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Monday, June 20, 2005 

Individuality: is different good?

Individulaity: is different good?

Absolutely.

We Mormons are a peculiar people.

And while sometimes the “odd; eccentric” definition definitely applies, we choose to claim the “distinct and particular” and the “belonging exclusively to one group or person” definitions.

I bring this up because it seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? If we follow all the commandments and try to do what’s right, aren’t we all doing the same thing? Aren’t we denying some sort of individuality by “conforming”? Isn’t religion a placebo for the masses of sheep, the unnumbered multitude clamoring for meaning in a meaningless existence?

Not really, and that’s the beauty of it all. But I’ll get to that in a second…

I think we struggle with the quest for individuality at various stages in life. As a child (number three of seven) I strove to be different, unique, and noticed. The greatest compliment anyone could have paid me was, “you’re so weird.”

As a youth, I wanted to be noticed for my accomplishments, as mediocre as they were. I tried to set myself apart by joining clubs and participating and excelling in extracurricular activities.

As a young adult, I wanted to be different from “all the other girls you’ve dated.” I wanted my sense of humor, my sharp wit and repartee (as well as my stunningly good looks) to raise me above the sea of homogenized coeds.

I am more content now to just be me. I am not concerned that everyone thinks I’m delightful or charming,. I find it just as satisfactory, and I am way more patient, to let people get to know me. After all, they might get to know me and discover that I’m neither delightful nor charming. Let’s not rush that discovery! Let them be fooled for as long as possible!

Back to the beauty of conforming to religion; in particular, the Mormon religion (because I can’t speak for any other at this point).

We are taught that if we lose ourselves (let go of our will and embrace the will of God), we will find ourselves (Matt. 10:39). This is really tough to do. If ever you had a chance to step off a cliff into the dark unknown, this is it. “Give up my will? Are you nuts?! Give up the thing that makes me me? Give up the gift we were given as a symbol of our mortal life?”

Yes, that. But here comes the beauty. If we give ourselves over to God, he makes us the best we can be. He draws out (not “gives us” not “shows us” not “hands us on a silver platter”…) our true potential. I’ll repeat for unnecessary emphasis: He draws out our true potential. Draws it out because it takes time and effort. Draws it out because it takes experience; trial and error. Draws it out because the task is arduous for both He and us. It can be excruciating and laborious; it can be tedious with many set backs and diversions. But as we find Him, we find out exactly who we are.

Now, even though we may be following (or not following) the very same commandments, our individual spirits, genetics, biologics, and experiences will create a unique and untrodden path for our return to Heavenly Father.

I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember a STRONG spiritual manifestation that occurred while on my mission as we were talking with an older gentleman that, for all outward appearances, was not really on the straight and narrow. But I had the very distinct impression that his path was not my path. That our journeys home are not single file on one road; there are as many paths as people. The road map to my own path is the Holy Ghost (along with a healthy and regular dose of anti-self-delusion…).

I have experienced a change recently ( I say recently, because in “spiritual years” it was two seconds ago, but in earthly years it has been a long time…). I have desired, nay yearned, to submit my will to God’s will. It is hard. I am a HUGE know-it-all who often thinks I know what’s best. I am also fiercely independent; someone who prizes my individuality. But I have noticed a difference. It is subtle. I am more true to me, I am discovering more about my strengths and weaknesses. I feel more than ever that God is at the helm of my dingy of an existence, that I am totally unique in this world, and that He knows me.

I want to be distinct and particular and my individual choices make me so. And even though those choices may be the same as some of your choices, we are not sheep; we are not clones. My path home is not your path home even though some of the streets might have the same names.

Being new around here, would it be poor etiquette if I simply posted a link to Carrie Ann's essay on Friday?

Very well said.

"I gotta be me..."

There's SO much more to discuss!

Has anyone ever felt as I described? Being a sheep to a religion? What happened? How did you relove it with yourself?

Did your family ever try to make you conform to their idea of whatever?

Did any one ever hate being different? I didn't even TOUCH what it was like for me growing up in the mid-west and east coast where I (and my siblings) were constantly "separated from the herd" being the only mormons in our schools...

Let's hear about it folks!

I love how CA is "herding" us to discuss!! ;) (and before I go on...awesome post...well said.)

"My path home is not your path home even though some of the streets might have the same names."

I LOVE that you said that. I think as human beings, we always think that OUR WAY is the RIGHT WAY. As a parent, it is SO HARD to let your kids make their own choices (even though my kids are only 7 & 3) so that they start the process of learning and finding their own identity. While it is my job as a parent to guide them...it is NOT my job to tell them what "streets" to take.

Interesting topic for this week...

A funny thing about the Church is that we are trained to view all things Church-related not as OUR way but as THE LORD'S way, whether or not that is the actual case (please, don't ask me when it's the case, 'cause I don't know). Mormons may be even more likely to conflate the two because of the strong desire for personal revelation in a whole lot of things.

I grew up, "outside of zion" as well *rolling my eyes* and it was tough at times.

I had one girl at Blue Birds tell me once I was obviously a dumb mormom because I followed all the rules, in a very taunting way. Well being ten and all, I was convinced that was a bad thing (at least for a second)

I do, want to be an individual. I do want to have my own thoughts. I do want to to be seen as the person I see inside myself.

"We are taught that if we lose ourselves (let go of our will and embrace the will of God), we will find ourselves (Matt. 10:39)."

And I like you, want to lose myself and embrace the will of God. It is a hard line to follow.

However, I think it can be done. With a concrete effort and a desire to know God, as well as ourselves. To use his guildlines and wisdoms to help us define who we are. To seek out those things we have been asked to do, and to pray about them and pray and pray until we get that quiet comfort and assurance, that will lead us to be the individuals we will become. (I sense some of those out there might have reached that point, but I am still in my spiritual infancy. ) To define ourselves uniquely as somewho has "come unto Christ"

I think that when all of that aligns, we will find a contenment about who we are, beyond measure.

I just hope I don't get waylaid at a Starbucks on my way. *grin*

Great post Carrie Ann~

this is a great post!

In response to your questions, CA, I hated HATED being different, but ti was in the church, rather than outside of it. I was the one girl who didn't have a dad to come play father-daughter softball with, the one girl whose mom didn't bake cookies and who drank beer with friends, the one girl who didn't like making crafts in Young Womens, the one girl who didn't own a set of scriptures or know what family prayer was, the one girl who didn't go to church when she was young even though she'd been a member her whole life...I stuck out like a sore thumb! Once, we were playing Pictionary, and I frew the phrase "The Iron Rod" and I had NO IDEA what that meant, since my mom never took me to church. Everyone looked at me like I was insane!

As I've gotten older, though, I've come to realize that, although I was different and continue to be different (I'm the one person who HATES relief society, who doesn't want to be married by 25, who can discuss politics and votes democratic, etc. etc.), I realized that HF made me who I am because that's exactly who He needed me to be. Some people are needed to love making jean-pocket purses, baking cookies, and signing that horrid "God said to Noah" camp song. Other people are needed to be different and to shake things up a bit.

I totally think that HF and Jesus will get my dry sense of humor when I meet them. I like to think they get a kick out of some of the fun and silly stuff I do.

Bottom line: No matter what/who you are, you are that way because that's exactly who you were needed to be in the world.

adrianne, I have about 3 of you in my activity days class and I love and cherish what they have to offer. I hope that they can hang in there like you did!

Wonderful post, Carrie.

If there is one thing I've learned over the past few months at VSoM it is that there are many roads. What a valuable lesson.

As for you, Carrie... I'm wondering when you became the person I know today? (We're sisters for you who don't know us.) It seems like I woke up one day and here you were this mature, insightful, generous human being that I never knew before. What a warped childhood perception I must have had... A good discussion for another time perhaps. I'm so glad we're friends as adults. I learn so much from you. I'm glad you post here.

Funny thing is, growing up in a large city that had two small ward, being a Mormon who kept the commandments (particularly things like the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom) made me unique among my peers at school. I was different for sure.

Adrianne, been there. That's a whole different breed of different.

What always surprises me now is when I share that with people and they are surprised. They think I grew up in the church.

But inside I feel apart. I think God and Jesus get me, but I also think they're tired of me feeling apart and want me to reach out to everybody else, who feels different. Maybe because they don't sew...maybe their house is a mess...maybe they're rich, or not...maybe...oh, maybe, maybe, maybe. Right now I'm really trying to celebrate myself so others can, as well. Not celebrate myself (although wouldn't that be cool), but celebrate themselves. That I'm okay, you're okay, is so trite, but oh, I wish.

In the spirit of celebrating annegb,

Anne, I think you're pretty cool. I (almost) always like your comments. Thanks for reaching out!

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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