Should we cultivate hardship?
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.