“If It Doesn’t ‘Spark Joy,’ Don’t Do It”: Why Kate Kelly Not Only Gives the Wrong Answer, She Asks the Wrong Question
By Ken K. Gourdin
Kate Kelly, founder of the activist group Ordain Women, which demands that women be given the priesthood that currently is given only to worthy males ages twelve and older in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently published an Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune in which she says that it’s OK for one to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if it does not bring her joy. Ms. Kelly’s Op-Ed can be found here, last accessed July 21, 2015: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/2738628-155/kate-kelly-if-staying-in-lds.
I know people who have left the Church of Jesus Christ who say they’ve found more joy outside the Church than in. Although such a view doesn’t fit my paradigm, I cannot conclusively say, in an infinite number of possible universes, that there isn’t at least one possible universe in which that might be true, and I don’t believe that the main (or even the primary) reason someone might arrive at that conclusion is simply because he desires to sin. Yes, I believe the Book of Mormon scripture in which the prophet Lehi writes, “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). And I believe the Lord’s numerous scriptural injunctions to “be of good cheer” (see, e.g., John 16:33).
But let’s face it: being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t just “a Sunday thing”; there’s far more to being a member than simply parking one’s butt in a pew for an hour a week, and, while laypeople in other churches might serve in various capacities, the Church of Jesus Christ is the only organization I know of in which it might be said that the reason one knows that a request to serve in a certain capacity was inspired of the Lord is because one never would have thought of making (or of receiving) such a request in his own in a million years. While church leaders on the general level devote themselves to full-time church service, by and large, on the local level, if it gets done in the Church, members—many of whom have schooling, full-jobs, families, and other obligations in addition to what they’re asked to do in the Church—do it, from balancing the books to playing the organ. Because being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is so demanding, might there be times when it is not as fulfilling as it might be? Yes. But there’s another saying in the Church that God has to be behind it: if He’d left humans solely in charge, we would have screwed it up inside of five minutes.
We do a lot of things that may not bring us joy in the short run, but which will be worth it in the long run (at least, we hope they will): having a job and showing up for work most every day, working out, taking medicine, going to the doctor or to the hospital … The list is endless. If my job doesn’t “spark joy,” is it OK to quit? Yeah, but it’s hard to live without a paycheck. If working out doesn’t “spark joy,” is it OK not to? Yeah, but I won’t get (or I won’t stay) fit. If taking medicine, or going to the doctor, or going to the hospital if I’m sick or injured doesn’t “spark joy,” is it OK not to? Yeah, but I won’t get well. The real question, at least in the short run or in the moment, isn’t “Do these things bring us joy?” The real question is, “Are they, at least in the long run if not in the short run, worth it?”
Ms. Kelly’s god sounds suspiciously like the one Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned against in a recent address (see here, last accessed July 21, 2015: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/the-cost-and-blessings-of-discipleship?lang=eng):
Sadly enough . . . it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds [endnote omitted].
Talk about man creating God in his own image!
As for Ms. Kelly’s “if-it-doesn’t-‘spark-joy’-don’t-do-it” philosophy, I said:
As others have pointed out, there are a lot of potential sources of pain in life. Yes, it can be a “pain” in a sense to have to deal with real pain on top of dealing with the “pain” of callings [the term we use for volunteer service we are asked to perform in the Church of Jesus Christ] we don’t (always) want to do, members who sometimes annoy us, and worse. But even with all of the “pain” the Church of Jesus Christ might “cause,” my experience has shown me no better aid in dealing with all of life’s genuine pain. Sometimes, I get to feeling a little antisocial; sometimes, I feel as though the last thing I want to do is to get dressed up and go sit in church for three hours or to serve in whatever calling I might have. But then a little voice asks me, “Ken, is not doing those things gonna solve whatever problems you have? At worst, the problems are still gonna be there when you’re done, so why not go to church, why not serve, et cetera, anyway?” And almost without exception, I find that being among my fellow Saints, even as antisocial as I might sometimes feel, makes me feel better. If not, at worst, well, obviously there were worse things I could have done with those three hours (or whatever length of time it happens to be).
My Mom had a saying when we kids were growing up. If we told her, “But, Mom, I don’t want to,” she said, “That’s OK. You don’t have to want to.” (Yes, my mom is quite a lady.) I think God might be the same way: “Heavenly Father, I don’t want to do this”; “That’s OK. You don’t have to want to.” I don’t know whether Ms. Kelly equates joy and fun, or joy and pleasure; many people do, even though there are great differences between the first word and the latter two. There are many things in life that aren’t fun or pleasurable, but we do them anyway (because life isn’t just about fun or pleasure): at bottom, life is about growth (though we might wonder how we’ve grown from some, perhaps many, of our experiences). Living the Gospel isn’t always fun or pleasurable, and, in the short run, maybe it doesn’t even always bring joy. But in the long run, in my experience, it is (and will always be) worth it.
And speaking of my mom’s old saying, what kind of children will we rear if we say, “Honey, I know cleaning your room—or doing some other chore—doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ so it’s OK to not do it”? We might rear spoiled children who have a sense of entitlement, who think they should never have to work or to want for anything, and who think that they should always get what they want and should always have their way and that life should always be pleasant. They shouldn’t, and it’s not, and if they don’t learn those lessons as children, it will be all that much harder for them to learn them as older children and as adults—at school or at work. And if they don’t learn them there, they just might have to learn them an even harder way, at the hands of police officers and jailers and prison guards, and prosecutors and judges, and on parole or on probation, or in in juvenile detention, or in jail or prison.
And, oh, by the way, if Ms. Kelly thinks that holding the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all about “sparking joy,” as grateful as I am for the priesthood, I wonder if she might change her tune if she ever got her way. I suspect she might. I’ve been involved in many pleasant experiences as a priesthood holder—along with not a few unpleasant ones, as well.
I’ll admit it: I don’t always find that serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “sparks joy”; I don’t always measure up, and don’t bear the burdens that, often, I’m called upon to bear in the Church of Jesus Christ, well. But I’m glad I belong to a church which expects a lot of me—and, most importantly, that I believe in a God who expects a lot of me: I think that will make me a better person—the kind of person He wants me to be.