An invitation to the ward’s annual Relief Society Holiday Dinner was hand delivered from a friend who expressed her hope that I’d consider attending. The theme of the program was “Let Him In.” Since I still care about my friends and neighbors in the ward, and enjoy their company, I accepted the invitation. After all, the program was about Jesus Christ. I’m fine with that topic!
As I pulled into the parking lot on the night of the program, an unexpected anxiety began to grow. It seemed a bit surreal to walk into the church building where I’d attended services every week for the last several years, but hadn’t entered in the last 10 months. I could hear the women’s voices drifting into the hallway as I entered the building, and my anxiety went up a few more degrees. Taking a deep breath and reminding myself that I’ve known these women for years, I gathered my courage and walked into the room as I done hundreds of times before.
A few women smiled and chatted with me for a moment or two. One woman threw her arms around me and said, “I was just asking about you last week! I haven’t seen you for so long I figured you had either moved or apostatized!” I smiled and replied, “I haven’t moved.” We exchanged a few more comments about family, and then she moved on. Apparently, she hadn’t heard the news. Another friend who does know, gave me a hug and said, “You’re brave to be here!” I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, so I replied, “It’s a dinner with friends. What’s so scary about that?” She agreed, and we went to our separate tables.
It was our traditional Relief Society Fall menu…the same one I’d helped plan and prepare the previous three years when I was serving in the presidency: a variety of soups, salads, breads, and desserts. At the conclusion of the meal, the program of music and speakers was announced. The first “sister” to speak started by reading from Bible.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20 KJV)
So far so good, I thought. But then her next statement made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. She said, “But before we can invite Him in, we have to be worthy…” Then she spent the remainder of her talk quoting from LDS scriptures and conference talks on what we need to “do” in order to be “worthy” of Christ’s companionship. My heart broke, and my anxiety spiked.
The next speaker maneuvered her wheelchair to the front of the room and told of how she hadn’t had much of a relationship with Christ and was inactive until the car accident that left her disabled. She spoke of her challenges in recovering from the accident, but I didn’t catch any inspiring tidbits on how she’d invited Christ into her heart and life during that time. The third speaker teared up as she spoke of her wedding plans being dampened by the news of her sister’s diagnosis of cancer. Without her beloved sister by her side, the wedding just wouldn’t be the same. She concluded the talk with her testimony that God answers prayers because her sister was discharged from the hospital in time to serve as the maid of honor at her wedding. Again, I missed any mention of how she had “let Him in.”
The final speaker of the evening was the beloved bishop’s wife. Maybe now I’d hear about Jesus! She began her talk with a confession about a weakness of hers. She admitted that it was difficult for her to love people who thought and acted differently than she did. After a few chuckles and nods from the audience, she specifically mentioned that it was especially hard for her to relate to people who had left the church. “I don’t understand how they could have questions or doubts when I’ve NEVER had any questions or doubts about the truthfulness of the gospel.” I was stunned. She knew I was there. Was this for my benefit, or was it to inoculate those who might want to talk to me? She went on to compliment her husband’s Christ-like ability to love others unconditionally, and how she wanted to be more like her husband. (Really? She was looking to emulate a man instead of Christ himself?) Then she bore her testimony of the “restored gospel.”
Four speakers given invitations to speak about Christ, and I barely heard Him mentioned by any of them.
It was a typical LDS church program. Tell stories of family members. Reference Christ here and there. Pray in His name. Even put Him in the selected theme. But then preach about the importance of “works” and our “worthiness,” and include several quotes by the current hierarchy of the church. Is it any wonder I’ve felt so empty after decades of attending a church that speaks so infrequently about Jesus? That night was no exception. I left feeling anxious and disappointed. I even suffered from what I consider to be Mormonism PTSD for a few days! However, I did learn an important lesson. I can love and pray for the women in my ward and neighborhood. I can visit them and serve them. But I can’t attend anymore Relief Society events. It’s too hard on my heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)