This past Saturday was the Women’s Conference for the LDS church. And I am one of about thirteen people in the entire church who didn’t go.
Or so it feels.
I joked with Kendell that I didn’t need to go, because not ten minutes after the conference is over the highlights will start showing up on Facebook as inspirational images.
But my reasons for not going run far, far deeper than a silly (but true) joke. They are raw, my reasons for not going, and maybe not wise to share, but it feels important to write about.
Partly I didn’t go because, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who find fault with everything, I am not thrilled about the recent change that makes it so girls eight and older all go to the same conference. Maybe if I had a young daughter I’d feel different. But such a wide range of ages in the audience changes, obviously, the audience. The talks have to be less specific to a time in life and are thus more vague. Plus, I confess, it opens up some of my old wounds, being in a crowd of mothers and daughters spending time together. It reminds me that I wanted to have more daughters. It reminds me that I’m not as close to my mother as I wish I were. Old aches, but persistent.
In the afternoon before the conference, I went to the book festival at the Salt Lake City public library. This was sort of an ordeal to get to, as it meant I had to figure out how to get my shift covered at work and how to get my family to deal with me being gone even though I wasn’t at work. But as soon as I found out that Laini Taylor was speaking, I felt so strongly compelled to go. Not just that I wanted to, but that I needed to. So I went, and then I drove home in the pouring rain in such a conflicted emotional state. On the one hand, inspired. On the other, thoroughly discouraged at the thought of everything I never accomplished.
I kept thinking, over and over, about something she said, about how when she started blogging in 2006, she found her writerly tribe.
I want a tribe.
That is another reason I didn’t go: I’m not sure that this is my tribe. I have some wonderful friends who I’ve met at church and with whom I’d be friends with even if the church stopped existing tomorrow. But when I go to large church functions, when I am surrounded by so many believers and good people living their faith, I don’t feel like I belong. Not completely. I feel like I’m pretending. Like a tare in a field of wheat, desperately trying to look like the rest of the grain. Like being a Mormon is a coat I have put on—but it isn’t my skin. It isn’t my naked self, as hard as I try to make it be. Partly this is because my reactions to things are quite often so inherently opposite to how everyone else reacts. I question, I doubt, I get hung up on little details that maybe shouldn’t matter. I feel not exactly quite at home. Even this writing is proof: what good Mormon doesn't believe she'll find an answer by listening to conference?
Earlier that day, while I was showering I was thinking about the effects of sin. About how, yes, there is forgiveness. But how forgiveness doesn’t take away the consequences. About knowing how to let go of the burden of very old guilt, worn down to its bones but still a weight I carry around. About not knowing how to let it go, I suppose. I had an imaginary conversation with an unknown church leader who accused me of not understanding the atonement, and how if I understood it I wouldn’t carry the old bones around. But maybe I don’t understand it—because when hard things happen, both new ones and the same old aches, I look at the scapula and clavicle, the femur and the ulna, and I have a different knowledge: they cannot just be put aside because they are the reason. They are always the consequence.
There just…there isn’t a talk specific enough to address all the stuff I am carrying around. If I could go and listen to council that would help me answer my deepest, hardest questions, I would go. But the widely-applicable sentiments aren’t the answers I need. "He knows you how you really are and he loves you today and always,” for example, from President Uchtdorf. That was the first illustrated quote I saw on Facebook that Saturday night. So many people need to hear that. We all need to hear it. I need to hear it and to understand it. I know it should make me feel better. I know it should make me feel loved. But somehow, when it brushes against all that is real and hard, all the ways I have failed, somehow the thought just becomes someone else’s words.
In the end, I think I didn’t go because I have found myself in a strange place in my life. Where I want things to change. Need them to. Where I am tired of the old skeletons, the old arguments, the old aches, but also all the same old answers, given by Someone In Charge. Where I’ve lost faith that anyone else has any answers for me, or that even I have my own answers. Or that there are answers to be found. I feel thoroughly and completely stuck. I can see what I want, how I want to change, but I don’t know how to do it. And I’m fairly certain that the Women’s Conference won’t show me the way, either.
Eventually, I’m sure, I’ll listen to it. I’ll read the talks and think about them. Maybe I’ll even make an inspirational, illustrated quote of my own. But I couldn't go. I couldn't make myself go, and sit among women, and smile, and talk afterward. Listen to everyone's comments about how uplifted they felt while I still felt low. Felt lost. Leaving without an answer is worse, somehow, than not trying to find one at all.
Did you go to the Women's Conference? What did you think?