I wrote an email to someone that really wasn’t for that someone, but I didn’t yet know if I had the guts to say it to ALL OF INTERNET so I just sent it to him for the time being. He said I could publish it if I wanted to.
This was more than a year ago and I’m finally publishing it now that I’ve realized I feel very strongly about this issue all the time, not just when I’m caught up in reading a blog post.
This email to Greg Trimble really isn’t about his blog post at all- I have NO QUALMS with his post, but just so you’re up to speed, I’ll explain a bit of what it’s about.
The post is called “Dudes, stop breaking the hearts of your tender wives” (referencing a phrase used in the Book of Mormon about wives and children and how we should be protective of their feelings).
In the post, he reprimanded men for being unfaithful in various ways and for breaking the hearts of their wives.
That is great and I support it 100%.
Then, he started talking about how women are feeling like they have no place in the church once this happens to them. That their testimony is shattered because their family unit is shattered. That they are leaving the church because their husband did this thing.
That’s where I knew I had to say something. Not to Greg, and not even to the women who feel this way when this happens to them- because who am I to say how they should respond to their own trauma?
I knew I needed to speak to members of the church who contribute to cultural norms that say that a person isn’t complete without a spouse, that the gospel is centered on how healthy your family is, and that without an intact family, your testimony or membership in the church is pointless.
Here’s what I wrote to Greg, but really, I’m writing to you. I’d like to know what you think we can do to move our testimonies to more solid ground- to completely unshifting ground.
[Insert a bunch of how are you, response to previous email, chat about family etc. I’m not a complete monster.]
In “Dudes, stop breaking the hearts of your tender wives,” I had a takeaway that has little to do with infidelity.
In the past two years, three of my closest friends have ended their long marriages due to the very issues you presented in your post. Words can’t describe the relentless rollercoaster of emotions they’ve endured, that I’ve watched them endure, only able to imagine, never know for myself, how they felt.
I want to stay far away from pretending to understand the severe upheaval this would cause to one’s life, world-view, and trust in love. I have watched it shatter a formerly secure sense of self and make way for fear and doubt.
So, I do not wish to focus on what a person should or should not feel when such a betrayal has happened in what should have been their safest place.
When I read some of the reactions from the wives of men who have made despicable choices, women who felt like they could no longer continue in the gospel, I was shaken.
When I read that they felt like the gospel made no sense to them without their eternal family with that specific spouse, I knew I had to say something.
Not because it is wrong for a woman to feel that. But because with all the things she takes on in that moment of an earth-shattering breach, a loss of testimony does not have to be one.
And I think that’s something that every one of us within the Mormon community can work to expel from our speech and beliefs that we may not even realize we have.
We are saved alone.
The gospel is for individuals, and our doctrine reflects that. However, our members, particularly our single members, do not always get that message emphasized.
Culturally, we have sent a message that a person is not of complete value until they are married. Which naturally leads to the belief that if one loses that value through loss of the marriage, they are less-than. They aren’t a “full” member, and by extension, a “complete” daughter of God.
We have set our testimonies in shallow water when they should be rooted in doctrine.
I’m walking a thin line here, as the doctrine of Eternal Families is NOT shallow. It is close to central. But, it’s still not the center.
BEING MARRIED does not save us.
Jesus Christ saves You and Me, one by one. This is the core of what I’m trying to convey, what I would wave a magic wand to embed in every person’s heart if I could.
While single, I attended a fireside in Manhattan where Elder Bednar took questions the whole meeting along with Whitney Clayton.
Someone asked, “What is the greatest problem facing our generation?” This was about 8 years ago. Whitney Clayton said that social media is keeping us from forming eternal families (this is prophecy in itself, right? I’m still blown away at how often I see this in action).
Elder Bednar said, “A lack of being DOCTRINALLY GROUNDED.”
(Since that time he has written books and produced videos on this, so I realize this isn’t earth shattering information. Still, it’s constantly missed in our community.)
He went on to explain that we have become great at talking in warm platitudes and surface good-feels (I’m paraphrasing), but that when it comes time to weather real storms, we won’t be able to do it without a stronger understanding of doctrine.
Throughout the meeting people asked intense questions on a variety of hot-button topics, including homosexuality and feeling isolated as a single member in the church. To answer these, he would challenge the person to look at it from a doctrinal perspective and find the answers that way.
It was amazing to watch the process of looking to Christ’s actual teachings, via all books of scripture, and finding understanding on a deeper level than we would have had he shared a personal experience or opinion.
As an “older” single woman in the church at that time (I married at 28, I was 25 then), I had long felt a sense of insignificance without a spouse. But once the Spirit testified to me that what Elder Bednar was speaking was truth, and that truth was given to me, I got to work.
I stopped paying attention to messages, even from church members, that were not in line with doctrine. At first I didn’t even know what the word “doctrine” meant. I didn’t know what Christ’s doctrine was, and most of what I knew about following Him came from Young Women’s lessons and anecdotal stories about keeping commandments.
I studied The Infinite Atonement by Tad Callister which opened my eyes to depth of truth I had never considered. Even to a lifelong member of the church (or especially so, depending on how you look at it), I remember rarely hearing discussion of Christ’s Atonement.
I remember learning the commandments, the scripture stories, lessons on the Word of Wisdom and modesty. But the key ingredient- the WHY- the HOW- the answer to both, the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ and what comes from it, was missing.
Having a happy family was the goal, and everything we did in terms of righteousness was to obtain a solid, righteous, happy family.
Because of this, even if I wouldn’t have answered this way in Sunday School, I lived my life as if I would be SAVED by temple marriage.
But once I cracked down and got serious about doctrine, I gained a testimony and a mantra that allowed me to feel the love of God, know of my personal worth, with or without a spouse, and become a more joyful person overall:
Marriage in the temple does not save me. Jesus Christ saves me. Keeping our covenants with Him brings me progression, peace, and exaltation. I am complete whether or not I’m married.
Period. Full stop.
Yes, celestial marriage leads to further exaltation and forming a family can bring much joy. But upon what? What are the covenants that form the foundation for the greater covenants? The first is the baptismal covenant, and it is based squarely on taking Christ’s name upon ourselves and caring for our neighbor.
It is impossible to keep our greater covenants if we are void of commitment to the first, and every person is entitled to the promises given when he or she keeps the baptismal covenant. Line upon line…
We as a community have made some missteps that we can correct today.
It should be viewed as a symptom of a larger problem when a woman says her entire testimony is pointless if her husband is unfaithful.
The most heartbreaking part of the epidemic of women losing their testimony when their husband cheats, is that their testimony could be their greatest tool of healing and power in the middle of the storm, their greatest source of peace and hope.
Jesus Christ suffered all, he sunk below infidelity. He can lift and strengthen in ways that seem impossible in the aftermath of a betrayal.
He can even, if it is the direction both partners want to go, provide forgiveness and reconciliation. But only when each person, alone, knows Him. Trusts Him. Puts Him and His direction above the spouse, the children, the self.
If we focused on being “doctrinally grounded” as our goal, knowing and following Christ as our goal, we would emphasize Christ’s Atonement over any certain family structure. Our testimony would become the most important aspect of our life, something that is nourished first above all else and independent of any action or inaction on the part of our spouse (or our kids, or our parents, neighbors, leaders, etc.).
We would talk to single adults as if they were complete, worthy people on their own path to salvation. We would embrace the divorced, the homosexual, the widowed, and the unhappily married, as wholeheartedly as we would those from seemingly “model” families.
The only identity we have that can’t be taken from us is Child of God. Let’s empower every woman to own her testimony so her greatest source of strength doesn’t become yet another casualty of her husband’s (or child’s) poor decisions.
Let’s empower every member, in any situation, to own her or his testimony and pay the price to grow it through pure doctrine and communion with the Spirit- not through the shortcuts of simply growing up Mormon, marrying in the temple, or converting to the lifestyle rather than to Christ Himself.
It is hard work to gain a testimony and to keep it, and we have sent a message to each other that Pinterest-worthy quotes and church attendance are enough to keep us engaged. The number of friends and family I’ve seen leave the church in the last 5 years is enough to show me that it’s not enough.
I go on to say a bunch of nice things to Greg about all the amazing and difficult work he is doing to be a light in this world, and that I can tell he’s strong enough to hear it from me straight.
I think you are, too. Especially the ladies out there- the ones who freak out at the thought of teaching Gospel Doctrine because you “didn’t serve a mission,” or those who have started to go another way when a big change happened in your life that didn’t line up with the church’s promises as you understood them growing up.
Or when you choose to take a direction in your life outside of the traditional LDS norm, and you’re not quite sure how to navigate a new path with no model. True doctrine understood can adapt to any person who is willing to keep the commandments as Christ has explained them personally and through His prophets.
It’s time for us to step up our scripture game, to own our minds and take responsibility for our testimony as the thing that will get us through anything life throws at us. The world needs you. Amen.