Dear 100 Hour Board,
My little sister has been distancing herself from the LDS Church, and her boyfriend really dislikes the Church but he still spends time with us when my sister does. I recently found out that they're sleeping together. She drinks and recently got a few tattoos. I love her and have been trying to be open to her differing opinions and lifestyle choices, as has the rest of my family, most of the time. We've tried to let her know that.
My sister and I had a good, hard, emotionally draining conversation today about this hard area to navigate. She says she wants to be respectful of our beliefs but also genuine about how she's feeling, which I appreciate. She feels kind of like a minority against the majority, my family, who are all members. She also feels sad because she feels like, when she gets married, that there will be this undercurrent of sadness for her. She says she feels happy and wants us to be happy for her. I understand her wanting that, but I don't know if it's possible, at least not with no sadness.
I guess I've got a couple questions. I do feel really sad about her choices. It's been hard to be nonjudgmental, but I've prayed about it and tried really hard not to, not perfectly of course. I can give her love and acceptance, but at this moment, at least on my own, I'm not able to muster up happiness for lifestyle choices that I strongly disagree with from a sister who has been taught similar things about morality and the gospel.
So, I guess my questions are:
1. Is it fair of her to expect no undercurrent of sadness from me, just happiness?
2. If so, how do I do that? How do I get to a place where I only feel happiness for where she is? I don't want to be condescending, and I think it could help her relationship, but the reality is that I am sad and I don't know if I should pretend I'm not.
Thanks for your help. I need an outside, removed perspective. Also, if you could remember, I'm feeling pretty raw about this and trying to be understanding, loving, and not condescending.
Thank you, thank you,
Older Sister Who's Trying to Be a Better Older Sister
It sounds like you are in a very hard situation, but are still trying your best to act the best, which is very admirable.
I think this is one of the times where it's good to remember that support in differing beliefs goes both ways. Even as you offer your sister support and love independent of her choices, you have a right to ask for the same support and love in your beliefs. Each of you has the right to experience certain emotions as a direct result of your belief system.
If you would like my person opinion on the matter, your sister can rightfully ask for a certain level of happiness. What I mean by that is she can expect to have a wedding, and normal interactions with her family without everyone looking at her constantly with sad eyes and mournful expressions. After all, to only display one emotion around her would put a barrier between her and the rest of your family. For any relationship to work, people need to be able to experience a wide range of emotions together, not just one.
While your sister does have the aforementioned right to multiple emotions from her family, including happiness, she does not have the right to ask all of you to completely eradicate a singe emotion. No one excepting God has the right to dictate how other people feel.
I want to close by saying it's okay to feel sadness over this. It sounds like that sadness stems from love for your sister. The only ways you could eradicate it I think would be to either abandon some of your beliefs or stop loving your sister as much, both of which are worse than sadness.
Dear Older Sister,
You are right in that your sister doesn't get to dictate how you feel. But in this instance, I think you really need to understand how your sister is likely feeling.
While it's wonderful that you and your family are trying to be accepting of your sister and her choices, she knows that you don't approve. She knows that you're sad and disappointed, and she knows that isn't going to change just because she's happy. It sounds like you know that, after your long conversation, but I still think it's worthwhile to think about things from her perspective.
For her, there is now a strong barrier that divides her from the rest of your family. There are aspects of her life that you will never approve of, therefore she probably feels as though she needs to hide those aspects of her life. At the very least, she likely won't feel comfortable talking about them in front of you, because the disapproval will be almost tangible.
The sad thing is, I don't know if this is a penetrable barrier. It doesn't sound like your feelings will change, and it doesn't sound like her choices will change. There will always be this distance that there isn't a way to cross without someone compromising their principles, which isn't something you should ask of someone you love.
I wish I had better advice to give, but I honestly can't think of a course of action that would repair such a complicated relationship. It's wonderful that you still love and care for each other, and you should definitely keep showing that as much as you can. But the relationship will never be the same. It can't be, when she knows your feelings will always be colored by disapproval and disappointment.
I admire you so much for your committment to your sister and your desire to be there for her. I hope things get better. And I apologize for the pessimism, but it felt like a perspective that ought to be shared.
I'm vastly unqualified to comment on this. Take all advice with plenty of salt, and note that all doctrinal/Church commentary is my own and not official and could be wrong.
1. Is it fair of her to expect no undercurrent of sadness from me, just happiness?
I agree with the writers above that she doesn't get to choose how you feel. In practical terms, it's literally impossible for someone else to choose how we feel, even if we want to let them (more about this below). In moral terms, our reactions to others are colored by really personal stuff like our background, our beliefs, etc. that others don't have the right to control.
For the sake of clarity, I do want to distinguish between two relevant questions here:
First, there's the question of whether it's fair for your sister to expect you not to feel unhappy with her choices. To me, this is relatively simple. If your sister wants to respect your beliefs, this isn't really a fair expectation.
Second, there's the question of whether it's fair for your sister to expect that you successfully make any unhappiness you feel about her choices invisible. I'm still not convinced this is fair, but practically this is what she will actually be able to see, and therefore what has more of a chance of impacting your relationship.
You stated that "I do feel really sad about her choices. It's been hard to be nonjudgmental, but I've prayed about it and tried really hard not to, not perfectly of course. I can give her love and acceptance, but at this moment, at least on my own, I'm not able to muster up happiness for lifestyle choices that I strongly disagree with from a sister who has been taught similar things about morality and the gospel." I'd like to go through that a bit at a time in discussing some of my thoughts on what your sister has a "right" to expect from you, but also what your behavior may result in regardless of whether you're in the "right" or not.
I do feel really sad about her choices.
As writers above have said, your emotional state is controlled by you. I do believe that we have a responsibility to attempt to "bridle our passions" in terms of unreasonable or inappropriate emotions: this is often really necessary to forgiveness, for example. If you were really angry at your sister because you were jealous of her "freedom" from the "constraints" of the Church, for example, I don't think that would be a very "fair" emotion for you to indulge, and I'd encourage you to try to moderate your own feelings, even if your sister couldn't moderate your feelings for you. In this case, however, I think that it is both reasonable and appropriate to feel (godly) sorrow for the sins of another that we know will ultimately bring them pain.
It's been hard to be nonjudgmental, but I've prayed about it and tried really hard not to, not perfectly, of course.
Good for you. This is an ongoing process, and it's really good that you're putting in effort to recognize that while you may be sad about your sister's choices, it's not your job to condemn her for them.
I can give her love and acceptance, but at this moment, at least on my own, I'm not able to muster up happiness for lifestyle choices that I strongly disagree with from a sister who has been taught similar things about morality and the gospel."
Love for your sister and acceptance of her as a precious member of your family can absolutely exist in concert with sadness for decisions she's making that are contrary to eternal happiness. The failure to abolish unhappiness you feel about the ways her choices may affect her future does not mean that you are "judgmental," it means that you understand and believe in how the Gospel applies our lives to bring happiness. You're not under responsibility to somehow ignore that knowledge.
So, with that said, I'd like to address the core of the issue in your second question: in practical terms what do you do about this?
First, I'll reassert that I don't think you need to "get to a place where you only feel happiness for where she is." I think that would probably actually be bad. If your sister's poor choices brought you only happiness because she felt good about them, why would you feel different about anybody else's bad choices? Why would you feel different about your own? That's really problematic moral reasoning to me.
If, for example, you show up to your sister's wedding to this non-member boyfriend a year or two from now and you openly cry and then you refuse to attend the reception because there will be alcohol served, your sister will probably feel hurt. She might be angry with you, even though she isn't the one who gets to pick how you feel.
This is basically what Anathema points out above.
I think that the anonymous writer above hit the point on the head: your sister is likely to always feel separated from you guys because she knows you can't agree with her, and you guys are likely to always feel disapproval or sadness. I agree with that writer that this is inevitable. I think it has to be inevitable for the very reason Anathema hit on: that eliminating it would require one party to change.
However, I'd like to end on a hopeful note: even negative emotions God allows us to experience can have positive purposes. In this case, the feelings of separation and sadness are a consequence of choices that you understand, based on divine principles, do not bring lasting happiness. God probably doesn't want to eliminate those feelings, because doing so would really eliminate incentives for people to reconsider their choices and return to Him. I'm NOT suggesting that we should ever take joy in the suffering people undergo because of poor choices, but I do suggest that in the grand scheme of things we can have hope because God has set up His plan in such a way that we experience consequences for our choices now, while we still have time in our lives to change who we are and what we do through the Atonement.
Maybe there are people who are more experienced in this area than me who could give you concrete examples of the best way they've been able to nurture relationships with those whose beliefs aren't currently in harmony with the Gospel, but I'll instead just suggest that God knows you, your sister, and your family, and if you seek His guidance in how you relate to your sister, He's going to help you.
I thought that you might like reading how the Christofferson family was able to continue to love a member of their family even though he was gay and had a partner. This article really touched me, and I think it might be able to give you a different perspective about your family situation. I did want to highlight the following part of the article, because I think it highlights what you are asking:
"A major part of Christofferson's story was the acceptance of his family. Christofferson said his parents fasted and prayed for inspiration and received it.
'We don't understand or know how all of this will play out in eternity,' Christofferson writes that his parents told one of their sons around this time. 'So we are going to make sure we enjoy every single moment with Tom in this life.'
They called a family council and encouraged everyone to love Tom and his partner. Their answer worked for him and their family and eventually led him back to the church.
'My biggest counsel to other families is to seek inspiration that is right for their kids and their families,' Christofferson said."
I hope you will be able to find love and joy in your relationship with your sister, even if you don't agree with her behavior(s). I think this is a critical part of discipleship.
-Sunday Night Banter