On “RMs and Checklists” : From the Horse’s Mouth

Four days ago, I was a girl writing a blog post that was meant for two dear friends, a few close family members, and some boys struggling in my home ward. I started writing it months ago when one of these dear friends told me about how hard it had been for him to come home from his mission for medical reasons. When I left that conversation, I had tears in my eyes, because if you knew him, you would understand how unfair that is.
Four days ago, only a handful of you knew who I was and that I even had a blog. Now, as of this morning, approximately 77,000 of you know I have a blog. A few of you have even rifled through my stuff. Little sneaks. 😉 It’s okay, I guess. It’s there, right? It’s the Internet, right? Although, I’ll warn you, the me of yesterdays gone by is a little weird. I still am, I suppose.

There are very few people in this world who realize how overwhelming the scenario I am in right now is. I hope I can give you just a glimpse. Pretend you are on a stage with the curtains closed, having an important and somewhat personal conversation with someone. What you don’t realize is that you’re attached to a microphone and there is a HUGE audience sitting just outside of those curtains. Suddenly, one conversation with multiple contexts is being analyzed and criticized and reacted to by thousands of playgoers. They don’t know you, they only know what they’re hearing from behind that curtain. So they’re dissecting and questioning your character, judging what’s going on by what they heard or didn’t hear instead of what you meant. Once you realize they’re there, all you want to do is run out from behind that curtain and tell them that they’ve got you all wrong, or, as is mostly my case, that they’ve understood what you’re saying. The problem is that there are thousands of them and only one of you. You couldn’t make them all understand or respond to them all, even if you wanted to.

All metaphors aside, that’s the situation I am in. Some have questioned my testimony (which I find the most hurtful) and accused me of having an unrighteous agenda. Others have been completely affronted by the whole thing. Many, many hundreds of you have been gracious and kind and have brought me to tears. A few of you have been heartless. I can’t do much to change your opinion of me, because, again, there is a curtain right there and you do not know me. If you must know, though, I wrote the RM post from a distinct angle that, unfortunately, didn’t give me a whole lot of room to express my gratitude and love for missionaries. I wasn’t really writing to them. A few of you have erroneously claimed that I’m giving missionaries a hard time and out to get them, or that I’m ridiculing young women, telling them to drop their standards to chase Lotharios, and inviting all young men everywhere to marginalize the importance of a mission. As one of my favorite literary heroines once said (actually, she probably just said that in the movie), some of you are “utterly misinformed…quite mistaken” (Persuasion, 2007).  

It is not so much in my nature to address the ninety and nine, because for years, I felt like I was the one, the little black sheep that everyone knew was part of the fold but just left on its own. Growing up, I was extremely shy and because I was, it was excruciatingly difficult to find good friends at school and in my ward. There are many girls camps I can recall when I went off on my own and just cried, because I felt like no one knew me and no one cared. It hurt like the dickens that so few reached out. Yes, I could have definitely done more than I did, but when you’re young and you’re shy, it’s so, so hard. It’s like you’re imprisoned inside yourself and can only get out if someone pulls you out.

My experience pales in comparison to that of other people, though, and the burdens that they have had to carry. When I wrote the RMs and Checklists post, I touched a deep nerve that I feel has not been touched in a long while. In the past two days, I have had dozens of young men and young women reach out to me and thank me for understanding them and giving them hope. Some have remarked that the pain of that rejection pushed them into inactivity and disaffiliation. It has completely humbled and broken me. I personally feel that one thing that has been lacking in their lives is a voice, an advocate, someone to step up and say that how they’re being treated is wrong. I don’t feel like I fill those shoes well, but I will try. I also urge all of you to do the same. They need us.

I am thoroughly convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the truest thing we have on earth. Because it is, we need to step up and stop using excuses. A popular quote that I hear in Sacrament Meeting all the time is “the church is true, but the members are not.” Why are we okay with being “not true”? Why do we accept the status quo? At a time when the Lord is gathering His people and asking us to do the same, why have we become so complacent with the way things are? We can’t afford to. We cannot become as the Nephites became, so prideful and so self-centered that their entire civilization collapsed. They had the same problem we have now– a refusal to look outside of themselves — and as a result, the Gospel remained stagnant and so many lives and souls were lost.

We need to heal the rift between true discipleship and “Mormon culture,” because that rift is causing us to lose thousands of our brothers and sisters every year. I am tired of getting online and seeing that one of the most-used adjectives to describe Mormons is judgmental. I am dismayed to hear so many stories of people who left because they felt that their ward members left them. Mostly, I am frustrated with how okay we’ve become with Gospel culture and Mormon culture being two distinct and separate things. Because we’re okay with that, those who do not know the message of the Gospel think that it is a message of judgment instead of Atonement. That should never have been allowed to be the case! 

We are the disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to get ourselves together and go after the one, and right now, because we haven’t been paying so much attention, that one is a huge number. That one is scared to come back to the fold because it feels like the ninety and nine are going to look down on it and ostracize it again. That one is confused because it thought that a fold organized by the shepherd, our Savior would be much more loving and accepting of it than it is. That one is getting itself into all sorts of messes because the ninety and nine are turning a blind eye. It’s about time that we stopped being apathetic and did something about it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true. I know that with all of my heart. If we’re going to be ready to meet Christ when he comes, we need to be embodying that truth and sharing it with others. We need to become like him. It isn’t enough to just learn about him and talk about him. We covenant in Sacrament Meeting to take his name upon us, and it worries me that we’re being very, very poor substitutes. What are you doing with his name? Think hard about that. 
If I had one thing to say to those who have criticized me or misunderstood me, it would be this: do what the Savior would do. If others are to know him, then they need to find him in you and I.

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  1. You have a beautiful soul. I can feel the spirit from your writing. Not even Nephi felt he was mighty in writing! So I'd say you're doing something right!

  2. Dear Arianna, I am one of the ones who came across your blog post about taking returned missionary off your list (May 16. Sorry I can't remember the exact title). I just wanted to say thank you so much for what you wrote. I'm in my 40's and 20 years ago, my release from a mission came while I was in the MTC. It's not so much a problem now, but there were times when it was unbelievably difficult and painful when the difficult and awkward questions would come up or sometimes not even be acknowledged. Thank you for your kindness and for giving a voice of love, understanding, and hope for those of us who for whatever reason weren't able to serve a full-time mission. Your post moved me to tears. To any who are not able to serve a full time mission in the traditional sense of the word, You have my support and encouragement. Thanks again Arianna.

  3. I don't know you at all – but I love you. THANK YOU for having the strength and the skill with your words to put this out there. It needed to be said. It REALLY needed to be said. When I re-posted your link on FB my comment was that I can remember having this exact conversation many years ago in my BYU dorm – I had a roommate (and her RM MTC working boyfriend – sigh) who just Could NOT believe I wouldn't have RM as a requirement on my list. I also pointed out to them the number of "high ranking" men in the church who had never served, but yeah – I was nowhere near as eloquent as you. Now, many years later, as a mom who sent 2 boys out within 6 weeks of each other but received them home 15 months apart, yeah…this topic hits very close to home – and you handled it extremely well. I only read the first few comments, and they were all positive. I usually don't read the comments, because I have found comment boards to generally be the Biggest Gathering of Idiots Out There. So very very sorry that this turned out to be the case for you. Also remember that feelings of guilt make a lot of people lash out – the problem isn't you, the problem is the mirror that you held up for them to see themselves in. Keep up what you are doing, you are obviously doing just fine and many of us truly appreciate it!

  4. I think you did a wonderful job! As a woman who married a man who didn't serve a mission, I really appreciated your post. Those who haven't agonized over the decision of doing something that the "Mormon Culture" tells you is wrong will never understand. There will always be nay-sayers and rude comments. But don't take them personally. You are not and cannot be responsible for their actions and comments. You had something to say, and I am so thankful you said it. THANK YOU so much. Take heart and keep your chin up!

  5. Another excellent post!! I am so sorry that you have had to deal with people being, ironically, so judgmental of your motives. I struggle to understand the "Mormon culture", as usually it is a blanket that encompasses so many of us that do not feel that way at all. Just as you said, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we should be acting better and treating others better than we are. I agree that we should not let "the church is true, but the members are not," be our mantra, (I usually say, people are idiots, but the Church is true), but at the same time, that saying allows us to understand that, as individuals, we should not let the judgmental attitudes of others affect our devotion to our Savior and His Church. That understanding has helped several people I know keep from being offended into inactivity. I hope that you are more strengthened by those who are grateful for your valuable message, than you are discouraged by those who are not. Thanks for coming out onto the stage. : )

  6. I love that! "Also remember that feelings of guilt make a lot of people lash out – the problem isn't you, the problem is the mirror that you held up for them to see themselves in." I was trying to think of a way to adequately say that. You nailed it!

  7. Ari- keep writing! You have an incredible ability to express yourself in writing I have never seen before. You are awesome. I miss our days in the LDSSA Council Room :)

  8. Once again, well written. I confess I peeped just a little to learn about the mature author who wrote the blog and find out more about her views to understand better where she was coming from. I thought you would be much older than you are. Sorry we all put you in an comfortable place to say the least. What you wrote is obviously important and has had great impact. You possess a great mind and have been given great abilities! Much will be expected.
    On a much lighter, yet serious note…I still have one amazing, marriageable son left, that deserves a beautiful, mature young lady. I doubt either of you would let me set you up, but I'd love to try. Umm… he is an RM, but there is so much more that makes him amazing!

  9. You've said nothing wrong. What you said needed to be said. I completely 100 percent agree with it. And if I ever become a young womens teacher i will be letting them know that yes, marrying an RM is a great goal, don't make it a deal breaker. I've met plenty of RM's that are very disrespectful towards a young woman they are dating. It can be a goal, but don't make it a priority. Give the guys who didn't serve full time missions a fighting chance, cause you'll find some amazing young men if you do.

  10. Absolutely loved your original RM post (it's something I've always felt really strongly about and have seen the struggles of those coming back early and how much more love they need in that moment), and this response is just as amazing. :)

  11. I am an RM and we have taught our kids that going on a mission is important piece of the gospel. However, it is each individuals choice, we do not pressure. The same with choosing a mate, we kind of left up to our kids. One son-in-law hadn't been active since primary, needless to say he didn't go on a mission. He is the most loving, kind, tender hearted father I have ever seen. He will soon lead his little family through the temple. My second son-in-law made it to the MTC but choose to come home and get on with his life's goals. He and my daughter have 2 boys, he is a great provider, husband and father. Any of my early concerns for my daughter's and lack of RM husbands has been put to rest. On the other hand I expected my daughter-in-law to marry an RM and my hope and wishes came true. As I have aged I learned to not rush to judgment.

  12. 77,000 – wow! How exciting and scary at once! I hate the idea that you would doubt someone's testimony just because you disagree with them on a cultural aspect of church life.

  13. Both posts wonderfully written. Self-righteousness is closely associated with "the church is true, but the members are not." This holier than thou attitude is something that sadly we have seen in much more prevalent display since moving to UT from the east. That said, not to slam UT we have also met many incredibly fine Saints. The point as you well make it is what are we OK with "the not." Did not the Savior associate with all those who would fit in to the non-RM category? Wasn't he the first to reach out to the adulteress and say to the others "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." If RM's are the only marriageable candidates, what of converts who are older than missionary age? Narrowness of vision is just that – limiting and unlike the Savior. Your thoughtfulness is spot on.

  14. You have given me a lot to think about, Arianna. My son is making college plans and would like to take BYU off his list since he does not plan to serve a mission. He told me he would be socially ostracized there, but I didn't believe him. (We are from the Northeast, and maybe I'm too old to care so much about the labels that tag people as un/acceptable, having witnessed close up some people with impressive labels behave despicably.) Of course, I've been (fairly transparently) hoping that a year at BYU would change my son's mind about the mission. The downside of personal values is that they immediately, silently and maybe even unconsciously, draw distinctions between people who should be supporting each other and imply a criticism of those who disagree or choose differently, or whose life experience may differ radically from our own. I am saddened to think my son will face scorn, unspoken or otherwise, if he continues in his current decision and worry that will drive him away from church activity in the long run. All his young life he's bravely faced opposition for choosing to follow church standards in our largely "heathen" corner of the world: it would be a shame for church members to ostracize him when he will need love and support the most.

    I take a great deal of encourage from Pres. Uchtdorf's Oct. 2013 conference talk:

    "Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.

    Some might say, 'I don’t think I could live up to your standards.'

    All the more reason to come! The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven’t mastered them yet.

    Some might say, 'I know a member of your Church who is a hypocrite. I could never join a church that had someone like him as a member.'

    If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

    If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!"

    Let us be the ones who truly welcome those who struggle and give them hope.

  15. It was an excellent post. Don't be discouraged by those thatmissed the point entirely due to their biases, judgemental natures, or lack of reading comprehension. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  16. Haha, this is literally my nightmare. Except my blog tends to have emotion-based rants with little thought put into them or the other side of the "argument" (hey, I'm emoting… not debating), so I imagine the fallout would be so much worse.
    Anyway, don't worry too much. It's the Internet – people can be exceptional jerks without that filter of seeing how their comments affect the recipient. Either way, your blog post provided a lot of good thoughts and a lot of comfort for thousands of people, and I think the post would have been a success if it had touched only one person in just the right way; that's what writing is for.
    Either way… it got a conversation going. :) Congratulations.

  17. Excellent posts.
    For some reason, I felt compelled to read ALL the comments from your previous post. Not being an RM, I spent the time reading the thousands of responses because I really wanted to understand the debate and everyone's point of view.
    It was infuriating to read that some people genuinely feel that there is no way that someone like me could EVER be redeemed from who I was ten years ago… That I will absolutely be a worse father than I otherwise could be. That no woman should ever lower herself to my sinful level.
    Those people were saying in one paragraph that, of course we should love these sinners, just as Christ loves the drug addict, but never allow our daughters to even go on one date with them.
    So frustrating… they come off as religious zealots.
    The reasons I didn't serve weren't medical, or because of worthiness issues. I simply wasn't ready.
    Growing up I was painfully shy. I was also bullied in school. I thought the bullying would end after high school graduation, but it didn't. Now I was being yelled at and scolded by my grandfather, father and brother. The pressure, fear and confusion were paralyzing.
    Mormon culture can be toxic. To be frank, it robbed me of my life (figuratively speaking). I was surrounded by aggressive, unhelpful hypocrites. It was only until my late twenties that I realized that despite some horrible members among us, the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints is the only religion that makes sense to me.
    I'm not a horrible sinner
    I will be an excellent husband and father one day.
    Thank you for writing these posts, these things needed to be said.
    We need to be so much better to each other.

  18. You are awesome and brought great joy and happiness to many people with your post. Anyone who was upset about the post chose to read it the wrong way and chose to be upset. Those are their choices. I hope you keep writing and applying your fine thinking to other church and non-church topics. Your writing is a gift and will be strengthened with more writing. Regardless of exactly how it is received, you are creating important thought and discussion.

    Here are just a few quotes that I find relevant to this topic:

    "We can add to that that we are teaching general principles because we are General Authorities and general officers."

    Author: Dallin H. Oaks
    Title: Building Up a Righteous Posterity
    Where: Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting February 9, 2008

    "We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord’s guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and, in our case today, repeated."

    Author: Jeffrey R. Holland
    Title: Building Up a Righteous Posterity
    Where: Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting February 9, 2008

  19. Boy Ari, I enjoyed reading your opinions! The beauty of the internet is that this kind of opinion in an earlier time would not have been expressed, or expressed so well. Marriage is so important and the choice we make in a spouse so life changing that you really want to make sure you do it right. Focusing on one data point is never wise, or productive and too many is equally bad. Find the attribute that is important to you date long enough to see the faults then go for it. Dr. Laura says date for a year and be very focused on what you want in a spouse. My generation was big on "God told me you were the right one for me…" Many confused people rushed into bad marriages because of that bit of advice. I can honestly say that God pointed out wonderful traits that my then-girlfriend now-wife, had and I've not regretted the decision.

  20. Ari,
    You are so cool, and yes it is true, I don't know you at all. However, I do know how hard it is to get a point across when you are coming from an angle that is missed by the common conversation on the topic. You can't mention everything on the topic, especially not in a blog post that will be short enough for people to want to finish. I also know that in doing so you have to leave out information about what you expect others to already know. You expect them to know that people should serve missions and that the prophets have called all worthy and ABLE young men to serve missions. You wrote the post magnificently well, and I applaud you for being willing to bring up a topic that is taboo, knowing plenty well that ridicule could come. Anything that has that will ever influence any change will ruffle some feathers. Unfortunately those whose feathers get ruffled by topics such as this, and feel like they need to voice their opinion, usually do not do so in a civil and non-offensive way.

    I truly believe that God wanted you, even called you, to bring up this topic, as evidenced by the flurry of visitors to your blog. Keep writing, and don't change who you are, or feel like you have to censor your writing now that many people are reading it. Many people are reading your writing because it is candid and real! Keep it up. You're awesome and are helping to get us on the road to change.

  21. This morning before I knew you or your blog existed, I texted this to my sister: there is something sadly ironic about our church culture surrounding missions that sometimes pushes our young adults away from the church. Missionary work is intended to bring people in.

    I appreciate your articulate and spot-on post.

  22. I just want to add my voice to the many readers who feel that they understood and valued your message and your intentions in your RM post. It was so beautifully written and so sincere and loving and CORRECT. I can't imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly have hundreds of strangers criticizing and critiquing some of your most personal beliefs (and you as a person), but I am so glad that you shared your message publicly so that my loved ones and I can be taught and enriched by it. I have often forgone posting some of my most personal (especially spiritual) writings and opinions because publishing personal thoughts allows for more personal attacks. But you have inspired me not only with your message, but with your willingness to express it publicly. You have inspired me to continue putting my thoughts out there to whoever may read them so that I may, in my own personal ramblings, touch someone I could not have ordinarily reached. Thank you for posting and thank you for addressing an issue that really hasn't been addressed like it needs to be.
    Try to tune out those who attack you and remember your own wise advice: "the Lord knows you."

  23. I will admit that I am one of the little snoops who simply stumbled upon your blog. But all I can say is in the few minutes I have taken to read through your thoughts, I love your fearless zeal of putting it all out there. You are amazing and will influence many in your writing. Press on. Haters will hate. We can't change that. But I can assure you that among these 77,000 new visitors were many other young men who were struggling within the LDS dating pool–that happened upon your post via a FB link– who needed to know that they were not broken or inferior because they didn't serve.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and more importantly your Christlike love!

  24. Agreed, Ari may have given hundreds, even thousands a voice.

    Nobody has the right to tread on another. We may disagree, or not be compatible, but its no reason to shun anybody, or be a belligerent jerk.

    And to all those non-RMs, or short-timers, she (any one of those mean girls) doesn't deserve you anyway.

  25. Dear Arianna, Thank you so much for your "RM" post and now for this new post about your feelings and this hard views you are now in need to administer because of your original post. I'm in another place in the world (I'm not from US), but as a guy who returned early from a mission, and as a shy man, I can tell you that's not only a thing who are an Utah affair, or a US problem, but is a global think in need to reflection. The "organizational culture" who we, as a community, brother and sisters inside the "mormonism" created over time, is a thing who, in some manners, any has to do with the Christ Church and Christ discipleship we need to built to find the "Celestial kingdom", the salvation and the return to our Father. Since I'm in a daily battle with my feelings and in finding my place in the world, your post help me to again try, and try again everyday. I need to thank you for your posts and feelings and I want to give you all my support. Thank you so much for being a shinning star in a blackened sky who our "parallel doctrines" and our "closed culture" created, as clouds that ride the true colors of the gospel. Thank you, good luck and try don't worry about peoples viewpoints. I hope you have a bright future. Sincerely. (PS: Sorry for these mine bad English).

  26. The 99 and the 1 parable was expounded upon by Joseph Smith jr. In which it was explained that the ninety and nine were not the church, they were the pharisees. I congratulate you for standing up and refuting the non Christlike behavior that is often "Justified" by an excuse to culture, or in short hiding behind Christ to be the most hate-filled and non Christlike of individuals.

    Now that you have felt the love of the savior finding you and taking you in his arms keep calling to the 99 to follow the Shepard

  27. This post was really well written and your love of the gospel is obvious. I appreciate your desire to do good and be good. I didn't like your original article because I felt like it promoted the idea that wanting to marry an RM is a bad thing. Girls want to marry RMs because that's all worthy young men are able to serve. Obviously there will always be exceptions, and guys unable to serve shouldn't be judged! I think that was your overall message, but it got a bit lost in the side stuff. Sure, there are crappy return missionaries too, but that doesn't mean that we should stop wanting the ideal.
    Thanks for your testimony. :)
    (Also I write http://www.veryveryviral.com, and I'm currently facing similar controversy that you did!)

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