Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4 acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caren has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the Relief Society President in her Montana Ward.
When friends ask, “How it is going?” I have no idea what to tell them.
Should I be honest and tell them I love it but that I have cried to my husband about all my insecurities and mistakes? Should I tell them I’m in my happy place but that I’m still not sure why I’m here? Should I tell them I love, love, love the friends I am surrounded by, but I’m frustrated because I don’t know how to help them? Should I tell them I feel completely comfortable, that this is all the most familiar stuff in the world, but that I feel like an imposter? Should I tell them I pray for the ladies around me, but I don’t really feel like I get many answers? Should I tell them I love the title because it gives the shy side of me the perfect excuse to inquire into someone’s life under the auspice of official business, but I hate the title because then it looks like I’m just being friendly because it’s my job? I never know. So, I just awkwardly laugh to buy myself some time and frantically search the corners of my mind for a good answer all over again; and flustered, as always when I’m asked this question, I just say I have no idea, you’d have to ask the sisters.
A Dichotomy of Emotions
It’s not just this assignment. I think we would all feel a little trepidation in summing it all up confidently and succinctly, whether we’re a teacher or a coach, supervisor over a division at work or the head doctor, a PTA president or new principal. Throughout our lives we will inevitably be in leadership positions, whether we aspire to be or not. I just think I’m probably not alone as I feel a dichotomy of emotions.
It’s only been about six months since our new presidency was formed, and as with any new calling, I’ve been humbled all over again. And have learned so much. But I guess it all boils down to just a handful of axioms.
Topping the list is the confirmation about how important it is to keep confidences. To not spread news. To be vague with anything that isn’t mine to share. To be safe. To be trustworthy. To listen. To stop talking so much. To listen more. To hear what isn’t being said. To pray to notice what to hear. To wait for others to talk. To ask what they think. To focus on what they say. Or don’t say. To be someone others can talk to. Who will guard feelings and concerns and worries and sadness and not talk about them with anyone else. Except for God.
Keeping Confidences in All Situations
I don’t think this is unique to a church assignment like mine. This is good solid protocol for anyone. Our teenagers want to know their parents are on their side, that they can share their hearts and not have it spread all over the lunch table. They need safe places to write their feelings, assured moms won’t read their journals when they’re at school.
Just as employees need to be able to share—in confidence—sensitive information about violated ethics or personnel conflicts. Parents may need to reach out to teachers to explain a home situation that isn’t for the general school population to know about. We, as trusted leaders, need to guard delicate information; we need to be discerning and so careful with the disclosures we’re privy to. This has been solidly reiterated to me, and I’m cognizant of the impact indiscretions can have. So above many precepts, I’ve recommitted myself repeatedly to improving in this arena.
Almost parallel is the adage to not run faster than I have strength. As many wise leaders have shared, most people with problems have had them for a long time. And they will still have them once I’m transferred somewhere else. As much as I’d like to clean house, tidy the rolls, solve the issues, and help transform people, that’s not reasonable. I’m here as a resource, a cheerleader, an organizer, and a friend who can help them find their own faith so they can solve their own dilemmas. And so, we pace ourselves.
Yes, we meet fairly regularly. We plan activities. We schedule lessons. We discuss the issues at hand. We visit. But we engage everyone we can. We spread out the work. We don’t micromanage each other. We’re not catching it all, we miss plenty. We haven’t met everyone, and we make mistakes nearly daily. But we’re cohesive. I’m in love with the ladies I work with. We feel united, heard, close, and at ease. We’re at a brisk walk, certainly not a 100 meter running pace. But I feel like we can maintain this stride for as long as needed.
I refuse to sacrifice my family and myself to the extent that I’m no good to anyone and I end up losing those meaningful family relationships because I’ve unwisely spread myself too thin. I know this isn’t everyone’s way, and I may seem lackadaisical or lazy or like we’re not aware of everything that needs to be done. Probably. But I’ve lived long enough to know myself and to have seen others burn out from pushing too hard at the start. I know we’ll get to the important stuff. We will continue to meet people. We will keep working. We will get better. But it’s vital that we nourish ourselves and our families, so we have something to give.
Irreplaceable Yet Replaceable
Probably even more important than both of those is the constant reminder I get that it’s not about me. I’ll only be here for about three years or so, and someone else will take the reins. If I become critically ill or move, I’ll be replaced in a week or two. Women have done this for over 175 years, there are over 30,000 women just like me doing the same thing all over the world. I’m here simply because it’s my turn; nothing more than that. And yet at the same time, I’m to use my unique strengths and insights to serve however I can for this short period of time, and so I’ll do my best.
Many of you can relate, whether you’re on school board or another community committee, head resident or project manager, president of a university or mission president, we’re all pretty temporary, we’re just sitting at the wheel for a time. We’re replaceable. And at the same time, we’re irreplaceable. Because maybe for this moment, we’re right where we need to be. So it’s an interesting juxtaposition. I think the key is to own our personalities with all their flaws and capacities. And don’t try to be anyone else. And then at the same time, forget about ourselves and get to work.
I’ve noticed, for instance, the ladies couldn’t care less who’s conducting a meeting or teaching a class. They don’t care that it’s me who’s come to visit them or who sent them a note. It’s that someone is and did. It’s that I and our presidency together represent something greater than ourselves. It’s not me as a person, it’s that I’m sitting in for Christ in a way. That when I come into their homes with encouragement and love, I’m bringing it right from Him. It’s not me that makes them tear up, it’s the love they’re sensing, the reminder that Someone knows them and loves them and is aware of them. I’m simply the messenger. It’s got nothing to do with me personally, and that is powerful and humbling to remember. And it relieves some of the pressure I’m inclined to feel.
Willing and Able
Since it’s not about me, I can let go of the tendency to want to be everything to everyone. Impossible. With so many personalities and expectations, there’s just no way. And so I welcome advice, suggestions, improvements, and most of all help! Early, early on I realized clearly I’m not here because I’m capable, I’m only here because I’m willing. And I welcome anyone who would like to take over; guaranteed she would do it differently. I’m happy to serve, more than happy actually, because I love Christ with all my heart. And I will continue to serve Him in any capacity I’m asked (except stake camp director or seminary teacher or primary chorister, sorry). I just know that if I can do anything to help someone, I’m willing to do what I can. But I can’t cry myself to sleep over my failings.
As I reflect on just the few months I’ve been able to serve in this capacity, I’m honestly happy. I love Relief Society. So much. I have a strong sense of its purpose and vision and its power. So I feel lucky, honored, and of course humbled to be able to help out. I still don’t know how to respond when friends want to know how it’s going. But I guess if they really prod, we could talk about it for a minute. I won’t be here for long; it’s very temporary. I know it’s just another way to serve, and I’ll just do what I can while I’m here. I know it’s not about me, and yet I know we all have personalities and strengths and weaknesses to offer. I know I’m the one who will continue to learn the most. I know how imperative it is that we are trustworthy and careful with one another’s hearts and feelings. I know the only roles I’ll have forever are wife and mother and friend. And so I choose to put my entire heart and soul into those callings above all others. Even as I stretch to make room for this one, for now.