Wearing My Pants and My Broken Heart to Church

(For a quick primer on why Mormon women wearing pants to church is a big deal, read this article, or visit the official Pants to Church website.)

Confession: I didn’t wear pants to church last year on December 16. I wanted to stand with my brothers and sisters who often feel marginalized in our church, who are hurt by the harmful gender inequality we see in the workings of a church we’ve loved. I couldn’t do it. Instead, twenty minutes before church was supposed to start I sat on my bedroom floor sobbing, staring at the lovely brown dress pants laid out on my bed. I chose a purple skirt instead, told myself that this was not the way I wanted to engage in the discussion about Mormon feminism. I told myself that I was choosing not to cause a stir so that I’d have better opportunities to build bridges and talk to my church family about my concerns.

The truth: The vulnerability of being the only woman showing up to church in pants was too frightening for me. The vulnerability of standing out, showing on the outside the deep ways I felt alienated on the inside, was just too much for me. I wanted my brown, hounds-tooth dress pants to wave on my legs like a flag—a symbol of my broken heart. I wanted to go to church in pants and say to the people I’d loved with and worshiped with and served with: Please see me. Please see how much I’m hurting, how much I wish our church were more Christlike, how much I wish I were better than I am, how deeply I wish to believe that there’s a place for me here, even with all my doubts and frailties. I wasn’t brave enough.

Since that day, I’ve worn pants to church a number of times. At first it was an act of bravery. I felt different, felt strange and stared-at. Another woman in my ward thanked me for wearing pants and began to do so also. I’ve heard gossip that others in our congregation have seen our pants-wearing as a sign that we don’t have firm testimonies. Trust me, though, these pants-wearing days had little to do with any lack of conviction on my part. It’s become more pragmatic than that. I find it utterly silly that a bunch of fabric that would be perfectly suitable as a dress somehow becomes inappropriate church attire when it’s sewn together between my legs. Also, I find it much easier to focus on worshipping God when I feel secure and comfortable—wrestling two little boys through church is much easier to do in pants. I’ve come to love being the weirdo woman who wears pants to church. The whole unspoken, unofficial dress-code of our happy-valley culture is not something I agree with or feel a need to abide by. When I show up to church I wear my best, and I’m there for reasons much deeper than signaling faith or lack of faith through my outward appearance.

I don’t wear pants to church because my testimony is hurting or because I lack faith and have doubts. I come to church, whether in pants or a skirt, because my testimony is hurting, because I lack faith and have deep, serious doubts. This is a bit of a coming-out post, because even some of my closest family members and friends have no idea how much I’ve struggled and questioned over the last few years. I’ve questioned everything, spending months at a time feeling solidly agnostic even about the existence of God. I have serious concerns about the ways the LDS church functions, the way our Mormon culture deeply harms individuals who don’t fit the mold. I have honest, probing questions about the truth and value of certain practices and doctrines. I have good and beautiful homosexual friends who have left the church because they could not embrace their sexuality, stay Mormon, and stay alive. This deeply troubles me. Though the official church stance on LGBQT people has changed in positive ways, I think, there are not enough answers yet for me to feel satisfied with them.

My heart, my good and loving heart that still wants to be like Jesus like it has since I was a little girl, cannot always square the reality of my church and its imperfect people with the goodness and love of the Jesus Christ that is its namesake. So I struggle. I hurt. I try. And I keep coming to church, because if there is a God in heaven (and I do believe there is, want to believe in a father god and a mother god who are our heavenly parents and love us) then I want to keep giving God the opportunity to touch and soften and mold my heart.

Perhaps it is wrong to live like I do, to believe as I do. I am, admittedly, better at living the second great commandment—love your neighbor as yourself—than I am at loving a God that I can’t always find a way to access. Perhaps that is pride on my part, I don’t know. But I just can’t believe that God would make the two great commandments mutually exclusive. I believe in loving God by loving his people here on earth, by loving and accepting and welcoming those around me—my atheist friends, my gay friends, my drug-addicted friends, my Molly Mormon friends, my Buddhist friends, all of the people around me whose goodness could never be contained in a label. I love them all. And though there is much I am struggling to believe right now, there’s one thing I will likely always believe in. I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Jesus who loved the sinner, who reached out to the outcast and pulled her in with his love and his tenderness. I believe in the Jesus who asked us to do likewise, and I am earnestly trying my best to follow that example.

So today I’m wearing pants to church. Not just that, I’m wearing pants to church in the congregation I grew up in, with the people who first taught me about Jesus, who taught me to believe and watched me grow up so sure of my faith. Today I feel brave enough to be honest about who I am. I want to believe, I’m hanging on to the core of my faith, but I’m not always sure about the rest of it. I want to believe, but I also want to be part of a world that is kinder, more inclusive, more Christlike. So today my pants are more than pragmatism. Today my faith and my doubts and my struggles and my compassion will be worn on the outside. Today I stand in support of all those who could use a bit more love and welcoming. I believe in making the circle wider. I believe we all have the capacity to love more, to see each others’ broken hearts and find room for all kinds of people, for many different people with many different ways of finding truth.


8 thoughts on “Wearing My Pants and My Broken Heart to Church

  1. I think you write beautifully and I can understand what you are saying. It especially hit me about the ‘God you can’t access” I too have the same feelings that you do for the most part but I’m not sure how wearing pants is going to change anything. I don’t feel like a place of worship is the right place to protest. If you choose to wear them on Sundays, I get that and don’t care, but I’m glad you didn’t wear them on a National Protesting Day. I feel it turns the focus in the wrong direction. I applaud you for being who you are and not letting the “community” tell you who you are. Everyone has secrets and people are going to judge but I have turned that off so I don’t see it anymore, and it’s really nice to feel like I live in a community wear I’m not judged. Maybe I’m weird but I have learned that you just gotta be who you are and who cares what people think. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂

  2. Tough stuff Heather! I’m really sorry to hear that you are and have been hurting. I’m probably not alone in saying that I probably would never have known had you not had the courage to share this. It goes right along with something one of my heroes, Fred Rogers, once said: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” I hope that is true for you as a result of sharing your feelings here an in other settings. BTW, you and your family are awesome.

  3. This was beautifully written!! I admit I noticed your slacks, but only because I looked down. If I were able to always look people in the eye, it would be easier to avoid misunderstandings. I also noticed however, that you did not wear once, but continued off and on. In my mind that indicates someone who knows how they feel and are willing to express it. I love and appreciate your words of wisdom, as well as your bravery in expressing your truth!!

  4. I’ve known you and your struggles for a while and I applaud you for facing them. You are amazingly courageous to be willing to look directly at your questions. Your compassion is a super-power, one I have long admired (and even been intimidated by).

    You are not alone in having questions, everyone does (even if they don’t admit it). And at some point every person on this planet will have to reconcile their questions. Your outcome, will be determined by your attitude (meaning your direction or orientation) with respect to the challenge.

    Consider the waves of the sea, and you are in a small rowboat. The waves will surely come and they will come relentlessly. When they do, if you row left or right to get around them, they will topple you. If you row backwards, you will be toppled sooner or later. However, if you face the coming wave and even paddle toward it things might get hard but you will eventually overtop the wave. The waves come, the choices are there, your attitude is the determinant. Even a bigger ship doesn’t make you impervious to large waves that come. Only your attitude and your determination.

    Regarding finding answers, I am reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin when in June of 1787, the Constitutional Convention had been meeting for weeks without agreement. He rose to his feet and addressed George Washington:

    “Mr. President: the small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attention and continual reasonings with each other … is a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding … We have gone back to ancient history for models of government that now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern states … but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances … How has it happened, Sir, that we have not, hitherto, once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Light to illuminate our understandings?

    In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard; and they were generously answered … I therefore, beg leave to move – That henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”

    With Him, only unasked questions go unanswered.

    “Daily, simple but sincere and mighty prayers will help you lift your lives to a higher spiritual altitude. In your prayers you praise God, give thanks to Him, confess weaknesses, petition needs, and express deep devotion to your Heavenly Father. As you do this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, you perform a spiritual effort that leads to increased inspiration, revelation, and righteousness—not self-righteousness—and brings the brightness of heaven into your lives.” (Uchtdorf)

    Remember that the most important relationship you can ever invest in is the relationship between you and Father. It is that relationship, when nurtured and strengthened, that becomes indistinguishable from your relationship with yourself. It is the strength of that relationship that will courageously carry you through every single trial or difficulty in this life. It will ennoble you to look at others and consider “what do I think of them” instead of “what do they think of me”. And *that* will then enable you to act in a way that truly feels authentic to you.

    I know you don’t doubt Father’s love for his children, each and every one of them. For Him, we each already have an “A”. Each of us is at a different stage of perfect. Each of us is His favorite. There is so much good that needs to be done in the world so that everyone can understand what it means to be His favorite.

    It means that if you were the only person on this entire planet, the entire creation would have been well worth the effort. It means that He thinks about you all the time, you are always on His mind. It means that you have never been alone, not truly. It means that when you petition Him, you have His undivided attention. It means that He will give you the answers that you seek at exactly the right time for you to receive them. You are His precious child and He knows what you need to help you reach your potential. It means that He loves you so much that He asked His son to come here and give his life for you. That’s what it means to be His favorite.

    “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

    Face your questions. Keep asking, keep looking. Remember what Jeffrey said about abandoning the ship in a storm to try to swim it on your own. It is definitely the harder way. Hold firmly to that which supports you.

    Hope on. You’re doing great!

  5. Well written, Sis. As usual, you have articulated yourself very well. I am proud of you for being brave. For having the courage to tell others about your doubts, insecurities, and fears. I imagine that you feel somewhat liberated now. Free of some of the thoughts that have been oppressing you. Sharing my own concerns with others is very liberating for myself. I find that as I am able to share, my own burdens become lighter. Somehow, allowing someone else to listen to my problems produces the physical (or at least emotional and spiritual) effect of sharing the weight of those problems. What a gift!

    I think it is only natural to have doubts about God. In fact, I would say that having doubts is incredibly healthy. How would I ever learn and grow if I did not have doubts and curiosities? As Christ commanded us, we need to become like little children. Children are notoriously curious and I think curiosity is a trait that should never be driven out of an individual. Without doubt and curiosity, what would drive us to continue exploring or inventing or or learning or progressing in any way?

    Kudos to you for questioning the status quo. If I do not question the cultural traditions and beliefs of my fathers, how will I ever learn the truths for myself?

    I believe in a God of personal revelation. He has told us through the scriptures to ask Him for confirmations of truth. He is the source of all truth. He has also told us to trust not in the arm of flesh. In other words, we can learn much from each other. We would not even know of God except this information was taught to us by our forefathers. Seeking knowledge is how we find out about what may or may not be truth. But to verify the veracity of any information we gain, we must go to the source. If I want to know if some doctrine, principle, or even policy in a church is correct, I must ask God for confirmation. Even if the prophet himself gives me information, I will not fully trust it unless it is accompanied with a confirmation from the Spirit of God.

    I personally know that that there is a God and that he is my Eternal Father in Heaven. The Father of my spirit and the anchor of my soul. I know that He allows mortals to lead His church because one of my purposes for being here is to learn to trust in Him. Mortals make mistakes. When I make mistakes and do not know about them, how will I ever know about them unless through trial and error I find out for myself or if someone else points out my faults to me? As a mortal I should always be willing to entertain the viewpoints of others. As I receive and analyze the viewpoints of others I can learn much about myself that I would not have learned from my own limited point of view.

    To sum up, my dear sister, you are doing great. Keep questioning information you get from mortals. Keep taking your questions to the source of all truth. And keep sharing your doubts and concerns and fears so that those around you who love you can help you and also learn from you and with you.

    I love you!

  6. Wait, were you at OUR church? How did I miss you! I always like seeing you (pants or skirt :). You’ll have to forgive my ignorance, when I saw you wearing pants the first time, I just thought you were out of laundry!!! LOL. I’ve actually never heard anyone gossiping about it or about you. I think most of us just like to see YOU, regardless of what you’re wearing. I miss you. Just wondering … 100 or so yrs ago, when women started wearing not-full-length dresses, how did that translate over to what women wore to church? If that’s when pantyhose started, I’m not sure it was an improvement. I’m just glad that the days of corsets and heavy, constricting clothing are long gone. I don’t like wearing dresses, but I don’t mind “dressing up” in a dress for recitals, concerts, church or other special occasions b/c it helps put me in a different frame of mind. But I think pantyhose are very evil, and I’m sure a man must have invented them. 😉

    Anyway, all this is not to take your serious concerns lightly. I hurt for you for your unhappiness. For my part, you’re welcome at church no matter what you wear, and welcome as my friend whether or not you decide to come to church. I’m glad to see you whenever and wherever I’m lucky enough to find you! I see the church culture and the gospel as separate things, so the disparity between the culture and the pure doctrine of Christ doesn’t overly trouble me; to me it’s just a result of our human-ness, of being a work-in-progress as a people. I don’t feel that any church member – or friend or family member (LDS or otherwise) – loves me the way God loves me. He’s the only one that gets it right all the time. Even then I don’t always feel His love right away. But I always come back to that, so I believe His love is always there. I realize our own perspectives and experiences eclipse His love at times, but to me that doesn’t change Him. So that’s where I’m at. But I don’t expect everyone to feel or see as I do; everyone must take their own journey. I don’t have answers for your deep questions, but you have my friendship. LUV, Nicole

    p.s. While visiting my grandparents back before we had children, Lyle and I ended up staying over Sunday, and we hadn’t brought church clothes. So … we wore my grandma and grandpa’s clothes!!!! We looked very interesting … but no one shunned us. 🙂 We still giggle about those outfits, and I wish we had taken a picture! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Then the Full Moon Rose Soft and Small | Mastering the Art of Joy

  8. I’m thinking of you Heather. I hope you don’t feel alone. I am also floundering with a lot of things right now. Let me know if you need a hand or a shoulder.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s