The Mormons in my Living Room
“Come on in,” my husband said to the Mormon missionaries who had just knocked at our door.
A flash of anger and frustration ran through me. I knew he planned to meet with them because he’d given them his number and set up an appointment with them after they came to our door the first time.
But he’d told me he’d go on a walk with them outside and that he wouldn’t bring them in!
I sat frozen at my desk in the backroom, seething. They were in the living room now. I wracked my brain for anything at all that I could do. As someone who avoids conflict like the plague, the prospect of going in there and saying something didn’t occur to me.
Any work I’d been doing halted as the intruders in my living room consumed my every thought.
I could hear their conversation as if I was in the same room as them. Trying to dampen the noise, I slammed the door shut and immediately felt like a child.
My brain searched for ways to communicate with my husband.
A realization struck. I could call him! I grabbed my phone and called my husband.
It rang. And rang. And rang some more.
A tinny voice: “Please leave a message for…”
With a sigh, I hung up.
The trait I usually love about my husband ended up making me hate him in that moment. I usually love that he stays present rather than being glued to his phone when he’s having a conversation. But why couldn’t he just pay attention to his phone when I wanted him to?
With no options left to get out of the situation, my repressed memories of growing up in the South came flooding into my mind.
I was raised Christian. Presbyterian, to be exact. But I lived among a sea of fundamentalist Southern Baptists. While we both claimed to be Christian, our beliefs differed.
To the Baptists I grew up around, if you didn’t explicitly accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you wouldn’t go to heaven. Gay people had no rights. Women couldn’t be ministers. Abortions are murder.
The black and white nature of their beliefs chafed me, when, in my tradition, we were encouraged to question. I couldn’t understand how they could be so set in stone about things.
It may not be too surprising, therefore, that as a teenager, it was hard for me to find like-minded people when I lived in that kind of environment. That feeling of isolation is worse when you’re a teenager and fitting in is of the upmost importance. Since I wanted to fit in, I would listen to their beliefs and disagree inwardly. I never outwardly argued or debated my beliefs with them.
As these memories surfaced, my chest grew tight, my throat closed up, and I felt small again. I became that child again, afraid to speak my truth and desperately wanting to fit in.
In my room, I could hear the boys stating their lines, but all I could hear were the Baptists from my childhood. I felt there was no convincing them that their beliefs aren’t the only way to believe.
When they finally left, I confronted my husband. “I thought you were going to go outside with them!”
“And go where?” he replied.
“You said yesterday that you’d take them on a walk. Not our living room!”
“Oh, I forgot,” he stated calmly. Clearly! After a moment of silence, he continued, “You could have called or texted me.”
“You didn’t answer your phone!”
“I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal,” he said.
That made me pause for a moment. Why was it a big deal to have people over in our living room to talk? It was the nature of their conversation that I wanted no part of.
I knew what my husband wanted to do. He wanted to let the boys speak about their faith and engage in a dialogue with them. He wanted to share his perspective and provoke the boys to think more critically about their beliefs.
That kind of conversation was not something I felt at all interested in or ready for. I tried to explain to him how it triggered past experiences and he understood.
Almost a year has passed since that encounter. It’s only recently, after being in Salt Lake City for a week or so and talking with some incredible people in the Latter-Day Saints faith that I’m able to reflect back on this experience and unpack my feelings a bit more.
With this hindsight, I realize now that I was guilty of being just as dogmatic about my own beliefs. If I truly claim to be open-minded, I need to be able to hear what others have to say without fear.
I realize now that I am grateful for the Baptists I grew up with. Without them, I wouldn’t have had something so vastly different than what I saw at home and in church to reflect my beliefs back at me and cause me to question them.
I realize now that’s okay to not agree with someone! I have to remind myself of this constantly. Diversity is what makes life the way it is and so beautiful. I wish we recognized this more in our increasingly polarized society.
I hope now that I’ve evolved past being a teenager who needs to fit in.
I hope that next time the Mormon missionaries come over, I’ll be sitting next to my husband. Maybe I won’t talk much, but I’ll at least listen.
I don’t think it’s my job to make someone think differently, but I do think it’s simple humanity to listen to what someone else has to say.
At the same time, when I believe something strongly, it’s my hope that others will listen to me.
My hope is that we can both listen to each other and think about the other person’s perspective.
We may or may not convince each other of anything, but we will expand the other person’s worldview.