An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Spirituality and Stress

Rereading some of my old journal entries from the time when George and I had four teens still at home and I was teaching full time, working on my masters’ degree, and serving in our ward Young Women’s presidency, I am struck by how tired and frazzled  I was at that time. Most of my journal entries expressed fatigue and frustration.

One dreadful entry chronicled a day when I got home late from a school meeting, dashed to the meetinghouse to help decorate for the YW New Beginnings program that evening, then sped home to toss fish sticks and frozen fries in the oven to heat while I changed my clothes. I served supper, but only swallowed a few bites before leaving the table to track down my youngest daughter. “I’m not going,” she said when I told her to hurry. “I have to study for a math test tomorrow.”

“You’ve been home for three hours!” I stormed in a burst of temper than ended with her sassing and me slapping. Not a spiritual evening.

I relate this incident because I see so many families in this situation today. Providing for a family in the 21st century requires a lot of time—in most cases both parents employed outside the home—sometimes with more than one job. Jobs are more demanding now, too. As companies downsize to save money, fewer employees must work longer and harder to make up the difference.

I look at our grown children—and at my neighbors and I don’t see much leisure time—or even family time after work. Ten and 12-hour work days are fairly common for those with high-paying jobs—or those with two low-paying jobs. One-hour or longer commutes are also common for those living in metropolitan areas.

Mormons, with the financial pressures of large families, missions, and tithing, cannot afford to cut back on work. Their only option is to cut time spent on rest, family, or church. For active Mormons, only Monday evenings are unscheduled. Besides the three-hour Sunday meeting block, and leadership meetings for some, Mormons have weeknight church meetings, home or visiting teaching, temple attendance, and even Saturday building cleaning. Mormons outside Utah must get sleepy teens up at an ungodly hour and drive them to early morning seminary.

Church leaders have attempted to cut back on meetings in the past. The consolidated Sunday meeting schedule was an attempt in this direction. But week night activities for youth, Primary activity days for children, and enrichment meetings for women soon crept back onto the calendar. As it stands now, youth and their leaders now spend more time in meetings than they did before the 1980 change.

When I attend non-LDS churches, I notice they offer many activities besides Sunday meetings. Churches offer activities such as weeknight study and prayer groups, choirs, dinner groups, book discussion groups, service committees, and youth activities. The main difference I see from Mormon activities is that participation in these events is voluntary. Members are invited to attend, but not guilt-tripped if they opt out.

Another major difference is that positions in other churches that require extensive preparation time are paid. These positions include music directors and accompanists, youth activity leaders, and nursery and children’s instruction leaders. Volunteers help throughout the organization, but members are allowed to choose where to serve.

I wonder what would happen if Mormons were allowed to volunteer for ward service rather than receiving “callings?” I expect some positions would go unfilled. Maybe, if no one is interested in a certain program, it could be eliminated. Necessary programs which hardly anyone wants to do, such as nursery and custodial work, should be paid. Paid youth leaders, assisted by volunteers, might work well.

Funding for paid help could come from scaling back existing programs. Seminary could be cut to a two or three year program. No empirical evidence exists to show that seminary is a cost-effective way to mold young Mormons into faithful adult members. Church rhetoric claims seminary graduates are more likely to serve missions and marry in the temple than non-graduates, but isn’t that because seminary graduates come from more active families than non-graduates?

Another source of revenue for paid services on ward levels could come from reducing temple construction. The current high attrition rate for Mormons has multiple cause, but I suspect burn out is a more common factor than lack of nearby temples.

Constant pressure and fatigue are not conducive to spirituality. At one moment of frustration during my hectic years, I even told my journal, “I hate my church and family.” Church leaders need to look at the stress caused by too many demands upon ordinary members in today’s world. Perpetual stress drains rather than recharges spirituality.

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Comments on: "Spirituality and Stress" (2)

  1. I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said here! Thank you!
    My husband very much wanted to be a pastor. He considered, and even began training, to be a Chaplain in the US Navy because as a Mormon it was the only way he could see a path to filling that call he felt in his soul and still being able to provide for a family. Eventually he gave up that dream because it just didn’t fit with family life. Many of our family members consoled him with the thought that maybe he would someday be called as a bishop. Unfortunately, that is just so very much not the same thing, primarily because you still have to work a(nother) full time job to provide for your family.
    I do understand the advantages of a lay ministry, but I also think there are some very serious up sides to a paid ministry.

    • Chelsea,

      Thanks you for sharing your husband’s experience. I can definitely understand someone wanting to be a pastor. So sad that the closest a Mormon can come to that is as a military chaplain. You are right that being bishop is not the same as being a full-time pastor. Even being a general authority would not be close to being a pastor because a GA is basically an administrator rather than a person who ministers to a congregation.

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