The word "therapist" caught my attention because I once attended a Sunday school lesson taught by a therapist and it was about depression and stuff and it was great. Based on that one experience I assumed this one would also talk about something more interesting and worthwhile than the advertised topic would seem to indicate.
I barely knew Sister Dymock but I was familiar with her husband, the stake president. Before President Dymock was a stake president, he was a mission president in Washington, and before that he was director of the Logan Institute of Religion. And I'm old enough to have known him back then. I first became acquainted with him when I emailed him to complain about my institute teachers bashing on evolution. I took two institute classes per semester back then, and something seemed to come up in every one, ranging from an offhand derisive comment that "We didn't evolve from slime off a rock" to a solid ten minutes of embarrassing pseudoscientific attempts to refute the theory. He told me I was correct that the Church had no position in evolution, that he had already told the teachers in a meeting over the summer not to say stuff like that, and that if I told him the offenders' names he would discreetly remind them and not mention me. And I thought that was pretty swell of him.
But after it happened a few more times - this occasion being the final straw - I decided that despite President Dymock's best intentions, we were clearly dealing with a systemic problem too large for him to handle on his own. So I called church headquarters in Salt Lake and tried to reach Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy, Commissioner of Church Education (who recently made the news for the infamous "clarification" of BYU's Honor Code changes that he inexplicably sent two weeks after the fact). I left a message with his secretary and then the next time I called she said he had suggested I talk to this other guy whose name I forget, but he was in charge of seminaries and institutes for the world and I didn't understand the difference between that and Elder Johnson's position but now I realize that of course Church Education encompasses a bit more than seminaries and institutes.
This guy listened patiently to my story, taking notes, asking questions for clarification. He asked how I would handle the topic of evolution in church settings, praised me for being so polite and deferential, and asked if I had served a mission. This experience of being so listened to and validated by an adult (which I technically also was, but at age twenty, I felt like it even less than I do now) has been replicated few other times in my life, mostly by therapists and Bishop Paul Fjeldsted, who incidentally during this time was receiving my updates on my crusade against creationism with obvious support and amusement.
A few semesters later I was in President Dymock's own Mission Prep class. We got to the "Preach My Gospel" section on the Creation, and he pointed out how deliberately brief and vague it is. Then he said this: "You know the reason for conflicts between science and religion? Bad religion."
I think that's a slight oversimplification, but even so, I looked at him like
The next time one of those incidents occurred, I walked out of the class in question and never went back.
Anyway, his wife began her remarks by advising us to ask God to help us get what we needed out of them. Beside me, my friend said, "Help me to not hate men." I thought that was a bit harsh. I don't hate women. I just sort of see them as being like Klingons. Almost exclusively evil, but not quite, and I'm not going to discriminate and be like "No, Worf, you can't join my crew because you're a Klingon."
True to my expectations, Sister Dymock spent most of her devotional not talking about dating per se much at all. She talked instead about mental health. Of course the connection is obvious - if you're not mentally healthy enough, nobody on God's green Earth will want to date you - but it has so many other applications and is just a better topic in general and it should have been the title of the devotional but nobody asked me. She said it's important to be "well-differentiated" and I don't remember what that means but it's important. For maybe the last twenty minutes or so she did talk about dating specifically, and she called up her husband to stand with her and she talked about how they met and fell in love and stuff. This is always iffy territory because unless your love story is really freaking interesting, I'm happy for your happily ever after but I really couldn't care less how it happened.
The story itself was nothing special, but one line justified the entire price of admission. Brother Dymock said something to the effect of, "I would later find out that she was well-differentiated. But at the time, I just thought she was well-defined."
Cue riotous, shocked laughter that he dared to say such a thing in a church setting. My respect for him increased tenfold. It reminded me of a Sunday school class in my home branch several years ago. The branch president was sitting in and I don't think it had any relevance to the lesson but the teacher decided to ask him what first drew him to his wife. He thought about it seriously for a few seconds and then said with great confidence, "She was hot!" I'm sure that's not the kind of response the teacher was going for, but honesty is important.
Sister Dymock mentioned, as many others have, that according to no less an authority than Dallin H. Oaks' granddaughter, a date can be defined as "planned, paired off, and paid for". You know it's true because alliteration. As it happens, I had a date the very next day after this devotional. It had been planned well in advance and postponed a couple times. I paired off with a student at the Weber State University Department of Dental Hygiene to clean my teeth. Then I paid for it. See, this is a joke because what I just described perfectly fits the given definition but is nonetheless not what most people would consider a "date". In all complete seriousness, though, it was one of the best dates I've ever been on. She was very, very cute and nice and enjoyable to talk to. Real shame about her marital status but the definition doesn't say anything about that.
People like to quote that bit from then-Elder Oaks' 2006 devotional, and sometimes they quote other bits too, but nobody except me ever quotes the very best bit and I have no idea why. This was a game-changer for me. Quote:
"Now, brothers and sisters, if you are troubled about something we have just said, please listen very carefully to what I will say now. Perhaps you are a young man feeling pressured by what I have said about the need to start a pattern of dating that can lead to marriage, or you are a young woman troubled by what we have said about needing to get on with your life.
"If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance.
"I will explain why I can’t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had with another person who was troubled by a general rule. I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' (Ex. 20:13). Afterward a man came up to me in tears saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. 'What do you mean?' I asked him.
"He explained that he had been a machine gunner during the Korean War. During a frontal assault, his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies were piled so high in front of his gun that he and his men had to push them away in order to maintain their field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell because I had spoken of the Lord’s commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.'
"The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, 'I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.' In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself."
Close quote and proverbial mic drop.
Sister Dymock mentioned and tried to address a few questions and concerns that people have about dating. One of them was violence and rape. I have never heard anyone in a church setting be candid and honest enough to acknowledge that this concern exists. Alas, she didn't really address it, but how could she? Telling people (mostly but not exclusively men) not to be violent or rape is kind of pointless because everyone freaking knows that already and either cares or doesn't, and telling people (mostly but not exclusively women) how to protect themselves is victim-blaming. It's a lose-lose.
Another question people have, according to her, is how can you politely tell someone you're not interested?
"Call the police on him," I deadpanned.
Beside me, my friend laughed.
Sister Dymock didn't have any solid easy answer to that one either but she suggested as a general principle that you should try to leave the person better than you found them.
"Yeah, Calise," I deadpanned.
Beside me, my friend doubled over and spasmed as she fought to restrain her laughter. Beside her, her other friend started laughing too, though the look on her face suggested that she wasn't sure why. And this continued for so long that I started to think they must both be laughing at something else altogether until my friend gasped, "'Yeah, Calise!' I'm dying!"
Toward the end, Sister Dymock threw in a shoutout to LGBT people and their unique challenges in the church, which was nice, though I doubt many bothered to show up in the first place.
The devotional was only tainted by trace amounts of the banal sort of advice one gets everywhere else. President Dymock drew on his mission president expertise and suggested that the "Preach My Gospel" manual has great guidelines for dating as well as missionary work: "Talk to everyone, get referrals..." Cue everyone else laughing and me rolling my eyes because it wasn't that funny and I'm an introvert, thank you very much. Okay, he's not perfect but I still love him.
Another piece of advice that stuck with me, which seems as good as any to end my post on, was Sister Dymock's suggestion that after we've been severely hurt we can pray for the courage to try again. I'm sure this is great advice for some people and some scenarios. But I'll be damned if I'm going to take it. That would be like asking God to help me stab myself thirty-seven times in the chest. Or worse. Actual footage of me after the last time I fell in love:
Hmmm, let me think, do I ever, ever, ever under any conceivable circumstances want to open myself up to the possibility of experiencing anything like that ever again?
Anyway, what I got out of this devotional is that I need to just focus on myself and my own improvement and relationship with God. That's really very liberating. Now I'll have no one to blame for my constant failures and setbacks but myself.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.