When You Become the Ward Service Project

I think I dragged my feet writing this post — I believe there is value to anyone who stops to ponder what I have to write, but I’m just waiting for someone to take it personally.

The backstory is that I arrived in my ward (church congregation) as a separated and attempting to divorce mother of three. My youngest was about 6 months old. I “escaped” my marriage with the clothes we were wearing, a stroller, and a diaper bag. I went home to my mom and dad to try to figure out what I would do next.

If you are not familiar with the LDS church, we attend our congregations based upon where we live. Each congregation has a geographical boundary — there is no such thing as searching for a church home. It’s like family — you’re stuck with what you got!

It Wasn’t All Bad

Needless to say, it took a long time to finish my degree, get my teaching license, and begin to earn enough money to provide for my small family. There were many times that the help I received was needed, and even if I could have survived without it, doing so would have been very hard and would have put even more pressure on my children who were already stressed by the upheavals in their lives.

I am grateful for all of those gestures of love and concern.

So, What Was the Problem?

As I began to gain financial, emotional, and spiritual strength, I continued to receive “help.” Sometimes, it was receiving the “widows and orphans” basket of food around Christmas. Occasionally, it came as drawing the attention of members of the ward who wanted to serve.

While the attentions were good, the help was ill-fitting, and I began to wonder how the people in my church really thought of me. It seemed that I was becoming the “go to” service project when they couldn’t think of anything else.

The problem with that situation is the way the brain handles it — the person becomes synonymous with the abstract idea. I felt as if I was becoming less of a person in the eyes of my church family. As time wore on, I also began to feel that I was seen as less competent and more fragile because so much of my income was tied up in paying legal fees and tuition for my master’s degree.

Sometimes, it still feels like I am fighting those old stereotypes of myself.

Are You Sure?

Truthfully, no. These are the thoughts and feelings that I went through. My thinking and feeling have been warped by the things I experienced in my first marriage.

I have no doubt that every bit of help that was offered to me was offered in kindness and good faith.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Assuming that you know the need without truly knowing the person, and
  2. Seeing the person as less than an ordinary person because you don’t know them as a friend.

So, What’s to Ponder?

I think the thing I have most learned from my experiences, whether they happened in real life or only in my head, is that true service requires a human connection — being willing to get to know the person being served as a friend. Even if the service requires a group, there should be at least one or two people who know the individual on a personal and human level. Not only does it make the service more likely to fit the need, but it also makes it more likely the person receiving the service really knows that s/he is loved.