“Common Sense vs. Nonsense, or, ‘Bishop, how do I fix my lawn mower?’” Ensign, June 1989, 36
“Susie’s been hit by a car! She’s hurt! I’m afraid she might die! Can you please come quick?”
Shaken by the call every bishop dreads, Bishop Donaldson left his supper half-eaten, snatched a vial of consecrated oil from the cupboard, and rushed out the door. Behind him, his family sat at the table in stunned silence.
“Susie?” the bishop thought as he hurriedly reversed out of the driveway. “I don’t remember any Lewis child by that name. Maybe it’s a niece or a visiting friend.”
Tires screeching, Bishop Donaldson arrived at the Lewis home in minutes. As he braked to a stop, he was puzzled by the scene before him. Where were the crowds of anxious neighbors? Why hadn’t the ambulance arrived? Where was the victim?
The last question was answered as he looked up at the porch. “Oh no! Not an infant!” he groaned as he leapt from the car. Sister Lewis was hysterically crooning to a small, blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms.
“She shouldn’t have moved the baby!” flashed into his mind as he raced up the walk. Another part of his mind was continuing the silent prayer he’d begun when he left his home. “Please help them! Guide me!”
Tears streaming down her face, Sister Lewis held the still, tiny bundle out to the bishop. “Can you give her a blessing?” she asked in a choked, quiet voice.
Bishop Donaldson tenderly took the bundle, then looked down into the blank, fuzzy face of Susie, the Lewises’ ex-cat.
Incidents like this unnecessarily age bishops. Yes, Susie was an important part of the Lewises’ lives, and her death was mourned—but was the worried bishop’s presence really required? The truth is, Sister Lewis’s call to her bishop didn’t make good sense.
“Bishop, I have a problem!”
Bishops expect to hear this from time to time, but what one bishop heard next surprised him.
“There’s this gorgeous girl in my sociology class. She’s smart. I think she would make a great wife and mother. But I don’t know whether or not I should ask her for a date. Would you pray about this for me, Bishop, and tell me what to do?”
A surprising number of young—and sometimes not so young—people want their bishops to make this kind of decision for them. But while bishops welcome the opportunity to counsel young couples considering matrimony, they prefer that the individuals themselves come to their own conclusions.
“Some young men and women won’t make even simple, social decisions without first calling me,” says one bishop of a campus Young Single Adult ward. “I appreciate their confidence and their willingness to seek spiritual guidance in their lives, but they shouldn’t ask me to do their praying for them. They need to wear their own knees down a bit.”
On the other hand, some people don’t listen to their bishop’s advice when they should.
“I’ve decided to buy a new car!” Geraldine told Bishop Simms. She was excited about her decision and already had a model picked out. She was on her way to the dealer to make her down payment.
The bishop was surprised at the news. Geraldine had completed a mission earlier that year, and the temporary job she’d worked at since her return had ended more than a month ago. She had little money saved, was out of work, and had no immediate prospects for employment.
“I asked her if she had seriously thought through what she was about to do,” Bishop Simms said. “I questioned the wisdom of making a major purchase when her finances were in such shaky condition. When she told me she was buying the car with monthly payments, I asked her how she planned to meet those payments.”
“Oh, I’ve already prayed about it,” she answered. “Afterward, I felt really good about buying the car! I know the Lord wouldn’t let me make a mistake, so I know everything will turn out okay.”
Things didn’t turn out okay. After Geraldine bought the car, she moved to another state to look for work. She didn’t find it. After a few months she had to return to her parent’s home, and the bank repossessed her car. Both her credit and her confidence in prayer were damaged.
People like Geraldine aren’t honestly looking for guidance. They may in fact pray for guidance, but they almost always imagine the answer they want to hear. Their hearts may not really be open. If they’d only stop and think about what they planned and give serious thought to the counsel they have received, they would know their decision didn’t make much sense. The truth is, some decisions are so obviously bad that we don’t need the Lord or the bishop to tell us that they are.
Geraldine had confidence that the Lord would somehow intervene if she got into trouble. She overlooked the fact that we’re here on earth to learn—often from our mistakes. We make decisions, then live by the consequences. The Church isn’t a substitute for intelligent thought or plain, common sense.
Bishops are always concerned when couples turn to them for marriage counseling, and they do their best to help solve the problems presented. However, some couples aren’t really interested in working toward a solution.
“Kent and Darlene came to me one Sunday and told me they were having problems,” Bishop Rasmussen said. “Darlene claimed her husband hoarded every penny and wouldn’t give her enough money to adequately feed and clothe their family. Kent countered with, ‘My wife is a spendthrift who refuses to follow a budget!’”
The pair presented a long list of complaints they had about each other. “After examining the list, which seemed to cover every possible facet of married life, I was sure Kent and Darlene were headed for divorce,” Bishop Rasmussen said. “I wondered how they had managed to stay together over the years.”
But after a few sessions of counseling, it became apparent that these two loved each other very much and had never even considered divorce. “They were surprised when I brought the subject up,” the bishop added. “They just liked to argue, and they wanted a referee.”
Bishops deal with a wide variety of questions. Most are appropriate, but some are not. Questions regarding a troubled marriage or asking for assistance in learning to balance a household budget are legitimate. They present the kind of problems a bishop can reasonably be expected to help with.
There are other questions that show a lack of maturity and an unwillingness to accept responsibility. Still others indicate a serious misunderstanding about the kind of services the Church provides.
“I’m really not happy in my job,” one ward member recently told his bishop. “I’ve always wanted to own a clothing store and be my own boss. I’m tired of working for someone else.”
This man felt ready to follow a lifelong dream. The problem was, over the years he’d done nothing to prepare for his dream. He expected the Church to furnish the finances needed to start his new business.
“I’ve already quit my old job,” he said. “My family will starve if I can’t open my store.”
One healthy wife and mother stayed at home to care for her three children, but she had a problem.
“Bishop, could you send some girls over to clean my house every week?” she asked. “I’ve just never been a very good housekeeper, and my husband complains.”
Maybe she misunderstood the purpose of Mia Maids.
Some people turn to the bishop for miraculous, low-cost help in solving common household problems.
“Bishop, could you bless my house so the roof doesn’t leak? The last time it rained, I had to put buckets all around the kitchen floor.”
If the person making the request is in serious financial need and none in his family can assist, the bishop may be able to respond. But rather than granting such “blessings,” the bishop is more likely to ask a priesthood quorum to help out. Keeping a house in repair is something an owner is normally expected to do. Carpenters and repairmen are always available for those lacking do-it-yourself abilities. Such services cost money, of course, but that’s what ownership is about.
We all need to stay close to our Father in Heaven and seek his guidance through daily prayer. We need to value the counsel of our bishops and other priesthood leaders, and we should turn to these leaders whenever we truly need help.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge our own responsibility. The Lord’s plan gives us our agency. In return, we’re expected to think and act.
Even prayer and fasting aren’t a substitute for wisely taking care of your everyday responsibilities. And the most conscientious bishop in the world can’t take the place of common sense.
The names in this story have been changed, but the incidents reported are based on fact. Latter-day Saint bishops have dealt with each of the problems that appear in this article.