Love that cries with you: A plea for Mormon compassion

CompassionToday we have our second of the three prize-winning entries to the New Mormon Voices contest. (Click here for Eric Facer's grand prize essay, published last week.)

This honorable mention piece grabbed my attention with its specific plea for compassion. As an unwed Mormon mother, Alexandra Michelle Rucinski was scared and in desperate need of church members to "mourn with those who mourn." But as she relates, "the truth is, in my moment of need in the church I did not receive compassion. They slammed the door in my face."

But maybe . . . just maybe . . . the door has since been opened a crack. -- JKR

 

“Love That Cries with You”

by Alexandra Michelle Rucinski

She sat in front of my family in sacrament meeting. I was only a small child, but I knew she had done a very bad thing. Everyone in our small ward was talking about her. My mom leaned in and whispered in my ear, "That’s Sarah. She’s having a baby with her boyfriend."

The tone of my mother’s voice confirmed Sarah had done something wrong. She wasn’t married. She wasn’t supposed to be pregnant.

I saw her in the hallway later that day and said "Hi, Sarah!" though I had never spoken to her before. She barely mustered a smile at me, she was so sad and alone with her growing belly. I never saw her at church again.

Years later, there I was sitting in the bishop’s office with my boyfriend. "We are considering excommunicating you," the bishop said.

We had just finalized the plans for our son’s blessing. Now we were discussing the possibility of kicking me out of the fold. All my church blessings gone. My sealing to my family members no longer valid.

"What you have done is second to murder." The bishop said this calmly, as if I didn’t realize his carefully chosen words meant that I as an unwed mother had done something almost as severe in the eyes of the Church as spilling someone’s blood.

I wish I could say I was strong. I wish I could say that I told him that I wasn’t almost a murderer, but even then in the midst of that cruelty I respected my bishop’s authority. I sat there and cried. I left that office, scooped up my four-day-old baby, and cried some more.

Before that meeting I was hopeful I could stay in the church. I thought maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be a new "Sarah" in my ward. But now I was the one who had no desire to go back.

You can say I chose to be offended if you want to. You can say that I should have come to church anyway. You can come up with many different excuses, but the truth is, in my moment of need in the church I did not receive compassion. They slammed the door in my face.

I received a letter a few weeks after my meeting with the bishop informing me they had decided not to excommunicate me, but to disfellowship me instead. But by then the damage had already been done. I did not feel welcome, nor did I feel loved. I just felt alone.

It’s been two years since then. A few weeks ago I agreed to see visiting teachers for the first time. I was nervous about it, but there is a new bishop now and his wife wanted to meet with me. She seemed different . . . or at least I hoped she would be different.

We met a few blocks from my home, our two-year-old sons playing while we talked. I let my guard down and told her what had happened to me.

She listened to everything I had to say and then she cried. She cried a lot. For the first time, someone in the Church cried with me and cared about the pain I’d been through.

She told me that she was sorry this had happened, and I knew she meant it.

For the first in a very long time a Church member showed me Christlike love. No shame or judgment. Just pure love, the kind that cries with you. The kind that doesn’t have an agenda.

If I do ever come back it will because of people like her. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to really listen and show raw compassion.

Inactive people like me don’t need cookies and a half-hearted note. We don’t need letters telling us the light is missing from our lives.

We need you Mormons to do the thing you sang about in Primary. We need you to try to be like Jesus.

 

Alexandra RucinskiAlexandra Michelle Rucinski, 25, lives in Iowa, where she is a stay-at-home mother to an energetic, beautiful son. Her love of writing was born from reading as many books as she could get her hands on as a child, and from daily journaling. She particularly enjoys reading memoirs, noting that there is much we can learn from the life stories of others.

In honor of her essay, a donation has been made to Safe Horizon, an organization that works to help victims of domestic violence.