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Is It Ever OK to “Just Say No”?

An anonymous reader writes:

We know, from the example of our brother Nephi, that the right attitude is “Go and Do.” Period. Most of us have that attitude and race for the car, keys in hand, at the drop of a hat, a calling, or a call. But even the best-trained racer will hit the wall if she runs out of fuel. We also know we’re not expected to run harder than our strength will permit. Who makes that call? We know our Mother Eve had to do some interpreting, even though her husband conversed directly with God. What is the right mix of duty and survival?

Jeannie says:

One of the greatest teaching moments in scripture came in answer to a question posed by chief priests and scribes: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?” After discerning their ulterior motive and rebuking them, Christ answered: ” ?Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” Luke 20:22,25

The chief priests and scribes marveled at his answer. So do I. In His incredibly succinct response, Christ gave us a divine template for our own earthly balancing act. In our struggle to keep the things of God and our own “Caesars” in proportion, it is inevitable that the balance will change and the need to reapportion will arise. We give. We take. We make small corrections in our juggling act. However, when the balance becomes overwhelmingly upset, how do we weigh “going and doing the things which the Lord hath commanded” against the counsel in Mosiah 4:27? “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength�therefore, all things must be done in order.”

As you find your footing on this sensitive and timely issue, I invite you to read the following examples; each representing respectively, the two schools of thought stated above. Are they really in conflict?

One afternoon, a dear friend of mine (we’ll call her Carole), told me of her total frustration and borderline depression. Carole was a very active member of her tiny branch. She had several young children, was a counselor in the Primary, and served as young women president as well. She was also dealing with a devastating personal tragedy. I encouraged her to speak with her branch president and ask his opinion on a possible release. Something remarkable happened to both of us when she reported the outcome of her interview.

After relating her situation to the Branch President in detail; i.e. how she could no longer give 100% to either calling and still have anything left for the family and her own needs, the branch president sat back in his chair. He then asked her if he could remove his “branch president hat” for a moment and speak to her as a brother. He surprised her by asking her if she thought he gave 100% to his church calling. Her immediate response was “Well, yes ?of course.” Smiling, he told her that giving 100% all the time to anything was an illusion.

With the demands of his extremely large family he had, perhaps, 40% to consecrate to all other areas, including his calling. He encouraged her to simplify her thinking. Instead of making a handout each week or some cute visual aid that may find it’s way into the trash at meeting’s end, he counseled her to spend the time in other areas of her life that needed attention. He told her to delegate and absolved her (and me, indirectly) of the 100% stigma which had weighed so heavily on her conscience. He did not immediately release her, but gave her the challenge to try his suggestion for three months. At the end of that time, she was to report her experience. If balance could not be regained, he would cheerfully release her.

She accepted his challenge and began to think in terms of consecrating a “tithe of time” instead of a percentage of effort. For Carole, a “tithe” meant three hours a week. Through careful planning, simplification, and leaning heavily on the Spirit for inspiration, Carole was not only able to regain her balance, but also to prepare well within her allotted “tithe.”

An interesting, independent blessing came to Carole as a result of her efforts. Through her constant reliance on the Spirit of the Lord, she was also able to deal with her personal tragedy more effectively.

The second example comes from a woman I admire immensely. She has been my role model since the age of 18. Her husband is not a member of the Church but has been very supportive of her many callings throughout the years. Lisa (name changed), an endowed member, had been issued a calling to work in the temple. After discussing the requirements with her husband and bishop, she decided that it was not the right time for this type of commitment. The bishop agreed and, although it was a difficult decision, she knew it was correct. She felt privileged to have been considered for the calling and felt the Lord gave His approval, both for the calling and refusal.

Is there a conflict between Nephi’s proclamation of obedience and King Benjamin’s sermon on requisite strength? The answer is: not unless we create the conflict ourselves. If, like Nephi, the spirit is willing but, as with Benjamin, the flesh cannot run faster than it has strength, reassessment and rebalance are needed. The Lord knows our heart. So do we. Bishops and other leaders operate on inspiration and intellect, not clairvoyance. Sharing the concerns of our hearts and taking appropriate action are the first steps in restoring wisdom and order to our lives.

Alison says:

Having just moved across the country from Florida to Utah drowning in a sea of boxes waiting to be unpacked and surrounded by children with “nothing to do” my initial knee-jerk response to this question was, “Yes! Now watch me “just say no” to writing this column!” But guilt has a way of making room in my schedule, so here I am again, unfocused though I may be.

Much great insight has already been given. Let me just add one thought of my own and then a few thoughts I have gleaned from church-published materials.

A number of years ago I served as the Relief Society president in my ward. In that capacity one of my main responsibilities was the visiting teaching program. I came to have a strong testimony of the program, but not everyone shared my enthusiasm.

What frustration I encountered when sisters would readily accept an assignment to be a visiting teacher, but would never follow through! At one point I actually pleaded with the sisters (as a group) to please just tell me if they really weren’t going to do their visiting teaching. I would have welcomed anyone who had enough integrity to admit that they really were not going to do it and to “just say no.”

The Latter-day Saint Woman, Part B, has an entire lesson titled “Serving in the Church.” This lends some understanding to the process.

“Once we have been selected to fill a calling, we are called by our priesthood leader for a private interview. At this time he reviews the responsibilities of our new calling and inquires about our personal and family circumstances to help us assess whether we can meet the requirements of time, preparation, meeting attendance, travel, and so on, involved in our calling.”

The fact that an assessment as to whether or not the calling can reasonably be done is part of the official process should help us understand that there are times when it cannot be reasonably done. It also reiterates the fact that it is our responsibility to make our circumstances known to our leaders. Last time I checked, the bishop’s office didn’t come equipped with a crystal ball or taro cards.

Years ago a close friend of mine, with multiple stake and ward callings, was extended her seventh calling. She accepted but then broke down in tears. When she explained to the stake leader extending the calling that with three very young children, a husband in graduate school, teaching music lessons, and six callings she was a tad overdrawn on her sanity account his response startled her. “Well, why didn’t you just say so? Since you keep accepting the callings and you keep doing such a great job, we figured you could handle it all.”

Of course there are also times when we must at very least ask our leaders to reassess our ability to fulfill a calling we currently hold and at most ask to be released from it. It stands to reason that if we are moving or dying, passing on that information to our leaders would be helpful in the discussion. And if our calling conflicts with our spouse’s calling or our schedule would make fulfilling it questionable, that should be brought up as well.

I was just released as the Boca Raton (Florida) Ward Young Women camp director and Laurel advisor because I moved to another state. I love the Young Women of Boca, but it’s a rather trying commute. (My husband, however, is still officially on the Pompano Beach Stake high council. Do you think they’ll cover his airfare?)

The Gospel According to Alison says that while often the Lord wants a particular person in a specific calling, often there are many people who could fulfill it and that any of them are acceptable to the Lord. The fact that the Lord confirmed to leaders that you are an acceptable candidate for a calling doesn’t mean that you are the only one who can do it or that you will be condemned to a fiery pit for eternity if you decline.

On the other hand (and it is the biggest and the most important hand) we should be looking for reasons to go above and beyond the call of duty, not ways to get out of it. To be frank, I don’t think there are very many valid reasons for refusing an extended call.

On a very primitive level, a basic sense of equity should motivate us to share in the work of the church. An article in the February 1979 Liahona said, “When people refuse callings or accept them reluctantly, the bishop feels like he’s still out there all alone.” How true this is. If we are willing only to partake of what the church offers without making a contribution, the difference has to be made up by someone. Why should we assume that the resources of others are less valuable (and more easily shared) than our own? “Questions and Answers”

Some people are willing to serve, but only selectively. There are callings I have loved (Home and Family Education teacher, education counselor, Relief Society president, Gospel Doctrine teacher (3rd time)) and callings I have had to learn to love (Young Women camp director, Young Women counselor, Primary chorister, visiting teacher, Gospel Doctrine teacher (1st and 2nd times)). But I believe it is misguided to refuse a calling we find less desirable or to pick and choose the areas or auxiliaries in which we will serve.

That attitude reminds me of an incident many years ago when a newly married couple, looking for a place to live, attended our ward. Before deciding, however, they inquired of the bishop whether “any leadership callings will be opening up in the near future.” Excuse me while I gag.

Alma’s insight may be helpful here. “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” Alma 29:1, 3

In addition to those who refuse callings they deem unworthy of their vast repertoire of skills, I would guess that there are two other reasons that rank high on the “refusal excuse” list. One is not having time to serve and the other is feeling unqualified for the position.

Franklin D. Richards said:

It is my opinion that being generally too busy and not being qualified are really not valid reasons for saying no to opportunities to serve in building the kingdom of God.

So what do we do if our schedule is already overloaded?

Elder Richard L. Evans said:

Can we avoid letting unessentials enslave us? Can we resolve to seek somewhat to simplify and to make a new appraisal of what we really consider essential, with a little more living, a little less of mere mechanics, a little less time being busy without accomplishing anything significant, a little less of meaningless motions?

And what do we do if we really do not have the skills necessary to fill the requirements of the calling extended?

Neal Maxwell said:

More often than not, calls come to those who feel unready, but who are actually ready enough in the view of God, rather than to those who feel ready themselves, but who are, in God’s wisdom, unready.

Perhaps being humble enough to realize where we are lacking is a positive trait rather than a negative!

When I served as education counselor in Relief Society I submitted the name of a woman to be a Relief Society teacher. She had just moved into the ward and I had only spoken to her once, but I knew immediately she was the woman who should fill the spot I had been unable to fill.

This dear sister accepted the call, but soon spoke to me and expressed not only the feeling that she couldn’t possibly teach a lesson, but that she was terrified of standing in front of all her sisters. I wondered if my signals had been crossed.

Because of her great trepidation, however, this sister prepared like no one I have ever seen. To this day I can say I have never heard such wonderful lessons or more powerful testimony in a Relief Society meeting. She blessed every woman who heard any of her lessons.

Neal Maxwell later said:

The gross size of our talent inventories is less important than the net use of our talents.

What a relief this statement is! It isn’t our particular skill set that matters to the Lord; it is how much of it we offer to his service.

If the Lord generally expects us to reprioritize in order to serve where called and to lean on his grace to serve in areas we are weak, then we are left with precious little in the way of excuses.

The general rule seems pretty clear. Finally, I will let the prophet Joseph Smith have the final word:

I made this my rule, when the Lord commands do it.

Kathy says:

I have the blessing of a family of bishop-in-laws, so I asked the Greens for advice. I put Liz’s answer first, because her husband, the baby of the family who is our acknowledged spiritual giant, forwarded my query to his wife before he even considered his own reply. He has always put her first, and I thought this was an excellent example of the tender concern all bishops have for the sisters within their stewardship

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 3:56 pm

    Please hold your comments until I load the rest of this thread.

    Thanks!

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 3:58 pm

    Liz writes:

    Recently in my call as stake Releif Society education counselor, we hosted a Bishop’s Wives Night. Because I am the bishop’s wife, I also attended as a “supplicant.” No; that can’t really be right, it just felt that way (Desperado was not the opening hymn). We invited some past bishop’s wives to sit on a panel of sorts to help us cope with the unique situation we find ourselves in. One extremely touchy and much-discussed topic was, “Should you ask to be released if your new role as primary-parent requires it?” You can imagine the sensitive nature of this discussion, as some would need to speak with their bishop (!) to obtain this release (who in some cases issued the call in the first place). Whoa.

    The stake president’s wife was one of our panel of experts. Her counsel was, you should never be afraid to put the needs of your family first. Don’t be ashamed! Do what needs to be done; they are your first responsibility.

    Easily said. One of the other sisters whose husband had served previously did ask to be released from a stake calling for that very reason. She said she felt overwhelming guilt then and still does years later even though she would make the same decision all over again.

    I did it twice. The first was years ago with one little babe. I was teaching Primary and my husband was ward mission leader and teaching the Gospel Essentials class. The sister missionaries were tending my pre-nursery son. I discovered one Sunday that this “tending” was letting him run the halls while they talked. Because my husband would have been harder to replace than I, I asked to be released so I could tend my son during the Sunday School block. The bishop did grant the release, and no alternative calling was offered for about a year. Being about eight months pregnant at the time, the rumor mill started that I had asked to be released because I was pregnant. When I was offered another call it was as Relief Society chorister. We had one car, my husband had meetings all morning and the last one was with the bishop just before church. Relief Society was first then, and we often didn’t get back to the chapel until after the opening hymn. The Bishop called me in some months later to ask me why I was missing in action so much. I told him about our car and kid situation, and that he kept my husband in his office until after church had started. I’ll never forget what he said next, “Now, who’s your husband?” Please keep reading. It was not the Bishop’s fault that he didn’t know who I was married to.

    The second time is an equally informative memory.

    I believe with all my heart that sometimes I am called by God and receive the witness that attests to that. I believe there are also times that I have been called by logic, necessity, and availability. I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, God will consecrate my efforts to be a good servant and grant me the gifts I need to succeed, and I will be blessed.

    I face this issue again in my current calling. I am stalling, praying, and hoping something happens so that I won’t have to be the one to end it, so that I can have what I have come to think of as an “honorable release.”

    I dislike the condemnation that seems to be inherent with this difficult decision. I also believe that happiness only comes through responsibility; which means callings are essential to our earthly happiness. I believe a good auxiliary or priesthood leader will work with you and even fast and pray with you when necessary. No one should be condemned for putting the needs of her family first, but sometimes if we serve the Lord first, he will serve our children better than we can and in ways we cannot. This is by nature an intensely personal decision where no pat answer will suffice.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 3:59 pm

    Am I the only one who wonders why people gossip about why someone is released or why callings shift around? Helloooooo!

    When I was released as Primary chorister after almost exactly one year (it’s a long story, suffice it to say that my bishop knew that my entire life is Primary and that I felt being only with kids all Sunday was akin to banishment to ourter darkness, and actually asked me to serve for just one year(!)) my bishop’s own son, who was about six, came up to me wih tears filling his eyes.

    “Sister Smith? Are you being released because you’re such a good singer that you’re going to be performing concerts all over the world?”

    You would have to know Jamel Patton to believe this, but I swear it is true. Go ahead and let the rumor mill run with that!

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 3:59 pm

    Liz’s bishop (and sweet husband) writes:

    The rule in the church is obviously “Say yes when called and serve until released.” The other side of that arrangement is supposed to be that the priesthood leader who extends the call should ask about availability. I had an experience as a counselor in a bishopric calling a woman to serve in Young Women. She was totally shocked and was not sure she could accept, based on her concept of what was required of her. She asked for time to consider and pray and when we met again, she said very humbly that she had had the witness that the Lord would bless her in whatever she was called to do.

    We then began to discuss the schedule and it turned out that “mutual” was on the same night as her most important work shift. She ended up not serving because she couldn’t make the meetings, not because she was unwilling.

    We had two members of the high council recently whose work shifts changed and they were both released because they couldn’t attend the meetings.

    The pattern is hiding out there, largely undiscussed, that if your circumstances change, you can notify your file leader and have him or her consider whether a release is appropriate. I firmly believe that members should be able to discuss with their priesthood leaders whether they (the members) need to be released based on a change of circumstance. But I also believe that the members should allow the priesthood leader to receive his own witness as to what should be done.

    In my ward I have a young, single, returned missionary serving as Priest’s Quorum advisor. Every summer he goes to Phoenix to do an internship related to his field of study in college. We miss him for about 2-1/2 months but we don’t release him, because we can cover in the meantime and he slips right back into his responsibilities when he returns.

    Another option is that a member probably more specifically a mother whose family situation makes considering a change necessary can be transferred to a different responsibility so that the blessings of having a calling are not removed. They can also be given an assistant many times and train the new person to take over the call or have the assistant cover the times when they cannot be there.

    In my ward I have over a hundred people without callings. Granted, only about five of them attend church, but I am constantly trying to expand the involvement of my members in church service. One of my favorite gospel paradoxes is having a member who is so busy they can’t see straight and blessing them by adding additional responsibility to their lives with a calling. Invariably their lives improve and the blessings of being set apart and having the Lord’s help compensate and mitigate the difficult circumstances that they had previously faced.

    I see a calling as a combination of the inspiration of the priesthood leaders and the availability of the member to meet the requirements (scheduling and otherwise) of the call. When that availability changes, I believe that a follow up conversation with the priesthood leader should be something that the member can have without great burdens of guilt (I recognize that as wishful thinking).

    The thing I’m not sure that we address is that our part as members is to notify the leaders of the changes, not necessarily to determine whether we will be released. That my ward members serve is a constant source of joy to me and increases my faith as I see them sacrifice to build the kingdom. That those same members would suffer (vs. the more appropriate “sacrifice”) simply because they don’t feel like they can discuss the challenges inherent to the call after a significant change in their circumstance, is one of my great concerns.

    A significant part of our connection to the church is our opportunity to serve. I believe there are ways to balance our responsibilities at home and our responsibilities at church so that the greatest blessings can be ours.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 4:00 pm

    Another aspect of this service that I often see lacking, is that of husband’s who truly support there wive’s in their callings as opposed to husbands whose idea of support is to say, “I support you” and leave it at that.

    How many, many, many times I have seen a mother serving in a Primary presidency or teaching in Young Women while juggling a pre-nursery (but very mobile) toddler on one hip (or shoulder or leg). All the while dad is sitting happily (and calmly) in his quorum or Sunday School meeting. Helloooooo!

    My dear husband and I have always had a pact. Barring a calling that requires our service during the 2-hour block of adult meetings, we take turns watching the pre-nursery child so that each of us can have at least one hour of spiritual edification per week. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, but has not always been well received. Perhaps it is because my husband was a relatively young high priest, but toting a toddler to the quorum meeting has always been seen as at the least an oddity and at worst an annoyance by the other men. (By the way, this occurs even though they are well-behaved and taken out when they disrupt.) Why wouldn’t other men see this as normal?

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:01 pm

    Mike writes:

    When I had been a bishop for about a year I was struggling with the question of how I could reconcile my service and the time it required with the time that I knew I was supposed to be spending as a father. I feared lest I would not do justice to either responsibility or worse yet would do damage by focusing too strongly on one or the other. As I think about this now, it is interesting that my employment did not enter into that equation. My concerns were with church and family.

    We had a general authority visitor at a Stake Conference during this period. The bishops, high counselors and stake presidency were invited to attend a luncheon with our guest. I was extremely concerned about how I could balance my time. I wanted to know if I was gone from my family, who would make up the difference. We had an opportunity to ask questions of the general authority. I believe he was a member of the seventy, I am sorry I do not remember his name. I asked him how he did it. How did he balance his family, his work, his church? He told me that he did the best he could and that the Lord blessed him in areas that he could not seem to accomplish himself.

    I was a little discouraged because I needed some sort of formula as my answer. Spend this much time here, get a planner, don’t worry too much about that, you know; those kinds of concrete things that we can write down and put up on our refrigerator with a magnet. All I could do was to continue to try to serve the best that I could and to be wise when wisdom was needed.

    One night when Scott was three or four years old, he was having a hard time and told Lyn he needed his daddy. She got in the car, came down to the church, tapped on the door of the meeting I was in and said “Your son needs you.” I excused myself from the meeting and went home to be with him. The meeting went on. The church is still true and I was not released.

    What, you might say, does this have to do with “just say no”? I firmly believe that each individual who is called to serve should be given an opportunity to “count the cost” of the service he or she will render. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” Luke 14:28. I think this is what Bruce is alluding to in allowing people to talk to their priesthood leaders and apprise them of their personal circumstances. The thing that we need to be careful of, is figuring out too many costs and not seeing any rewards.

    The year after I asked the question of the general authority, the Lord poured out upon our family such joy and such blessings as we never felt before or, I think, since. I came to know that the power of the atonement works even when we have a hard calling and lots of things to do. The Lord Jesus Christ makes up the difference. He strengthened my family in those times when I had to be absent. We had more love showered into our home which I am sure came from the love of God. I do not have sufficient words to express my gratitude for that lesson because I know that when the Lord needs me to serve, there will be no question in my mind that he will prepare a way for me to do it. We have four children who have gone to the temple, two to be married and two who will have served honorable missions. Their testimonies are strong. They are on their way to live, again, with their Heavenly Father. That does not come by parents making excuses such as “I need to be home” or “I need to be at church.” It comes by intelligent, spiritual service where God wants you to be. At home, at church, and in prayer.

    I know there are leaders who do not understand how to call people. I know there are times in our lives when it seems more than we can bear to do one more thing. The system can let us down. Others can let us down. We can get discouraged, afraid, and overwhelmed by it all.

    I think of the two lost handcart companies reaching the Sweetwater River. When they saw the ice chunks floating in that river and realized that they had to cross, grown men dropped to their knees and wept like babies. Life is hard. The church is hard. Serving is hard. Balancing your life is hard. I have not found anything in this life to be easy, except when I turn to Christ. My counsel is, turn to Jesus. He will comfort, teach, compensate, inspire, direct, love, help yes, atone for your mistakes when you serve him with all your heart. You can say, “no.” He will understand. Just make sure that you are saying “no” for the right reasons.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:01 pm

    Grace from Northern Virginia, writes:

    I believe that I am a consecrated individual. I have made covenants with the Lord in His holy temple to that effect. But I am mortal, and I do have limitations. I have learned to look bishops in the eye, sincerely tell them that I would love to help, but ? And then explain my situation. I tell them truthfully that as a consecrated individual, I want to do what the Lord and his servants feel is best, and then ask for the bishop’s decision in the matter, promising to abide by it. If he says, “Take the calling,” I take the calling. If, however, he has become newly aware of components of my situation, and decides that there are extenuating circumstances, then I have not turned down the calling, it has been withdrawn. The bishop has felt sustained (I hope); he knows I am willing to do my part as best as I can, and that he can feel good about asking me to do something else.

    I also try to teach my children that it is our responsibility as members of the church to pray continually for our leaders’ successes. Sustaining someone to a calling is more than acceptance of the choice, a promise to support them, and gratitude that we didn’t get saddled with that job! Sustaining members in their callings includes praying for inspiration to come, for success in applying that inspiration, and for the strength to meet the demands of the calling. It’s important to us to do it on a regular basis. We regularly include our bishop, his counselors, and their families in our family prayers. We express our gratitude for the sacrifices they are all making so that the dads can perform this important work, and pray that the kids and mom will have peace, faith, and all else that they need to carry on in Dad’s absence. I feel it is the least that I can do; it teaches gratitude and awareness of others’ needs, strengthens faith, and gives us a sense of responsibility. It helps my children realize that their leaders have children at home, just like them, who miss their mom or dad when they are serving in their callings. It helps me keep watch over my own priorities. It helps me remember to express my gratitude to them, in word and in deed.

    One more thing: so many of us are so well versed at choosing and focusing on the good that we forget that many of our decisions are not between good and bad, but between good and good. Do I go to ward choir on a Sunday morning, or do I work on my genealogy? We don’t have to be involved in every good thing that comes along. In fact, it is entirely possible that when we back out or refuse to get involved in a good cause/calling, It may be making room for someone else to dig in and grow through service.

  • Jeannie Vincent September 20, 2009, 4:02 pm

    I absolutely loved your thoughts on consecrated service, especially your comment on the call being “withdrawn” rather than “turned down.”

    The shift of responsibility is pretty evident there, isn’t it?

    It’s also pretty wonderful that you are teaching your children to be aware of and to pray for the leaders in your ward. Nothing sharpens appreciation more than praying for that person(s) or serving in a leadership capacity yourself.

    Thanks for your slant on this sensitive issue.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Grace, thank you for your contribution! Your pattern in accepting callings is very much like ours. I am so glad that you took the time to explain it so eloquently. I have always felt that the bishop should know if you can’t attend mutual before you are sustained as Young Women president or that you might not be able to attend on Sunday before you are sustained as a Primary teacher.

    Both my husband and I have had times when there was an apparent conflict between the proposed calling and our current schedule. In all but one case we were still extended (and accepted) the calling, but our leaders knew up front what the possible limitations would be.

    A number of times the conflict has been between my calling and my husband’s calling. For example, a number of years ago my husband served as first counselor in the bishopric while I was the Relief Society president. That put both of us in simultaneous meetings, such as Ward Council. Since we had an infant, she would have to go with one of us. We felt it important that this fact be brought up. Since no one had a problem with our daughter attending some of these meetings, it became a non-issue, but at least we didn’t surprise anyone with the additional attendee. (Fortunately she was a very good kid ?except for the Cheerios incident of 1990!)

    Thanks, also for making the crucial point that sustaining someone requires more than just raising the right hand! I am sure your leaders are blessed by your diligence in supporting them in their duties.

  • klgreen1 September 20, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Grace, do you agree that our readers now deserve full disclosure on the Cheerios incident?

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 4:04 pm

    A reader from Tennessee, writes:

    This is a compelling subject and one we all grapple with from time to time. During my time as a student at BYU I was interviewed by the bishop, but was not extended a calling. I was a fairly new member, the only member in my family, and supporting myself, working many hours. I later found out that the interview was to consider me for Relief Society president! They interviewed me first to find out what my life was really like and recognized that I had very little time free for anything, much less such a heavy responsibility.

    This experience has helped me to put callings in perspective. If more bishops would interview first, then call if it seems appropriate, perhaps there would be less personal trauma over this issue! At another time in my life, when my mother was seriously ill, the bishop approached my husband about calling me to be Primary president. My husband explained the situation, which was unknown to the bishop, and the call was extended to someone else. In each case, I considered it a vote of confidence from the Lord, but have not felt any guilt associated with turning down a calling. I believe there are circumstances when a calling must be turned down or a release requested, although I have not had to do that in my now 30 church callings! I have observed others serve in very heavy callings while families fall apart from lack of attention or supervision. I don’t think the Lord intends for callings to be the number one priority at such a time! These are difficult issues for many. Thanks for sharing some insights.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:05 pm

    A reader from Tennessee, writes:

    This is a compelling subject and one we all grapple with from time to time. During my time as a student at BYU I was interviewed by the bishop, but was not extended a calling. I was a fairly new member, the only member in my family, and supporting myself, working many hours. I later found out that the interview was to consider me for Relief Society president! They interviewed me first to find out what my life was really like and recognized that I had very little time free for anything, much less such a heavy responsibility.

    This experience has helped me to put callings in perspective. If more bishops would interview first, then call if it seems appropriate, perhaps there would be less personal trauma over this issue! At another time in my life, when my mother was seriously ill, the bishop approached my husband about calling me to be Primary president. My husband explained the situation, which was unknown to the bishop, and the call was extended to someone else. In each case, I considered it a vote of confidence from the Lord, but have not felt any guilt associated with turning down a calling. I believe there are circumstances when a calling must be turned down or a release requested, although I have not had to do that in my now 30 church callings! I have observed others serve in very heavy callings while families fall apart from lack of attention or supervision. I don’t think the Lord intends for callings to be the number one priority at such a time! These are difficult issues for many. Thanks for sharing some insights.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 4:06 pm

    Amen, Tennessee! Our leaders need to know, explicitly, what is going on in our lives that may impact on our callings. I have known of many times, especially in wards where there are fewer members who are willing to serve, when the answer has been, “We understand that you won’t be able to fulfill this calling to the level that you would like to. But under the circumstances it would be better for us to have someone who is at least willing to show up than to have no one at all.”

    My family has often been blessed by nursery and achievement day leaders, choir directors and choristers, auxiliary teachers, newspaper editors, advertising specialists, bulletin board coordinators, and activities chairmen, who have gone not just the extra mile, but the extra marathon. Their services to the ward members have been so uplifting and wonderful! But it is important to have someone who will show up regularly and dependably and give a simple lesson, even if that means there won’t be a lovely table display, multiple visual aids, and an elaborate handout. (You know, kind of like lessons in High Priests’ group ?)

    Another thought ?the idea of interviews prior to issuing callings is not common in wards, but is actually the model used at “higher” levels of administration. When a new stake presdient is called, the visiting general authority interviews a whole slew of people, not only discussing issues with them personally, but sometimes asking them for input and suggestions. If a general authority uses actual discussion as one of the means for extending a calling, why would we expect that a bishop should only rely on private spiritual promptings?

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:06 pm

    Becky writes:

    I would like to see more sensitivity to the needs of mothers with young or teenaged children as it concerns callings in the family. When I served as Relief Society president, my husband was on the Stake High Council. My meetings on Sunday conflicted with his duties, leaving our four kids to fend for themselves and come to church with neighbors.

    It broke my heart to see my little girls at church with messy hair. But since I had to leave the house three hours before they were ready to go to sacrament meeting, there seemed no solution. Priesthood leaders, please keep in mind that mothers need to serve their children. My biggest problem was getting my bishop to realize that I did not have a “wife” at home taking care of my kids. Bishops have a wife to take care of everything at home. High councilors have a wife. Relief Society presidents have no one, yet they share the burdens of the bishop. I served for three years. When I was released my 14-year old thanked the bishop for giving her mom back. Comments anyone?

  • Jeannie Vincent September 20, 2009, 4:07 pm

    At the risk of sounding highly redundant, why in the world didn’t you and your husband speak with the bishop together? Another alternative would have been for your husband to ask for reconsideration on his high council job. If the hardship was as you describe and your family was in a state of neglect, wasn’t it time for some definitive action on your parts? What happened?

  • Alison Moore Smith September 20, 2009, 4:08 pm

    Look on the bright side, Becky. At least you have a good excuse for the state of your girls’ hair!

    But may I add that Relief Society presidents generally do have someone “to take care of everything at home.” They have a husband. I understand the conflict in your situation but, as Jeannie brought up, women with high profile church callings should be given the same consideration that men get with regard to the callings extended to their spouses.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:08 pm

    Brenda from Maine, writes:

    I vote, “Yes.” No one else knows the load you carry except for yourself and your family. I was recently asked to teach a class in enrichment meeting and I refused, to the surprise of many in my ward. I have a very full plate stake Primary secretary, extraction program, visiting teaching supervisor, visiting teacher, mom, sister, friend, wife, aunt, and Girl Scout leader. I do the crche exhibit in our ward every Christmas and I fill in as teacher and chorister when needed. I just couldn’t handle one more thing, as I had just helped my daughter get married. We know and the Lord knows. He doesn’t expect us to run faster than we can. Sometimes, yes, I have felt guilty; but after talking with my stake president I felt very relieved and have not felt guilty since. We should not overdo and it can happen so easily. Thanks sisters. This is a good topic for all of us.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:08 pm

    Another Brenda writes:

    I’m a single sister with children, and while I have a calling and quite enjoy it, I find that being single in a ward that focuses around the whole family, I sometimes feel like I don’t truly fit in. I try to get to the single activities; however, with the children I sometimes can’t make it.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:09 pm

    Ara from Southeastern Idaho, writes:

    I have only been in “Zion” since June 2000 as a Tennessee transplant and it has been tough. I feel like a Protestant. There are so many capable “real” Mormons, if one is cut out of a different cloth one just might be food for the moths in a dark closet. If you think my contribution is appropriate for mass consumption, I am looking for an avenue of expression. I need a circle of sisters who will just accept me and inspire me to do better, and who just might find something of worth in my view of the vineyard. I want to really know that I belong to this body and have a place at the table along with the capable, talented, day-planning, scrapbooking, stamping, Women from Venus who seem to virtually hold the fort at church. Thanks for the invite to participate in this circle.

    Prior to our most recent move, our family life has always revolved around church relationships. We don’t have a life unless we have it at church. Out here in “Zion,” there are enough active people to fill all the jobs several times over. After the move, basically I didn’t have a church calling for almost 10 months. I mentioned this to the first counselor in the bishopric who interviewed me for my temple recommend. And I visited at some length with the first counselor in the stake presidency regarding our complete lack of church responsibilities. He said it was good that my husband and I had no callings so we could be involved in the community without danger of being suspect (being a church leader and a community person).

    I have felt so displaced. Unconnected. In a stake/ward rich with former mission presidents, stake presidents and bishops and that is just the men. Their wives have been the Relief Society president times three. Or they have been in Young Women for 20 years. They are all so comfortable-looking. I have felt like I am a never-has been. I will never be in their club. I just wanted to fit and be a part of things. But I just go to church and come home. Prior to our email exchange in the Circle of Sisters, I used to think of myself as the poster child for the silent B list. I know I am not the only one who has dreamed of feeling more normal. But I now am more convinced than ever before that a great blessing has been granted me, to work on my challenges in anonymity rather than in a more visible role in the ward or stake this past year and a half. Thanks to all of you for your insight.

  • Jeannie Vincent September 20, 2009, 4:09 pm

    I wish you much fulfillment in the things you do without being called.

  • Reader Comment September 20, 2009, 4:10 pm

    Len from Salt Lake City, writes:

    My son was in a climbing accident and needed 24-hour a day, seven days a week care. My husband is serving as stake president and I was a Sunday School teacher and visiting teacher. Plus another son at home and two daughters newly married with one delivering a boy just a few weeks after the accident. I asked for a time-out from teaching and I met with my Relief Society president and told her I needed a break for a few months from visiting teaching because I could not leave my son alone. She was wonderful, but not everyone else was. I received comments from some who judged my decisions based on what the “wife of the stake president” should be doing. (I couldn’t even go to church for three months). I learned that at that time I was not the “wife of the stake president,” but the wife of my husband and the mother of my son and other children and that calling came first. That understanding gave me permission to feel at peace with doing nothing but taking care of the family for a few months.

    Things are back to normal (teaching Sunday School, teaching institute, visiting teaching, helping my husband in his call, etc.) and I will always treasure those months that I did nothing but care for my son and get him back on his feet. That was the right thing for me and my family. No one else knows what you should be doing but the Spirit and we should never judge what others are capable of doing. We just don’t know their circumstances. I am grateful for that experience and the knowledge that I only need do what I can and not worry what someone else might do in the same situation.

  • klgreen1 September 20, 2009, 4:11 pm

    I have said no on occasion ?usually when I have had family circumstances that the bishop could not have been aware of. When my husband suffered from depression for three years, there was no way that an additional church calling was going to help us. He and I were doing all we could just to get the family to church on Sundays; and my husband couldn’t even do that most weeks.

    I have also said no when I perceived that the bishop did not have someone in mind to replace me in my present calling. I feel very strongly that you don’t remove hard working, loving adults from any of our youth programs just to put them in an adult program, ward or stake. I think we make grave errors toward our children and youth by thinking that just anyone can do a good job with them. There are people who don’t like teenagers and can’t figure out how to communicate with them. We lose too many teens when this happens. So I have refused to give up a Sunday School teaching assignment of the 13-14 years olds when asked to teach the adult class.

    It all worked out and eventually I was released from Sunday School when they found another adult appropriate to the calling. I also do not see any “glory” in stake callings that do not deal directly with the youth. My only favorite part of being in stake primary was the opportunity to conduct a stake primary chorus two years in a row, and to visit the ward Primary programs twice a year. Those were blessings that I couldn’t deny myself.

    I like the references in the article that guide us to tell our bishops where we are in our lives. They only see our Sunday-selves, and have no idea what else may be going on in our lives. It is essential for us to assess our lives verbally with the bishop/stake president before accepting any assignment, so that we can do the assignment with all our might, mind, and strength. Our greatest calling will always be to our families first.

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