This blog is about some of the struggles my children have gone through within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is titled falling away and so far my children have not "left" the church, but I can see why some people do and/or they decrease activity. Having a testimony helps get you through struggles, but the more struggles you go through can cause you to question what you..
What is does it mean to truly love your neighbor? Are we, as Christians, really following Christ’s example? I discussed Seminary Graduation earlier and how difficult it was. That night after we were home, a woman from our Ward and her daughter stopped by to see my daughter. They let her know that what happened wasn’t right and shouldn’t have gone that way. They spent a few minutes catching up and seeing what else was going on a life and what the future held. This mother was teaching her daughter how to care for those around you. She was teaching by example. While my daughter didn’t really want to talk with anyone, especially at that point, I do think it helped a little.
My thought today is, our we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doing enough? I think back to the Ministering program, and I have to say that I am a terrible minister. I was assigned a family at one time, that I think are great. I do love them. I found out that the mother was in the ER the night before and so I started texting the dad to see what was going on and figure out if anything needed to be done to help. I was taking care of the needs at hand. I was making sure everything was going ok. Was that enough? Did I do my job? Some would say yes, you reached out and showed you cared. Sure, I took care of the immediate need, but I don’t believe I actually showed Christ like love. I didn’t do enough or follow through. How many times do we extend help by saying, please let us know if there is anything we can do to help? I should be saying, over the next two days what can I do to help?. Or even better, would me being smart enough to say, this is what I am going to do….
This same young woman did exactly what we all do. Already knowing that my daughter feels excluded and not welcome, she extended an invitation saying, I am home all summer so call me if you want to do something. Is my daughter going to call her; I doubt it. Sure, it was a nice thing to offer, but in the end this type of invitation isn't going anywhere.
How many of us that need physical help are willing to reach out and ask? I know don’t. How many of us are willing to reach out to say I need a friend? As a follower of Christ, I need to be always watching over my flock and seeing where I can step in and do something. Who are my flock? Obviously, my family and those I have been assigned to minister. But it also includes my Quorum; the Quorum I am in and have said I would be part of. It also includes my Ward and neighborhood. Doctrine and Covenants section 20 lists the duties of the Priesthood; verse 42 states that we are to watch over the church. This doesn’t mean to make sure nobody is vandalizing the building (but if we see this, we need to report it). It means that we need to be constantly watching, just like a shepherd watches over his flocks. He is scanning around looking for danger; looking for wandering sheep and looking for things that just don’t look right.
What a great time in a young person’s life; finishing high school and completing seminary. Well it should be. But just like so many times before over the last couple years, my daughter comes home from church crying and feeling terrible.
We arrived at the church early tonight and they had rows set aside for each Ward. They wanted the Wards to have the youth sit alphabetically so it would be in the order listed on the program. When we got there, there was one other girl from our ward. She would be close to the end and my daughter would be at the first; so, they had the whole row in between them. My daughter realized that she would be sitting next to her old best friend who now will have nothing to do with her. As more of the kids from the Ward arrived, they all sit near the other end. As the program is about to start, my daughters old best friend walks in with another girl. They go to sit down. I look over and we have 7 kids taking up half of the row and then my daughter at the other end. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Didn't anyone else notice that this seemed strange? Why is someone in a ward being excluded or shunned? My daughter then texts me and says when that girl walked in (she must have been told it was alphabetical order), she said that she wasn't sitting there, there was no way that would happen. How can this be Christ's Church? I texted our Bishop and told him there was a problem with our Ward's row. He texted back and said he would work on getting it fixed. I am sure everyone around me thought I was sad because this is such a special occasion; but really, I am sitting here crying because my daughter is hurting. I actually told my daughter to get up and we would leave. I didn't want to be there. But the strong girl she is, said no, I will stay. Well after a couple talks and a musical number, the parents of one of the other girls told her to go and sit by my daughter. That is nice and helps a little. She stayed there for a couple other talks and then they had the kids come up by Wards and get their certificate and shake the Stake Presidency's hands. Interestingly though, this same girl who came over when her parents told her, didn't go sit by her again and instead took the seat she had before she moved. Since more kids arrived during the program, there isn't a whole half row between my daughter and this girl, but there is a big space. So again, you are by yourself. I'm sorry, I just don't get it. First, you turned 18 and second graduated from seminary. Why are we acting like this? How immature and outright rude can we be? And the hard thing is, nobody (kids or adults) see a problem. My daughter texted the boy (the one I mentioned before), during the program why does our whole ward hate me?. This was when half the ward was on one side of the row and her sitting 8 feet away. He said it was just one person not the whole ward. If that is so, they why didn't anyone of them on their own see what was happening? Part of this goes back to what I talked about with Friends. We are all so wrapped up in our own social world we don't know how to look around outside of ourselves. And I am not sure we as leaders and parents are doing much to solve for this.
Are there really true friends today? In elementary school, I was friends with some of the kids in the neighborhood as well as a few more that we always seemed to have the same teacher. This wasn't maybe the best crowd, but we still did ok. In middle school, things changed. It started by just eating lunch with some kids that I knew from my elementary school and some of their friends from their ward. Some how one of these other kids and I became good friends. Even though we went to the same elementary school and lived in the same stake, we really didn't know each other before. We both had a kid in some of our classes and he kind of just joined us during that first year. Over the next few years during middle and high school, a couple others kids one of us knew would become part of our group. By the time I graduated I had 9 close friends. One was in my stake. Two were in another stake. Two more were in the same ward. And the final four were within a few houses of each other (they actually went to a different high school). During high school we all went to the activities together and hung out on the weekends. Sometimes a couple would go off and do something, but it wasn't meant to exclude others, it just happened. None of these kids were in my ward. All of us went on missions and have married in the temple. We had our little "spats" every once in awhile, but we were really good friends and had each others backs. Since marriage, we haven't stayed in great contact. I know where they all are and still think about them and hope things are well. I sometime run into some at stores or around and then I see them now during weddings and things.
Hearing stories now, this wasn't the normal case for a lot of people that grew up around the same time as me. But I think it is drastically uncommon in today's world. I don't know if it is social media thing, the over abundance or entertainment options or just all the technological advancements of our day; but I am not sure if youth today know what it means to be a real friend. I am not even sure adults have real friends outside of their spouse. A real friend to me is someone that is there for you. They want to be around you. They want to know what is going on. If they have something special happening, they want you to celebrate with them. They want to listen to your sorrows. And they want to make you happy.
Today's friend seems to want you around when they don't have other plans. Today's friend wants to be seen with you or anybody actually (so they can post it). Today's friend wants to keep in contact with you just so they are not the one that broke the "streak".
My kids seemed to do well in elementary school. Each of them had a few different groups they would hangout with during different years. In middle school, my son didn't latch on to many friends. He had people on his football team that he got along with, but that was just during the season. And if you know anything about little league football, there really isn't too much time for anything else outside of football and school. But after the season ended, he kind of just hung out at home. During high school it was a bit different, but nothing really substantial. My daughter in middle school and the first year of high school had a friend and they did everything together; from school to church to dance to just hanging out. I was worried because it seemed like it was always just them. I worried about the other girls in the neighborhood and in our ward, and if my daughter was leaving them out. In high school things started to change. Her friend did drill team one year. But really, she also seemed to ignore her when other people were around or not invite her to do things. It was just weird. Now they don't speak to each other at all.
When I heard about the Church changing Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching to the new Ministering program it sounded interesting. The more I work through it, it feels like they are helping us learn what true friendship is. They want you to "know" the family. They want you to celebrate with them. They want you to be there when they have sorrows. I haven't been as good as I should in these, but I feel that the structure is there to actually make a difference in a families life.
“This is the best Ward”. I think I hear this at least once a month in someone’s testimony during Fast Sunday and probably another time a month in someone’s talk. Is it really the “Best Ward”? What does it mean to be the “Best Ward”? I have heard that I am not the only one that has a hard time hearing this from people. It is difficult to hear this when your children and family have struggled with people in the Ward. It is difficult to see when someone has a minor surgery or something and is showered with attention when knowing or child has had multiple surgeries over their childhood and hardly heard from any member of their class or even their leaders. Or when your spouse has to travel out of town for a major surgery and for some reason the ward council comes to the conclusion that you wanted to keep this a secret even though you tell your home teachers, visiting teachers, the cub leader (who is the wife of one of the counselors in the Bishopric), a counselor in the Primary Presidency, etc,. to make sure callings are covered and to go through the proper channels so that the Ward knows. Then when the Relief Society President hears that we are surprised nobody checked up, she calls as says, well we brought “a” dinner in, what else do you want. Or when the RS or YW give a little something on birthdays for the people in their groups, but somehow “overlook” your family. How does this happen? How do you get to be a family in the “Best Ward” that nobody really notices? Or how do you become the family the everyone tries to help? Are people just focused on places to serve where they know that that person will post about them helping on their social media account or some place where others will see them. It is all just strange to me. I have heard others comment that they really don’t like coming to church because people are not friendly or when they hear how great this Ward has been to so and so or so and so’s family but nobody ever cares about them. I feel we need to hear more from these people. We need to hear of peoples struggles with life. We always hear of all the great things people do or have done or the great spiritual experiences they had. But we need to know that we are normal if we are struggling and life isn’t great. It is hard to go to church when you are surround by people that are doing everything perfectly and life is great wonderful to them. You go home and think that there is something wrong with you. We need to hear more of those that aren’t feeling the spirit or haven’t received answers. If this truly is the “Best Ward”, I am not sure what "Best" really means.
I think we all have difficulties looking for the best in people. Maybe it's because we are all so focused on our flaws and trying to hide them.
There is a YW in our ward that is 14. She goes to a charter school that includes all grades up through high school. Well this YW has a boyfriend. Oh, no! Doesn’t she know she shouldn’t date until 16 and then shouldn’t date steady until after high school? What are her parents doing? Shouldn’t they stop this?
Well, I think her parents are doing the best job they can. We can’t take away anyone’s free agency. I know a lot of parents tell their kids they can’t date. I also know that a lot of these same kids secretly have boy or girl friends and sometime even meet up at movies and such. We can preach all we want. We can forbid all we want. But everyone still has their agency. What is great about this family, is the open communication they have. The parents can express their feelings on different matters and their children are willing to talk with them and be open about what they want to do.
This YW finds it difficult to go to church classes and fit in. One time she had one of her Sunday School teachers come up to her and tell her she didn’t think she should be dating. This same teacher called and asked if she would go on a walk with her. The mother told her daughter it was her choice and that they both knew what she was going to talk about. Well to be nice, this young woman went for the walk. Of course, the teacher said she has been so worried about her and wanted to make sure she knew that she shouldn’t be dating at this age. Wow. Who does this? If I was the parent, I would be floored that this neighbor would be doing this to my daughter. Well we all know this neighbor and the mom just said, well that is Susie for you.
One Sunday, this girl brought her boyfriend to church. Interestingly enough, he isn’t a member. Well the only talk I heard about this was; she shouldn’t be dating, why did she bring him to church, and I can’t believe she is like that. Not one time did I hear or hear about anyone saying great job on bringing someone to church.
We should be celebrating that she is here and that she brought a friend. Let’s welcome them both in with loving open arms.
Bullies aren’t just the kids that beat you up or take your lunch money; sometimes they are just the ones who constantly put you down.
My son enjoyed playing sports while growing up. He played a few years of soccer, a year of baseball and almost every year he played basketball and football. For Jr. Jazz, we always tried to get kids in the neighborhood and in his classes to be on the same team. For most years, we were not a great team. There was another team, that also went to his school and was in our same stake; and they were very good. Some of these players even had personal coaches. These kids were good, but their parent took it a bit too far sometimes. One of them even got banned from going to the games. Ha-ha, come on this is little league. Over the years this good team somehow convinced our better players to come join them. Of course, who doesn’t want to be on a good team; I get it. Well these kids knew they were good and on more than one occasion would tell kids on our team either how good they were or how bad our team was. This happened a lot during elementary grades. But for some reason, one of the kids kept belittling my son for his team all through middle school too.
This same kid also tripped my son after he had an operation and was on crutches. One time he apologized to him and said that he was just mad that in third grade that my son won an election and he lost; or something like that.
Well wouldn’t you know it, this kid moves into our ward around ninth grade. And then becomes the Priest Quorum 1st assistant. While he was serving in this calling he came over to our house to check on my son after he a had surgery. “Hey, Bill, President Smith (YM President/Priest Advisor) told me to come check on you”. Yeah, so another one of those assignments; thanks for caring.
Also, during this time, my son was part of a group chat with friends from school. A little bit later, this same kid and his friends join the group chat through mutual friends. On a few occasions, he kicks my son from the group chat. I’m sure he was trying to be funny; maybe. After a while my son gave up and just stayed away. One thing I have noticed, a lot of “friends” really don’t stick up for each other anymore. I was surprised that people in this chat didn’t stand up and say, stop it. But today, everyone is worried about how they fit in and don’t want to mess that up.
My son didn’t go to too many Priest activities because of sports, work or just didn’t get along with the quorum that well. Well one day they played pickle-ball and my son decided to go. He had a good time but he had to leave a little early so he could go to one of his friends’ homes to see him open his mission call. When he gets there, he says sorry he was late and that he was at an ym activity. Well this same kid is there and again, maybe thinking he is funny, but says “yeah, right. You never go to the activities.”
It is very difficult when someone who has harassed you, now becomes a leader of your church group. This was a very difficult thing for my son to work through. He says, why would I want to go to a church or bring someone into this church where we have people who act like this, serve as leaders and then go a missions all while pretending to be to nice/good kid.
We have all had boring or crazy teachers. When my daughter was about 14 her Sunday School class had 2 teachers. The thing about this certain class, ever since early Primary, was that all the girls were so quiet. It was really difficult to get them to talk. It changed a bit as they grew, but really a quiet group. One week someone said something and made my daughter laugh a little bit. I am not sure what was going on with the class that day or in this teachers life at this time, but I guess she got really upset. She got mad at my daughter telling her she was very disrespectful and moved her to a different seat. Well after Sunday School is Relief Society. This lady got up and told everyone that she had to get mad at one of the kids in the class, but they deserved it for being disrespectful. She said she made her cry and she was sorry, but wanted the mom to know it was her fault. My wife is sitting there and just thinking, oh no, that was my daughter. I am not sure why she would think that, but she just knew. My daughter told her side of the story on the way home and told us she didn't want to go back. The other teacher one week, asked my daughter to stay after class. She then told my daughter that she needed to work on her personal revelation. My daughter was caught off guard and didn't know how to take this. Of course those with anxieties take both of these encounters as, oh no I am a terrible person. There were just similar things that went on all year and she really had a hard time going this class.
My son started a new single's ward at the beginning of the fall semester. It was a new school, new apartment, new roommates and new ward. The first couple weeks he texted us and said it was hard; everyone else seemed to know each other. I am not sure how many weeks into the year it was, maybe 3 or 4, but we were sitting in sacrament meeting and I get a text from my son. It was a video of him in Sunday School class sitting in the middle of a row. He pans from the left of him to the right of just empty seats. His comment was, when you get to class early and no one sits by you.
I didn't know what to say. My heart ached for him. Here he is a shy person, trying to do what is right and be at church, but feeling alone, empty and rejected.
Now, I am sure many are thinking, why didn't he go sit with someone. This was my reaction too. However, he had spent the first few weeks trying to reach out and do just that. Then this week he wanted to see if anyone would reach out to him. He is like that. He will try to be outgoing and invite people do to stuff, but then he expects to receive the same back. So after a few tries, he will wait to see if anyone will reciprocate. Is this right? Is this the best way? Maybe or maybe not; I don't know. But I do understand where he is coming from and why he takes this approach. In my own life, I have seen this happen. How many times are we reaching out to help others or befriend others? Do we feel alone because nobody reaches out to us? Now I am really talking about no one, not one invitation, not one call.
We have one friend who commented how people change when they are put in some callings. He said he had one guy come up to him to talk. After though, he though, why did that happen. That guy hasn't talked to me in the 10 years he has lived here and now he acts like we are friends. I get that in some callings you need to reach out and try to interact with others. But sometimes it just comes off phony.
As I stated before, I am happy to sit by myself. But I am trying to change. I try to make eye contact with people in the halls and say hi; try to talk during the breaks. It is interesting to see how many people actually try to avoid looking my way. Intentional or not, it is noticed.
I think we as members sometimes get stuck in our bubble. There are a lot of cliques and not a lot of real reaching out to be friend everyone. This might just be my view; I'm not sure.
As I mentioned earlier, my daughter had a hard time going to classes on Sunday's because she felt alone. She decided to either go with me to Sunday School or her mom to Primary. After a few months, one of the young men in the Ward texted her during class and asked where she was. She told him she was in Primary. After a bit of texting back and forth, he told her he was in the hall waiting for her to go to class with him. She reluctantly went with him that day. The next Sunday he asked her if she was coming to class and she said no. He asked why and she told him that she didn't feel comfortable there and no one ever talked to her and she just sat by herself. He said to come with him and he would stay with her the whole time. Again, she decided to go. Each time she still felt uncomfortable and felt that some of the kids were glaring at her. But each week, this young man came and got her after sacrament was over. One week a few months ago, she went to class again with this young man. A group of girls came in and sat on the other side of the room (the teacher has them in a circle). These girls call over to, Dave (the young man) and tell him to come over and sit by him. He then tells them, no come over here. This young women then says, well there is five of us and just one of you (and from my daughters perspective, she says this girl looks at her when she says that), so you need to come over here. Unfortunately, the young man came and sat over by them and then at least, he told my daughter to come over too. The next week, this same young man met my daughter after sacrament by the row we were sitting in. Before my daughter joined him, a different young women came over and said to him let's go to class. He told her, that he was just waiting for my daughter to go. Well they all headed off to class. After Church, my daughter said that all the way to the room, this girl stayed right by his side and talked the whole time and made sure my daughter stayed behind them walking. After these two weeks, my daughter decided it just wasn't worth going back to this class again.
These are little things. But you would hope that when someone comes back to class after missing about 6 months or more, that we would welcome them back with open arms and be excited to see them. I appreciate this young man in our ward for trying. I don't think this was an assignment given to him as I attend the BYC meetings each month.
Part of these encounters I have seen and the others are one sided from my daughters point of view.
What do we do to help those that haven't gone on missions? The Church has put out information over the last year about supporting and helping those that return early from a mission, but what about those that haven't gone and are still here. A lot of the time, they seem to get lost and don't fit in.
As discussed before, my son decide to go to college right after high school. He had a difficult time attending Elders Quorum meeting because everyone seemed to be an RM and the lessons tended to lean towards sharing those experiences.
After his first year of college away from home, he decided that that was not the right place for him. He came home and commuted to a closer university. During this year and a half, he stayed in our family ward. When he first got home, he met with the Bishop a few times. After a while, we also changed Bishoprics. I asked my son a few months ago if he had ever been contacted by the Elders Quorum or new Bishopric and he said no. This really surprised me since he is still a Priest (prospective Elder).
As stated earlier, these experiences are all one sided. I do not know what has been discussed during Ward Council meetings or if any member has reached out. But I do know that our Ward has had more than just a couple young men not go on missions. They seem to feel like they don't fit in the YSA wards and the family wards. What have you seen done to assist these young men stay active in the church?