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.