An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘eternal families’

Families Can Be Together Forever–But Is That Really a Good Idea?

As a kid, my concept of heaven was a sort of Star Wars eternal battle against good and evil. I visualized myself serving God as a sort of messenger (i.e. ministering angel). The notion of becoming a god myself seemed arrogant—besides, I was a girl.

I’ve always been an independent person who needs solitude to replenish my spiritual and emotional well-being. Growing up, I valued home and family, and I wanted to be with my mother who died when I was ten. But my desire for a temple marriage didn’t surface until I had a houseful of kids. I adored my children and wanted to be with them forever. I even half wished they could remain innocent, young kids in our nuclear family—although I knew that wouldn’t have been fair to them.

With my children grown, I realize the notion of mothering my little brood of children for eternity is a myth. They are all capable adults caring for families and responsibilities of their own. Their idea of eternal family is being with their own children and having Granny and Granddad visit occasionally. Eternal family life, unless you factor in eternal procreation, is really eternal marriage. Here again I have a problem. Wife is a subordinate, care-giving role.

Another problem is that parent and child roles evolve throughout life. My mother died when she was younger than my youngest daughter. I can’t visualize a mother-daughter relationship with her. While my mother’s life was too short, my dad’s life was too long. Our roles reversed as I became his caregiver. While I would like to see my parents in heaven, I really can’t imagine myself as a child in their nuclear family. And where would George fit? How do we live with my family and his family and our kids and their families and their spouses’ families? I picture a sort of golden ant hill—with no place to hide.

The notion of eternal procreation makes the situation even worse. For several years the entrance to the women’s dressing room at the Jordan River Temple had a painting of Heavenly Mother surrounded by numberless offspring. The painting was removed several years ago—probably because of comments that Heavenly Mother’s face, which was intended, I’m sure, to radiate peace and joy in her posterity, actually resembled a woman who was stoned out of her skull and in great need for a room of her own— far from a multitude of little voices trilling, “Mom!”

Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love every member of my immediate family, most of my extended family, and even some of my in-laws. It’s not the people I have trouble with; it’s the relationships. I don’t really want to be anybody’s wife or mother or daughter forever and ever. Now, sister, I could handle. My brothers make few demands. For my money, being friends with George, our adult children, and our parents and other relatives is enough. Trying to restructure hierarchical family relationships sounds like a good way to turn heaven into hell.

Easing Mormonism

My LDS faith and associations have supplied some of the polish my mother would have given me had she lived longer. Church has introduced me to uplifting women who mentored me in faith, service, and social graces.  LDS teachings and programs have lifted me to a higher level of commitment, service and devotion. I have even gained a modicum of competency at tasks I dislike—speaking in front of a group—badgering people to do things they’d rather not.

For years I enjoyed Sacrament Meeting and Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society classes—the camaraderie with ward members and the thoughtful, spiritual lessons. I lapped up gems of wisdom from Stake and General Conferences. As I read each General Conference address, I copied choice passages into a notebook. I saved each month’s wrinkled, dog-eared, underlined Ensign and devoured the scriptures assigned for Gospel Doctrine class. The peace of temple attendance drew me back twice a month. I fasted and prayed for my brothers who were not active church members. I wanted them to enjoy the blessings I received from church activity.

After about 25 years of dedicated gospel living, my enthusiasm for church meetings waned—beginning with Relief Society. Reading the lesson before class became pointless. I could recite the whole lesson including comments from the audience as soon as I knew the topic. I began sitting near the door for opening exercises then slipping out to avoid the tedium of the lessons. At about the same time, the Gospel Doctrine curriculum telescoped the study of both the Old and New Testaments into one year each and assigned selected verses rather than complete chapters for study. Not learning anything there, I also gave up the second hour of the block. General Conference talks developed a ring of familiarity. I found fewer and fewer passages to underline and copy. Sacrament Meeting talks deadened the senses as speakers reiterated General Conference addresses for our enlightenment.

At the time, I believed the loss of meaningful experience with church meetings was the “milk before meat” approach to instruction. I wanted the church to change, to meet my needs. I tried correcting historical misinformation and sharing new ideas in church classes, but found my efforts unappreciated, even annoying to ward members. Oddly enough, the status quo satisfied most of my church associates.

It’s true the church changed somewhat, but I had changed more. I had gleaned most of what my birth faith offered and needed further spiritual food. My brother had married a Zen Buddhist. My dad sent the missionaries to teach her and I wondered what benefit the LDS Church could give Kato or my brother? Kato’s peace and compassion exceeds that of most LDS women I know. My brother has gained much peace from joining her meditation and yoga practice. What would the LDS Church add to their lives besides increased time and money commitments?

Inspired by my sister-in-law’s example, I began yoga practice and joined a meditation group. I find  answers to my current needs in Buddhist philosophy. For me the concepts of nonattachment and mindfulness work better than trying to keep everybody on board for an eternal Family Home Evening. I value the contribution Mormonism has made to my life, but have eased my relationship with the institutional church. Just as easing myself into a yoga pose allows my muscles to stretch, easing my commitments to Mormonism allows me time and energy to exercise my agency, seeking further light and knowledge.    Spiritual development is a process. A particular religion or organization can facilitate growth only to a certain level. When that level has been reached, wisdom says, “Move on.”

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