A few years ago in Relief Society (the women’s organization of the LDS church), something infuriating happened to me that made me vow to change how I react. We had a lesson about modesty—never my favorite lesson to teach, let alone listen to, as I think our rhetoric places too much blame on women’s bodies and not enough responsibility on men’s thoughts. But I sat through the meeting, gritting my teeth a little bit, until one of the women in the class raised her hand to make a comment. “The mothers of teenage girls in our ward need to set a better example,” she declared, “at dressing modestly. There is just too much skin shown here, and who else will these girls learn from if not their mothers?”
I sat for a few seconds in stunned silence. I knew exactly who she was talking about: me and a few other women (not of whom, actually, have teenage daughters anymore) who dress…I don’t know. In pencil skirts, in skirts that skim our knees, in tops that show our structure. I don’t think I’m immodest. Maybe she thinks my clothes are too tight or my skirt is too short, but mostly I don’t care because A—I dress to make myself happy, not anyone else and B—I am teaching my daughter (and my sons, for that matter) that what matters most is our voice and how we use it, not our external appearance. But instead of saying anything, I blushed. I felt, for a second, literal shame. And then I felt annoyance and frustration and resentment, and instead of saying anything I just walked out of the class for a few minutes.
But this isn’t a post about modesty.
That Sunday afternoon, that women’s comments, but mostly my lack of courage, changed me. I went home fuming and was ranting to Kendell about it when he asked me what my response was. And I had to tell him: my response was silence.
And silence is implicit agreement.
I decided that day that I will not be silent any longer. I don’t want to be aggressive or antagonistic, but God gave me a brain, thoughts, and opinions, and just because they might not coincide with the majority way of thinking doesn’t mean they aren’t valid.
For the most part, I have stuck to the promise I made to myself. Then, a few months ago, I was asked to be the gospel doctrine teacher.
And for the entire week before my first lesson, I thought about that Sunday experience, about how often I doubt myself because my normal thought pattern or response is so wildly different than a “typical” Mormon’s. For many years I have let this truth make me feel less-than. But I am learning that it doesn’t. Sitting in a room with people who only echo back what everyone else says isn’t learning. It’s not really thinking, it’s just going through the motions.
So I made another decision—another promise to myself: If they want me to teach Sunday School, I will happily teach it. But they called me, not pretend-Amy, the one who is silent because she thinks her non-typical response might offend someone or, even worse, make people think she is weird. I am weird, I am different, I am the person my choices and experiences have created. And I’m not a mirror, reflecting back what everyone thinks they already know. I’m a person, and I will teach with my personality, my experiences, my truths; I will share my ideas even if they are different than what everyone else might think.
I think I have done that so far. Or, at least, I am getting better at it. I know my every-other-week classes aren’t the Amy Show. The classes should be about learning and understanding the doctrine of the church. So I have strived for a balance and I haven’t always shared my most radical thoughts. But I have stayed true to what I know.
In today’s lesson, we discussed this scripture:
Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. (3 Nephi 9:14)
I love this scripture.
It is Christ inviting us. It is Christ telling us how we can find Him: we just have to take his hand. So much is implied. Namely, that it is a choice. He doesn’t say “you have to come to me.” He says if. He gives us room to choose, and in that space all the difference is made for me.
And He also says this word, this ungainly but infinitely important word: whosoever. He doesn’t say All of you who are perfect can come to me. Or All of you who haven’t ever sinned, not really, you can come. He doesn’t say “only men” (even though that “him” might suggest that), he doesn’t say “only white people,” he doesn’t say “only those with the correct lineage.” He just says whosoever.
I discussed this. And then I discussed my dad, who was a good man raised by an agnostic mother, who struggled with many things about the church, who went to the coffee shop nearly every morning of his adult existence. And I can’t help but think what if? What if someone had made it clear that he, too, could come unto Christ, even though he drank coffee?
Then I suggested to the class that we have to be better at this.
But I didn’t stay entirely true to my goal of being regular Amy instead of pretending-I’m-a-real-Mormon Amy. Because what I wanted to say is this:
I think as a church we are horrible at encouraging people to come to Christ. I mean, sure. We encourage each other, all of us who go to church. But we have ideas about who can really come unto Christ. As a woman, I have felt it harder to reach out and grab his arm of mercy, because it seems that men have all the real power and Christ, after all, is a man. As a person with a rather brightly checkered past, I have felt I couldn’t really come unto Christ, because sure: repentance and atonement, but deep down I don’t really feel the same as the blithely non-checkered I am surrounded with.
But it is, of course, bigger than me. Because what if my dad could’ve been loved and welcomed at church, despite his coffee drinking? What if your friend who drinks beer could also come to church and not feel like someone’s project, but just like a member of the congregation? What if we all only worried about bringing our own selves to Christ, and assumed everyone else was also worthy of bringing themselves to Christ?
Because Christ Himself told us: whosoever.
I was a little bit brave—suggesting that my dad should’ve been loved and embraced by our home congregation. Some people even nodded in agreement.
But I wish I would’ve been more forceful. I wish I would’ve been braver. I wish I would’ve said: we need to love more freely. Even though part of how we come unto Christ is through our obedience, everyone is learning different truths at different times. Everyone is somewhere within the process of reaching to grasp Christ’s hand. And feeling loved and accepted by the people around us makes it so much easier to reach out.
Christ doesn’t want us to wait until we’re “good enough” to reach for Him. It is through coming to Him that we reach different levels of goodness. That is why those who do reach for Him are blessed, and as a church we need to encourage all of the reachers, rather than batting their hands away and telling them to come back when they are all worthy.
Because we are all worthy—even me in my pencil skirt and flouncy top, with my baggage and my mistakes and my history.
And maybe that’s why I needed to say what I didn’t say in my lesson, and why I am writing it now: because I also needed to be reminded that all can come to Christ.