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Sisters for Sisters

By Brooke Benton

I’ve always held this theory about our church. That sometimes when we try so hard and nobly to stay positive, we often let a very tender and shared moment pass—the opportunity to grow closer to one another through our stories. We know that behind each face that smiles on the outside are usually quiet hearts full of ache or worry. We know these things, but do we always know what they are specifically?

One of my favorite Sunday school lessons included a personal lament by our sweet teacher that I will forever remember. She said something like, “I just wish the Church would let us be sad. Sometimes I just want to be sad first… and then I’ll do what I’m supposed to.” I’m all for staying positive and moving on, for “forgetting yourself and getting to work.” But in our mad dash for the finish line of problem solved, are some people getting left behind?

I find that people will talk if you’re willing to listen. That generally people don’t want to complain, but sometimes they do want to vent, sometimes they want advice, mostly they just want a friendly ear, a hug, someone willing to nod their head and be there.

And when I do listen, and friends and neighbors and strangers open up to me about their trials it makes me love them more. I can’t name the phenomenon. I don’t know why that is.  But when I truly know them, the compassion part is easy.  The whole “sister” part of sisterhood makes sense.

Sister Hinckley once said:

“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.
I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp.
I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children.
I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden.
I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder.
I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

And it’s a quote I love and live by. When someone asks me if I do daycare (because the house is teeming with children of the same size, from all over the neighborhood), or if I run out of bananas and Gogurts the very day I purchase them because of said teeming kids, then I feel happy in a satisfied, soulful sort of way. I love taking meals– the idea that food for the belly is food for the heart. And cookie delivery to the down and downhearted? One of my favorite things ever.  (Okay, cookie delivery to all, no down-ness required…)

I get setting boundaries. I get the need to sometimes say no. But do we tear down this shared sisterhood (and shared motherhood) by our unwillingness to help one another out? To say, “I can’t” (babysit or drive carpool or teach a lesson or take a meal or talk) when we really can and it may just require personal sacrifice on our part? Do we sometimes worry we’re not getting what we need for ourselves when what we need is to love each other?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

16 thoughts on “Sisters for Sisters”

  1. What a great post. I often find myself looking around at church and feeling like everyone has a perfect life but me–and I'm very blessed, as well. But it doesn't matter–when you only see the laminate surface, everyone looks flawless. I find that I stop coveting when I take the time to really get to know someone. That's the only way we can really love each other–taking the time, making the effort to step outside of ourselves and get involved.

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  2. Amen! I don't know what else to say, but that I totally agree with you.
    I've had many moments sitting in RS, when I feel so inadequate, and everyone seems so perfect, and I'm so flawed. We have to remember that everyone has their own quiet trials they are going there, and remember not to "judge" people for appearing to have the perfect life.
    I do wish I felt more comfortable sharing my doubts with myself in church.

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  3. I think sometimes in the church people think that if they admit their sadness and struggles it shows a lack of faith. After my father died I wanted to be SAD and I wanted people to acknowledge how hard it was, even with a knowledge of the restored gospel. I loved the comments President Hinckley made after his wife died. You know he had tremendous faith that he would be with her again but he was SAD and he admitted it. I loved that about him.

    To me faith means so much more if we admit how hard it is. Faith through sadness and struggles is a strong faith.

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  4. I agree –to a point.

    When I suffer with my depression, someone allowing me to wallow in my self-pity actually makes my depression worse. The sadness and worry and despair feed the sadness and worry and despair. I think that's one of the reasons why hope and optimism is so important. If I didn't have that hope and optimism, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

    But at the same time, I know what you are saying. "Willing to mourn with those that mourn" is a very important part of the Gospel. It's hard to do usually because we can't understand what the other person is experiencing, given our differing lives and perspectives. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!

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  5. I love that quote. Truly words to live by. As for the rest I had a twing of regret. Because I have been that person who has begrudgingly fed the same little boy at my house time and time again. I look at it rather selfishly. I think, why is this kid always at my house and the favor not being returned. He timidly begs for treats, and savors what I give him. Just writting this I feel guilty. I have been grumpy about this, thinking how is this fair. I get these "fun" 3-year-old's at my house day in and day out and never having an inviation to send them to his house. This boy is number 6 in a family of 7 kids. He is often outside alone, too tan for the season, an indication that while his mom i'm sure tends to his baby brother, he's left to fend for himself. I will be better. I will do this gladly, maybe send dinner down to the family next time instead of just feeding him. She has to be overwhelemed. Working nights, and at home during the day while her husband works 2 jobs. She never complains. Maybe she would like to. Maybe I should stop.

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  6. I like this post. I think you make some good points. Since I've come to terms with my depression I have made a concerted effort to be open with people about when it is affecting me. I think sometimes people don't share their troubles because of embarrassment, but sometimes they have good reasons: they don't know how to explain it to themselves, let alone other people; or maybe they are just too tired to go into the details. It's always important not to judge.

    But I think you are basically right. It seems that, as LDSs, we too often forget that becoming worthy of eternal life is a process–and this life is as much about the process as it is about the end results.

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  7. I agree that there is a fine line between feeding sadness and despair and being honest so we can be real and support one another. I've been to testimony meetings where I left feeling disheartened because of the negativity, but those have been few and far in between. More often I find myself discouraged by the tendency for us to try too hard to be perfect, and it just comes off as being disingenuous.

    I'll be the first to admit that I feel uncomfortable sharing personal problems with others and being on the receiving end of service; but when I do, I'm often flooded with support. And with that support I feel God's love for me even more. Heavenly Father needs us to serve one another to accomplish His work, so we need to allow others to serve us if we want His help. Which means we need to let others know what we are really going through and we need to be more honest.

    I also feel a much closer bond with Sisters who I have opened up to and who have opened up to me. I feel less need to judge them and I feel safe from their judgment. In that spirit of love there is a foundation to grow together in faith.

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  8. "I’m all for staying positive and moving on, for “forgetting yourself and getting to work.” But in our mad dash for the finish line of problem solved, are some people getting left behind?"

    I love the entire post, but especially that line. Good point. Well said.

    True, there is a fine line, but what happens when we share and are honest about our trials is we connect with other sisters who have similar struggles and who may have been thinking they were all alone. I've seen it happen here on Segullah and to me it is absolutely beautiful every time.

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  9. This is a lovely post.

    The one thing I'd like to add is my own "witness," as a complaining type, that a certain type of complaining really, really, really works well for me. For example, two days ago I was saying to my mom "I don't know how I'm going to accomplish this," and "I don't know what I'll do about that," and she just listened supportively — and maybe asked a couple questions to clarify the problems — and within hours I'd figured out how to let go of this and found a solution to that, and was much more happy and calm. Granted, I can also get this kind of support by pouring my heart out in my prayers, but often my prayers are answered by the kind listening ear of a real-life person. And even when my problems are less easily and quickly resolved, it's nice to know that someone (who's kind and non-judgmental,) knows what I'm going through.

    I guess the kind of empathy that can lead us to further wallowing is the kind that validates our despair and says, "You're right; you're totally sunk," but often just having someone listen and admit that what we're expressing is truly challenging makes us feel so much better that we can then go out and find a solution. (Also, if solutions are offered too quickly and before we've really been and felt understood, they often feel unkind, annoying, or just aren't applicable.)

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  10. I am appreciative of the internet for giving me a place to talk about really personal issues and to get feedback from faithful LDS women. It's the stuff I probably wouldn't bring up in Relief Society. Taking time to having a 'blogging' conversation counts as service. I totally feel that others have helped me bear my burdens.

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  11. I think modern women have figured out that we need to set boundaries and protect our "selves"–but I agree that we often take it too far. Most of the time, yes you CAN bring a meal, help with a child, whatever. I often feel somewhat cut off from my sisters because we don't have enough of the give and take, where I'll watch your kids and you'll get some milk for me at the store and I'll weed your garden…

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  12. I really love what you have to say, Brooke. I probably err on the side of too loose of boundaries at times (ie., here on this blog), but most of the time I've found a level of sharing I'm fairly comfortable with. My friendships have been richer when there is that sort of sharing.

    Angela michelle, your comment about feeling somewhat cut off because of lack of give and take is interesting to me. My current ward seems to have a lot of that, and I really am grateful. One good friend calls me from the grocery store when there's a good deal, and if I am interested, she'll pick up whatever I need–or even good library books on the sale rack. My next door neighbor and I just started getting together twice a week, one prepares meals while the other watches kids. When my dh has a scout campout, his assistant's wife and I are taking turns cleaning/watching kids and having dinner together. I've known other women who swap sitting so they can attend the temple and such. The meal prep and cleaning swap I have initiated because "I need! I need!" and I figured other women must need also. But a new gal in the ward simply offered to help me paint my cupboard doors out of the blue a few weeks ago. It seems like I live in a ward that is simply like this. And linking it back to Brooke's theme, I think it's because there is generally a nice level of openness in our ward, so people know what others need. It really is a blessing to be part of this.

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  13. Amen Sisters. I could not elaborate on what you have all said so beautifully. I truly appreciate your thoughts and insight.

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  14. Reading this post made me want to cry. I just got back from a girl's weekend, where we do share the highs and lows liberally. Now that I'm home it's back to sisters whose life situations are so much worse than mine that it seems insensitive to complain in my relative abundance.

    Everyone has trials, we all need to share and not be one up'd. Or be told if we just have faith, let go of our pride, or try harder everything will work out. Just give me a hug and remember my name when you see me in the hall.

    As an aside-Our stake Pres says when someone asks how you're doing you should always say,"GREAT!" This bothers me on so many levels that when he asks how I'm doing I say anything but "GREAT".

    I
    y

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  15. I think that this is something that every member of the church needs to hear. For some reason we memmers do seem to try and act like everything is perfect. That they never get sad, that there kids never drive them CRAZY or that they never have a dirty dish in the sink. It is hard to relate to Sisters in the church who try to create this perception of them because it isn't reality.

    As far as suffering from depression, I don't think the Author was saying that those who are depressed should have others come over and wallow in their sadness for hours, telling anyone who comes along how sad and depressed they feel. I read the post as saying that it is OK to acknowledge that you are feeling depressed to other Sisters. It makes you more human, more relatable. And that when others hear of your depression they should also acknowledge it also and not just try to sweep it under the table. Then, after acknowledging it, do something to help cheer you up.

    Elder Wirthlin put it so well in this last General Conference when he said,

    "How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness."

    We need to be more honest with each other so that we can REALLY help each other out and not just sit on each others couches each month reciting a lesson, and pretending everything is just perfect. Who can relate to that?

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