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Should we cultivate hardship?

December 9, 2009
Bonsai tree

Consider the cultivation of this bonsai tree.

Last Sunday, Hypatia pondered over whether it was a good thing for her parents to be taking her daughter with them to church. Her daughter is currently nursery-age, so I (and the others who commented) seemed to agree that there doesn’t seem to be much harm currently…but then the peanut gallery of single people commented on whether this might be a dangerous habit in the long run.

I thought it could have the potential to turn quite sour. After all, in the case that the child grows up believing, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but I might have a problem if my child additionally picked up judgmental ideas about me as a nonbeliever. Isn’t it possible that a child could learn that his or her parents are sinful apostates, and then come to resent the parents (or resent parental authority)? SimplySarah thought otherwise, raising that she would like her children to understand the beliefs and practices of Mormons so they could better relate to cousins and grandparents. But what she said next was a bit worrisome to me:

I think some confusion can actually be a good thing. It has helped me in my own journey to know myself. I think it’s important for children to be able to experience confusion, to question, to struggle to make connections, and to seek understanding.

This made me think back to a Eugene England talk, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” The idea here, which I heard echoed ever-so-slightly in Sarah’s comment (and which I meant to address a long time ago BUT NEVER GOT TO) is that the dissatisfying, troublesome, or annoying aspects of a human church (with all the imperfections that humans bring) might not be detractors from the church, but rather points of benefit. As England says:

Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, the physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, even when we are disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not other­wise choose to be stretched and challenged. Thus it gives us a chance to be made better than we may have chosen to be—but need and ultimately want to be.

There was another thing that England said that is actually interesting because it relates to a later post from Sarah (where I could be said to be arguing for England’s point. Heck, England’s comments about marriage kinda-sorta anticipate Sarah’s latest post about family life.)

…I know that there are exceptions, but the basic Church experience of almost all Mormons brings them directly and constantly into very demand­ing and intimate relationships with a range of people and prob­lems in their assigned congregations that are not primarily of their own choosing but are profoundly redemptive in potential, in part because they are not consciously chosen. Yes, the ordinances performed through the Church are important, as are its scriptural texts and moral exhortations and spiritual conduits. But even these, in my experience, are powerful and redemptive partly because they work harmoniously with profound, life-giving oppositions through the Church structure to give truth and meaning to the religious life of Mormons.

So, in addressing Sarah (and England), I don’t want to say that these challenges…these hardships, these confusions, are unimportant…rather, I want to address something deeper…do we require a church like the LDS one to find and serve in these capacities?

I would agree with Sarah that the church has, without a doubt, helped me in my journey to understand myself. I would be quite a different person without it. As I wrote in response to one of Madam Curie’s posts, “I don’t want my money back.

But what I also recognize is this: there is trial, tribulation, hardship, and confusion in all places. It is something that life certainly is in abundance of. So, because my life currently isn’t daisies, and I have opportunities every day to navigate, to improve, to reflect, I would think the same is true for any potential children I might have. I don’t feel I need to purposefully subject them to the brand of confusion I faced just because I know confusion and trial can improve a person (in the same way my parents didn’t feel the need to purposefully subject me to a taste of the confusion they experienced in the 60s in the 70s as a black man and black woman, even though it certainly improved them). It seems to me cruel to subject someone to such.

But this doesn’t mean I would bubble my children. I would still let them face the randomness and accidents of life and learn to grapple with these things. Or when I perceive some greater benefit, then I might determine something to be worthwhile, despite the confusion possible. (So, if I believed in the church and the gospel, then I believe that would make me more amenable to England’s conclusion. Because I wouldn’t just be telling kids, “OK, go suffer,”…I would be trying to get them to learn valuable truths for a valuable purpose.)

Of course, I put a huge caveat at the end of this. I am in the Peanut Gallery of Single Folks who don’t know what we are talking about.

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10 Comments
  1. Is that a Karate Kid homage at the beginning of your post, there?

  2. I can gladly (and anti-nerdily) say that if it is, it is 100% unintentional.

  3. While confusion shouldn’t be thrust upon anyone merely for confusion’s sake (I think we agree on that point), I don’t think we should avoid potentially benefitial situations merely because children might become confused. That kind of fear is, I think, based in ethnocentrism. The desire to raise our kids thinking we’re right and everyone else is wrong.

    Will I send my kids to church? No. But might it be acceptable for other non-believers to send their kids to church without adverse effects? YES, I really believe yes. I honestly think each situation is different. It’s all about the pros and cons.

    Say the kids attend church, and hear some confusing thing. They come home, we talk. They make sense of things the best they can. Raised in a loving environment that values rational explanations for the universe, I think it unlikely they’d believe mormonism. But if they do, well…wish me luck at the unconditional parenting thing.

    Anyway, life is inherently confusing. Kids can be exposed to plenty of ridiculous, contradictory ideas — whether or not they spend a few hours at church with their grandparents.

    Also. I think its unwise to base our behavior on how to minimize the potential for resentment. I think we’re going about it the wrong way if we base our behavior on worst-case scenarios. That’s what the church does (No alcohol, no premarital sex – you probably won’t be able to act responsibly).

    My experience suggests that children are more likely to love than to resent and, even as adults, are quite capable of forgiving their loved ones for unintentional (inevitable) harm.

  4. P.S. I think we’re at least 90% on the same page here but the other 10% is sure fun to debate.

    Except I think I kind of sound like an ass in my response. Eh. ;)

  5. Sarah, I agree that we shouldn’t necessarily avoid potentially beneficial situations just because kids might become confused. But then we are also doing we a cost/benefit analysis of expected benefit to expected confusion….and we don’t make the confusion part of the benefit (even though it may have allowed us to benefit).

    I would argue that raising your children in your old faith/religion/church so they can “understand” you, your cousins, and grandparents is even moreso ethnocentric…especially when the alternative is they are unaware with *your* ethnic (via religious) heritage and that of your family and instead have to develop their own.

    You think that mere upbringing can make it more or less likely for one to believe in Mormonism? But don’t you remember your upbringing? I assume it was “a loving environment [ok, arguable for some people] that valued Mormon explanations for the universe,” and yet that didn’t stop us all from eventually coming to doubt these things.

    that life is inherently confusing is why I think we don’t have to particularly prime children for specific confusions…they will naturally face confusing things as a result of *life*.

    P.S. you don’t sound like an ass. Trust me; I’ve had ass commenters on this site. They are fortunately far and few between.

  6. I would argue that raising your children in your old faith/religion/church so they can “understand” you, your cousins, and grandparents is even moreso ethnocentric

    I agree, but I have a hard time believing anyone would really raise their kids in the church for the REASON of fostering understanding. It’s more likely that a parent in this situation would have a believing spouse, or that both parents would deconvert but face the challenge of extricating already-socialized children, and at least during the meantime or transition or whatever they could at least see the benefit in understanding gained.

    You and I are fortunate that if/when we have families we’ll start with a clean slate. Not so for many who leave the church.

    You think that mere upbringing can make it more or less likely for one to believe in Mormonism? But don’t you remember your upbringing?

    Good call! Point taken. :)

  7. Simplysarah:

    Well, as an ex/post/former Mormon, one of my big deals is that I am very easily misunderstood. I seek — through blogging — to reach to greater understanding…with other former Mormons, with believing Mormons, with non-Mormons. So, it doesn’t seem inconceivable to me that I would really want my children to understand ME, even though I don’t believe in the church, have no believing spouse, etc., etc.,

    You’re right in that people with believing spouses, children who already have been in the church, etc., are in quite a different position.

  8. So how WOULD you plan to help your kids understand you?

    Or perhaps that’s a question for another post. ;)

  9. Sarah,

    on this one issue, I don’t want my kids to understand me. I will be glad to let them think I am an out-of-touch old-fogey who grew up in a wholly more brutal era.

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