One day when I was young I threw up. Well, it happened more than once, of course, but one particular time I threw up the macaroni and cheese I had eaten earlier that day. I feel like I hate throwing up more than the average person, it is just so painful and awful to me. If I had the choice between throwing up and spraining my ankle, I would totally choose to have a sprained ankle.
Don’t stop reading because the beginning of this post is a little gross.
After that fateful day, I stopped eating macaroni and cheese. Even the sight or smell of it reminded me of that terrible vomiting experience, and I would feel queasy. It was actually years and years before I tried it again. The day I finally felt able to attempt eating some mac and cheese again, a friend of mine introduced me to a variety from the freezer section that ended up being really delicious. Later I learned how to make homemade mac n cheese which I also loved. And I can now eat the boxed kind again, which was the kind that as a kid I had thrown up.
What does this have to do with anything? Especially priesthood leaders? Nothing, really. Except thinking about it reminded me of experiences I have had with priesthood leaders, and these thoughts were helpful to me, so I wanted to share them. Its not a great analogy, I know, but I hope it can give others some helpful insights like it has given me.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, all men who are worthy are given the priesthood. The priesthood is the responsibility to serve and bless God’s children, and the authority to preside over them in righteousness.
In a ward (a congregation of a few hundred members, organized according to geographic location), there is a bishop who is considered the priesthood leader of the ward. It is his responsibility to oversee and lead the ward, to organization it and to extend callings to individuals to serve within the ward (for example, as a youth leader or a Sunday school teacher), to give counsel to individuals, to administer to the sick, and many other such duties to help each member of the congregation on their journey through life.
In a family, the responsibilities of the father who holds the priesthood are similar and he is also considered the priesthood leader of the family. In the proclamation on the family, the prophet and apostles explained that “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation
In my home, however, it was a different story. Our father did not preside in love and righteousness, he was abusive and didn’t live up to the obligations and responsibilities of the priesthood. While he may have been worthy once, he had made unrighteous choices and was no longer.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, a book considered scripture in our church, it explains that a man who engages in abusive behavior or unrighteous domineering is not worthy of the priesthood. It also describes the expectations and responsibilities of priesthood leaders:
“That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121?lang=eng
Because my family priesthood leader, my father, was not living up to his responsibilities, I turned to my bishop at the time, my other priesthood leader, seeking for help. But I was severely disappointed. This man not only didn’t believe me when I told him what went on in my home, he was also abusive to me and made choices in opposition to God’s commandments and expectation for priesthood holders.
I decided then that priesthood leaders couldn’t be trusted. I stopped talking to them. Even when I moved to different cities and ended up in different wards with different bishops. Even when they tried to set up appointments with me to ask me to serve, I ignored and avoided them. Although I didn’t stop going to church, I didn’t want anything to do with priesthood leaders.
Several years later, while I was living in a different city, a certain man–we’ll call him Bishop Jones–was newly assigned as the bishop of the ward I was living in. For some reason I decided to give this man the benefit of the doubt, and agreed to meet with him when asked. I didn’t plan or expect to tell him of my past experiences with abusive priesthood leaders, but as we talked it just spilled out, and I told him everything.
Unlike the past priesthood leaders of my life, Bishop Jones actually lived up to the responsibilities of his priesthood and his position. He responded to my story with belief and with compassion. He immediately began to try to help—offering to find a therapist to help me heal from the trauma of abuse, sending me texts each week to check up on me, even having his wife befriend me and be another ally. Over the years Bishop Jones was my bishop, he continued to be an ally, a support, a counselor, and a friend. He truly fulfilled the duties of a priesthood leader from Doctrine and Covenants to be long-suffering, gentle, meek, and to offer “love unfeigned”.
Now what does this have to do with mac and cheese?
As a kid, I let a bad experience with a bad batch of mac and cheese keep me from all the good experiences I could have had eating this tasty meal. That “vomited batch” didn’t live up to its potential to be a yummy dinner, but not all batches of mac and cheese are that way. Just because one batch made me sick (or even if two batches had), that didn’t mean mac and cheese was a bad meal or that all mac and cheese would make me sick.
I’m glad I gave macaroni and cheese another chance, so that I can enjoy this yummy meal again.
Later, I let bad experiences with a few priesthood leaders keep me from having any good experiences with any righteous priesthood holders. Human beings are imperfect, some don’t live up to their potential or responsibilities. But some do. Just because some men have not yet reached the level of character and righteousness that would enable them to be a good and helpful priesthood leader, that doesn’t mean that the priesthood is bad or that all men are abusive or domineering.
I am so glad that I gave priesthood leaders another chance, so that I can receive the blessings of having a loving spiritual leader and ally to help me through life.
Is this a silly analogy? Yeah, I guess it kinda is. But I hope it can help people to not eliminate potential good from their lives because they have had bad experiences. Those bad experiences can be excruciatingly painful, and it is so difficult to trust again after them. When we open ourselves up we can be hurt, but if we don’t open ourselves up we can’t experience the good that is in the world and in other people.