Anne Lemott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, would be a great lesson manual for Priesthood/Relief Society if the curriculum committee realized that Lemott’s honest prayers, like “God help me not to be such an ass” are more spiritual than most of the “vain repetitions” Mormons are conditioned to offer.
Unfortunately, many Church members struggle with problems which current lesson manuals don’t address: poverty, financial insecurity, work that takes parents from home too many hours a week, mental illness, debilitating physical problems, abuse, and addiction.
Would it destroy our faith to admit that God gives light and knowledge to non-Mormons? To have lessons that step outside our own small circle and use thoughts from inspired, non-Mormon thinkers?
Mormons often have the idea that life will run smoothly so long as we obey gospel principles. Lemott is more realistic. She tells us:
. . . we learn that people are very disappointing, and that they break our hearts, and that very sweet people will be bullied, and that we will be called to survive unsurvivable losses, and that we will realize with enormous pain how much of our lives we’ve already wasted with obsessive work or pleasing people or dieting. We will see and read about deprivation and barbarity beyond our ability to understand, much less process.
For Lemott, the answer to the horrors of a world we can’t control, is to pray, “Help!” and “find God in our human lives”—in the people who do unasked for acts of kindness, and for moments of intuition that allow us to take a step in the right direction.
Mormons often measure our spiritual growth by how many meetings we attend, callings we fulfill, and scriptures we read. I prefer Lemott’s measurement:
Have you become more generous . . . ? Or more patient, which is a close second? Did your world become bigger and juicier and more tender? Have you become ever so slightly kinder to yourself? This is how you tell.
Lamott believes it’s more important to thank God with actions than with words:
. . . God’s idea of a good time is to see us picking up litter. God must love to see us serving food at the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial Church, or hear us calling our meth-head cousin just to check in because no one else in the family speaks to him.
I love Lemott’s definition of sin: “Sin is not the adult bookstore on the corner. It is the hard heart, the lack of generosity, and all the isms, racism and sexism and so forth.” I doubt it would undermine Mormon core values to open up our discussion of sin beyond sexual transgression.
Besides her quirky, irreverent sense of humor, Lamott has a gift for poetry. She describes a hike in the hills on a day when, “The scent of spring was as light as goodness.” The prayer she offered was answered when, “the wind had blown away much of my unhappiness.”
I believe prayer is one of many topics which doesn’t need to be forced into a right-way/wrong-way point of view. Unfortunately, the curriculum committee is unlikely to take my advice and choose uplifting books by non-member authors as lesson manuals for Church classes. Fortunately, I can skip the 3-hour block of Sunday meetings and pursue inspiration that meets my needs from Lamott and other “worldly” sources.