I noticed there was a lot of commotion going on on that post about Elle’s dress not having enough shoulder coverage so I took the picture and comments off until I could take the time to respond. There were some valid questions asked that I’ve been thinking about ever since.
The question was asked (in a few different ways), why do some Mormons think it’s ok to let shoulders show and others not? Why, if we believe whole-heartedly in this church of ours, is it ok to let some shoulder show when it is written in the “Strength of Youth” pamphlet that they should be covered? (see that over here)
I think many wise blog readers have answered these questions perhaps better than I could (in the comments of this post…thank you for your responses!), but for what it’s worth, this is my take a little bit expanded:
We are all imperfect in so many ways so boy do we ever need Him! We believe this life is a time to strive to become more like that Savior of ours and to use the Atonement to help us through all the ups and downs that come our way.
That is the gospel.
When it is all said and done, and all that wonderful, inspired guidance is given, we are still just imperfect people doing our best to stay on track. So if Elle’s prom dress showed more of her shoulder than anticipated, if someone has a bad thought about someone else, if someone is a little more addicted to social media than they should be, watches a movie with words or actions that dull their spirits, doesn’t have all the food storage stored up that they “should” or misses church here or there, we can just know that just like us, they have their own lives and backgrounds and thank Heavens we are not in charge of judging that.
We have a friend who spent a lot of time with some church members at an extended church activity one summer. They made it quite evident that they didn’t whole-heartedly agree with his way of life. At the end of their time together this friend felt pretty looked down on by the leaders and proclaimed to Dave, “Those guys are going to be so mad when they see me in Heaven some day!” Dave and I love that reminder that the ways some of us strive to do our best in life are different from the ways others do. Even church leaders are human and being human=mistakes.
Sometimes it is easy to start thinking that the “guidelines” and rules and regulations are the gospel but they’re not. They’re just the scaffolding. They are all the “shoulds” that help us keep striving toward that number one goal: accept Christ as our Savior, use the Atonement he so miraculously gave us, and love each other as He would. THAT is what brings joy. And joy is the whole purpose of this thing we’re all in together called ‘life.”
There are billions of people on earth. Some are super strict with how they live their lives. They see spiritual things in black and white. They are stalwart in every way. Others are more spirit-of-the-law kind of people. They see a lot of gray. And guess what? I think both are right! Because everyone is different. God created us that way. Isn’t that awesome? If we were all the same and lived the exact same wouldn’t life be dull?
I find it so interesting that the more mothering I have under my belt, the more I realize I don’t know! The more I rely on the experiences I’ve grown up with and what I see around me. Dave and I together try to cling onto what what we’ve seen work and stay away from what we’ve seen fail miserably. We’ve seen parents raise children with an iron fist as to every rule and regulation, and we’ve seen those children back as far away from them as possible. We’ve seen parents who simply do not care (many have too many of their own woes to worry about, or perhaps they weren’t raised with strict standards) who produce children who are as black-and-white as they come as far as rules go. We’ve seen parents try to be “best buddies” with their children and others who have been so stern their kids are scared spitless to so much as tell them their own feelings. And sometimes what you think is the best parenting in the history of the planet fails, and what you think may turn out to be a complete disaster works wonders. As parents we can only judge from our past experiences because that’s what we’ve got to work with. Sometimes it works out wonderfully, sometimes mid-stream we realize we are way off-track and need to re-calculate, but in my opinion it takes a whole lot of prayer and pondering and talking and more prayer.
And then more prayer again.
(Awesome post by my friend Sarah on that parenting teens topic is back HERE.)
Grace, Claire and I sat close to a great couple on an airplane the other day. Somehow our conversation led to Mormonism and we found out they were ex-Mormons. A pretty interesting conversation ensued that I keep thinking about (and that my girls and I have discussed a bunch). They explained that they still have the best of friends in the church but that they were very disenchanted with all the rules and regulations. The woman (I wish I had asked her name), told me twice, “I just think the bottom line is that everyone should be kind.”
And she is so right! THAT is the gospel. The very core of it. Although I don’t know for sure, our short conversation led me to believe that both of them had become so overwhelmed with all the minutia of the “shoulds” that good-meaning people were trying to enforce all around them that they began to think that was what the gospel was. And really, couldn’t we all take or leave that if there isn’t love and kindness involved?
The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t how many barrels of water you have stored in case of an emergency or how much family history you’ve done or how many body piercings you may have. The gospel of Jesus Christ that I believe in teaches to exercise our free agency as we strive to do what’s right so we can return to God. To accept others and the way they “strive” and interpret the “shoulds” and respect that their way may be different (sometimes vastly different depending on backgrounds and upbringing) from the way we do.
Although I think Elle looked lovely in her prom dress and was modest and pure in ways I am so proud of her for, I do apologize to those who do not think it was appropriate. When I put our family out there in the Internet as a Mormon family, I should be extra sensitive to the fact that we are setting an example of what Mormonism really is.
But I do believe that all these girls radiate beauty and light. They are kind and good. Of course, just like me, they are not perfect. They are learning on a beautiful journey which is magnified a hundred times over when you’re a teenager.
I’m grateful for the controversy that comes from things like this because it gives me the opportunity to talk to my teenagers (and my not-yet-teenagers) about such a range of things that we may never think to discuss otherwise.
Our discussions always come back to the bottom line, the core: what matters is that we love God and Christ with all our hearts and strive to be like them enough to return to live with them some day.
Does that mean the “shoulds” aren’t important? Or that we should feel free to pick and choose which ones we want to follow? Of course not. They are the “steps” and guidance to help get to the real goal in life given to us by inspired counsel. But when it comes down to it, we are all different so we are all going to interpret them differently from our own vantage points. We need to constantly evaluate how well we are aligning ourselves with them and whether we personally are doing it in a manner that would please God. Those guidelines help us balance what’s important and bring me so much happiness. Just how they made my parents happy and their parents before them.
How I hope I can share that happiness with my children as we strive to love all those around us unconditionally who are trying to do the same, sometimes so differently and on such varying paths coming from vastly different “starting points” every day. And how I hope we can all remember that the reason we have them is to bring us to closer to Christ.