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Once upon a soapbox

By Dalene Rowley

Disclaimer: Admittedly, I am on a soapbox today. I find myself completely unapologetic about that.

I’m not in the habit of rewriting scripture, but there is a particular verse in James to which I would like to take my red pen:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

I still remember the time a divorcée who had just moved into my ward called my house and asked for my husband. I don’t remember what exactly she needed, except that she needed a priesthood bearer, she had already met my husband, he gave her our number, and she thought to call him. I didn’t give it a second thought until later, after I met her myself, when she explained to me that some people do give it a second thought and aren’t entirely comfortable associating (or particularly allowing their husbands to associate) with divorcées.

I had no idea.

While most the people I know personally have been good friends and diligent home and visiting teachers to my friend—and to several other divorced women I know and love—I have since come to realize that not every sister who finds herself coping with the pain, sorrow, upheaval and hardship of divorce is so fortunate.

Sometimes the slights are seemingly simple and, I would hope, unintentional.

Like that time when someone came to my friend’s door, looking for someone else (who was also divorced). When the woman realized her mistake she said to my friend, “Oh. You’re the other one.”

Or when individuals or youth groups plan service activities for the widows in the ward, but overlook that other single women and mothers in the ward might be in equal or even greater need of such service.

But recently I’ve watched, angry and broken hearted, as another dear friend has suffered deeply at the hands of neighbors, home and visiting teachers, and even leadership who have been cold, neglectful and unsupportive. “This is not how it is supposed to work!” my troubled heart cries. “It” meaning the church, as the functioning organization charged with carrying about the work and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have covenanted to bear one another’s burdens no matter what that burden might be. We covenanted to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:8,9)

And I have become aware that this friend is not the only one.

So today I publicly submit the version of this verse in James the way it is written on my heart:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows and divorcées in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

What this means to me is that to live my religion purely and to be undefiled before God, I am to be inclusive and supportive. To be mindful of specific needs and specific times when someone might need a friend, such as weekends and holidays alone when the kids are spending time with their father. To love and serve faithfully, without stigma or judgment.

What does it mean to you? As a mother, sister, friend or visiting teacher?

If you are divorced, how can your friends and those who are called to serve you more effectively and completely serve you?

About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

28 thoughts on “Once upon a soapbox”

  1. As the child of divorced parents, I experienced painful cold-shouldering at the hands of our fellow ward members. My mother was gossiped about and left to cope without friends. She grew embittered and so did I.

    It wasn't until we moved to a different country that we finally got a fresh start and a branch that welcomed us with open arms, warts and all. Such a waste of time, really. Too many tears were spilled during those years.

  2. I've been counselled to never: be in a room alone with a male over the age of 12 (including the 'cultural hall') even if the door's open; NEVER shake hands with a married man, no matter what (including Bishops, Branch Presidents and especially missionaries; offer suggestions or comments in a RS lesson about marriage. All those (and more) because I'm divorced. It blows my mind, and eventually makes me laugh and/or giggle. But right where that comma is also resides an enormous temptation to smack the adviser up alongside the head, or to tell them exactly what I think of their advice.

    Ahem. Back to topic. Fantastic post, Dalene. My suggestions to those who know a divorcee include:

    1. Find out, and get involved with the OTHER labels she has besides divorcee. Be a cheer squad for whatever those things are. She's trying to bench press 100lbs? Working with her kid's speech therapy homework? A devoted French Film fanatic? Having someone to talk to about the exciting, fun, dementing stuff is a huge boost.

    2. Give time. Time without kids can be hard for divorcees, but so is 100% of time with the kids. Some divorces mean kids don't see the other parent at all. Offer to spend time with the kids so she can shop/get a haircut/stare at the clouds. Offer to go with her.

    3. Pay attention to the kids. On the approach to Fathers' Day this year, my son's senior Primary was learning a song about how fantastic Dads are. This was not pleasant for my son, in any way. I took him out the first Sunday while the song was practiced, but the next Sunday – of her own accord – the Primary secretary asked him to help her mark the roll in the other classes around the chapel. They were gone for all of Singing Time, that Sunday and the next three weeks. I didn't ask, she just saw my son was hurting and found a solution. That did my heart so much good.

    4. Breathe. If you see your husband/brother/son/cousin/neighbour talking to a woman who has been divorced, please take a breath. Odds are hugely in your favour that she is not trying to steal your man away. It's insulting for everyone concerned if that's what you think.

    5. Just ask. The simplest advice. Ask them how they're going, REALLY going. Say they've been on your mind and you'd like to do something for them. Ask them if there is anything you can do. Only make them dinner if they say that would help. Ask them if they'd like to go to the movies with you. Or for a hot chocolate. Or a water balloon fight. Ask.

    Wow. That all came out fast! Hope it helps someone in some way 😉

  3. Sarah–your story breaks my heart. I'm so sorry for your pain and heartache, but comforted to know that eventually your family found its way to a branch that embraced you.

    Kel–Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and suggestions. I know you know me well enough to know this, but I feel I should make it clear to everyone else: I do not like labels and I avoid applying them to people and defining people by them, particularly that one. (I actually had to google it because I wanted to be sure about the accent mark.) I only used that label here to make my point. I have long felt it was missing from the literal version of the scripture, but recent experiences compelled me to say it out loud. Also, water balloon fight? When you're in the country next, you're on!

  4. AMEN! And when a grown woman with a career is leaving an abusive marriage, support her in her decision to raise her child/children instead of suggesting adoption.

    Twice in the past year pregnant women in my ward have been counseled to give their babies up for adoption since they were getting divorced. I was shocked. A woman with a college degree and years of work experience should be trusted to make her own decision.

  5. I've been divorced for a little more than a year and my ward has been fabulous. I haven't experienced any of the sort of shunning or judgement that other friends of mind have. I'm grateful for that and I wish everyone could have the experience I have had. For some reason people seem to think that getting divorced means that you have done something bad, and that doing something bad means that the job of other people is to punish you. Those are all false and damaging assumptions.

    I think like Kellie said, the best thing to do is to get to know people as individuals. Every person who is divorced has a different story. Although the end of my marriage was heartbreaking, my divorce is fairly amicable. My kids see their dad almost every day and he's willing to come to their school and church events. I get a little defensive when people assume that my kids need a father figure–they still have a dad. However, most of my divorced friends are not in that situation and their kids could probably use more adults in their lives. Again, just ask.

    I've also been really blessed lately with a good job and an ex who pays his child support–I feel bad taking money from the ward for things like Christmas presents when I know my kids will get plenty from their family. I'd rather that money go to a family that is truly in need. The hardest thing for me is that my needs are more intangible and harder to fill–the needs for friendship and acceptance. I don't know how to ask for those or if anyone can fill them for me. My visiting teachers have been great about being true friends to me and most of the ladies in my ward and neighborhood have been too.

    I think that divorce, like most other life circumstances is not something that is the same for everyone and making assumptions about divorced people as if they were the same is just silly. I agree with Kellie–just treat us like you would anyone else.

  6. When I joined the church, I didn't spend much time evaluating how I would be viewed as a single mother, or how isolated that would make me feel.

    No one pressured me to join the fold. The desire to become a part of the church was complex. One of the biggest draws was the lack of extended family that we had in our lives. A church family seemed to be a good surrogate. Another benefit was that my son would be exposed to positive male role models, something he lacks.

    More than anything, I needed to belong. I longed to be a part of something greater than my isolated world. I wanted to believe that there was a power greater than I. I wanted to have faith.

    I’ll never forget the feeling that I had when I learned that my family couldn’t be sealed. We lacked a necessary element, a man.

    Sure, there were all those reassurances from others, about how I should not worry that I can’t be sealed to my family in this lifetime. There would be a chance after I died. None of those thoughts was comforting.

    I've avoided every single ward temple trip. Mainly because I don't know how I can enter the temple feeling so inadequate.

    During the last eleven months in the church there have been many times when I have struggled with my differences.

    Like your friend, I have also had many negative interactions with a bishop, and other men in our ward. I don't know how much of that was related to me being single and a new convert,or if these people just didn't like me. I guess anything is possible.

    I’ve yet to sit through three hours of church on any Sunday, where I didn’t have at least a few reminders of how my family falls short of the ideal, of how my family is incomplete.

    Some of the talks are so powerful that I have to get up and walk away. It’s as if the person is speaking directly to me. I feel awkward and ashamed. When I’m unable contain my emotions, I head out of the building to my car, where I can sit and cry alone.

    There are times when I wonder what I am doing. I question why I joined this church. This is not to say that I have regret. It's just so difficult for me to remain active when I feel so much like an outsider. I cannot conform to the standard.

    How does a person who feels so out of place adapt, or find some middle ground?

    What can I do to minimize the discomfort that I feel as a single mother in the church?

  7. becca: I am sorry that you are having a rough time at church. My heart aches for you. I am not in the same situation, so I don't feel comfortable answering your question straight on.

    I was single and attending a married ward from age 30 to age 34, and I often felt awkward because I didn't look like the ideal LDS woman. My parents divorced when I was 15, and my mom didn't remarry until I was 30, and she sometimes felt others viewed her as atypical. I have served in several RS presidencies, and each time, I have run the stats to demonstrate that those sisters who are married to members are actually in the minority: only about 25% of each ward I did this for (4 wards). I did this to increase awareness for the RS lessons and activities to be more inclusive because the norm being tauted wasn't actually the norm. The bishop of one ward took this info to the stake because he found that it was an important point to acknowledge, one that the leaders were't seeing.

    As an older single, I spent a lot of time thinking of what common ground we have. We are all children of God. Yes, families are important ways to apply gospel truths and serve one another, but we are all brothers and sisters in the gospel, and we are all children of God. That is our primary identity. Our family roles shift and change a lot over the decades, but our relationship as children of God and brothers and sisters in the gospel is constant.

    I was asked to talk on mother's day this year, and I actually slid the talk over to this theme: "No matter what our family role is currently, our major task as children of God is to repent and to forgive, and that this takes constant practice." Becca, I am envisioning blessings and spiritual gifts for you, helpers from earth and from heaven to support you. I have a testimony of the power of divine love and the realities that tender mercies exist for those who are suffering. I hope that you can find a peaceful path to walk and find comfortors to support you as you do so. My God hold you in the hallow of His hand.

  8. Thanks for giving this a voice! It is very true, and as a child of an amazing single mother those who were involved in my life growing up are forever written in my heart. Why do we/some in the church compartmentalize so easily? Thanks Dalene!

  9. I have often mentally included divorced women when I think of that scripture, too. And I have thought that with the prevalence of divorce we ought to be getting much better at knowing how to meet people's needs.

    HokieKate, that shocks me. It seems so obvious that a woman who in good faith conceives a child with the man she was married to, and then whose marriage ended, should be as much expected to raise that child as if the child were five or fifteen years old.

    I have one caveat to the original post: regardless of marital status, I think it is wise for men and women who are not married to each other to avoid spending significant or emotionally-intense time alone, generally speaking. The church has lots guidelines to support this general rule of thumb. I think in the case of home teaching, the church's solution has often been to assign couples to home teach divorcees. (But I have also heard that in many cases, the assigned couples don't go–which seems very wrong.) And I think of this as being a guideline to protect the divorced woman as much as anyone else–for example, to protect her from a married man being able to falsely claim she made advances to him. (Not that he couldn't still make such a claim, but it would at least be less plausible if they hadn't ever been alone together.)

    Oops, I'm almost late for church. Thanks for the interesting post. 🙂

  10. Michelle L. – Thank you for getting me.

    Hokie Kate – Wow. I'm just shocked. Those "suggestions" wouldn't even have occurred to me.

    Jessie – Thank you for sharing your experiences and for remind us that as with any life challenge–personal experiences are unique and therefore needs will be unique. It never hurts just to ask. I am always appreciative when people are up front with me about what they do (and do not) need. But I also know it is difficult for some to express needs even when asked. I'm not always the best listener, but I also grateful for the times when the spirit has prompted me.

  11. Becca – Thank you for your comment. I don't know that I am qualified to answer your questions either, but I can share what I have learned from my own personal challenges (I too have, at times, left meetings in tears). I would echo what KDA so beautifully expressed: Sometimes the best way to overcome differences is to search for and focus on common ground. We are all flawed. Yet we are also each one daughters and sons of our Heavenly parents who love us. Our earthly families exist in varying shapes and sizes, but we are also blessed with ward families and we are all in this together. Those ward families aren't any more perfect than our immediate families, but as we come together to learn to love and serve one another, we will grow stronger, as individuals and as families.

    I frequently feel that talks are directed right to me–especially during conference–but even though that sometimes makes me squirm, it also reassures me. I know that if someone is addressing a particular subject publicly, it's likely that I'm not the only one with questions or who is struggling. Which means I am not alone in said struggles. That reaffirms my sense that we are all in this together.

    Finally, as I bore witness to the Primary children in sharing time today, I know that our Heavenly Father does hear and answer our prayers. I know as you bring your concerns to him and express your feelings of discomfort to Him, He will guide you as to how to overcome those feelings. He can also, if you ask, help you overcome your trepidations about attending the temple. While I–imperfect as I am–don't always have a perfect experience every time I attend–there is no place on earth where I feel greater peace and comfort with my own personal struggles. I hope and pray you, dear sister Becca, will find the peace and comfort you seek.

  12. Jennie L. – Thank you for reading and for your comment. When I think about the love I feel towards my friends' children, I'd bet that your name is written upon the hearts of those who loved and served your family, as well.

    Zina – I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the spirit of that scripture to mean more than the letter of it. I appreciate your thoughts–and I agree that many of the guidelines we have are to protect ourselves as well others. However I would like to point out that "associating" is not the same as "spending significant or emotionally-intense time alone" and that the guidelines to avoid being alone with a member of the opposite sex other than one's spouse apply to people of any marital status. And wisely so.

    Thanks again for reading and for the stimulating discussion.

  13. Yes to everything Kellie said.

    Also, (my turn on the soapbox for a moment)–
    Dear Married Sister, We single/divorced women have no interest whatsoever in procuring your husband for ourselves. And since most of us don't believe in polygammy, we also have no interest in adding ourselves to your eternal partnership.

    As for my own experience – When I was initially divorced and living in a wonderful ward in East Provo, Utah, only one person aproached me to ask how I was doing. ONE! Ever. I was appauled by the complete absence of empathy and sympathy. These were good neighbors and some friends, but the lack of outreach and inclusion was literally a jolt to my spirit. It felt like something akin to silent shunning.

    I realized sometime after the fact, of course, that the likely cause for this was simply discomfort on everyone's part with the whole situation. And often, we don't know how to respond to other people's pain, whatever that pain may be.

    But as a result of this experience my piece of advice is this: For heaven's sake, people, SAY SOMETHING. Please. Preferrably something kind. Anything kind. It doesn't even have to relate to the divorce.

    The smallest act of kindness has a giant impact when a person is suffering. I've experienced this more times than I can say.

    I am long-since past the pain and discomfort I felt about being a single, divorced woman in the church. I still get sideways glances from time to time when visiting in the hallways with a marriend man – over next week's Sunday school lesson when I'm team-teaching for instance, or while discussing some point of doctrine after adult sunday school class with a fellow class member – but I am not bothered by this at all. Through the years since my divorce, good people like Dalene have made their way into my life and heart; have offered friendship, comfort, encouragement day in and day out; have treated me as I am: a worthy desciple of Christ. That's who we all are. Married or not.

    And God has whispered to me over and over again the truth of my worth in his eyes, my place at his table, alongside the married folk; and of my goodness. Just as I am.

    For this I am eternally grateful. Thank you for this exceptional and thoughtful post, Dalene. Indeed this IS pure religion.

  14. Thank you for the kind compassionate thoughts in this post. There are so many people who are different than everyone else that it is a wonder that we feel so much like a family. Still the church community, flawed as it is, is much more welcoming to me than any other place I have been. I appreciate your words.

    I wonder if maybe it would be possible to correct the word at the end of the James 1:27 verse to read world rather than word. That is what my Bible says. It makes the meaning different than if one believes the one can be spotted by a word rather then the world.

    How much better each of us would be as home or visiting teachers if we thought about that last sentence with its real meaning in mind.

  15. Melody – thank you for your insights, dear friend. I especially appreciate this:

    "I realized sometime after the fact, of course, that the likely cause for this was simply discomfort on everyone’s part with the whole situation. And often, we don’t know how to respond to other people’s pain, whatever that pain may be."

    Words to remember any time someone seems at a loss for words or says something that doesn't come out just right.

    I am grateful for your goodness just the way you are. It is a gift to have you in my life.

    Yvonne S. – Thank you so much for alerting me to my inadvertent typo. Oops! I have corrected the error, but not after a few delightful moments of pondering it in terms the use of the word "Word" in John 1:1.

    And I so agree. We all could do and be better. My hope in writing this post is that our words and our deeds towards one another will be such that we will be unspotted from the world.

  16. please don't forget the men who are divorced also they need to be included especially if they have children. One point, please remember that a divorced person is a single unmarried person too. maybe if we included all those without a life partner in the same group mentally we would be more inclusive.

  17. Becca, and anyone else who has a hard time going to the temple: There are many others out there also who are married and have a hard time going to the temple. Their spouses don't believe anymore, have addictions, are having affairs, and any other of myriad problems that you don't see when you see the family sitting together in church. The temple is not for perfect people. It is for people who are trying and enduring and placing their hope and faith in Christ to make good of all the mess of humanness and families and relationships. It is not a reminder about what you aren't, about what your family/relationships aren't, but a reminder about who you really are and what we have to look forward to.

    A line that stuck out to me today in one of the hymns we sang was "the patience of hope." Having a hope for a bright, perfect future in our next life helps us be patient in this life with the hand we've got.

    I am sad and appalled to hear how single members have been treated. I am sorry. I hope I have never inadvertently slighted a single member like this. Blessings!

  18. Jennifer – Please be assured the point of my post is to be inclusive towards everyone. I only used the female version of the word because it was consistent with the context of the scripture and because this blog is by and generally about women.

    Strollerblader – Wonderful point about the temple. If it were only for perfect people, it would be empty. I love this: "A line that stuck out to me today in one of the hymns we sang was “the patience of hope.” Having a hope for a bright, perfect future in our next life helps us be patient in this life with the hand we’ve got." Thank you!

  19. KDA, I have always your ability to know just what to say. I didn't realize until now, just how much I miss communicating with you more frequently. We should talk after the kids return to school.

    I want to be sure to note that my experiences with our new ward have been refreshing. It's almost as if I have joined a new church. There is certainly more stability here. There are more families and youth as well.

    I don't feel as if the men are judging me for my lack of husband, as I did in the previous ward. Our bishop is a kind and wonderful man. There is another single mom who is also a recent convert. I had lunch with her and another sister right before the holiday.

    I haven't quite adjusted to the random kindness that we've had here. As someone who doesn't regularly have visitors, it's just a wee bit uncomfortable when people show up unannounced, even if it's to deliver warm bread, fresh out of the oven.

    That bread was a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

    Last night a new friend here pointed out, "That's some of the difficulty with being Mormon, it's a lot of talk about ideals that leave you feeling like a failure. Which is where the atonement of Christ comes in, but we don't talk about it enough. It is eternal and infinite, healing and calming, it is everything that will make us whole as we use it day by day. The atonement is what fills the gap between your single motherhood and what you want, what you think you see in other families. "

    She's right. While there is talk of ideals and visions of what can I perceive as ideals, no one has an ideal life. What I see on the surface is often superficial. I don't know the whole story. While most women in my ward do have husbands, they all have some struggles, and there are likely ideals they long for that they do not have.

    If I could spend less time over analyzing what it is about me that is deficient, or otherwise less than ideal, I would be so much happier.

    Dalene, I hadn't thought about the possibility that others also feel as if talks are directed to them as well, or the commonality that may exist as a result. Thank you for bringing this up.

    I really need to be more confident and comfortable with prayer. I went more than forty years without a single prayer. In this way, I truly am a child of God. I'm learning all kinds of new things on this great adventure.

    I hope to know that peace and comfort that you feel from a temple experience, one day.

    Strollerblader, thank you for sharing your thoughts about the temple as well. I really needed these thoughts right now.

  20. I agree, Dalene, and didn't mean to say that I agreed with any of the silly edicts Kellie had been given. I think the only reason I brought up what I did at all was that I was thinking about why people sometimes get wrongly neglected. But what's most important is to realize that there are always ways that we can properly care for people without anyone having to be put in an awkward situation. And I absolutely do not count handshakes or conversations about Sunday School lessons, etc., as awkward or inappropriate. (And, Melody, I did also remember someone–maybe Kellie–having said before something like what you said–that married women don't need to feel threatened because you don't WANT our husbands.)

  21. Excellent post, Dalene! I agree wholeheartedly and hereby want to offer my husband as a helpful guy who moves furniture, cleans up big messes and gives eloquent blessings. Happy New Year! Including the single and single parents among us might be an excellent resolution for 2013.

  22. I have a friend who told me that when her husband would be deployed, the home teachers would all but stop coming. She figured that it was because it was uncomfortable for them to just contact her and visit without him there, but that was when she needed the visit the most. Now she is divorced, and I can only imagine the difficulty she's had without a spouse or with awkward home teachers.

    I am single, and I am fortunate enough to have a married couple who are my combined home/visiting teachers. I love it that way, but the divorced friend I spoke of told me that she feels that she needs a separate set for each, so I guess it doesn't work well for everyone. I love it, though.

  23. Becca – I hope the same for you. Also, even though I was born and raised, to this day I am not a good pray-er. But I keep at it and still frequently find myself blessed with much better than my efforts deserve. Keep at it! Love to you–

    Happy New Year to you Mary Ann! Thank you for your comment!

    Cardine – thank you so much for reading and for your comment. I am happy to know you are home/visit taught in a way that works so well for you. I also appreciate the reminder that needs, like individuals, are unique. Happy New Year!

  24. Isn't it a shame that we even need a post about this? Seriously, we are people with the same needs. As a friend once said to me, we need more love in this church.

  25. Kay – Agreed. I know being imperfect is part of our mortal experience, and that not loving perfectly isn't unique to us, but I keep feeling we should know better.

    magpie – You put it so perfectly, "…we need more love in this world."

  26. As divorced, single mother, the way I coped with being nonthreatening to the married women in my ward was to always invite them to my home whenever I needed assistance from their husbands. If I needed a blessing for one of my children I always also invited the wife of the priesthood holder who was giving the blessing. In fact I felt more comfortable when they came because I wanted them to know I had absolutely NO interest in their husband, only in the priesthood which their husband held. It was interesting, every time a wife came with her husband while he gave my children a blessing a closer feeling developed between that wife and me. I think they it was because they felt the type of spirit that was in my home (which was very positive), and also they had the opportunity to see their husband perform a priesthood blessing which I think drew her closer to her husband. I always felt those experiences ended very positively.


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