My Continuing Hope for AMW

by Naomi Watkins

For many women, Aspiring Mormon Women is one of the few places where they feel comfortable discussing the intersection of LDS culture, church doctrine, and personal revelation in regards to their individual life missions and stewardships. Making sense of these messages (especially as these messages may compete) and how they play out in our personal and professional lives can be a messy business.

We are often lousy at conversing about women’s stewardships and life’s work in ways that don’t frame some women’s choices, paths, and responsibilities as more important or noble than other women’s. We lack empathetic, inclusive, and constructive language. And even when we do engage in these conversations, we sometimes mess up. Sometimes we say the wrong things, and sometimes our imprecise language undermines our actual intent. We don’t phrase our thoughts well or maybe our thoughts are more cloudy than firm and we can’t articulate them quite yet. We defend when no defense may be needed, when a concession might be best. We take offense or feel personally attacked. Or we may accuse others of being offended when no such offense occurred. We may project our fears, insecurities, lost dreams, and hoped-for desires onto others. Our jealousies may get the best of us. And sometimes it’s not refuge from others that we seek, but refuge from ourselves.

Because of shortcomings and misunderstandings, we may avoid having these conversations entirely. Understandably. Yet, I am of the belief that silence results in isolationism rather than connection, and entrenchment rather than progress. So, yes, while these conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable and hard work and demand change, I believe that they are imperative. It is a time of recognizing and expanding, of enlarging and reclaiming the abundance that is and can be ours.

Women come to Aspiring Mormon Women at all stages of figuring out their paths. Sometimes we lack patience with others and where they are in their process, particularly when they’re sitting at a stage we’ve moved beyond. As women sort through culture, doctrine, and their own revelation, sometimes they feel pain, loss, anger, and betrayal. We have been told by culture that these “negative” feelings are bad, that we should deny and repress them, that we should smile and “be nice.” Yet they are a normal and natural part of the human experience. I’ve had to make room in my own heart and soul for them, to sit with that discomfort, and to figure out how to utilize them in constructive, healing ways. I honor and make room for other women to have space for needed sifting, sorting, wrestling and for shaping an identity and path that embraces their uniqueness and possibility.

In both our secular and faith communities, I see charity withheld in the midst of others’ processes—a time when they need it the most. It’s easy to extend charity and support to others who look and think and act and mormon like we do. But when we, as women, have desires and ask questions similar to other women around us, how do we react when the answers we receive are different from theirs? What then? I hear women repeat actress Amy Poehler’s mantra, “Good for her! Not for me.” But when we say this, do we really mean it? Are we sincerely happy for another woman’s choices and successes? Or are we using this phrase and sentiment as a replacement for a passive aggressive “Bless your heart”? Sheri Dew recently asked BYU-Idaho students if they are willing to engage in the wrestle. I know plenty of women who are willing. However, I would add: Are you willing to make space for and support the wrestling of other women?

Twelve years ago, when I started a PhD program, I envisioned a community of Mormon women who supported each other educationally and professionally through a faith-based lens—a community where women showed up and supported women through the sorting and shifting and wrestling. Sure, some of this process, this work, has to be done by each woman on her own, but the rest? Most definitely not. Sorting, shifting, and wrestling in total isolation can be suffocating, deadly even.

I was told recently that my idealism is all over Aspiring Mormon Women. My vision for this community might be considered ideal, but I see it already as a reality. I am encircled by women who extend charity to other women, particularly to those who are in the midst of their own sifting and sorting and wrestling, and especially when the end result looks different from their own. Women in this space extend love, solidarity, comfort, encouragement, and joy to other women—and they also extend it to themselves personally.

I have learned so much from the women who show up here. I have felt buoyed up by them as I’ve experienced my own sifting and sorting. And like all, I have blind spots, and while seeing these blind spots is almost always uncomfortable, I appreciate the opportunity to not only do better, but to learn how to talk about these issues in ways that help me to learn and grow with my sisters. As Joseph Smith said to the women in Nauvoo, “Don’t be limited in your views with regard to your neighbors’ virtues. … You must enlarge your souls toward others if you [would] do like Jesus. … As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand—let them be enlarged towards others—you must be longsuffering and bear with the faults and errors of [wo]mankind. How precious are the souls of [wo]men!” [1]

I see so much goodness. I have so much hope.

Let’s continue.

 

 [1] History of the Church, 4:606–7; paragraph divisions altered; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 28, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Eliza R. Snow.

 

Over the next several days, we’ll be celebrating AMW’s third anniversary by sharing women’s experiences with the Aspiring Mormon Women community. Interested in sharing yours? #myAMWstory Contact us at aspiringmormonwomen@gmail.com

3 Comments on “My Continuing Hope for AMW

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for founding AMW! It has been a tremendous blessing to me, and I’m sure to many others. I’m so happy to join you in “engaging in the wrestle” on these issues. I too hope that we can continue to have greater compassion, patience and love for each other in all of our messy, complicated, and often cloudy choices. We’re all in this together!

  2. Beautifully said. Thank you for creating a space where we can find connection. I feel like I finally found LDS women whose life story looks like mine. My heart has been touched as I’ve seen the women in this group comfort each other and cheer each other on.

  3. Thank you for sharing! As I am currently in school to become an optometrist, there’s been a lot of wrestling in my mind with who I want to be and how I’m going to be able to “have it all”. This site has given me so much peace in times of discouragement!

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