Monday, May 10, 2010

Reconciling "Unfilled" Promises in Patriarchal Blessings

I have found that as I talk with some people about their Patriarchal Blessings there has been an underlying assumption that their immediate, initial "understanding" of the blessing is correct - that if things don't happen as they assume the blessing describes, then the blessing is "wrong". Two of the best examples of this are those statements that deal with marriage (including children) and longevity.

Let me use two specific examples:

1) Someone is given blessings related to adult life, then that person dies before reaching adulthood. If the Patriarch were seeing the future, wouldn't he have stopped the pronouncement of blessings before marriage and kids and career and education and adult church service? To me, this is the easiest example to address, since I surely wouldn't want it to be stated (or even implied) in a daughter's blessing that she would die as a teenager. I think that would be cruel and would change totally the way she would live her life - and generally not in a positive way.

My takeaway from this example:

A Patriarchal Blessing is a guide focused on a full life. Whether or not each individual lives that full life is not the job of the Patriarch to ascertain - with rare exceptions that prove the rule. There generally is the "dependent on your worthiness" clause (although I know of one case where that clause does not appear and the blessings are phrased in a way that makes it clear that worthiness will never be an issue - which has been correct), but I believe there also is an underlying, unstated, assumed "dependent on the vagaries of life" clause.

2) Someone is told they will marry and raise children, but she reaches the age where she no longer can bear children and is still single. This is tougher, since it seems like such a straightforward promise.

I believe there might be an eternal element to these blessings, but I try to use that only as a last resort - since I believe these blessings are intended primarily as a guide for this life. So how do I reconcile the marriage and children promise?

This is where my own view gets a bit unorthodox. We are conditioned (properly, I believe) to interpret statements like this in accordance with the "Gospel/Church ideal". I believe that must always be our initial read, unless prompted by the Spirit. Therefore, this statement is taken to mean, "You will marry in the temple and give birth to sons and daughters . . ." Many times, however, that simply isn't what actually is said by the words on the page.

Non-temple marriage and adoption are legitimate fulfillment of the actual statement, but it is easy to ignore those options in life if reading only in light of the "ideal". If a person reaches 30 (arbitrary number pulled out of thin air) and has no immediate prospect for a temple marriage, I have no problem whatsoever with that person looking actively for a non-temple marriage - if that person feels inspired to do so. I know that is heretical to many, and I don't preach it as the general rule, but I do know that exceptions do exist for every rule, and 50,000 out of 5,000,000 still would be only 1% - a true exception.

I haven't even gotten to the fact of others' agency and how their choices impact our lives. I think that plays into a lot of the statements in our blessings and whether or not they come to full fruition.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I wondered that a few times the last few weeks as I've re-entered church life. I met my non-mormon husband when I was 29 and we married a year later when I was 30. My patriarchal blessing talks about marrying in the temple and having children born under the covenant. In addition to being married to a non-mormon I have no children so I've asked myself how this blessing impacts my life. I think it is a guide to support one's journey in the path of mormonism. It is difficult to be a part-member couple and to have no children in the church so I think of the patriarchal blessing as illustrating the path of least resistence when it comes to living in the church. One thing that my blessing is explicit about is certain aspects of my testimony and education. It has been right about that and so I feel that it resonates with me in those areas. This was a good read! Thanks PapaD! SimplyMe

SilverRain said...

I feel that a patriarchial blessing is exactly what it claims to be: a guide. It is not a fortune.

But then, mine has changed my life regardless of the unfulfilled blessings therein.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and great timing. I was needing to read this today!
I think it can be hard to know if timing is involved (it may yet happen), or just different than expectations where I need to learn to adjust expectations.
Much to ponder. Thanks, Heber13

Anonymous said...

What about a blessing of long life for someone who dies of cancer at a young age? This is not a hypothetical. This person was faithful their whole adult life and was taken by an agressive cancer in a matter of weeks. I just don't understand. I appreciate any sober and well considered views as it has been a sore trial to my faith.

Papa D said...

Anon2, I see someone dying of cancer "early" exactly as I see my first scenario - that PB's are a projection of full life and a Patriarch can't be allowed to see and proclaim short life.

As SilverRain said, they are Patriarchal "Blessings" - not Patriarchal Prophecies.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting,Papa.It has occurred to me that the stats for marrying in the temple after 30,and going on to have children must be pretty low,and would encourage my daughters to seek to be able to participate in a good partnership as a priority once they have given themselves a good opportunity to be married in house,as it were.A life time of love is not to be easily passed up,nor the good we can do each other as families,of what ever shape,colour or pattern.Better together than apart.

Paul said...

Interesting post. Of course there are other unanswered questions besides the two you cite.

I attended a fireside by Susan Easton Black (of BYU) a number of years ago in which she talked about interpresting patriarchal blessings. She recommended a review at different life-stages, as promises might take on different qualities at different times in our lives.

She also recommended a specific rubric for organizing and analyzing the blessing (promises, blessings, conditions and something else that I no longer remember).

Mostly she recommended looking beyond specifics to the general arc of the blessing as a means for understanding points that are harder to sort out.

Mama D said...

Paul, could the part of Black's rubric you don't recall be "warnings"? I have heard of organizing one's PB by promises, blessings, conditions, and warnings.

I find it interesting to read my PB during different stages of my life, and realize how the same statements change meaning based on my circumstances. What they meant when I received it is sometimes different than what they mean now.

Anonymous said...

I googled this topic today. My blessing was very specific and others who read it went away dissappointed with their own. That was 45 years ago. I've spent those years looking for the fulfillment and while much of the news in the world relates to the message of that blessing, Im not a part of it and have no background and never have despite my efforts and desire. Not being a perfect member of the church has always been my fallback excuse, but its still extremely depressing. Its been suggested that I speak to a Patriarch about another blessing, but I really want the one given. I keep telling myself that Nephi built a ship but my faith is wavering.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to throw in a couple of cents...let's say hypothetically that my blessing says that i'll be called to preside over a stake (though it seems very rare for a P to get that specific). Well, it may be that that promise is very much Heavenly Father's desire for my growth and development as well as the growth and development of the church but it doesn't sync with my understanding of agency that He is going to cause that to happen. In other words, is He going to intervene in the agency of a GA's natural tendency to call who they are more familiar/comfortable with than me? I don't think so. So when a GA comes to my stake to organize a presidency and asks the Lord whether he can call Bro. X to be the president isn't it completely possible that the Lord's answer is "Yes, Bro. X is one of 76 people who are worthy and capable of being president, each of which i would like to bless with that opportunity for growth."