinent when they are difficult to follow and perhaps God designed them specifically to perfect us through our obedience to them in trying times. Last time I checked, the refiner’s fire wasn’t set at 72�.

Much love ?

Tracy says:

This is long. I’m sorry ?I’m just incredibly long winded. But I hope you’ll humor me. Although I’m very glad you sent your question to us and are reaching out for help, I was really very saddened. First, that sisters in the church who are supposed to be trying to emulate the Savior would allegedly “snub” anyone ?how “virtuous and lovely” is that? But in honesty, I was more saddened by your thought to discontinue going to church. One thing I’ve noticed with most people is that whenever there’s a “problem” and we’re trying to find a solution, we “limit” ourselves to so few possibilities. In your case, it sounds like you’re saying, “I either continue to go to church and get snubbed, or I don’t go at all.” So let me see if I can address all this.

The Snubbing: I wish you’d given us an example or two. I know you said you’re not being dramatic and oversensitive, and that may very well be the case. So please understand that I’m not automatically assuming that you’re just dramatizing everything. Your interpretation of things may be very accurate indeed. But in fairness to the other sisters, I can’t automatically assume that an entire ward of sisters is deliberately being cruel and ignoring you. For me to presuppose that they are all guilty wouldn’t be very Christlike either. So I’m going to approach this from both directions.

You said that you felt you weren’t accepted because your family hasn’t lived in the town for several generations.

I’ve been in very small wards in the Deep South where the entire ward except a handful of families, were all “kin.” And when there’s a family feud well there goes half the ward. Half of them choose one side, half of them choose the other, and it’s the Hatfields and McCoy’s right there in Zion.

I’m guessing that this may be a part of what you were talking about. Even if they aren’t all related, in wards and communities where people and their progenitors have been there for generations, they often form a sort of solidarity that sometimes makes it hard for “outsiders” to fit in.

You made no mention of any attempts on your part to fit in though you may have and just didn’t tell us about it. When we move into a new ward, we hope and expect everyone to welcome us with open arms and befriend us and this is how it should be! But, if they don’t make the first move, we should.

Have you invited any of your neighbors over for dinner? Called one of the other mothers and asked them if they’d like to meet you at a park with the kids? Have you been called as a visiting teacher and, if so, are you doing your visiting teaching and going into these sisters’ homes? Have you invited a family over for a joint FHE? You may have done some of these things, but if you haven’t, I strongly urge you to do so. Very rarely, does a person respond to kindness and graciousness with “snubbing.”

What I’ve noticed, is that very often, when one person says something negatively about a second person, that second person has the exact same complaint about the first person. If you haven’t extended invitations for things like this, if you didn’t walk into church that first Sunday and introduce yourself to people individually (not just stating your name and where you came from in Relief Society), if you don’t walk up to sister so-andn-so on Sunday and say hello, give a smile and a compliment on a pretty dress or hair-do, do you see how other sisters might think you “snub” them?

Understand, I’m not saying that you are snubbing them, but is it possible that they might feel snubbed by you? Wouldn’t it be horrible to find out that, just as you think they don’t like you, all this time, they thought that you didn’t like them? This is why open conversation is so important.

Here are two other suggestions. I would call your Relief Society president and make an appointment to visit with her, at one of your homes preferably. Don’t do this over the phone. You need to be face to face, in a warm, homey environment. And yes, even if she is one of the people who you feel is snubbing you!!! If play dates and dinner dates and such and speaking with the Relief Society president don’t work, then I’d go to the Bishop.

Think really hard for a minute, CBR. Is inactivity really an option to consider? You said you couldn’t go to another ward because of distance. I’ve been in wards where it took almost an hour to get to church. I had a sister on my visiting teaching route that lived an hour and half away! This is the honest truth, and I’m not trying to put myself on some kind of pedestal, but I’d drive two hours to church every Sunday if I had to. I remember reading an article in the Ensign forgive me if I mess up details that talked about a man in the Philippines I think, who was called as a stake president. He had no car. He walked three hours to get to his meetings! Then he walked three hours back.

You need church meetings. You need the sacrament, CBR. And whether those sisters know it or not, they need you. In fact, maybe that’s why you’re there. Maybe you’re the tool in Heavenly Father’s hands to teach these sister’s unconditional love and Christlike compassion and charity. Either way, you are the tool in His hands to teach your children longsuffering, and forgiveness. You are the tool to teach them how to stand in the face of adversity and do what’s right and follow the prophet’s counsel and the Lord’s commandments no matter what everyone else is doing, and no matter how they are treating you. We’re commanded to go and there’s a reason for that. If you stop going to church your children will learn from you that church is optional.

I’m not saying you have to submit yourself and your children to cruel behavior. But if the things I suggested earlier don’t work, you still need to go to church, even if it means you have to drive for awhile. Your children need a mother who will take them to church. They need the sacrament and their meetings just like you do. And the kingdom needs you and the service you can give. That’s your stewardship. They’re depending on you and so is the Lord. Don’t let them down just because some snooty ladies are sticking their noses in the air. Besides that, with everything the Savior did for us, somehow I don’t think He’ll accept, “But Lord, they were mean to me” as an excuse.

Kathy says:

Dear CBR,

We’ll be your ward. You can tell us anything, anonymously, and we will support you. You will find there are hundreds if not thousands of ladies suffering in exactly your brand of Sunday pantyhose. I just read one of the most mind-blowing things I have ever seen, by a guy I’ve never heard of, Charles Ponce, called Working the Soul: Reflections on Jungian Psychology. The idea is that we make our own weather to a far, far greater degree than any of us can appreciate; but social norms are imposed so superficially, we often don’t see it happening to us. It is a terrible shame that we allow things such as fitting in to some arbitrary situation to dictate to us who we are inside. In this context Jung writes:

One can only alter one’s attitude and thus save oneself from naively falling into an archetype and being forced to act a part at the expense of one’s humanity. Possession by an archetype turns a man into a flat collective figure, a mask behind which he can no longer develop as a human being, but becomes increasingly stunted.

(He is using the word “possession” in the same sense that we do: the state of being used by a demon.)

Come on, CBR!! Don’t let this strange situation stunt your growth! Think “Dumbo!” Remember the comically malicious gossip of the other lady elephants that caused such damage to poor little Dumbo and his mom? I love that metaphor so much!! Turns out Dumbo can fly. Let ’em talk all they please. A lot of people get teased and shunned and scolded because they can “fly” in some area of their lives. (They are somehow a bit different; gifted, hard to understand, maybe. Whatever.) I think a lot of people learn to “fly” because they are shunned by earthbound people. Nowhere to go but up.

There is a lot of pain in either situation, but pain is a wonderful teacher. Please promise us you will make up your mind to grow from this incredibly tough experience. Show your kids that we worship according to the dictates of our own conscience. It is an inalienable right. Opposition is a wonderful testimony builder and you can model devotion for your kids. Let people snub us if that is their nature. It doesn’t have to become part of our experience at all. Read about the apostle Paul’s ministry again. He took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’, very content to suffer whatever came down the pike, from Jews and members alike, as long as he was on the Savior’s errand.

When you have really had it up to here, write us! We’ll rally round like the circle of sisters we are. When you find yourself among negative people, tune ’em out and listen only to the Holy Ghost. This is going to take courage, faith, and charity. I think you can deliver on all three! You’ll find your ward might fail you, but Charity Never Faileth. Never, never, never, never. We promise.

Thanks for sharing this heartache with us. It stings to be excluded. But I think we are all in it together. There aren’t very many sisters out there who have been universally adored and accepted all their lives. I think most of us have been part of the “in crowd” once or twice, and iced as a loser more than once. We can relate to both kinds of wards and shed some tears with you.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2007, 1:16 pm

    After all the upbeat talk, I have to admit that this makes me angry. Proving that I am not deeply charitable, perhaps, I just don’t get it! Why do we any of us, anywhere make church an unsafe, cold place for anyone. Isn’t this so basic, so fundamental to the gospel that we al grasp the simple concept of being nice?

  • klgreen1 July 1, 2007, 1:18 pm

    Many thanks from the Circle of Sisters to all of you who wrote in with solace, suggestions, and solutions for CBR. For all of our sisters who have encountered a sub-zero shoulder at church when a warm welcome would have been helpful, we hope this collection of comments will be comforting. We especially appreciated the wake-up call reminding us to make a special effort to be the first to offer friendship. As most of us have come to realize, reading through the responses, we all seem just a tiny bit reticent to “go first.” It must be natural for most of us to wait until we are spoken to. Maybe leadership in this area is very much a learned behavior; one of the responsibilities we need to cultivate with courage and persistence. Thanks, sisters. We grow so much from your input!

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:18 pm

    An anonymous sister writes:

    As always, the comments are helpful and uplifting. Many of us have struggled to make our own place in a less than friendly ward. For me, those wards were always balanced by the super welcoming and friendly wards we lived in as we moved around the country, so I knew a “good” situation would inevitably follow a “bad” experience.

    However, as an older sister with grown children and grandchildren, I see a great need for fellowshipping and reaching out within our own wards. I have one daughter who has practically left the church as she attends a Christian church that reaches out to her children with open arms and welcomes them into all their myriad of youth activities. My daughter’s own ward tends to be cliquish and judgmental of those with larger families and the resulting financial challenges. This is certainly not true of all LDS Wards, but we have to some extent lost our open hearts and open arms as the church grows larger. This doesn’t mean the gospel has changed, but it’s difficult to see your children slighted and ignored because they don’t have the material goods of their peer group.

    Because of our busy lives and the expense, we see a cut-back of ward dinners, youth activity nights, and fun activities for children that can bring members closer together. Some wards have “dinner groups” but it’s usually the same group recycling through the membership. Outsiders don’t fit in. I don’t have an answer.

  • facethemusic July 1, 2007, 1:20 pm

    I’m confidant that your daughter’s experience is familiar to many people. The difference in “friendliness” ward to ward can be staggering. But even the friendliest wards I’ve been in (which really were very welcoming) can’t compare to the incredible sense of “celebration” that more evangelical Christian churches express when a new face walks into their buildings. Even denominations that have more formal services; i.e. Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc., are more open and friendly than the average LDS ward. It really is a very strange phenomenon that the overall membership of such a “missionary minded” religion as ours has such a difficult time walking up to a new face, sticking out our hands in fellowship, introducing ourselves, and asking if they’d like to sit by us.

    Those of you who are converts, or have been to the services of other religions will recall that most Christian services, after a song, prayer, and welcome from the minister, will have a few moments where everyone in the congregation is asked to greet each other. They wander between pews, shaking hands, giving hugs, introducing themselves to new faces, and often offer a “God Be with You.” Every single service begins with a few minutes of fellowship. Then after the worship service, everyone is invited into the fellowship hall for coffee and donuts. They call it a “Linger-Longer.” There really is more time specifically put aside for “getting to know each other” in other religions, whereas in LDS culture, you generally have to do that outside of church. We’re busy going straight from Sacrament Meeting to Sunday School to Relief Society. Then everyone rushes home since they’re dying of hunger after the three-hour block. (And if you have choir practice immediately after, every Sunday feels like a Fast Sunday.)

    Even at homemaking night (no one jump on me for using the wrong term I still can’t get it in the right order, so I’m sticking with what I know!), unless we’re having a dinner, there isn’t time to just “chat.” Even though it’s a less formal gathering than on Sundays, everything is very structured. A song, prayer, 15 minute lesson, then we divide into classes and have more lessons your choice between more effective scripture study, scrapbooking, and how to crochet those leprosy bandages!!!

    Since we’re on the subject, I think I’ll take this opportunity to express my personal pet peeve when it comes to our sacrament meetings. I don’t think anything cries out “We’re not very friendly here” more loudly than sitting at the aisle end of every single pew!! Think of someone coming into one of our chapels for the first time. People…scoot over!!! Unless you have a medical or physical condition that makes it difficult for you to scoot sideways between the pews, or you have a tiny child that you know you’ll have to walk out with frequently, please move to the wall end of the pew if you’re sitting in the smaller, outside pews, and please scoot to the center of the pew if you’re sitting in the longer pews that are in the middle of the chapel. Late-comers and especially guests, need to be able to walk into our chapels and immediately find a seat “waiting for them” without having to climb over eight pairs of legs. New people especially are too shy and embarrassed to ask strangers to move over or ask if a seat is taken. Leave the aisle end of the pews open!!! Let’s make it obvious that there is “room for them in our inn.”

  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2007, 1:21 pm

    Tracy makes a fabulous point, one that has never so much as occurred to me. But, let’s be fair. I currently have a toddler who regularly has to be taken out to preserve the quality of the meeting for others. In fact, I have been in that position for nearly two decades. And due to our family size, there are many, many of us that either (a) need access to a quick exit or (b) take up the whole stinking row anyway!

    On the friendliness issue, so true. Some wards just ooze love and other can seem standoffish. But what do you do when you are in a ward that feels like the latter, but every fast Sunday testimony extols it as the former? You gotta be wondering, “Is it me?”

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:22 pm

    Jennifer writes:

    When I got married I moved into my husband’s ward, one he’d been in for many years. I was nervous about being accepted, but much to my relief everyone was very kind to me. I was given a calling and a visiting teaching route and everything seemed fine.

    Not long after, one of the sisters I visit taught said some very hurtful things about my husband and me during a visit. From what she said it quickly became obvious that there was some very vicious gossip being spread about us.

    I was devastated. I drove home with tears pouring down my cheeks.

    Sunday was just a few days away and the last thing I wanted to do now was to go to church. Which of my sisters was only pretending to be my friend? Who was spreading ugly lies behind my back while smiling to my face? I didn’t want to face them; I wanted to stay at home and hide.

    But I knew I couldn’t do that. Even as I cried I resolved that I would go to church that Sunday. I went to church for my benefit. I went to feel the Spirit, to strengthen my testimony by sharing it, and to hear others’ testimonies. I went because the Lord commands us to go, and no matter what opposition I ran into, I needed to obey. I knew from experience that I would only be blessed if I did as the Lord asked.

    Going to church that first Sunday was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I spent most of the time fighting back tears, and it was several weeks before I could start to feel any trust toward any of the sisters again.

    We still live in that ward, and I still have no idea who participated in that gossip. It doesn’t matter. I know I’m where the Lord wants me to be, and I reap the blessings of being there. I can even look back now and see that experience as a blessing. It gave me the opportunity to strengthen myself, and gave me an example to share with my children, if necessary, when they are older. If I had stayed away from church the consequences of that decision would have harmed not only me, but my marriage and my children, and even their children and grandchildren. By staying active I have gained blessings for not only myself, but my family.

    So many times the Lord asks us to do things that, to us, seem like great sacrifices. It’s so easy when that happens to say that it’s too much and we can’t do it. I’ve learned though, that as I’ve obeyed and done as I have been asked that it has never been something I’ve regretted doing. I have never once in my life said, after the fact, “Golly, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time obeying that commandment! My life would be much better if I had disobeyed!” No, I have instead always been grateful for the Lord blessing me by pushing me to greater effort. I have always thanked him afterward and found that my life was much better because of doing what I was asked. And I have always regretted those times that I did not obey, those times when I balked and said, “No, this is too hard.”

    Good luck, CBR. You have a lot of people praying for you.

  • facethemusic July 1, 2007, 1:23 pm

    You bring up a very good point, Jennifer. Generally speaking, the times we need to be at church the most, are the times when we least want to be there. Strength comes from working out the muscle! The “working” part is never comfortable but the result is greater strength for having endured the discomfort! Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:24 pm

    Oris from Oceanside, California, writes:

    I have had a fantastic experience I want to share. When I was in another ward someone evidently decided in some meeting that I talk too much and that I was not to be called upon when I volunteered. I was not told ahead of time that this was going to happen. It just happened. The teachers in all the meetings would ask a question and even if I was the only person with a raised hand, I was not called upon. It was very painful, not only to be ignored, but it was a painful embarrassment. For all that time I went home in tears almost every Sunday. I am a widow and did not have anyone at home to confide in. One day one of the sweet sisters said to me, “Don’t pay any attention to them, we want to hear what you have to say because you read so much and have good comments.” This did help me, although the teachers did not call on me so I could not say anything anyway. However, what a boost it gave me to my testimony!! I knew where I was supposed to be and I was there!! Sometimes we are given trials we think we can’t handle.

    A little hint to the sister who is considering inactivity: Look around you at meeting time. If the sisters are treating you this way, they are, in all probability, treating others this way. These forgotten sisters will need your attention and love. Also, I remember many years ago there was a fine woman who played our organ every Sunday. Her husband would not let her join the church. She had been treated in a most peculiar way by her parents, and had never been permitted to learn to drive. She bicycled to church about 10 miles every Sunday except when it rained. The elders would go with their wives to pick her up when it rained so she could get to church.

    I know that with children to take to church, this would be impossible, but if you have a vehicle and can drive, just say a little prayer for Bonnie, who rode 10 miles on a bicycle to attend a church she was not allowed to join, and then start out.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2007, 1:25 pm

    Something about this story just hits a raw nerve in me. I would say I feel almost convicted to respond.

    It is apparent that the refusal to call on you was obvious to all. While I appreciate the woman who spoke to your privately (at least someone did something!), it is appaling to me that in a room full of “Women of God” not a single soul would speak up on your behalf. And I mean publicly!

    If this had happened in my ward I would, I promise you, have said, “Sister Johnson (teacher), Sister Oris _______ has a comment over there on your right!”

    And I would have kept doing so until they stopped the unChristlike behavior toward you.

    There are classroom monopolizers. There are non-doctrine preachers. There are people who just love to “stir the pot” at any opportunity. I don’t know if Oris fits into any of those categories though my personal experience with her in this forum indicates otherwise. But whether she does or not is no matter! A conspiracy of group ignoring is a cowardly and mean-spirited way to try to address any perceived problem. Perhaps a few of us need to read our scriptures more carefully. If a leader identifies a problem, there is a scriptural way to address it.

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:25 pm

    The distinguished Professor Hal G Moore from Orem, Utah, writes:

    I’m not a Momma, so I guess I can’t have you put this into your reply to the California woman who isn’t going to church anymore because of the lack of welcome.

    I agree with what was written, but no one said anything about the most important reason to keep going: to renew our covenants with our Heavenly Father by partaking of the sacrament and remembering the suffering of Jesus for us. After all, even though some bishops don’t even seem to get it, that is what Sacrament Meeting is all about. The rest of the meeting and the other meetings in the block are simply appendages to that. (Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society, etc., are called auxillary organizations, because that’s what they are auxilary even though they are valuable.)

    It seems that the ward members in that woman’s ward need to do some repenting. However, not going to Sacrament Meeting and not teaching her children about the sacrament is a major error.

    Oh, well. So much for the old Mormon Grandpa.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2007, 1:26 pm

    Hey, Dad, you’re welcome to chime in any time! Some of our most well-spoken readers are male. Besides, let’s just say you have an “in” with the founding editor.

    And for what it’s worth, my dear dad has been a branch president twice and a bishop four times. He’s read the handbook.

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:27 pm

    Sandy from Murray, Utah, writes:

    I’ve been thinking about this all week, and I really don’t know that I could say much more than what has already been said. I can certainly empathize with CBR as I think she and I are experiencing a lot of the same feelings, but I don’t have the answer. It’s easy to tell a person to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get over it,” but it’s a whole different story when you’re the person on the receiving end.

    I have been struggling for the last year with feelings of frustration, betrayal, and anger. I am trying very hard to work through those feelings. I am doing much better now that I’m not pregnant, but I still find it to be very challenging.

  • innovative momma July 1, 2007, 1:28 pm

    I think I’ll add a note about intimidation. It’s entirely possible that you intimidate these women because you are different from them. They have stayed in the same area for so long, they’re accustomed to things the way they are, and you represent change, growth, and challenge. I say, stick with it, take the advice you’ve gotten here, and show the Father what you’re made of. Don’t fail this test!

    Fear fueled by lack of understanding and perspective fosters far too many misbehaviors.

    Soon after I was converted (eons ago, it feels like), I was involved in a March of Dimes activity in our city. The activity was overseen by the regional director, who was from Utah. He happened to be the brother of a General Authority, so I immediately (and very naively) assumed that he was just as much a pillar of the church as was his brother. Wrong-o, big time. No sooner was the activity done than he invited everyone to his hotel suite for a celebration. Out came the wet bar. My jaw must have hit the floor, because he laughed at me, mocked me and the church, and I was so uncomfortable that I left.

    Fortunately, the young woman who had introduced me to the church also warned me early on that while the Church was true, the members were certainly not perfect. I was therefore a bit prepared to evaluate this example for what it really was: a sad situation in which a brother had failed to develop a solid testimony of his own. I decided that his example was good, after all it motivated me to stay close to the church. As we say in my field, the stimulus was highly conditioning! (Years later, I talked with his brother, and was quite happy to hear that he had seen his errors, humbled himself, taken his wife to the temple, and then they served a mission together. I love it!)

    I didn’t leave the church over it, I just hunkered down and worked on me as best as I could. And when the deacons, teachers, and priests in my ward made fun of me and my propensity to bear my testimony every month, I could have run, too. In fact, I was running down the hall from the back parking lot thinking I was late to church, when I came past them as they were laughing and talking about me. I could have kept running, right through the foyer and out the front door, but I was determined that they would not get the best of me. Years later, one of the young men (now a father of four, whose wife has been a cherished friend for years) admitted that part of the reason for their conversation was that I was different. I was excited about the gospel, they were lifelong members from longstanding families and didn’t have the same enthusiasm.

    So hang in there, and remember the good advice from these gals. What a blessing this group is in our lives!

    [Editor’s note: Twinkle, twinkle, Sister Boyer. Your Reward’s not in the foyer. Sparkle through the dark, our star. What you say is what you are.]

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:29 pm

    Debra from Australia, writes:

    I can sympathize I have had a strange interpersonal conflict experience or two, which effected me so deeply, that I would rather have stayed home to preserve my sanity but my loyalty to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ was far stronger than the interpersonal stresses that were weighing me down.

    Admittedly, I had to take the difficulties on the chin and believe me it was extraordinary painful week after week. I was in a state of some anguish as I continued to persevere with my church involvement.

    In order to cope I found that there were several ways of maintaining my sanity.

    If I was overwhelmed once church was over, I found that phoning one of my sisters or talking to my husband, was a great source of support. They would let me debrief after each Sabbath; and then once I had my anxieties out in the open, I was able to move into my week.

    Focusing on my church calling was a wonderful way to contain the stress of the interpersonal difficulties that had occurred. It gave me an opportunity to be constructive and not be too overwhelmed by my social concerns.

    To be perfectly frank, managing your difficulty may not be easy and I think that if the strain of your involvement in this ward “gets on top of you” at times, there would be no reason why you couldn’t have an occasional (once a month???) respite at home on the Sabbath with your husband giving you the sacrament. Another suggestion would be that you just stay for Sacrament and then go home and have home Sabbath lessons.

    Remember that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are your focus: not the women who are victimizing you. To that end, I would also suggest seeking support from any organizations that can teach you assertiveness skills. Even searching on the “net” for ways of dealing with bullying can be helpful I certainly profited from doing this.

    Hopefully these ideas have some merit.

  • facethemusic July 1, 2007, 1:33 pm

    Thank you for thoughts, Sister. You made some very good points. Our commitment to the Savior and to the covenants we’ve made should be top priority. A good question we should all ask ourselves when in a situation like CBR (which I think we’ve all experienced at one time or another) is: Is my love for the Savior greater than the animosity or hard feelings between myself and so-and-so?

    Although, I feel like I must be clear in my position that skipping out on church, even once a month is not a good idea, nor is leaving after Sacrament Meeting. Long term inactivity often begins with this kind of decision. The truth is, it is easier to stay home. For everyone! Once we start making excuses to not attend our meetings, it becomes much easier to find other reasons. “I didn’t sleep well last night,” “We’re going to be late anyway, so why bother,” “I just don’t feel like having to get the kids up and out this morning,” “I have a hang-nail” (heh, heh, had to throw that one in there).

    In my opinion, staying for Sacrament Meeting only smacks of selfishness. “I’m going to go to church so I can take the Sacrament to try and secure my salvation and testimony, but I’m not going to stay and contribute to anyone else’s.” You can’t teach a Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, or Relief Society classes if you aren’t there. You can’t serve in the library, lead the music in Relief Society, serve in a presidency, etc. if you’re not there. Also, it’s does absolutely nothing to help solve the problem. In fact, I think it would only contribute to it. Talk about snubbing!! “I’m going to go to Sacrament Meeting, but I don’t want to have to deal with you people, so I’m leaving right afterwards.”

    I realize that you didn’t mean it like that, but when it comes right down to it, isn’t that exactly what it is?

    I think the issue of “skipping out” could be most easily addressed this way. If someone were to physically approach the Savior with this question, do you think for one minute that His answer would be, “Well, why don’t you just skip every now and then? Just plan to miss one Sunday a month. Or better yet, just come to church long enough to partake of the sacrament (a renewal of your baptismal covenant, part of which is that you’ll attend your meetings (ahem, ahem)), then just go home and skip the rest.” Doesn’t that sound like something Satan would say? Giving you just enough truth to assuage any guilty feelings for skipping out, but convincing you that you’re perfectly justified in doing so?

    I don’t know what happens within the walls of the home of the dear sister who posed the original question. The gospel may actually be thriving there. So I can make no judgment about that. But let me share something I learned several years ago, for the benefit of all our readers.

    In 1991, I was serving as Primary president in a tiny, out-in-the-country branch in South Carolina. We had an incredibly high inactivity rate. “Distance” was one of the top excuses for non-attendance. Do you know what the other was? “Somebody hurt my feelings” or “I was offended.” During a ward council meeting, our bishop handed out a copy of the results of a study done by BYU that was distributed throughout the church. BYU randomly and anonymously interviewed members about inactivity, asking them if they were currently, or had ever been inactive. It asked them several questions about the possible things that lead to inactivity, among them being, “How far do you live from church?” “Have you ever had your feelings deeply hurt or been offended by a ward member?” For those who were, or at some time had been inactive, distance and hurt feelings’ were the top two reasons checked, though I don’t remember if they were in that order. In addition, the study also asked them, in so many words, “prior to your inactivity, was your family holding daily family prayer and scripture study, personal prayer and study, and weekly Family Home Evening?” Overwhelmingly, the answer to these questions was “No.” (And if I remember correctly, regular temple attendance was a question as well.) The interesting thing was (now get this, sisters), that the families who were having daily family scripture study and prayer, personal scripture study and prayer, and weekly Family Home Evening, and lived far away from ward buildings, and had their feelings hurt, did not stop going to church!! The findings of the study showed that the determining factor for inactivity wasn’t really distance, or hurt feelings, etc. it was whether or not the gospel was being lived in their personal lives! The people who had a gospel-centered home, complete with scripture study, prayer and FHE, still went to church, even if it was an hour drive, and even though they’d been offended at church, or by church members. And honestly, doesn’t that make complete sense?

    Members who do these things have living, growing testimonies.

    They’re living the gospel, to the best of their ability, everyday. They’re following the prophet’s counsel. They’re talking with the Lord daily, reading from His Word, daily. They are gathering their families every morning and/or evening daily. They’re serving in their callings at church. That kind of dedication and commitment gives them the strength and testimony they need, to keep them strong enough to continue in their church activity in spite of a long car drive or bad relationships with other ward members.

    It’s my hope and prayer that we all recommit ourselves to making our homes the center of gospel living and teaching. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to go to church. We need each other, and we need to serve each other. Sundays would certainly be slower paced if we all stayed in our homes and had our husbands and sons break out the Wonder Bread and serve the sacrament in the living room. But I think Satan would throw a little party in hell complete with streamers and balloons relishing in his victory as he watched us squirm during temple recommend interviews when asked “Are you attending all your church meetings?”

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:34 pm

    Celia from Wausau, Wisconsin, writes:

    Wise women: You did a very good job, a very good job.

    There are some really great ladies in my ward, too. I have lived in wards where it was harder; this ward is my “reward” (couldn’t pass that one up) for enduring more difficult wards!!! I also believe we are sometimes allowed to remain in difficult ward societies to test our faith ?and our endurance and, definitely, to teach others or to reach out to others who feel shut out.

    I am getting “older” (hee, hee), and I have some unique challenges, not the least of which is chemical sensitivity, and I have often felt “shut-out” (no, I’ve never gone “inactive,” though I’ve come to the point where I have to avoid certain sorts of activities; let’s just say the stake presidency member(s) who interview me for temple recommends has always been very sympathetic; I am faithful in callings, though I visit teach by mail, and am regular in sacrament meeting attendance). Maybe the fact that I don’t have a “chip on my shoulder” helps? I don’t know. I really do have some pretty heavy health issues, in short, I’m not a very strong (physically, emotionally, you name it) person.

    I am beginning to realize that the “rejection” I have “perceived” is in some form my own feelings of loneliness in my particular sphere of life and not a deliberate behavior from others. Does this make sense? Maybe I’m just older and can see this, but this is what I feel. It’s not about rejection so much as it is about how much of a struggle it is to get to church and keep going and how we don’t often have enough left over to fit other people in, and so we feel left out, and we want someone to reach out to us, but they are afraid to, because their perfume might make us sick? You can stick whatever issue you want there in place of “perfume”!

    I think it is “heavenly homesickness” as much as true rejection by other people; does this make sense? It’s just easier to blame people with “skin on” than express how hard it is to belong to the world, when the world isn’t our “natural” place. Easier to take someone’s bad mood on a bad day and believe it is directed at me than say, “Hey, Babylon isn’t a very friendly place.”

    I perceive many times that those people who act “snobbish” are just struggling to stay inside their own skin.

    There are arrogant people out there, but they need our prayers and sympathy as much as we who have physical problems do/

    Just a few little thoughts from a woman who is “out there”!

  • facethemusic July 1, 2007, 1:35 pm

    A few introspective, very honest and wise thoughts from a woman who is ”out there”!

    “Heavenly homesickness” … how profound!

    Certainly, there are times when people truly are being unkind and nasty. But it really is amazing how often we misperceive other’s words and actions and take things as personal attacks against us when they were not meant the way they were taken in the first place.

    What would stop so much unnecessary heartache is if we all would learn to be honest about our feelings and open our mouths and talk to people! I’ve learned to be very upfront with people and come right out and ask them if there is a problem between us.

    We should approach someone who we think might be harboring ill feelings toward us and say, “Lately I’ve been feeling like you might be upset with me. Is there something I said or did that bothered you, or hurt your feelings? Please don’t be embarrassed to be honest with me, because I’d really like to be able to fix it if I’ve upset you.” We’ll either find out that we really did offend them, even if it was completely unintentional, or that they misinterpreted something, or that they weren’t upset at all and that we were sensing a problem that wasn’t there. Either way, at least we’ve addressed it and can try to solve the problem if there is one.

    Thank you for your comments!!

  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2007, 1:37 pm

    I would like to add one additional possible response to Tracy’s wonderful, upfront approach: if the person we think is harboring ill feelings really is harboring ill feelings, it is very possible that they will deny it. They might do this for a number of reasons:

    1. Embarrassment: due to the fact that the ill feelings are over a petty issue
    2. Embarrassment: that they didn’t simply approach you themselves
    3. Embarrassment: their is no justification for the ill will, they are just snobs
    4. Embarrassment: that they were “caught” treating you unkindly

    OK, so basically it comes down to pride.

  • Reader Comment July 1, 2007, 1:38 pm

    Debra from Australia writes:

    Just a few additional thoughts I have been thinking more about your observations. (And I like nothing more than to be given an opportunity to think and reflect!!!)

    I did not mean to alarm anyone with my thoughts, I was simply sharing a way in which I survived and coped with a highly traumatic experience. It is my guess that my problem solving would not be easily used by many people indeed your thoughts about the powerful currency of having FHE, prayers, scripture reading, and doing visiting teaching, etc. were the very things that tided me over the conflict. My breathers were almost like being admitted to hospital for the day and receiving a dose of therapy!!! The more I reflect on your comments the more I realize that my coping with the challenging interpersonal conflict was managed more effectively by having occasional time out. Furthermore, for me, this strategy only worked because I was maintaining my balance in the other areas of my commitment to the gospel. Perhaps that sounds bizarre. I really don’t know???

    My opinion has been that the Circle of Sisters is an open forum for all styles of people/suggestions and that personal experiences, no matter how unusual, would nonetheless be accepted and listened to if not understood nor agreed with. I suppose my unusual notions would be too left field for the average person. My apologies if I caused alarm and I look forward to reading and enjoying the forum that you all so industriously organize.

    Your forum responses have been life savers for me and a number of friends.

  • facethemusic July 1, 2007, 1:39 pm

    Hi Debra!

    First let me say that you are absolutely correct that Circle of Sisters is an open forum for discussion, thoughts, ideas, etc. That’s why we ask for reader’s comments! We want to hear from as many sisters as possible! And, obviously, that’s going to invite varying opinions about things, and that’s okay!!

    We’re very glad you responded and appreciate your thoughts! I assure you, your comments caused no alarm. Neither were they “unusual,” “bizarre,” or “left-field” as you suggested they may be. I’m sure that many people have successfully coped with problems at church in the same way that you did. And because you maintained your personal study and growth outside of church meetings, you were able to overcome and deal with whatever the situation was, and maintain your activity within the Church.

    The format of Circle of Sisters is more like a “guided discussion” rather than a newspaper advice column such as “Dear Abby,” so the “columnists” for Circle of Sisters respond to each reader’s contributions as we feel so inclined. And we welcome all readers thoughts, even if they’re different from our own! We might disagree with a point or two, just as our readers may sometimes disagree with us.

    As a “columnist,” I feel a responsibility to make sure that my “advice” and thoughts are as closely “in line” with what the Savior would say, as possible. (And being the imperfect being that I am, I’m sure to mess up sometimes! So, all you ladies out there, keep me in check, okay?)

    Since the sister who sent the original question in was already talking about not going to church at all, I felt that she may be one of those who would be highly susceptible to becoming completely inactive by skipping out, even though many people (such as yourself), may have successfully coped with a problem by missing meetings here and there without becoming inactive. I therefore felt the need to make sure that our readers and our dear CBR in particular, understood the risks associated with skipping out on church, even if it’s just for a short time since, unfortunately, it’s very often the beginning of long-term inactivity.

    We do value the thoughts of all our readers including you! And I sincerely hope that everyone understands that all views, thoughts, and opinions are welcome here. This is a “discussion” forum, and without your thoughts, well, there’s nothing to discuss!

  • klgreen1 July 1, 2007, 1:39 pm

    I think we have plenty of thinking and discussing this time!! My Microsoft Word software tells me this addition is a 17-page discourse! That should be good for at least a B grade on a research paper, wouldn’t you think? Thanks for helping us all think this through, readers. Great question, CBR!! We wish you a very gratifying triumph over this trial.

  • mlinford July 1, 2007, 4:18 pm

    I perceive many times that those people who act “snobbish” are just struggling to stay inside their own skin.

    There are arrogant people out there, but they need our prayers and sympathy as much as we who have physical problems do/

    I think this is a wise observation.

    I also second the notion that going to church is ultimately for the Lord. I had a couple of situations where going to church was painful. Lies were being spread, I got the cold shoulder from people who used to be friends, etc. Times like these helped me understand how someone could go inactive. I found, though, that those were the times that my covenants meant that much more to me, reminding me what it’s all about. I pray that you will be able to find the strength to cling to those covenants, the only ultimate source of strength and power to overcome.

    I also had the thought to pray for your “enemies” at this time. It’s very likely that they have issues, pain, fear, whatever that may be hidden behind their cold barriers. So often misbehavior comes from insecurity and pain and defensive mechanisms used to try to “deal with” that pain. It’s sad but true. As we pray for those who hurt us, at least our hearts can be softened, we can feel we are doing what we can to help them, and we can try to serve in that way. And prayers can be answered! Pray also that your heart can be open to them when and if the time comes that relationships can be mended.

    Turn to God, dear sister. Regardless of the specifics of our trials, this is always the answer! Our covenants are key to this, so I do pray that you won’t give up! Hugs to you!!

  • lovelee July 6, 2007, 2:59 pm

    Dear CBR,
    I am in the same boat as you! I live in a ward where most of the people went to high school together or at least grew up close by. Even though they graduated from high school 20+ years ago they still act as though they are high schoolers ie. cliques, only inviting “certain” people to go to lunch or shopping, and lots and lots of snubbing.
    I really like the city I live in so I deal with the ward situation. I have come to realize that you can’t allow “church” to fulfill all of your friendship needs. I have made an effort to make friends with my ward members but to no avail, so I found other friends. I worship at the 3 hour block with my ward members and that is it! My life has been so much better since I stopped feeling upset about being snubbed at church. I am a really fun person and they are the ones missing out on having a great, loyal friend. So, I hope you can find it within yourself to separate the Gospel and the people of the church and do what we have been commanded to do and “meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the rememberance fo the Lord Jesus”. Good luck and I hope you can feel better about this situation.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 6, 2007, 3:38 pm

    Welcome, lovelee!

  • Kristen Chevrier October 19, 2011, 6:54 pm

    Commenting on this very old post: When my father was a young boy, living in Canada, during WWII, the people around him who were not of German descent were very suspicious of anyone who was. One day in Sacrament meeting my Opa was asked to give the prayer. He prayed for the people in Germany who were traumatized by the war. He was reported to the authorities by the Branch President. He was accused of being a Nazi. (They were as far from being Nazis as anyone could be. They had good hearts and their extended family was over there, suffering.) For a long time the family was snubbed at church. Then it was suggested, by someone outside the family, that maybe they shouldn’t attend church anymore. Their home began to be searched, regularly, by the police, to be sure that they weren’t up to anything. They weren’t. All of this was brought on by their ecclesiastical leader.

    During this time, my grandfather gathered his family around and told them that the important thing was the gospel. They didn’t go to church for friendship; they went to worship. And they would continue to do so, regardless of what they had to put up with to do it.

    My Opa’s progeny are all active in the church. His two sons served full-time missions and all his children married in the temple and are currently active members. All but one of his 9 grandsons served full-time missions. And I think all that are married were married in the temple. His only great-grandson who is old enough to have served a mission returned 6 months ago. I think that his reaction to the persecution was a major factor in his family remaining totally committed to the gospel. I know it has had a big impact on me and I think of it whenever the going gets rough.

  • Angie Gardner October 20, 2011, 7:24 am

    Thanks for sharing that, Kristen. What a wonderful legacy!

  • Alison Moore Smith October 20, 2011, 10:08 am

    Kristen, thank you for sharing your story! What a legacy. 🙂

    I’m a bit torn with the idea that we should attend a particular meeting, regardless of what happens. I’m sure in your family’s case, it was an inspired choice. But that might not extend to every circumstance. Being required/expected to go church — through years of bullying at the hands of “Bob” and his cohorts — honestly wasn’t worth whatever benefit I derived. My main memories of church during that near-decade are:

    Trying to avoid Bob

    Trying to be strategically situated so as not to be in the vicinity of Bob

    Being publicly humiliated by Bob

    Having Bob demean me repeatedly, under his breath almost every single time he was near or walked by

    Having “friends” join in and/or sit quietly by while Bob did his work

    I have a friend (living in infamous Eagle Mountain, although not in my old (not-so-civil) ward) who is a bright, articulate, fun, stalwart saint, who now “home churches.” (She’s not a homeschooler.) She does so because her child(ren) were being mistreated at church and the situation was not being resolved. I think protecting children from abuse and torment is a valid reason to stay away from just about any place that inflicts it. 🙁

  • Tracy Keeney October 20, 2011, 3:20 pm

    What an incredible story Kristen!! That’s really amazing. I hope it’s written down for future generations to cherish!

  • Catherine September 8, 2012, 1:11 pm

    When I get in a position that tempts me to quit going to church because of the way I’m treated, I remember a story that I heard in Relief Society many years ago.

    It was during the time when Hawaii was being colonized by the white people. They were bringing many unknown diseases to the natives and it was killing them in huge numbers.

    On one occasion, a large Hawaiian family traveled for about 45 minutes on foot to reach their chapel. One of the children was ill and had been left at home. They were met at the door of the church by their branch president and told that they were not welcome there, that they could not come in because they had a child that was ill.

    There story was told by a little boy–about 10-11 years old. He said that his family turned around and began the long walk home. He told about how he saw his father clinch and unclinch his fists and his jaw. He talked about how he was concerned about what his father’s anger would lead to. But when they got home, his father said “We will pray.” It took some time but when the family finally got up off their knees, the father announced that they would return to the chapel the next week–that the church was true and that they would not allow anyone to affect their testimonies of the truth.

    Part of our testimonies involve our attendance at church. If we allow the behavior of others to influence our behavior contrary to what we have been commanded to do, then we have allowed satan to win that particular battle. I have been very grateful for the above story for it has kept me firmly planted in my determination to be obedient, even in the face of nonacceptance and other obstacles. I hope it helps someone else.

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