Thursday, September 1, 2011

London's Protective Bubble

Mt. Timpanogous beautifully dominates Utah Valley.

Some call the valley of which my hometown is the heart "Happy Valley" in part because of its bubble-like qualities of insulating its residents from outside influences (some of my friends growing up did not subscribe to the bubble motif and their exceptionalism proved the rule).  That Utah Valley is well over 90% LDS makes it unique from a religious and, particularly, a cultural perspective.  

As I was reminded yesterday, not having lived in Happy Valley for seven years has protected me from some of its unique cultural expectations for women not readily found in other LDS communities, such as that found here in London.

I had a too-hasty catch-up call with someone from that area with whom I am quite close last night.  The conversation left me reeling and wondering how in the world to react and re-gain the Spirit.

She quickly launched into questioning my husband and my decision for me to start another degree at UPenn and be separated for a number of months beginning next week.  She made it quite clear she believed that, at nearly 32, my duty as a good Latter-day Saint was to live near my husband at all times and have children as quickly as possible.

One might expect that in a conservative religion such as mine, this would not have been my first encounter with such judgment.  But frankly, I have had nothing but support from LDS friends here in the London area, including priesthood leaders as my husband and I have made what has been a very difficult  decision.

I was left completely nonplused.  Was I obligated to tell her about the months of prayer, the angst over delaying starting a family even for a few months, and that this decision, amidst all other silent challenges and life-altering changes we were undergoing, was the one thing we both consistently felt good about?

I admit my initial reaction was defensive and left much room for improvement.  A friend suggested something which called for a much softer response--that the interrogation was a projection of personal preferences were situations reversed.

This recalled to me one of my all-time-favorite talks by Elder Bruce C. Hafen of my faith's quorum of the seventy (the same office as established by the Savior in the New Testament) and former dean of my law school entitled "Principles and Preferences" in an Institute (Bible-esque Study) lesson I wrote under the direction of two more senior female LDS legal academics several years ago, wherein he said:

"Our very confidence in the correctness of the Church's positions on numerous lifestyle issues leads some of us to become opinionated and judgmental about other people's choices....At that point, many wrongly assume that our personal perspective is also the Lord's perspective and that our preferences are His principles.

"I have learned from a variety of Latter-day Saint women that this tendency to judge other people's choices can become emotional and ugly among LDS women.


"[E]ven when we eliminate differences of preference, personality, and circumstances so that we're talking only about principles, all situations will not yield the same results because the natural and often unavoidable paradox of competing true principles.

"How [ ] essential it is for us to 'let' people govern themselves and be themselves in circumstances in which they apply competing [true] principles and consider appropriate matters of preference."

Even though single till 29, I have carefully and prayerfully considered how to balance my desires to have the marriage and family that everyone wants with the charge given by another church leader to "qualify myself for the work of the world" and "get as much education as I can" since a teenager.  As I have continued this balancing act while married,  I have gained greater appreciation for what still yet another church leader said: I have many songs to sing in my life, I just cannot sing them at the same time. (For all of these references, again please see LDS Perspectives on the Law: Women in the Law Institute-like lesson mentioned above.)

I hope--and indeed pray--that I will remember my reaction and my friend's charitable understanding as I encounter others within and without my faith who have made choices which would not have been mine - you simply never know which correct true principles another has chosen to follow.


  1. We fought hard for agency. We need to respect other's choices and should "assume" that they have been made with much pondering and prayer. If trying to see your "critical" friend in a more positive light - taking away the judging - it's nice that she can be honest with you about how she feels, as too many tip toe over subjects. Judging others comes naturally as we try to understand. Judging others righteously (look at Moroni 7) is something we all need to work on. :)

  2. Wow. It's true. We do tend to measure everyone by our own yardstick. And we 'sisters' can be tough on one another and ourselves. It takes effort sometimes to remember that the Lord sees things we do not, I guess that's why he reserves judgment for himself.
    I've second guessed myself sometimes after following a course I know was right and then the outcome isn't exactly what I expected and didn't lead me straight to the perfect 'Molly Mormon' existence I was hoping for. But if you've prayed about it, and know it's right for you, you just have to trust that, hold your head up and then pray for the folks who misunderstand.
    I admire your courage, your faith, and your gracious understanding. An excellent, thoughtful post, thank you.

  3. The third greatest gift and definitely a heavenly right given everyone even before we were born is the chance to make up our minds about what we think is right for ourselves and then to follow after that decision. Only the spirit and the light of our conscience can prove something to be right. Sounds like you were bludgeoned by a blind baseball bat of principle. Follow your decision. Or reexamine your reasoning and then redecide. But don't let people knock you from your path.

  4. Good for you! I am 65 years old and didn't get married until I was 28. I had plenty of time to be a stay at home mom of 3 boys. I got a BS in History, served a mission, got a 2nd degree in El Ed. served a mission, taught K-4th grade, traveled a great deal. It was the best preparation for motherhood anyone could have had. When toddlers were driving me around the bend I had plenty accomplishments to look back on and enough experience to realize that "this too shall pass"! They are all great guys now with families of their own and I am back to doing things I hadn't thought of before. You and your husband are smart to listen to the Spirit for you. Your voice will be needed in the years to come. Get your credentials and you will always be more valuable! God Bless

  5. I hope the very best for you over the coming months of study! What a tremendous opportunity. And thank heavens for Skype, email, and all of the awesome technology to make it so easy and fast to keep in touch while you and your sweetheart have to be apart!
    Growing up in the heart of the LDS church presents an interesting set of challenges such as the one you describe. In my own family we have had our own unique experiences as my husband pursued a master's degree at an out-of-state college that required four summers of seven-week separations. His doctoral work is also being done at a different out-of-state university, which means there has been more away time. Some were definitely more understanding than others. It can be hard when personal circumstances mean we make choices differently from what some think should be the mainstream. Hopefully your friend will realize that what is good and right for her family may be different from what is good and right for your family and that the difference is Good.