Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Call for Input: Do's and Dont's for Priesthood Leaders

Hey Folks!

I am currently working on putting together a PowerPoint presentation that I will be presenting early next month to over 100 people.  A good portion of those in attendance will be bishops and stake presidents.

I have been asked to take a few minutes and talk about ... "something."  (isn't it scary when they leave it up to you what to talk about? Yikes!)...  Anyway.  I have remained close to the Spirit and have felt prompted to speak rather directly to the bishops and stake presidents and share the experiences of so many women in recovery with their present and previous priesthood leaders; what has worked and what hasn't.

This information will be shared in a very positive light and all information will be kept in the strictest of confidence.

I will be pulling from the Dear Bishop letters so many of you have already written, so if you have already written one, much of your insight will already be included.

If you have not written a Dear Bishop letter, or if you have but really want to emphasize a point, please share your thoughts regarding your previous or current Priesthood leader on the following:

  • What has worked?
  • What hasn't worked?
  • Were you ever shamed or offended?  Why?
  • Did your Priesthood leader do anything that helped you feel especially safe and comfortable?  What?
  • Any additional thoughts?

Thank you!

17 comments:

  1. Lots and lots of thoughts here. Too many to write about in the little time I have in the next few days. When is the deadline? :)

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    1. There is some time! The conference isn't until February 1st... but I'd like to get my PP slides put together in the next week just to get it to them in time. Respond when you can and I'll wiggle stuff in!

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    2. What has worked? Love. And lots of it. Our current bishop has seen me for who I really am and who I can become, not for my addict self. He has inspired me to want to be better rather than shaming me into sobriety. He has shown an interest in understanding my addiction, asking me to borrow books I've read on the topic (and he actually read them!). Rather than telling me what to do, he asks me the difficult questions so that I figure out myself what I need to do. Our last bishop wasn't afraid of taking my temple recommend or my privilege to take the sacrament. All my bishops before had never done that, so it was a blow to the head when I realized what I was giving up.

      What hasn't worked? "You need to stop." And other such "words of advice." Many bishops don't try to understand the problem. It's understandable that they have little understanding of addiction and especially sexual addiction, but it just doesn't work when they stay ignorant and keep trying to help you.

      Were you ever shamed or offended? Why? Yes, we had one bishop who seemed very harsh toward me at times. He made me feel horrible for what I've done and the "increase of love" afterwards seemed more of an afterthought than a motivation. There were times when what he said was what I needed to hear, and that was most of the time, honestly. But there were also times when I went home feeling hopeless.

      Did your priesthood leader do anything that helped you feel especially safe and comfortable? What? Yes! The biggest thing was our current bishop's desire to truly understand my addiction from a physiological and emotional standpoint rather than just a spiritual standpoint. He has shown more understanding than any bishop I've ever had, and therefore I've felt much safer talking to him about deeper things.

      Any additional thoughts? My main thing, if you haven't already noticed :), is that bishops need to study addiction. This is something that is affecting more of their ward members than actually come to them, and an understanding of it can go a long way in making addicts feel comfortable in their offices. They also need to STRONGLY recommend going to ARP meetings. Go with the addict a couple of times if you have to. Go alone just to get an understanding of how it works so you can better encourage addicts to go. For example, out here in our stake, we have 15 wards and branches, but only two people show up every week at the ARP meeting. Every strong recovery needs a strong 12-step program, but unfortunately we don't have one right now.

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  2. Last year, during the single's ward semi-annual chastity talk, my bishop explained that he was worried that those in the ward were dating people who weren't current temple recommend holders, and it was damaging them spiritually. "Where do you even FIND these people?" he asked with a laugh.

    I know, if I were to ask him directly, he would tell me that he hadn't meant that I (a woman who's been without a recommend for years) should stay away from the ward members, but I also know I wouldn't believe his answer. I felt like I knew his true feelings, so when he told me that it would be good for me to attend more ward activities, I smiled and nodded, but thought "good for ME, maybe, but bad for THEM."

    I know it's hard to try to look at the other side of everything you say, but do try. You may feel like you're preaching to the choir, but there's always a few people who feel out of place and vulnerable, and it doesn't take much to alienate them further. Tell your flock early and often that you'd rather have a big group of imperfect people than a small group entirely made up of Mollys and Peters. Don't make anyone feel like the bad apple that needs to be kept away, lest it rot the whole barrel. All of us apples have bad spots, but those of us with more obvious or severe spots sometimes forget that God loves us just as much as the others, and that we have just as much to give, too.

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    1. Wow, I'm so very sorry. That just makes my heart sad. I'm with you - I would definitely have a hard time trusting as well.

      This is perfect feedback. Thank you!

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    2. It may have been so jarring because it was right after another bishop whose attitude was so different. About a fourth of the ward, under the previous bishop, lived outside of our boundaries, but got special permission to come to our ward because they wouldn't go anywhere else. That bishop was SO inclusive, and made us feel that our weaknesses were already strengths—they made us have compassion for each other, and made us want to be better and stronger. He called made me—ME—Relief Society President, knowing full well that I was still trying my best to recover and that I couldn't go to the temple, most of the time. I will never forget the lesson that taught me. That even broken, I can still be an effective tool in God's hands. It's hard to believe, sometimes, but it's always there in the back of my mind as the main support for the "God believes in you and values your contributions" side of my mental arguments. He was an elderly gentleman with a goofy, slightly irreverent sense of humor. He told us about the R rated movies he watched and the video games he played—he felt like a real person to me, and I trusted and liked him more for it.

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    3. My current bishop is marvelous, too. Though I could occasionally quibble with his wording, and though I still don't feel at home in the ward, I've made more progress with this bishop than I have in quite a while. I don't know if it's what he said or if I was just ready, but in the 6 months I've spent here, I've started therapy and 12 steps, and they've both been real helps. This bishop has been understanding and loving when I talk to him in private. He's reminded me that I'm not alone—that there are several other women in the ward who struggle with the same thing. He recommended 12 steps and therapy (as most bishops have), and his words, echoing around in my head, were part of my decision to try it.
      (For the record, he suggested therapy, I said I was scared of it and that it sounded expensive, he told me that the church could pay, and I told him I felt uncomfortable with that because I HAVE enough money, but it was given to me by my grandparents to defray large expenses like school and cars and a down payment on a house. I felt trapped between not accepting the charity of the church when I have the means myself, and the desires of the person who gave me those means. But he suggested that my grandparents, if they knew they situation, would be honored and pleased to help out. He also told be about a program on BYU campus that was manned by students in the program—not fully trained professionals—that was significantly less expensive, even for a non-student like me. Though I declined at the time, those two thoughts kept rolling around in my mind, which lead me to return a couple of weeks later and ask about the details of the BYU program. And when they were full up for months and referred me to LDSFS, I felt comfortable enough with my grandparents' money to go. I'm so glad I did.)
      Anyway, my current bishop regularly tells me he's proud of me, he lets me teach, he tells me what the spirit is telling him about me (which is fantastic—I often don't feel eligible for the spirit, and so I feel like I'm cut off from God's individualized guidance. It's nice to hear it again, even if it's thirdhand) and also importantly, he deviated a bit from the church's standard guidelines. He said I could get a (limited use, since I'm not yet endowed) recommend if I stayed clean for month, instead of for the usually recommended 3. It was a big deal for me, because I try not to ask for special favors, but I was feeling like in my case, maybe the general advice didn't fit that well. I just got the recommend this past week, and though I haven't gone yet (I'm a little nervous to go back because I feel like I won't remember how it works and I'll stick out like a sore thumb. But don't worry, I'll go this week. I can't let social discomfort hold me back from accepting God's gifts) just receiving the recommend—just the knowledge that my bishop was willing to let me get one faster than is generally recommended—taught me that God does know me individually, and wants to help me in the ways that work best for me.

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    4. And of course, there was the bishop who called me in, the night after I finally admitted to myself that I was stuck, couldn't get out on my own, and that I DID want to get out and would be willing to do whatever if took, if God would help me to do it. He asked why I didn't look as happy as I had a few years ago, and gave me the opportunity to confess, which I took. He was, just as I had been promised but didn't quite believe, still so loving and undisgusted. He taught me to reject the horrible hopeless thoughts I was having as "Satan's garbage." I thought the phrase was silly then, but I still use it today, several years later, when I'm down on myself.

      So out of four bishops who know about me, three have been very helpful. The fourth probably was still inspired and may have been helpful if I'd given him a shot, but because he chronically failed to consider the impact of his words on people like me, I couldn't bring myself to spend any more time than was strictly necessary with him.

      Oh, one more thing: I've had two of the good bishops let things slip about other people's struggles that they maybe shouldn't have. It makes me believe that they may not be as confidential about my struggles as I'd like them to be, either. I'm in a place right now where if someone found out that I struggle with porn, it wouldn't affect me much (I've even given permission to the bishop to tell other women in the ward who share my struggle, so that we can support each other, though only one of the others has gotten in contact with me and she's given me the cold shoulder ever since. It's hard to accept help, and let others see your flaws). Anyway, the point is, we're watching you. If you share a someone else's story without their permission, we assume you might do the same about us, and that becomes one of the factors in whether or not we're willing to talk to you.

      Oh, sorry. I've written a small novel. But I wanted to show the other side of the coin—that most bishops have been helpful. Most important, for me, has been the love that my bishops continue to show, even after they know the things I'm most ashamed of. I'm grateful when they offer suggestions, but don't push them on me. I'm grateful when they remind me that I still have a lot to give, and that one flaw does not define me. I'm grateful when they keep their confidences. I'm grateful when they listen to the spirit. I'm grateful when they check up on me (in the privacy of their offices—I won't discuss private things in public). I'm grateful when they remind me I am not alone. I'm grateful when they refer me to professionals, and admit they don't have the expertise to help me as much as I need, themselves. I'm grateful when they listen to me, and don't assume I'm the same as other people they've met or heard about. I'm grateful when they tell me (over and over) that it's possible to change, that there's still hope for me. I'm grateful when they ask the right questions, and I'm grateful they don't ask questions that make me feel violated. I'm grateful when they address my questions and concerns. I'm grateful when they remind me that everyone else has flaws, too. I'm grateful for their faith in me, when I had no faith in myself. I'm grateful for their continued love and support. Thank you, bishops.

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    5. This was all amazing. Thank you for all of this, truly. I'll be using quite a it of it!

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  3. you want me to email you?? I have some thoughts...most of my experiences have actually been positive. my current relationship with the bishop is really good. But the one prior had some interesting ideas.

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  4. Dear Bishop,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for listening to the spirit and my husband in setting the terms of my probation.

    You asked me to give up all the components of my addiction - even the seemingly innocent bits. You "made me" give up: any use of the internet that wasn't related to work, all one-on-one contact with members of the opposite sex (including texts, calls, and in-person encounters), and anything else that my husband felt threatened by or uncomfortable with.

    I didn't bat an eye when you asked me to hand over my temple recommend, but when you asked me to give up online chatting & forums - even the LDS ones - I literally started to shake and cry. (You hit the nail on the head with that one.)

    You didn't force this on me, but you were inspired to proscribe it, and I agreed to the terms (even though I didn't like them). You met with me regularly to hold me accountable, and by God's grace and good gatekeeping I stayed away from all those things. It took about 1 to 1.5 years before I felt my desires for those things drying out completely to where I could cautiously reintroduce them as appropriate and healthful. Five years later I am still strong in recovery, my family is intact, my marriage is healing beautifully.

    I have seen addicts struggle in recovery when they don't cut off enough of the damaged behaviors that are part of their addictive rituals and cycles. Thank you for being a skilled surgeon with me, I believe your inspiration saved my life.

    Love, NenaQ

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    1. Thank you my dear friend, this is beautiful - I'm going to use it in a separate "Dear Bishop" post!

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    2. Oh my! I loved this. That took me back to a meet with my bishop (and therapist who joined me during this confession), and being told I was released from my calling was like, no big deal, but when he also said, "...and you need to stop doing XYZ on the side, starting now," it was like telling a toddler "no" to something she really wants. I did not like it, and threw an internal temper tantrum.

      So on that note, I didn't/don't feel my bishop really cares about me and where I'm at right now. There is A LOT of shame (many times) hanging around, that feeling genuine care IN AND OUT of the office made/makes a huge difference for me.

      And secondly, my husband is inactive. I appreciated my last bishop who took time to listen to how my husband was/is handling things, in regards to everyday life and with me as his wife. Lol. I felt like because he knew my husband, he came to know me better, too. But...maybe this all falls under the category of "caring." It shows when you do, and it shows when it's you "just fulfilling your responsibility."

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  5. The best thing a bishop can say you've probably already got down... and that is. "I am sorry you are struggling with this challenge in your life. I am not an expert on this but I can refer you to someone who is." This is so important because there is no revealed word or church handbook for this problem and what does exist has a long ways to go to really address this problem in the required ways. If they listen and then pass the addict along to a CSAT Therapist they can avoid well meaning, but painfully incorrect, advice or counsel. Counsel that can be devastating for the addict and wife when the addict relapses from not being given the needed tools. When that happens the addict then feels like a failure and feels hopeless about overcoming this addiction and the wife becomes more traumatized and can become very emotionally sick.

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  6. What bishops should not do, but almost all of mine have done, is to say, "You need to stop your addiction" and leave the advice at that. What every bishop should know is that an addict cannot just stop. Addicts need help. Of the seven bishops I've talked to, only one ever informed me that the ARP program exists, and only one has ever pointed me toward counseling.

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  7. While you are training, please make sure they know that LDS Family services exist and that they can help people get therapy if they can't afford it. You can't believe how many Bishops are clueless about that. People need professional help Bishop, you can't fix it on your own.

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Thank you for sharing a moment with me:-)

Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"