This past Sunday the graduating girls in our ward (a Mormon congregation) were welcomed into Relief Society (the women’s organization.) It’s a lovely tradition where the mom stands and introduces her daughter, lauds her accomplishments, talks about her daughter’s future plans, and expresses her love. Sometimes the daughter, and often the mom, cries. They usually hug and kiss. It’s a warm, fuzzy, feel good meeting tinged with excitement for the future (usually the girls are leaving home for college) and tainted with bittersweet goodbyes.
And here’s the thing. Even though I’ve been an active member of the church my entire life, the sort of gal who attends church pretty much no matter what, when I was eighteen I wouldn’t have been in that meeting. I would have found an excuse to have not been there, even though I attended church as regularly as a ticking clock strikes twelve.
There were a few girls without mothers in that room on Sunday. Their young women’s leader got up and said nice things about them, and it was great, she’s great, but she’s not their mom. Just like my dad’s wife was not my mom.
There’s a difference. A big one. Especially when you’re eighteen. And I liked my stepmother, we got along fine, but it wasn’t fine to pretend she was my mom.
And not having a mom is just one of the reasons a girl might intentionally miss that meeting. There might be a girl who is struggling to graduate, and is lucky to be going to the community college. Or a girl who doesn’t have the funds for the community college, and is bitterly envious of those with less academic skills who are going off to a university just because their parents can afford to send them. Or a girl whose major accomplishment is she’s been sober for six whole months. Or a girl whose relationship with her mother is twisted and angry, and to stand in front of room of women and listen to her mother lie (in a church!) is almost as painful as the words they exchange behind closed doors. Or a girl who is desperately in love with her boyfriend and is torn by the decision of whether to stay with him or attend her dream school.
There are so many reasons not to be in that room. Some good. Some not so good. I’m not saying that the church should abandon the ritual just because it makes a few uncomfortable. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t have been there.
Samuel tells us that God looks on the heart. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.1 Samuel 16:7. He is mindful of each of us, whether we stand up in church with our moms, or whether we hide in our rooms because a situation is just too painful to share in front of a crowd. The Lord loves us whatever we decide. And isn’t that what graduating is all about? Coming to the place where finally the decisions are ours alone? But I hope that whatever choices you face, you make them prayerfully, fully relying on the promise of the Proverb. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6