ON APPEARANCES AND IDEALS

September 14, 2021
One of the biggest benefits of mid-single life is being freed from the burden of Latter-day Saint idealism. In our faith, we have developed a very specific cultural picture of what "the good life" looks like. I should know. My former wife and I had that image. We both served in "important" callings in the church. We had beautiful children. We were publicly affectionate--most of the time. Our marriage, at least at the end, was kind of like the description Jesus gave of the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).

We often misuse the scriptural word "hypocrite." In greek, a hypocrite is simply an actor. It's not someone who preaches one thing and does another. We all do that. Rather, it's someone who is putting on an act to seem better than he or she really is. It is carefully creating an image of beauty and perfection to cover corruption.

I do not say that my marriage to my former wife was just an act. At least on my side of it, I genuinely loved her for a long time. But it was far more troubled than the public ever knew. And that wasn't an accident. Hypocrisy exists everywhere. Those things that our culture says we should keep "private" are allowed to fester and metastasize in the interest of keeping up appearances and covering our shame.

I was a leader in my mission. I became a senior companion when I had been out only 5 months--which virtually never happened with my mission president. For the remainder of my mission I was either a district leader or a zone leader. And I can admit that I liked the status. I liked being seen by my peers in the mission and my family back home as successful. That doesn't mean I was insincere in my missionary work. But I was more devoted to my image than I really should have been. My mission was to promote Christ--not myself.

In a way, mid-singles in the church are like the sinners and tax collectors and beggars that Jesus hung out with during his life on Earth (see Mark 2:15-16). The Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for dining with these social outcasts. Jesus answered, "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark 2:17). It's not that the Scribes and the Pharisees were really sinless and didn't need Him. However, the common sinners realized that they needed Christ, while the self-righteous religious leaders of the day did not.

Being a divorced mid-single freed me from the burden of trying to appear perfect all the time or to create a picture of some ideal for the benefit of other people. Cathy and I are active in the church because we want to be, but we don't go there seeking high callings or status. We really don't care about that. We are there for inspiration, learning, and comfort. Most of all, we are there to take the sacrament in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One important thing I learned from being divorced is that the opinions of others who don't know much about my situation don't matter very much.

The hardest thing about being divorced was not really what other people thought of me or feeling like an outcast. It was giving up on that ideal picture in my own mind. It was painful to let go of the idea of growing old with the woman I had my kids with and presiding over large Thanksgiving gatherings with children and grandchildren. In some ways it was a beautiful picture and I really thought for a long time that it was going to be my life. But real life can be messy. Marriages between two imperfect people are bound to have some issues and that's okay--not okay IF. . . Or okay BUT . . . . It's just okay. Our mission as Latter-day Saints is not to show people how perfect life can be if they follow the commandments with exactness. It is to show them the mercy and forgiveness available through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

I could honestly do more church service than I do. I'm going to try to turn over a new leaf in that department. But not because I aspire to leadership or special status in the church. I don't. I do aspire to help people and be a leader in that way.
If you have felt like an outcast in the church, you have an opportunity to develop and deepen your personal spirituality. If you feel like your life is broken and things were supposed to be some other way, you have an opportunity to learn patience and acceptance of God's will. If you despair because your vision of the ideal Latter-day Saint life has been blown to smithereens, you have an opportunity to create a beautiful life that is truly your own, with Jesus Christ as your mentor and master. You get to create it with no pretense of perfection.

In many ways, Cathy and I have the kind of marriage I appeared to have the first time around, but didn't. We got to start fresh with the benefit of experience and knowing the power of intentionality. I doubled the number of children I had when I married her. Once again, I can picture presiding over a large Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner with my children and grandchildren--including steps. I have discovered a new kind of ideal.

I have discovered that I don't need either status or an image of perfection to serve people. In some ways, it serves them better to know that I am human, that I have experienced pain and regret, and that my life has not been free of tribulation. My new "ideal" is to celebrate the abundant gifts God has blessed me with since my divorce--and there are many. My cup runneth over.

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