Christian Sexual Ethics and Just Love for a Mormon Marriage

Posted on March 10, 2010. Filed under: marriage | Tags: , , , , |

by Caroline

Last week my husband and I had a fascinating dinnertime discussion on whether or not we have a ‘just love’. You see, I’m taking a class on Christian sexual ethics right now, and I’m reading one of the foremost ethicists on the subject — a Catholic nun by the name of Margaret Farley who taught at the Yale Divinity School for over 30 years.  Her book is called Just Love

The framework for sexual ethics that Farley comes up with highlights her commitment to the importance of justice in sexual relationships. For Farley, love is not enough. Love alone can be based on fantasy, it can be manipulative, it can look at the other only as a means to an end. Therefore, in her sexual ethical framework, love must coincide with justice.  Just love must contain these seven norms:

1. Do no unjust harm (don’t be physically, emotionally, spiritually destructive to the other)

2. Free consent.

3. Mutuality (both partners giving and receiving)

4. Equality (of power)

5. Commitment

6. Fruitfulness (not necessarily referring to kids, but rather a love that expands beyond the two, out into the larger world and brings good things to it.)

7. Social Justice (This is complex – on one level, she’s talking about making sure that one’s sexual relationship doesn’t harm third parties like future children, future lovers, or others that are in relationship to one of the parties. On another level, she’s talking much more broadly, about affirming the rights of all members of society as sexual beings. Homosexuals, transexuals, intersexuals, heterosexuals – all have the right to claim respect from the Christian community and to claim freedom from unjust harm and equal protection under the law. )

As I was analyzing my own marriage to see if it qualified as a ‘just love,’ one big question stuck in my mind.* Do Mike and I have a commitment to equality in our marriage? Sure, Mike and I conduct our marriage as equal partners. No one has the final say just by merit of being male or female, no one’s opinions weigh more than the other’s. But listen to how Farley describes equality (or rather inequality):

“Major inequalities in social and economic status, age and maturity, professional identity, interpretations of gender roles, and so forth, can render sexual relations inappropriate and unethical primarily because they entail power inequalities — and hence, unequal vulnerability, dependence, and limitation of options.”

Ahhh! This hits to the bone, this makes me catch my breath. I am so much more vulnerable than Mike.  I can never make as much money as he does. Right now our professional identities couldn’t be more different — I as stay at home mom, he as professor. My dependency on him is much starker this his on me. So can our love be just?

I don’t know, but I am comforted by Farley’s later paragraph, in which she says perfect equality isn’t necessary, but that it has to be “close enough, balanced enough, for each to appreciate the uniqueness and differences of the other, for each to respect one another as ends in themselves.”

Mike and I may not score so high on the vulnerability/dependency part, but I think we do pretty well on the respect and appreciation one.

  • What do you think of Farley’s framework?
  • How well do you think it meshes with Mormon ideals?
  • Do you have ‘equality’ in your marriage? How so and how not?

*I’m consciously leaving aside the question of number 7 — social justice — right now. That’s a big enough topic to be its own post.

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Technology in bed

Posted on January 30, 2010. Filed under: marriage, mental health | Tags: , , |

our feet

After another rather restless night of waking up several times to find my spouse in bed next to me with his iPhone on, I’m starting to think that I need (or we need) a moratorium on web-enabled devices in bed.  Am I being too much of a Luddite?  I suspect that if email or twitter is always within arm’s reach, it’s just too hard to get a good night’s sleep.  Is there some tipping point where we become so ‘connected’ to the outside world through web-based media that it then becomes hard for our brain to tune out and rest–and let the world keep spinning without us for awhile?


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My Interfaith Marriage: Reflections, Five Years In

Posted on January 24, 2010. Filed under: Family, marriage, Mormon Life, transition | Tags: , , |

By Deborah

This week, I got an e-mail from an Exponent reader who wanted to hear more about my interfaith marriage, as she is currently dating someone of a different faith.   Last weekend, I went out for coffee (okay, hot chocolate) with a member who is 32, single, and wondering if she should open up the dating pool. “What’s it like being married to a non-member?” she asked.  A couple of weeks prior, I heard from an old friend who — as an interfaith newlywed — is feeling some anguish over finding her identity in the church. And that’s just this month.

I understand this desire to reach out. When I started dating my (now) husband, I fled to the Exponent II retreat begging for stories, for insights, for people to talk to.  I knew there were interfaith marriages out there, but I hadn’t seen any up-close-and-personal, and it felt like I was leaving the well-lit path and lighting out into an unknown wilderness.  However, I recently celebrated my five-year anniversary, and I’m happy to report that I’m happy.


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Posted on December 11, 2009. Filed under: confidence, Family, Friendship, marriage |

By Starfoxy

My oldest son has been giving me grief about using the toilet. A few months ago it all came to head and I was emotionally exhausted and worn raw. One Sunday when the home teachers were over I asked if they along with my husband could give me a blessing. During the whole blessing I was crying fairly heavily.

Afterwards I thanked the home teachers then apologized to my husband for crying. One of the home teachers, thinking I was apologizing to them, told me not to be embarrassed about it.

“Oh no, I’m not worried about that.” I corrected  him. “It’s J, whenever I cry it makes him cry too.” They looked a little shocked, then noticed J’s tear streaked face for the first time. J gave an embarrassed shrug then met my eyes and smiled.

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Vulnerability: The Consequence of Choosing to Stay at Home?

Posted on December 2, 2009. Filed under: marriage | Tags: , , , |

by Caroline
Last summer, when I was nine months pregnant with my second child, I was overcome with feelings of vulnerability. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to me and the children if Mike died. After all, my own father unexpectedly died when I was a toddler, leaving my mom to raise two small children alone.

So even though we had already purchased the maximum life insurance package that Mike’s work offered, I sought out an additional policy, doubling the original amount. This made me feel marginally better, but I’m still haunted by that vulnerable feeling, a vulnerability that goes beyond worries about Mike dying.

I think that one major reason for these feelings is the fact that
that it’s been a year and half since I last earned my own paycheck. For the first time in our marriage, I now depend utterly on Mike’s income. I depend utterly on Mike. As the saying goes, I am one man’s paycheck away from poverty. (Well, it’s not really that dire since we do have savings, but that’s still how I feel.)

This dependency is an unsettling feeling. While I know that legally half of everything Mike makes belongs to me, I still often feel like it’s really Mike’s money, not mine. When I go out to dinner with my grad student girlfriends, I like to grab the check, wave my credit card, and announce, “It’s on Mike tonight!” Of course I’m joking, but a part of me thinks it’s true. My fun evenings, my unnecessary shopping expenditures, my ridiculously expensive graduate classes… my frugal husband funds them all. As I tell him occasionally, he’s my sugar daddy now.

I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with these feelings of vulnerablity and dependency, which have sharpened so considerably since the advent of our second child. Perhaps some of you have some good ways to intellectually approach this situation.

  • If you are married, have you experienced feelings of vulnerability and dependency in your marriage? Why or why not?
  • Do any of you have advice on how to deal with these feelings? 
  • Men, do any of you experience these feelings of dependency?
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The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

Posted on September 7, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Changes, confidence, Family, feminism, Gender roles, marriage, motherhood, personal notes, women | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, here and here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

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Crisis of Faith and Marriage: The Bait and Switch

Posted on August 10, 2009. Filed under: marriage, Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

Mark and Jessby Jessawhy

I hesitated in writing this post because writing about marriage is personal and vulnerable.  However, I think this topic is very important and I wish I could have read a post like this three years ago, so I hope there are people who want to read this now. Also, I’m writing this for my children, because someday it will be important for them to understand how their parents grew and changed in the face of their own spiritual journeys.

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. Much to my chagrin, Mark and I are the typical Mormon story. We met at the beginning of our second year at BYU (his post-mission) in an astronomy class. After a slightly rocky and very kissy courtship, we were engaged then married in the Bountiful temple a mere 11 months after meeting. I was 20 and he was 22.

Phase I: Initial Expecations

Like most couples, our first year of marriage was difficult. We both blame my birth control pills, but I know it was also about negotiating our differing expectations and learning to live and love someone else in an new and intimate way. I remember one of my most difficult realizations was that Mark didn’t want to have gospel discussions in the same way I did. Ever since I had started seminary, I had imagined marriage would involve late night reading, pondering, and discussing of scriptures and doctrine.  When I married Mark, I realized that he would continue his mission habit of studying alone.  When I tried to engage these conversations they ended up as debates or arguments, with both of us in foul moods. Mark also mentioned occasionally that he had personal revelation that was too private to share with anyone, that was just between him and God. This was difficult for me, as I shared everything with Mark (TMI, I’m sure).

Phase II: The Fall

Three years ago I entered my crisis of faith. I think of it either as a sweater that slowly unraveled, or as Pandora’s box. Either way, my faith in the church went from unshaken, to hardly there. It started with feminist concerns (Why aren’t there more women in leadership positions? Why aren’t women be the closing speakers? Do we have a Heavenly Mother and where is she?) but it evolved into learning more about church history including Joseph Smith’s polygamy and other issues I couldn’t easily resolve.  During this time I found the bloggernacle, starting with Feminist Mormon Housewives, then Zelophehad’s Daughters, and finally The Exponent. I was and am so grateful to the women on these blogs for helping me articulate my concerns and give my validation for my cognitive dissonance.

But in the meantime, my spiritual struggles were eating away at my marriage. At one point Mark referred to it as the bait and switch. He married me as one person, and I have changed quite a bit into an entirely different person.

I didn’t want to hurt Mark, but I know he was confused and scared when he heard me talking negatively about Joseph Smith or other church leaders.  My struggles were our struggles because the LDS church is central to our marriage in so many ways.

However, Mark felt caught between a rock and hard place. His faith was and is unshaken. He currently holds a calling as the Elder’s Quorum President in our ward and works to help families in need, attends PEC (where yesterday he argued for more openness in our meetings to help people who question), and sings in the ward choir.  Of course Mark isn’t some kind of Mormon Ned Flanders (he wanted me to make that clear), he has my respect for trying hard to magnify his calling in every sense of the word. And while he empathizes with my struggles, and will usually side with my issues of equality, he can always separate his faith from any concerns that I have.

Over the last three years, my issues and questions have just cycled again and again to the point where we didn’t really discuss them. I knew it just made him feel frustrated and helpless, and I didn’t have any hope for resolution from his comments. My prayers were never answered in a way that I could understand, so I stopped praying. I stopped reading my scriptures and I really started to dread church (which is hard with small children anyway).

I felt like I was in limbo in both my religious quest and my marriage, like both God and Mark were distancing themselves from me when I needed them both the most. It was a very painful and lonely time for me.

Phase III: Reunion

A few weeks ago Mark and I sought counseling. It wasn’t so much that our marriage was bad, but that it wasn’t good. We weren’t communicating, and I thought it was mostly because of my issues with the church. After we had one introductory session, I went on a trip with my single cousins to Kauai for 8 days.

Kauai was the best thing that has happened to my marriage in nine years.  It was a really awesome vacation and while I was gone, Mark realized several things about the way he was dealing with my crisis of faith that were affecting our relationship.

First, he decided that his previous hands-off approach was not helping either of us.  If our goal in marriage is to be one, then that includes spiritual oneness as well. As part of this, Mark decided that he wanted to share his personal revelations with me, which meant a lot to me.

Second, he realized that my trip to Kauai was an indication that I was taking steps towards a more socially independent lifestyle and he didn’t like how he could imagine that separating us in the future.  So he told me about his concerns, which actually made me laugh (I had an opposite kind of revelation in Kauai). I had no intention of turning into a party girl, going to bars and clubs and leaving him at home.  But as surprising as it was, it was also refreshing to know that Mark cared about where I was headed and that he wanted us to be closer in all areas of our marriage.

Lastly, he told me that he missed me, not just because I take care of the kids and the house, but just because he enjoys my company. In our discussion, we both recommitted to our marriage in a way that felt genuine not cheesy, and hopeful not fearful.

Essentially, Mark pulled me back in. He made me feel loved and wanted when I felt lonely and rejected. I am amazed at how much this change affected our marriage. It has been like rediscovering our love for each other. And while my concerns with the church haven’t disappeared, my desire to continue to work towards resolving those concerns has improved.

As I look back, I wish I could say that I was the one who made the change to better our marriage. Perhaps it could have been me, I don’t know. I also don’t know if this honeymoon phase will be short lived and we’ll slide back into our former roles.  But, I do know that I feel a great deal of hope and peace when I think about our marriage, something that I haven’t felt since I’d seriously begun grappling with the church.

I know that Mark has been praying for me for a long time. I don’t know if God has answered my prayers, but I know he’s answered Mark’s. And I’m really glad he did.

If you’re married, what have been your experiences with changing faith and marriage?

If you’re not married how does your spiritual journey affect the people you choose to date?

Me in Kauai

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LDS family values

Posted on July 30, 2009. Filed under: Doubt, Family, marriage, Mormon Life | Tags: , , |

by G

George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison
George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison

I’ve had several conversations with individuals who continue to attend the LDS church, even though they may have serious doubts about the theological/doctrinal claims, because they like the church’s emphasis on family.


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The Feminist Domestic

Posted on July 18, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Changes, Family, fatherhood, feminism, Gender roles, marriage, mental health, motherhood, parenting, personal notes, women, work | Tags: , , , , , , |


by mraynes

A few months ago mr. mraynes was teaching an Elder’s Quorum lesson on unity, specifically unity within the family.  A brother in our ward called him out and dismissed what mr. mraynes was teaching, saying in effect “your wife is a feminist and I know how your family works.”  mr. mraynes was understandably bemused at the situation mostly because this brother had entirely missed the point of the lesson but also because this man had presumed to know what our family was like based on his own stereotype.

One of the reasons that this brother in our ward felt comfortable judging our family was because we do fit the stereotype of what many people think a feminist family looks like.  I have been the career woman, mr. mraynes the stay-at-home daddy.  I financially provide for our family, mr. mraynes does the child care and housework.  But role reversal does not necessarily assume a feminist household.  In fact, most of the feminists I know lead a very traditional lifestyle and still manage to have perfectly progressive marriages.  Having a rigid stereotype of what other people are like does not allow for the natural fluidity of life.  Yes, mr. mraynes and I have been living a “non-traditional” life but it will not last forever.  In fact, we are only weeks away from doing a complete 180 and switching roles once more.  mr. mraynes has just landed his first job since finishing his doctoral program and so we are moving to Denver where I will be a full time stay-at-home mom.  (By the way, I am waving desperately at all you Denver feminist out there and hoping you’ll be friends with me.)  I admit to being nervous; our life for the past three years has worked really well for me and I’m not sure that I will cut it as the primary nurturer.  mr. mraynes and I have had many discussions specifically addressing our concerns with this transition.  We have had to be open and honest with one another and share things that have been quite uncomfortable to say out loud.  For example, I knew that I could not stand the isolation of living in the suburbs while mr. mraynes commuted to his exciting job in the city.  I did not want to live on my own Revolutionary Road and so we decided that we would sacrifice space and money by living downtown in a small condo. 

While we both feel a little guilty for not following in the prescribed pattern for upper-middle class families, in the end you have to be self-aware and do what is best for everybody in the family.  We both knew that isolation was dangerous for my mental health and so we made a decision together about what would work best for us.  There is nothing groundbreaking in this wisdom; having a feminist marriage does not mean I get to walk all over my husband and make all of the decisions.  Rather, it guarantees that both parties are respected and affirmed in the relationship.  It is perhaps this subtlety in a feminist marriage that is difficult to see from the outside.  (I am using feminist marriage in the broadest sense here–meaning gender-equitable. You don’t necessarily have to self-identify as a feminist in order to have a feminist marriage.)  The worldview of people like the brother in our ward assumes that women like me are “ball-busters” and that I “wear the pants” in the family but this has nothing to do with my marriage or any other feminist marriage I know.

The truth is none of us can really know what another’s family dynamic is really like.  But it serves us nothing to remain in the ignorance of our own (mis-)understanding and not at least try to explore our differences and similarities.  Ever since that Sunday I have though a lot about what it means to be a feminist and part of a family; I realize there are a lot of misconceptions out there about feminists and there is almost nothing positive written about their relationships with their own families.  Perhaps this is our fault, so I thought I would endeavor to fill that gap by writing a series of posts on my experience as a feminist and how it affects my relationship with my husband and children, how it affects my parenting style and domestic prowess.  These are, of course, my own experiences and I would expect that many of you have experienced something different.  I invite you to share them here.  We are all striving to do what is best for our families no matter what role we play; perhaps in sharing our individual experiences we can maximize the good effects of our feminism on our families.

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Healing Martha, Fortifying Mary

Posted on July 9, 2009. Filed under: charity, Friendship, marriage, Mormon Life, Mormon women, suffering | Tags: , , , , , |


By Alisa

Years ago I had a conversation with an old friend that changed my view of sisterhood. Julie and I had been bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, which occurred in the same year. She and her husband had several blessings that I envied. They had completed their education, and they had owned their own property. However, she had found married life to be somewhat difficult. Early in her marriage, her husband’s faith fell apart. He struggled to become established in his career. They had a child, and she felt it was best for her to stay at home and brave the financial difficulties. There was even a few months of separation before she and her husband decided to reunite. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her.

By contrast, my marriage had gone relatively smoothly up to that point. We were struggling with a serious family illness and other hard issues, but I had completed graduate school, and I was working full time while DH finished his graduate education. We were living in our third rented apartment so far in our marriage, and I was considering taking an additional part-time job so that we could put some money away to pay tuition, pay off student loans, and save for a down payment on our first home.

When I told Julie of my additional job plans, she responded in a way I hadn’t anticipated. She chastised me for “not following the prophet and having kids right away.” I’d like to say I responded with compassion, particularly given my knowledge of how difficult the last few years had been for her, but that wasn’t the case. Becoming defensive, I went to the argumentative side of my brain and began to pick apart her statement. I told her that rarely did we hear that we should throw caution to the wind and have kids unprepared. On the other hand, at least at some point in every General Conference the Prophet speaks about avoiding debt. I told her that we were counseled to do three good things as young married couples in the Church: get the best education and grades we can; avoid and/or get out of debt; and have kids, preferably with one parent staying at home full time to take care of the kids. I told her they were all good things, but without large scholarships, a trust fund, or years and years to pursue education slowly (not an option for DH’s program), it was hard to do all three of those things simultaneously. Doing any two of the three is a more realistic mix. I pointed out that we had decided to put off having one of us stay home full time with a child to focus on education and debt management, but that we might change up that combination sometime in the future.

Julie responded in sobs. She said she felt bad that she was struggling financially. She expressed helplessness and fear, and I sensed that she felt my defense was actually a rebuke on her choices (I didn’t intend it that way, but I had been defensive, and I can see why that hit her where she was hurting). At that point, my anger at having been judged for my procreative choices dissolved into more of an understanding of her pain. Perhaps she told herself that while her life was incredibly difficult and her marriage was fragile, at least she was doing “the right thing.” And to show herself that it was right, she needed to find women whose choices contrasted with her own so she could build a case to make herself feel validated. But it all came from a place of hurt and her need to try to mitigate the very immense pain she felt in her life.

Given a different turn of the conversation, it might have been me crying to her about the frustrations I felt that I had to postpone children in order to do what I felt was right for my family – even my future family – at the time. I would have told her how I wished I was the one getting more education, and that work seemed to be a distraction from my PhD goals. She might have heard how hard my job was, and how I felt uncomfortable talking about my job at Church because I felt I’d be judged for working. How I felt ostracized from the other women in the ward who were, in my mind, privileged enough to be SAHMs (the grass is always greener, right?).

Both Julie and I had made hard choices that inevitably had sacrifices. The good news was that things change. Life changes. Finances can change. We don’t have to have it all right now. It’s a timeline thing, and we each have our own. As James E. Faust said of women in the Church, “She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.” (“A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming Great Women”) In fact, in the years since this conversation, we have both taken several turns with happy and sad news, both in finances and in marriage.

Unfortunately, I let that old conversation become a theme in my Church life. I’m often afraid of being judged by SAHMs for my work, and when they ask me questions about it, I hesitate to go into detail. On the other hand, I look at them and think they’re lucky to be in their situation, as difficult as it may be. I am aware that most of the judgment I fear is made up in my head – I am serious when I say I can’t think of one SAHM in my ward who isn’t an amazing, gracious woman. I guess that while I’m such a proponent of diversity, I have a hard time when I am that diverse person who doesn’t fit the rest of the group. And therein lies my insecurity.

I can’t help but think of Mary and Martha in this situation. We have two sisters, each making a choice about what they think is best. One chooses to keep Jesus company, while the other decides to make sure Jesus is fed. Both are good choices, and probably each choice is becoming to the personality and needs of each sister. Jesus’ soft rebuke of Martha stems from Martha’s judgment of her sister for making a different good choice. His compassionate, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” helps me recognize and have compassion for the somewhat defensive Martha in myself. (Luke 10:41)

I look back at Julie and me having this conversation, and I believe we were both Mary and both Martha. We are Mary when we let the Spirit tell us what is needful and correct in our lives and direct our lives accordingly, and we become like Martha when we try to validate our own good but difficult choices by comparing our decisions to those of others in an effort to prove that we made “the right choice.” The right choice just isn’t the same for all of us.

And when we’re feeling like Mary, satisfied in our own groove and feeling good about our life decisions, there are bound to be some Marthas on our path. They may blindside us with their criticism, telling us that we’re not doing the right thing because we didn’t make the decisions they would have made. At that point, it is essential to remain grounded in our own truth and path, and lovingly acknowledge the pain that would bring one sister to criticize another. I hope we can then turn on our Christlike switch and extend compassion and grace to those women who need to know that they have a good, if different, path as well. A little compassion and grace might do wonders in helping us value the diversity of each other.

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