The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

 - The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

Paul Dunn and my Patriarchal Blessing


by Kay Lay Ale

In the early ‘80s I was sitting at a devotional at Ricks College (it would be a few years before the name change to BYU-I). The guest speaker we were anticipating was Paul H. Dunn. It would also be a few years before the scandal broke involving his lies about his baseball and war years. For the moment, we all idolized the church leaders like rock stars. I do not remember what the subject of Paul Dunn’s speech was that day, but I remember clearly his comments about Patriarchal Blessings. He said that he had read hundreds of them and no matter how specific they were, it was his opinion that Jesus’s second coming was not going to be in our lifetime! So his advice to us was: finish your educations, buy life insurance, plan your career paths, and live your lives.

I was stunned! My Patriarchal Blessing was very specific about witnessing The Resurrection. Maybe he would change his mind if he read mine. How could this discrepancy exist between the inspiration and Priesthood-inspired discernment of two men chosen by Heavenly Father to prognosticate the derring-do of the “latter days.” My roommate helped me approach the podium as the crowd thronged around him. I tried to get his attention, but to no avail. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. He did give a caveat that his statements were his own opinion, but he was an apostle, after all. Certainly he had some special insight into God’s mind, didn’t he?

I went back to my apartment and read the specific passage in the Patriarchal Blessing again:
I bless you that your days shall be long upon this earth and you shall enjoy health and strength Through your righteousness you shall have that rare opportunity to be in the flesh when the Savior comes for the second time, and you shall be caught up in that great throng of righteousness, and the Savior will even embrace you and express His love for you.

As I read it again, I wondered how could it not be a literal meaning of the last days and me being on the Earth, in the flesh when Jesus would arrive in the second coming? As the years passed, and I lived my life, my Patriarchal Blessing played a pivotal role in the decisions that I made. I enrolled in nursing classes, even though I found blood repugnant because of these promised blessings:
Then the Lord desires to use you as an angel of mercy, for you shall literally be called to go to even distant lands to administer to the sick and afflicted, to raise up the downtrodden, and to bless those who are less fortunate than you.

I dropped out of the pre-nursing course work because of my revulsion to blood. I was ambivalent to getting married, but because my Patriarchal Blessing told me it was my destiny, (and because of family and church pressure) I decided to find a worthy elder. I dated, prayed about who fit the description in my blessing, my prayer was answered, and I got married. I did not desire motherhood or having children, but found myself pregnant and gave birth to three children, even though I did not desire this path for myself.

You are a beautiful young girl. You are just progressing in that stage of life where many wonderful things are about to happen to you, and you shall see many choice events come into your life, because of your righteousness and many beautiful things shall happen.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, I looked to my blessing as a guide to make decisions and to guide me. I desired a career, not only because it is in my nature to want to work, but because it seemed that my Patriarchal Blessing could not be fulfilled unless I had one. My husband was adamant that I remain a stay-at-home mom. I desired to have the type of relationship with my husband that the Patriarch spoke of in my blessing. My husband was emotionally distant. I read books on how to bridge the gap, I kept a clean home, had meals ready on time, wore sexy lingerie, planned date nights and vacations. The more I did, the more distant he grew. I begged him to talk to me, to tell me what I could do to bring him closer. He walked out of the room each time I brought up the subject. The distance between us grew. I became more desperate, frustrated, alone and hopeless. What was worse, other symptoms of emotional abuse popped up. It flew in the face of what my blessing promised: and great shall be the work that you shall accomplish on this earth, and great shall be the union that you shall have with the young man that is preparing himself.

I’d had many prayers answered, my prayer about whom to marry. I had prayed about what to do with my life when I was 19 and received an answer to go on a mission. I had, on several occasions, felt an intuition to be called to a certain place on my mission and that I would know for certain, what I should do and would be led by The Holy Spirit and have the opportunity to speak and commune with angels—literally.

Even after my mission as a wife, I felt lost and alone. I wasn’t fulfilling the obligation to be an angel of mercy. I didn’t have any bond with my husband, let alone a great one. I certainly hadn’t seen any angels. Members believe that within the church, if you are righteous, then you will be blessed…if you are not blessed, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If things remain bad after you try hard, then it is God’s will…I wondered how it could be God’s will that the promises of my Patriarchal Blessing were broken. Since I was not receiving the blessings promised me, I continued to look at what I was doing wrong that was keeping me from receiving these blessings. I doubled down on my prayers, on being dedicated to my church callings, on holding Family Home Evenings, on everything I could possibly think of that I was not doing well enough. No matter how faithful I was, the blessings just were not coming to fruition. No matter how faithful and dedicated I was, God was not blessing me.
I began to have doubt in blessings.

I thought back to Paul Dunn and wondered why he said what he said. I had no insight into what he said, but as I sat in my state of cognitive dissonance, I wondered why God would tell me to marry the man I did, tell me he was preparing himself for me, that he was a fine young man, then allow him to emotionally abuse me and distance himself from me? Why would God not listen to my earnest prayers and give me the blessing he promised me? Why would God not bring to pass the blessings in my marriage and in the church that he had promised me? I wasn’t perfect, but if perfection is the standard for receiving blessings, then we have all been set up for failure as his children and none of us is worthy. What then was the point of any of this? If I was supposed to learn a lesson, then what was it?

I began to question all spiritual answers…where would this path eventually lead? Was this the end of my faith in the Mormon church and the end of my marriage? It was.

When I left the church, this was the only path that with which I was at peace. I had stopped attending church, stopped believing in the infallibility of its leaders, stopped paying tithing even, but what about the time I prayed about marrying my husband and was told to marry him? When I was separated from my husband, I prayed and asked what I should do and the answer I got was that the path I was on was the path best for me. How could that be? I knew I had received an answer to marry him, then how could I now be receiving an answer to divorce him? If he wasn’t the man I should have married in the first place, then why didn’t I receive that answer 20 years beforehand?

As I searched for an answer to my question, I found it to be so simple, I don’t know why I couldn’t see it before—the answer had been inside me all along. Our brains have an amazing capacity to give us the answers we are looking for at the time we need it. It makes perfect sense now. I wish I had understood this sooner. Each time I prayed, the answer I received, was the answer that I really wanted to hear at the time, or at least best fit the situation.

I had an intuition about my personality and the direction I wanted my life to take, but instead of relying on my own judgment at each new fork in the road, I abandoned my decision making to another authority or power…I had let the Patriarchal Blessing dictate the direction of my life rather than allowing myself to determine my own path.

Category: Ex Mormon
  • Jill Searle says:

    | “I wish I had understood this sooner. Each time I prayed, the answer I received, was the answer that I really wanted to hear at the time, or at least best fit the situation.” |

    I suppose that’s why one is instructed to pray with true intent and a burning desire. You need to really want the answer or you get a big ol’ … ~~ insert sound of crickets ~~

    August 16, 2013 at 7:14 am
    • kaylayale says:

      I wish I’d understood that sooner, too.

      August 16, 2013 at 10:48 am
  • St. Aint says:

    So much of what you wrote has been, word for word, like my own life. And this same template has been thrust on Mormon women for generations. And I’d wager money when it failed they were told the same things- it was/is somehow our fault not the church’s paint by numbers life.
    Were you also told when you finally left your husband and the church that you were the exception to the rule? I wonder how many have suffered in the dark until the advent of blogs and such?
    Thank you for your writings and your honesty in sharing the painful journey out of Mormonism.

    August 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      Thank you, St. Aint; yes, I was told I was the exception, I was told I hadn’t tried hard enough, prayed hard enough. There are so many of us out there who have had similar experiences and I am indeed glad we are able to share our experiences so we know we aren’t alone.

      August 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm
  • Mike Raffone says:

    Enjoyed your comments, just an FYI Paul H. was never an apostle. He was a Seventy.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      You are right…one of the mistakes that I make when I’ve been out as long as I have been.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:26 pm
  • Naomi Whitaker says:

    Was having a discussion about this the other day, and I never realized before how someone may actually make decisions based on their patriarchal blessings that they wouldn’t have made otherwise. I never had my patriarchal blessing, and now I’m rather glad that I didn’t, although as I was 17 when I decided church wasn’t true, I guess it wouldn’t have done too much harm.

    It’s just one more reason that I wonder if I can really turn a blind eye to the kind of damage the church is doing to my friends and relatives.

    August 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      Many people stop believing in the church, yet stay for cultural reasons and justify it by saying the church does a lot of good. This is one of many examples where the church does a lot of harm.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:39 am
  • Hellmut Lotz says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am sorry that your husband was distant and treated you poorly. I think that he felt trapped and thus avoided conflict.

    Denial often gets us into a dead end street and it takes courage to turn around.

    August 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      He never did learn to have courage, but I did.

      August 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm
  • Hellmut Lotz says:

    Have you read Emily Pearson’s book Dancing with Crazy by any chance, Kay? Pearson relates how she deferred to prayer instead of taking responsibility for her life and how that lead to one bad decision after another. It took her decades before she gave herself permission to live as a free and adult person who needs to think for herself.

    A lot of us can relate to your and Emily’s stories.

    August 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      I haven’t read it, but that is what so many people do…god gets a lot of blame for us not being responsible for our own lives. It keeps us from growing up, too. When we don’t take responsibility for our decisions, then we don’t learn from our mistakes. It’s a vicious cycle of staying a child.

      A child doesn’t get the benefit of learning from their mistakes, as the parent takes the brunt of the responsibility. Usually, the parent lets the child grow up, but within controlling religions, the people don’t learn to grow up, and continue to blame god for our misfortunes.

      August 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm
  • Mel Walker says:

    This story made me sad, and resonated with me. I, too, tried to live by my PB, although not to the same extent. However, I had misinterpreted one of the phrases (the patriarch used archaic speech), and so I was trying to be something my blessing didn’t actually say. However, my prayers were like yours — “sure, go ahead with that. it’s in your blessing, right? Love, God.”

    I wish I’d understood just how stupid the whole thing was, but I put my doubts aside and trusted.

    August 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm
    • kaylayale says:

      It’s like getting a palm reading and living your entire life waiting for the palm reading to come true. We wouldn’t do that, but we do the same thing by expecting these soothsayers to predict the future. The Bible speaks against soothsayers, yet we believed in them. Go figure.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:37 am
  • Kristen says:

    I too could have written your story word for word. I feel I’m now living in a prison of a life build by the choices I made 20 years ago, following “The Plan” that I was raised to believe was the only way to true happiness in this life and the next. I left the church five years ago, but I’m still chained to it through the consequences of making major life decisions through prayer and indoctrination, and not by listening to my brain screaming “DON’T DO THIS – YOU DON’T WANT THIS”. I am angry, and I am sad, and I survive everyday on Zoloft and the smiles of my children. I want different, I want change, I want to be happy, but it would come at the expense of so many other people, I just don’t have the courage to take action.

    August 31, 2013 at 2:08 pm