Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Being a Mormon is Hard

November 04th, 2013 by G.

Handcarts and angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Mormon Christian is hard.  No one is very good at it.

[Note: This post takes off from a discussion in a prior thread.  I’ve made it a separate post because it isn’t a direct reply to anyone in that thread, which would require more personal knowledge and spiritual authority vis-à-vis any of them then I currently possess.]

Prior to my mission, ‘unconscientious, unsociable, lazy, and selfish’ would have described me well. (It still does–or at least I have reason to believe that’s my default state). Add to that that I am bookish and introverted and extremely family-oriented and you will see why going on a mission filled me with dread. Almost existential dread, in fact. I would get sick in my gut when I thought about it. I tried not to think about it.

Up till then Mormonism had made no particular demands on me. If you’re raised Mormon and used to it, there is no great sacrifice in attending church meetings and refraining from alcohol and tea. Paying tithing is no big deal either, if you started doing it with your very first job so you never got used to spending that money on yourself.  The mission was much different. It was a spiritual crisis that I couldn’t ignore. I would either have to visibly and dramatically break with my family’s expectations and, basically, Mormonism, or else I would have to be absolutely miserable and out of my depth for two years.
How did I resolve the crisis? I did exactly what you’d expect someone with my kind of character to do. I temporized and drifted along. There was more to it than that, including divine wiles that got me to go to BYU my freshmen year pretty much against my will.  But reduced to essentials, I somehow and without much real conviction I eventually came to a despairing conviction that I had to suffer through a mission.

When I decided, two thing happened. First, God brought strongly to my mind the story of Peter walking on the water. It was pointed out to me that me serving a mission was absurd but that in its way it was a glorious absurdity–and that when it inevitably turned into a disaster, the hand of God would lift me up. This story was the text I preached in my missionary farewell service and in my missionary homecoming service and has become my personal theme. I see it, in fact, as a reprise of the whole plan of salvation.
The second thing was that I received a clear and unmistakable manifestation of the Holy Ghost when I prayed about the Book of Mormon. I had been praying about it off and on all my life but nothing undeniably supernatural had ever occurred in response. Now it had.
My mission was pretty bad. Spain was not a fruitful vineyard for even the best of missionaries and to the faults I already knew my mission experience added more. I can be self-righteous and prickly and arrogant, it seems. It also had moments that I will just blandly describe as the heavens being unveiled and leave it at that. I was mostly a failure as a missionary. I don’t mean that in the anodyne way that people talk about failing at tasks that are beyond their capability. I mean I failed, I did less than I could have, I knowingly and willfully let fears or temptations take me at times, I deliberately let opportunities go because I was a chump. The task was beyond the level of my abilities but I wasn’t even up to the level of my abilities.

Yet–this is a big yet, because its the whole point of what I’m writing here–at the end of my mission I was given the spiritual knowledge that the Lord approved of my service and accepted the severe trials I’d had, even with myself, as the sacrifices of a fellow servant.

No, those aren’t the right words. They aren’t powerful enough.  If I could tell it right, you would read it knowing that its the kind of experience that would be worth a lifetime to have. I was at the same time made to comprehend the totality of all the misery and frustration I’d experienced for two years and of all my nasty little sins that had contributed to it, and then I was made to see and *feel* and *know” that these were a cross that I had carried for two years. I don’t mean “carrying the cross” as a euphemism for having a hard time.  I mean it the ways the scriptures mean it.  We are too used to treat the phrase ‘carrying the cross’ as a trite commonplace for you to get the full effect, but I got the full effect. I heard–I felt?–I comprehended? a voice telling me that Christ had observed my mission and had accepted that I was someone who had walked his path. ‘This is a friend and a brother,’ he had said. “This is one of us.”

In time to come He will repeat it to my face.

Since then my experience as a church member, or as a father and a husband, has been much the same. Never an unmixed success. Never a performance that I could feel I hadn’t unnecessarily tainted with sins of commission and omission. I am a shabby Mormon. These failures are better than successes elsewhere. I have found more joy making a hash of things in the gospel path than would be possible on any other path pursued however flawlessly. I mean that.

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
C.S. Lewis, in Screwtape, showed us that the fear of death was harder to endure than death.
“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.”

One of the themes of this blog is that failure is always an option.  I would almost say that it is the only option.  Come, flounder with us.

 

 

Comments (26)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , , , ,
November 04th, 2013 12:06:31
26 comments

Vader
November 4, 2013

Seems appropriate to repost this here:

[Adam,

Your experience as a missionary strongly echoes my own, with the tweaks that I was not so much tied to family as to a girlfriend, and I had a touch of autism on top of my other pecularities.

“Glorious absurdity.” Love it.

“I can be self-righteous and prickly and arrogant, it seems.” Do tell. In my case, it would suffice to leave off the self-righteous and arrogant and the final syllable of what’s left.

And yet. While I was a terrible missionary, I am comforted by the Spirit that I really did do the best I was capable at that stage of my life, and I have no reason to feel regrets about my mission. This in spite of the fact that there are mission memories that just make me cringe, and tempt me to burn my mission journals before my daughter has a chance to find them and attempt to transcribe them. (It’s her latest thing. My mother-in-law passed not long ago, and my daughter is transcribing her lifetime of diaries and journals. She has gotten to the part where her grandmother has just acquired her first and only son-in-law. I wonder how that will affect her view of me, which is still stuck in the teenage Dad’s an idiot phase.)

And I can turn to Facebook now and then and read about the missions of the children of one of my converts. I had one solid convert, and she brought in the rest of her family, and that’s enough to justify it all.

I do not fault Bruce, or anyone else, who is hesitant to make the great leap. I think I even agree that sympathetic nonmember may be better than inactive member. And, as one converted from within a family that was already actively Mormon, my leap to conversion was relatively short. But it was still a leap.]


Bruce Charlton
November 5, 2013

@AG – Thanks for writing this – it is really good.

I hadn’t twigged it had anything to do with me until Vader’s comment, when I went back to the other posting see the above essay as a crossed-out comment.

I don’t often write in autobiographical detail – this was an exception:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/psychology-of-atheist.html

So I came into Christianity from quite another direction, from an atheism that began about age six. I had a few months honeymoon after conversion, then was propelled into the intra- and inter- denominational maelstrom – from which I have never extricated myself for more than a few weeks strung together…


MC
November 5, 2013

Mr. Charlton,

With regard to your comment in the prior thread about needing to be surrounded by Mormons in order to be a good Mormon, I can say that so long as there’s an LDS chapel in or around your town (and I suspect there is), you would likely find yourself with more Mormon company than you have use for if you actively sought it out.

“I think I even agree that sympathetic nonmember may be better than inactive member.”

Indeed, I suspect that, like Thomas L. Kane, Mr. Charlton is doomed to have people think he’s a baptized Mormon no matter what he chooses in the end.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_L._Kane#Utah_territory_and_statehood


Bookslinger
November 6, 2013

I burned my mission journal, but I’m afraid that accounts of my toxic nature live on in a few dozen others’ journals.


Bruce Charlton
November 6, 2013

@MC “Mr. Charlton is doomed to have people think he’s a baptized Mormon ”

To (mis) quote from the Austin Powers movie

“So, Mr. Evil… ”

“It’s DOCTOR Evil, I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called “mister,” thank you very much.”

;=)

One of the mainstream Christian reactosphere bloggers recently wrote a ‘gotcha’ diatribe complaining not only that I had (at last!) publicly admitted that I was a Mormon; but that I had at the same time also admitted that I *wasn’t* a Mormon – which apparently made the whole thing twice as bad.


Vader
November 6, 2013

LOL!

(evilly)


Rosalynde
November 8, 2013

Wonderful piece, Adam.


Brad Kramer
November 8, 2013

The number of things you and I disagree about (which is to say, the number of things you’re wrong about) strains the imagination. But it would be hard to overstate how strongly this resonates with me, Adam—right down to preaching the story of Peter on the water at my mission farewell. This was, for me, a positively riveting read.


Russell Arben Fox
November 8, 2013

I mean I failed, I did less than I could have, I knowingly and willfully let fears or temptations take me at times, I deliberately let opportunities go because I was a chump. The task was beyond the level of my abilities but I wasn’t even up to the level of my abilities.

That’s me, right down to the T. Good on you, Adam, for putting this discomforting reality (which, I tend to think, describes not just Adam or me on our missions, but every single human being at every single task which ever comes before them) down in words. Thank you.


Adam G.
November 8, 2013

Thanks to all for their kind remarks.


Ray
November 8, 2013

Wonderful, Adam – truly wonderful.

Thank you.


John Harrison
November 8, 2013

Adam,

I loved this. I think that it expresses very well the type of floundering we all do in our missions, however glorious we might depict the experience as to the YM/YW. This floundering isn’t limited to the difficult missions either.

May we all flounder towards home, prodigal children that we are.


RJ
November 8, 2013

I never served a mission (being a woman, I wasn’t forced to make the decision between breaking with the church or being miserable for 2 years–or 18 months), but this resonated with me too. Thank you.


egee
November 8, 2013

Thanks for articulating thoughts that I have frequently had. I wasn’t that great of a missionary and I was in Mexico where baptizing was relatively easy (converting was another story). I recently reread my missionary journal (it had been probably twenty years since I’d looked at it). Yikes! I can understand the urge to burn it. I hope those who want to will resist that urge. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit from knowing that their progenitors were often foolish and weak, too.


Zen
November 10, 2013

Was a mission a struggle? Of course, as is being a parent. But it is a struggle that has meaning.

When I left on my mission, I just knew I was going to be Assistant to the Mission President. As it is, the only position of authority I held was district leader over a district that was my companionship, and my zone leader’s companionship, so a pretty meaningless authority position. But that was what I needed. I needed to focus more on helping people, than status. It humbled me.

But miserable for 2 years? No, not at all. It was very worth it. I had great companions and I had terrible ones. I had highs and lows. I met the good, the bad and the really whacked-out weirdos. Like any good workout in the gym – no pain, no gain.


jim leek
November 10, 2013

I’ve given up on “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I’m sticking with “My grace is sufficient for you.”


John
November 10, 2013

As eloquent as ever I have heard the matter put. Who are you, I wonder?


The Said Smith
November 11, 2013

Hi Adam G.,

Your blog post is being discussed at:

[Ed. – link to ex-Mormon site removed]

What’s your opinion of their reactions?


Adam G.
November 11, 2013

Thanks again to all.

Egee,
keep the journal. It might surprise you the inspiration your get get from it. No one is a reliable judge in his own case.

John,
I wonder too, except when I am afraid I already know.

The Said Smith,
it doesn’t bother me. They’re just going through the motions in that particular discussion.


Raymond Takashi Swensonc
November 11, 2013

As you said, we are repeatedly in a state of floundering, in over our heads, but that is how we prepare ourselves to be rescued by the Savior. Those who refuse to step out onto the water have not yet exercised faith in the Rescuer.

I had a very average experience compared to my fellow missionaries. Looking back on the notes I wrote down after I was set apart by Bruce McConkie (yes I am that old) that is precisely what he prophesied in my blessing. And I am grateful for it.


Eric
November 13, 2013

Would we not all be better, and be part of a better Church, if we really meant “Come, flounder with us.” Yet, I would add that we must still do it with a great big smile. :)

We are not perfect, and we don’t need to continue to pretend to be. I have personal limitations and weaknesses that I hide like they are some sort of treasure. It really is a lack of trust and a lot of fear. Our weaknesses are a gift in this world. There really is no need to pretend to be perfect, not even for 3 hours on Sunday.


Adam G.
November 13, 2013

Can’t quite agree, Eric. If I had felt perfectly comfortable with my imperfections, I wouldn’t have gone on a mission in the first place.


Bookslinger
November 13, 2013

Adam, I think you parsed Erics words differently than I did. I dont think he was advocating that we be comfortable with our imperfections, but rather to be open and not hide them or pretend we dont have them.

Where he wrote: “I have personal limitations and weaknesses that I hide like they are some sort of treasure. ” I think he was decrying or lamenting that he hid them, not that he was advocating others to do the same. It was perhaps an inappropriate simile, because i dont think he meant to imply that he treasured his weaknesses.


Adam G.
November 13, 2013

I don’t think its possible to perfectly open about something you are not perfectly comfortable with. Shame and secrecy are ineluctably allied. That is an is, not an ought.

But I’m sure you’re right that Eric doesn’t see it that way so that wasn’t what he meant.


Bookslinger
November 13, 2013

Eric’s comment reminded me of several places in the D&C where we are commanded to confess our sins, faults, and follies among our brethren at our meetings.

And I don’t take that to mean that we should verbalize things at F&T meeting that are better left spoken to the bishop in private.

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