Church In The Age Of Covid: Defining What Makes a Good Latter-Day Saint
Story Date: March 14, 2021
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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*The author uses Barbadian (Bajan) dialect in this article.
As a young child growing up in the Caribbean, local superstitions tended to be taught through the generations. From an early age, I was taught about the Heart Man, or why I should run when I saw a hearse(funeral car which carried the body of the deceased) instead of sticking around to ask silly questions. I was instructed to never open an umbrella once inside of someone’s home as it was thought to bring “duppies” (unwelcomed ghosts) and why children should never chew chewing gum as it was thought that the gum would wrap around your “navel string” (bellybutton) and “hang yuh” (choke) from the inside.
I believed these legends. In my young brain, the adults were never wrong. It meant that I would often run home before the streetlights came on with fear that I met some unwelcomed guest or worse yet, ran into the Heart Man who would only signal doom and gloom in my life.
I consider myself one of the fortunate girls who spent more time outdoors than glued to television sets. I hung out with the neighborhood boys all summer where we would climb all the trees and would relieve our neighbors of the yummy plums, ackees or whatever fruit we could eat that day. I fell out of those trees, scraped knees and learned how to fight in that tiny coastal neighborhood.
Looking back now, I recognized that those early childhood years taught me so much about being a strong individual. As the lone girl among a group of boys, I learned early on that I had a responsibility to believe that I had power and brought value to my friends’ group. As wonderful as this sentiment is, I recognize that it sometimes doesn’t transfer when it comes to my spiritual life.
I am still a relatively new convert. In December, I celebrated my fourth year as a member. In this time, I’ve become really familiar with Mormon Guilt. I know some of you who are active members are probably somewhere ready with reeds ready to yell at me for using the “M” word yet I’ve realized that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Guilt just doesn’t have the same catchy ring to it.
In my relatively short time as a member, I’ve always wondered if there was a switch that magically turned on when it came to Mormon Guilt. Before joining the church, I was never the person who needed validation where it came to my understanding of being a good person. Yet, as I watched myself going through the motions during the height of COVID, I recognized that although I had attempted to nip the part of me which overcompensated in the bud, that COVID brought all of those over-compulsive behaviors back.
Before spiritually combusting a few months ago, I never understood spiritual exhaustion and wondered why people complained suddenly and left the church. In my eyes, I was the good, model example of a young woman who aspired to do all she could to live the gospel. Each time I caught myself slipping, I would add a greater load upon myself.
To be seen as an example, I believed that needed to spread myself wafer thin so that others could see my efforts. I attended two Institute classes (and still do).I would attend church like my life depended upon it even on the weeks where I was too sick to stand without assistance. I believed that saying “no” meant unworthiness and showed a lack of faith and trust in my Heavenly Father who would give me the energy to do everything I put my mind to.
A few months in, after attending my friend’s sacrament meeting in India via Zoom, I cracked. That morning, sitting alone in my room at two in the morning, I realised that I had finally bitten off more than I could chew. After months of floundering and trying to keep my head above water, I had finally hit rock bottom.
Even now, I have never felt that weight so heavily. I cracked, breaking completely down the middle. I could almost hear the devil on my shoulder saying “dah fuh lick yuh” (serves you right/ that’s what you get). I felt more exhausted than ever, and my anxiety spiraled out of control. I soon realized that I had to take a step back.
Cultivating a healthy relationship spiritually was much more important than “keeping up wid the Joneses” (trying to be in competition with others). I dialed back and found unique ways to do spiritual things.
Months later, when I caught COVID-19 myself, I recognized the importance of strong simplicity as it relates to living in accordance with God’s will. Sure, serving him with all our might means that we may have to stretch ourselves, but it doesn’t mean that in our efforts, we should break under the pressure which stems from cultural norms we experience as members of the church.
If we fall into the trap of competition, contention and comparison, we need to recognize that this has nothing to do with being a good Latter Day Saint. The most important lesson learned is that “Overcompensation is not of the Spirit”. It comes from our own innate need to be seen, recognized and validated.
And maybe … we need not to let church culture determine who we become as human beings.
* Ramona is from the small Caribbean island of Barbados. She is currently a Marriage and Family Studies student pursuing her undergraduate at BYU-Idaho Online.