Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mormon Busy-work

        Back in the days when I was a believing Mormon, my church-mates and I often touted the busy-ness of our lives as a mark of pride. We work up early every morning for seminary, showing up at the church building at 6:30 for 45 minutes of scripture study. We had church on Sundays that lasted 3 hours. We had youth activities. Most of our time outside work or school was taken up by church activities. Mentally, we were preparing ourselves for the days when we would go on missions and have children and become homemakers and serve as lay-clergy and do volunteer work for the church, balancing the ever-increasing demands of life and church. 
          We told ourselves – and each other – that the time we invested and the sacrifices we made were for the better good. These were the sacrifices that got us closer to the ever-illusive promise of the Celestial Kingdom and godliness. I too was constantly exhausted, struggling to balance my life with the demands of church. But I told myself that the work just made me stronger and so I persevered.
          Looking back, I wonder how much of that was time well spent and how much of that was time wasted. As Mormons, we were workers. We invested a lot of time and effort, struggling to balance everything that the church demanded of us. But how many of these requirements were impactful and how many of these requirements were simply busywork, tasks designed to keep the members exhausted and stuck in the system?
          As a Mormon, I learned how to work. I learned how to wake up early even when I didn’t want to. I learned how to keep going even when I wanted to quit. I learned to pull long hours and still wake up the next day. I learned not to stop.
        However, what I didn’t learn was to make my work mean something. I never learned how give my work impact and significance. I never learned how to prioritize and to establish boundaries. I never learned how to say no or to question whether I should be doing something. I never learned to value my time.
         I went to seminary because Mormonism required me to. I didn’t question why I was spending 45 minutes a day learning something that didn’t seem relevant. I didn’t learn to ask if it was a productive use of time or simply another activity that lead me towards exhaustion without accomplishing anything significant.
          Sometimes I feel this idea of busywork strikes at the heart of what Mormonism is. Mormonism is a demanding religion – members are required to invest significant amounts of time, money, and emotional energy. This has been the case from the earliest days of Mormonism, when the early converts gave up their homes and their families to follow the leaders across the US. However, we were never allowed to ask why. We couldn’t question the leaders. We weren’t supposed to read the outside literature on Mormonism.

          We were just supposed to stay busy following directions.


  1. A common tactic of harmful organizations is to make huge demands on personal time, and even dictate how that time is spent. My experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was similar to yours. I spent about 20 hours a week in church related activities, which was the majority of my time outside work that I could have spent with my family or colleagues at work. Looking back, I think that spending all that time on church made it difficult to forge friendships outside the Mormon church because I was always too busy. I also never had time to question the nature of all the busywork. It is a pretty effective tactic for keeping followers in line and separated from others. Of course, no one who is busy and exhausted in the name of their organization thinks of it that way.

    1. I think it also made it harder to leave - when you invest all that time and energy, you don't want to ever admit that it might not have been worth it.

  2. Absolutely. The Mormon church doesn't have members, it has drones. I don't miss being one.

  3. I remember how the sisters in RS prided themselves on being busy. I also remember catty allusions to those of us who had "too much time on our hands" because we had actual hobbies that we enjoyed, or were more involved at our kids' school, etc.

    1. The delicate politics of RS - and Mormon-ness in general. :)


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