We all know a Kate.*Her name might be Sandy or Jenny or Heidi, and she could be anyone from a Young Adult through a Certified Ancient. She could be married or single, rich or poor, tall or short. The one thing these women have in common is that they refuse to come to church. Other women might have reasons such as having been offended, laziness, not truly having a testimony, or struggling with a nonmember husband.
But these “Kates” stay away because they think the rest of us are perfect. It’s hilarious, I know. Those of us who attend regularly are keenly aware of everyone’s problems and hardships, the fact that one sister is struggling to stop smoking, another one’s son just landed in prison, another one’s daughter is selling drugs, another one just declared bankruptcy, another is pregnant out of wedlock, and another one is on ten medications for mental illness. We have every trial under the sun, the same as everybody else. And we don’t judge because we’ve either just been there, or we know we could round the corner and find ourselves in the same boat! We minister to one another, we love and try to laugh together, we share tears and testimonies, and through it all we nudge each other along the path back home to our Heavenly Father.
We’re even fond of the quote that says a church is not a country club for the perfect but a hospital for the sick. We deliberately plan evening activities that will appeal to less-active sisters in hopes of luring them back, helping them feel wanted, and giving them the chance to make some friends. Ultimately we want them to share the joy of the gospel, temple sealings, and Eternal Life. We have entire meetings just about how to rescue these lost sisters. For all I know, the men are doing the same thing, trying to tailor a campout or a service project to specifically appeal to some brother on their list. But, my informal research tells me that the men are not afraid to come because they’re overwhelmed by all the amazingly accomplished guys at church. Not that our men aren’t dazzling and impressive; it’s just that men don’t think the same way women do, and don’t feel the same level of pressure to measure up. Challenge me if you wish, but any psychologist will tell you women have a corner on this.
And so Kate sees only the gorgeous women with darling clothes, fresh manicures and perfectly highlighted hair. She only sees families that look as if they could be on the cover of Ensign magazine—a cute wife and hubby and a string of cute kids, all sitting in a row on the bench, the picture of successful living. She sees us happily greeting each other in the hallway and assumes we have no problems whatsoever; we live in la-la-land where no one is overweight or in debt, no one has an abusive husband, and all children get straight As.
After working for years with less active women, I honestly believe more than half of them are “Kates” who feel intimidated by all the “perfect” Molly Mormons, and stay away from church solely for that reason.
“I don’t fit in there,” a woman told me once. “I feel judged there.”
I so wanted to say, “How could you possibly know? You haven’t come a single time since you moved in!” But the sister was sure this was how it would be. The truth is that she was judging herself, feeling both unworthy and unwelcome in a church building, when the very opposite was the case: She would have been welcomed with open arms. In fact, her situation was that her husband had left her for the clichéd secretary and, if anything, our sisters would have rallied with sympathy, meals, and tons of attention for her kids. Despite what this “Kate” thought, she wouldn’t be the only single mother, the only one struggling financially, or the only woman whose husband had crushed her self-esteem.
Another woman recently told me that, unlike other LDS women, she has too many problems with her kids, her ex, and her work, to add one more thing (church activity) to her plate. So the very organization that can ease her burdens is the one she wants to avoid! Her life could become immeasurably simplified and blessed if she would just come to church. First, she’d meet other women struggling through a tough divorce and get both ideas and emotional support. Second, she’d find Scout and Primary leaders who could involve her children in fulfilling activities and wholesome friendships. Third, she would be able to renew her baptismal covenants, feel washed clean and forgiven every week, and grow closer to the Lord. Fourth, she would have tons of support (babysitting, meals, female friends for herself, male role models for her boys) as she got to know the members at church. Fifth, she would find joy through service and would realize how small her problems really are when compared with others in a far worse situation. Sixth, she would grow spiritually and see her temporal problems in a better perspective, learning and having dozens of “aha” moments in our classes. Seventh, she would bless the lives of her children by giving them this vital opportunity to grow a testimony and a relationship with the Holy Ghost. I could go on and on.
But no, those women at church are just too polished, too trouble-free. It’s as if we’ve done the most ingenious public relations scam in history! We have actually created the ridiculous impression that we are coasting along without a care in the world! If you’re not laughing at the crazy irony of all this, you’re not active enough.
So what’s the solution? Here are five suggestions: