teleology: living for the ends or living for now.

by Amelia

i’ve been told i would marry so many times that i couldn’t count them.  and that i would have children.  in lesson after lesson—as a sort of formula: live your life correctly and god will bless you (and we all know that, for a woman, marriage and children is the greatest blessing).  it’s never that explicit, but it’s there nonetheless.  i’ve also been told that i would marry and have children in priesthood blessings.  many blessings.  starting when i was an infant and moving through every significant moment of my life and quite a few ordinary moments.

at this moment, i don’t think i will marry and have children.  it’s not that i’m convinced it won’t happen; it’s more that i’m not convinced it will happen.  which leaves me with this—what my life is in this moment, with no promises of what it can be beyond that.

i’ve been thinking about this.  not so much in terms of the fact that i’m not married with children at a point in my life when i fully expected i would be.  instead, i’ve been thinking about the idea of living a teleological life—an ends-driven life.  and of how to stop living an ends-driven life.  this is something i dislike intensely about Mormonism—its tendency to focus attention so fully on accomplishing specific ends.  getting married.  getting married in the temple.  being married with children.  having enough children.  having those children behave well.  having children remain active in the church.  having children serve missions.  having all of one’s children get married in the temple.  have you noticed how it’s never enough?  these ends have ways of swelling? of building on themselves?

it may not all be conscious and most of them would certainly not be held up as ‘official’ goals that must be reached in order to be ‘spiritual.’  but i defy anyone to tell me that mormon culture does not measure spirituality based on such milestones (among many others).  and then there’s the fact that our doctrine is also teleological.  it’s about achieving certain ends—getting to the celestial kingdom.  becoming like god.  eternal progression.  the list could go on.

i’m sick of living this way.  of always thinking forward to when i’ll reach the next goal.  of valuing myself and my life in terms of whether i’ve reached certain goals.  and if i’ve done so on a reasonable timeline.  i can hear the objections.  ‘but Amelia, that’s not how you’re supposed to interpret these teachings! you’re not meant to use them to judge yourself!’  i know that’s the official line.  but i disagree.  any ends-driven teaching is, by definition, meant to result in an adherent measuring herself against that goal.  i’m done measuring myself.  (well, i should qualify: i’m done doing it consciously.  i’m sure it will take me more time to accomplish it than saying ‘i’m done’ since i’m convinced it’s a deeply ingrained thought process.)

so how do i want to live instead?  i want to live in this moment.  i want to see the beauty in my world now.  i want to recognize the value in my life as it is.  right now.  i don’t want this in some misguided effort to ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’  for some reason mormons (among other Christians, i’m sure) think that anytime someone says they want to live in the now and for this moment, it’s because the person is lacking.  they want short term pleasure rather than long term joy.  they seek insubstantial gratification rather than true accomplishment.  nothing could be further from the truth.  i want joy.  i want beauty.  i want every good thing.  i want to love the people i encounter the way christ teaches us to love.  and i think i will find these things if i stop spending so much time thinking about where i should be and where i hope to be and instead embrace where i am.

Amelia has recently relocated to Salt Lake City for her new job selling college textbooks (a job she loves). She's a 9th generation Mormon redefining her relationship with the church (the church she both loves and hates). She's passionate about books, travel, beauty, and all things cheese.


  1. Oh yes – try to live now and find a way for yourself to embrace all the good things and the presence without giving up the hope for the future – but without or less specific ends!

    I am married (check), but without children (…) and after years of trying and feeling more and more guilty for not accomplishing what seems to be expected and years of longing to be this person I finally had to decide to get insane and leave the gospel completely behind me, because I feared attending another meeting and listening to people telling me how I should behave and feel (especially General Conference had such in impact)- or CHANGING my attitude and focussing entirely on the good parts of the presence. It took a long time, but I now can enjoy my life – even without those specific ends. Do I still hope for a child? Of course. But I won’t break no more if it doesn’t happen.

    I like this saying from Jonathan Swift: Very few men, properly speaking, live at present, but are providing to live another time.

  2. Thank you for this piece. It articulates a lot of what I have been feeling and haven’t been able to verbalize. I come from somewhat of an opposite perspective– I tried to follow the teleological life temple, marriage, baby and found that I feel the “insubstantial gratification” that you described. I am dissatisfied and disallusioned. I have decided to eliminate a lot of the “shoulds” in life and move to embrace a more imminent way of life. Thank you for this post!

  3. Absolutely agree! Wholeheartedly! You said it far better than I could have. I had a conversation with a good friend this weekend that was on this very subject. He decided to move on with his life, and stop waiting for the future things we all expect like temple marriage, 5 children, etc. Instead he will make an effort to pursue dreams that have long been put off because he wanted to be available for the Mormon fairytale ending. Now, maybe he’s just trading the ends, but I hope that’s not the case.

    We also discussed the place of the single person in the church. (a discussion I’ve had more that once lately) He’s worried, and I know this fear well, about feeling comfortable in the family ward. Not that it’s comfortable in the singles ward, but it feels like a failure, like giving up. It shouldn’t have to feel that way.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on Pres. Faust’s Ensign article, “Every Single One.” (Did you know that 1/3 of adult members of the church are single? I wonder what the break-down of widowed, divorced, never married is.) He says some of these very things. He also reminds singles that they can do “much parenting” in their own right through nieces and nephews. I don’t like calling that relationship parenting. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s an accurate or appropriate description from either side.

    I digress. I hope you are successful in embracing now. I would very much like to learn to do that, myself.

  4. This is a great post and also resonates with
    me. I think the promulgation of certain
    expectations as to what the milestones in one’s life should be, when they should occur, and how one will feel about them when they do occur, is not entirely
    negative–but it is problematic for the reasons
    you describe and for other reasons. I applaud
    your resolve to stop measuring your life
    based on future events that may or may not
    occur, and to find the beautiful things in
    your life right now.

  5. Wait?! Did I write this? Sounds like it. I used to define myself by all of these things you described, and I was miserable. It was only when I realized that once you put a definition on something, it becomes confined to that definition. Thus, once I let everything go, even the church (for me), I became free to fly, and free of any definition, I am now boundless and indefinable, and I like it that way.

  6. I’ve recently come to appreciate Buddhism because of it’s emphasis on the importance of the present, of mindfulness toward the wondrous things that surround us every moment.

    I used to worry a lot about the achieving those ends we’re told to strive for as Mormons, particularly the highest level of the celestial kingdom. I’ve given up thinking much about that – I just focus on the idea of a God whose love is so expansive it defies all understanding. It will all work out somehow, I figure.

    Best of luck, Amelia, in your quest to find beauty and meaning in every moment of your life. I think that’s a wonderful mindset.

  7. What a lovely post. Yes. I totally agree. It seems like there are so many expectations, many of which we may never be able to fulfill despite our best efforts. Like Tabitha, I am also married (check), but I have not been able to have children (…). I like what you say about living in the present. Sometimes if we focus too much on the big picture we become too paralyzed to function in the present. I also can no longer continue to fight against a reality I cannot change. However, if another person tells me that I should just be the best aunt there ever was—I might scream. I have to do this on my own terms. Being the best aunt in the face of infertility feels like another big check that I cannot mark. Here’s to living in the moment while finding joy and every good thing.

  8. i’m glad this resonated with some of you. i think that much of mormonism’s teachings actually lead to living in this moment, rather than for some unknowable future. but somehow we fixate on that future. maybe because it is unknowable. i don’t know. i just know that the culture of the church tends to fixate there–in the future, rather than on this moment here.

    zenaida: what do i think of elder faust’s article? i think it’s pretty typical. harmless enough in most ways. not incredibly helpful. i appreciate his effort to say some of these same things, but i feel like the subsequent effort to offer consolation prizes (parenting nieces and nephews, etc.) robs the effort of its value. talking about singles as if they’re some category of “those in need”…well, that really rubs me the wrong way.

    i like my gospel of christ simple. love people. don’t love them because they fit into some category of “those in need.” just love them. honestly and simply. at the moment i don’t think the institutional church does a very great job of making that a reality. i don’t think president faust’s words in that article are going to result in much honest, simple love. i think they’re more likely to result in charity projects, of which i’m not a big fan.

  9. Reading this makes my head spin. It is so true. When I focus so hard on the what should or will be I get a head ache and find myself very miserable. to many variables in life for everything to be so perfect or to hit as you call them “spiritual milestones”. I too am learning to live now and figure the rest will work out. I have days where I do better and days that I just blot out, but I find I can be happy now if I focus on what I have today and work on what I need to today.

    I am beginning to think that everyones milestones are different. It is to bad our culture has set up some that are becoming increasingly hard for all of us to achive. I am trying to teach my kids differently and that they have to find happiness in other ways then the old “I will be happy when or I am spiritual because”. The only way I have thought to teach them is that they don’t know the path their life will take, I have even taught my girls to have a plan if there is no marriage or children. I hope it helps them to live in the now and be happy no matter what comes up in their lives.

  10. I’m regularly confused by the tense relationship that the church has with single sisters, like me. I’m getting a little tired of being the recipient of so much sympathy. I am not an unhappy person. I enjoy my life, my friends, and my family. I do not feel like there is a large chunk of life experience missing, and my womb doesn’t hurt when I play with other people’s children. I don’t envy other women their husbands– in fact, it is more often the opposite. I’ve never been in love, and I take the rational view that you can’t miss what you’ve never had. I don’t even mind being celibate… much.

    So, the pity party thrown by some ward members and (sometimes) my bishopric is annoying. Men often whisper when something about my marital status comes up, as if it was a secret. Women’s eyes well up when they watch me frolic with the children in nursery, and they whisper that I would make a great mother.

    Yeah, I know.

    It’s hard to get angry about this attention, because I feel that it is kindly meant. Obviously, these people are happy, and they want me to be happy too. I wish there was a way to convince them that there is more than one happy path through life.

  11. Finally! I think you just articulated the true meaning of the gospel…to let go. We often get bound up in ourselves, our wants, what others expect of us. God himself has told us He lives in the moment, the exact moment, every moment. More power and beauty and every good thing – may they readily come to you no matter your situation and may you have peace in right here and now.

  12. natalie says:

    I’m regularly confused by the tense relationship that the church has with single sisters, like me. I’m getting a little tired of being the recipient of so much sympathy.

    i think this tension results from the church stressing ends (marriage; having children; whatever the end is) rather than means. in my opinion, if we would stop paying so much attention to where we want to end up, and instead spend more attention to where we are and how to live that moment fully and in a christlike fashion, we’d avoid this kind of unnecessary tension. and i don’t think it would come at the cost of family or any other end that we would see as desirable.

    the church does this a lot. it wants to argue that certain things–gender, family, marriage, etc.–are innate and so core to eternal nature that they can’t be dislodged. but then they want to prescribe how to enact them. if they’re actually innate, there shouldn’t be a need for prescription.

  13. I think you are right in saying that many members of the church think in terms of milestones and goals, but I’ve come to believe that this is a culturally North American/European thing, not a gospel thing.

    Richard G. Scott once gave an excellent conference talk about separating your culture from the gospel, recognizing which of the former are contrary to the latter and jettisoning those. I took a hard look at my North American, Anglo life after hearing that talk and changed a number of things that I realized where simply cultural that I and many of my LDS friends had been treating as compatible with gospel living. It was a great process to go through. And my life is sweeter for it.

    Sounds to me like you’re doing some similar sorting.

    Just don’t confuse the cultural perspectives on life with gospel perspectives. We tend to think that because many people in our ward/branch/church say or think a certain way, that must be the official stance of the church, or the approved way of thinking or doing things. Often it isn’t. Peaceably living true to the perspective you find right and true can be enlightening to your fellow saints and helpful to them.

    But it’s got to be done peacefully. Doing it with anger or frustration reduces your ability to help others catch the vision.

  14. I can relate to Natalie’s comments. Last night the Young Men and Young Women in our ward went caroling to the single sisters in the ward and left candy with them. Attached to the candy was a spiritual thought that included the statement from the YM/YW that they wanted me to know that I’m loved. I don’t want to mock or be condescending towards the intent behind the candy/caroling gesture so I won’t; I realize that they are trying to serve others. What struck me was that they think that I feel less love as a single woman. They couldn’t be more wrong. I have known plenty of married women who probably feel less loved in their home than I do in mine. They probably need the pity and sympathy that I’m continually showered with.
    I am a single, childless 47-year-old woman. I am active in the church and currently teach Primary. I don’t go to church to be social or make friends; I really don’t care about the social part of church. I go to church because I believe the teachings and I like learning everything I can about spiritual matters.

    I will admit to having had some bitter feelings in my 20’s and 30’s about being single and childless. Maybe that’s normal – to mourn lost hopes and dreams. However, it now seems like it was such a waste of time to worry and be bitter about something that I didn’t seem to have much control over. I finally realized that I was worrying about eternal issues with an earthly mind. At 47 years old, I am not going to be having children, even though I have been promised in blessings that I will have children. I don’t think that the blessings are wrong or that I’m any less worthy than someone who has children. I just think that my timing is different from the promise of children. Earth life is such a tiny tunnel and people rarely think outside of it.

    Sometimes we focus too much on goals that were really never meant to be for us right now. Everyone’s purpose on earth is different. We shouldn’t be worrying about a checklist of accomplishments; we should be asking God what our unique mission is. If a woman is not married and has no children to raise, then I believe that there’s a reason for it. We have been given extra time from raising families to accomplish something else. It doesn’t have to change the world, but it might change the world around us. That’s why I think that it’s such a waste of time to worry about what we don’t have; it takes our focus off of what we could be doing.

    As far as living in the here and now and not worrying about the future, I believe that’s called faith. Faith is when you live the best life you can and stop worrying about what you can’t fix, change, or control. That’s when you literally lay your agency at Jesus’ feet and say to Him that you will trust that He will lead you down the path you need to travel, even if it doesn’t end where you wanted.

    Let’s not forget – earth life has a happy ending. The journey is rough, but the end is glorio

  15. This Post reminds me of a Poem called “The Station” it is about a person who lives their life in ‘if only”s” as in I’d be happy IF Only.
    At the end of life they realize he/she realizes; The Journey is the Destination. I work very hard to maintain serenity by reminding myself that it is about the footwork and not the results. The results are up to God. My job is to be happy,joyous, and free because that is how I was made. I struggle with who I am ( a single LDS woman) because I dislike all the Judgement. I remind myself that those who Judge me and find me wanting need my prayers (I make myself feel better by putting their names on the temple prayer list) because they are obviously needing to use me to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings. Living in the now Rocks! Children live in the now so do dogs!

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