I dreaded giving blessings. Maybe I would have been a better Home Teacher if people didn’t ask faithful Home Teachers for blessings. Ask me to help you move, paint your fence, or fix your computer. Just spare me the pressure of giving you a blessing. One last blessing gave me the determination to leave the church.
I was rounding up the girls to go home from church when I was approached by the Elders Quorum President to help him give a blessing. My heart sunk. I hated giving blessings even when I believed in Mormonism, but now I didn’t believe in God let alone modern prophets of God. Those doubts were still private, and I wanted to keep them that way for a while longer. I was trying to regain my testimony for my wife’s sake. Part of trying to gain a testimony was doing my priesthood duty.
So I followed the President toward the cultural hall. Two women and several children were waiting on the stairs leading to the stage. One woman I knew from church. The other I had never seen before in my life. This other was the woman whom I was being asked to prophesy over.
Giving a blessing always followed a pattern for me. Whenever someone asked for me to give them a blessing, my mind started racing. What would I say? Would God speak through me? Had there been anything that I did that I should have repented of? What would they think of me? What did God think of me? Would God support me in trying to do my duty?
I had been taught that if I opened my mouth in faith, God would fill it. It never happened that way for me: I never felt any special inspiration. I concluded that I must not have enough faith. I begged and pleaded with God to inspire me. I begged him to make me his worthy servant. All to no avail. It was always the same: I was left to my own devices.
I had never felt a special inspiration to say anything in particular while giving blessings. It was always a shot in the dark, a guess. For all I could tell, God didn’t care whether I promised a person that they would be healed completely or whether I told them to prepare for death. I never felt a special guidance.
So I always walked a tightrope. On the one hand, I could decline to pronounce a blessing and feel like a faithless, heartless schmuck, enduring their scorn. On the other, I could speak as if I knew the mind of God with a confidence that I didn’t feel, promising the moon only to look like a fool when my promises came to nothing. I was too afraid to do either one, so I split the difference and promised only safe things. Rarely would I promise someone complete healing. Only if the person was asking to be blessed for some minor illness that was unlikely to prove fatal would I promise them that they would recover. I always counseled them to listen to their doctors.
The same went for naming my babies. Naming babies was the mental anguish of giving a blessing magnified. The public ritual of naming a newborn and giving them a blessing in front of the congregation only made things worse. I would brainstorm good things that I wanted my children to have and that I presumed Heavenly Father would like them to have too (since we both loved our children). I would pray about my ideas beforehand to see if God approved. I wouldn’t feel anything special either way, as if God were saying “Sure, whatever. Sounds good to me.” I agonized, fasted, and prayed over what I would say, and the most I got was a shrug of the divine shoulders?
We all walked up to the stage, the woman seeking a blessing sat in a chair, and we gathered around her. I asked the woman to give me her full name. I repeated it back to her to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. I put my hands on her head, the President covered my hands with his own, and everyone else folded their arms and closed their eyes.
Those Sisters (it was always Sisters) sat there expecting me to speak for God like it was the easiest thing in the world. I secretly resented when women would ask me for blessings, for putting me through this torture. I tried to forgive them by telling myself that if they really knew what it was like, they probably wouldn’t ask. I think many Mormon men don’t ask for blessings because they know what it’s like for the person giving the blessing (and deep down they know how uninspired most blessings are).
With few exceptions, blessings never seemed to do much of anything. People would get better (except for when they didn’t) in due time, just like any Gentile would. I never witnessed any miraculous cures or extraordinary instances of prophesy. I never saw the blind given sight, the deaf made to hear, a lost limb restored, or the dead raised to life. As far as I could tell, the world went on spinning regardless of whether or not someone received a blessing. Subconsciously, this made my resentment for being asked to give a blessing even greater because I felt like we could skip the pointless exercise and spare me the mental anguish.
I sent one more silent, urgent prayer that God would guide my words, and I began. “Sister X, in the name of Jesus Christ and through the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we lay our hands on your head to give you a blessing of comfort and peace.”
With the easy part over, I took a deep breath. Feeling no special inspiration, I told her safe, comforting things. “Your Heavenly Father loves you.” “Your family life will improve as you attend church.” “Be diligent in your scripture study and prayer.” “Listen to your priesthood leaders.” I said whatever I thought she wanted to hear.
In this way, this blessing was different than all the previous blessings that I had given in my life. I was consciously lying to her. All the other times, I had some hope that God would come through for me and fill my mind with his divine will. This time I had lost that hope.
If I had been honest, I would have declined to go through this ritual which had become empty for me. But doing so would be to admit that I lacked faith or that I was somehow unworthy of God’s communication. And they wanted to hear comforting words. How could I refuse to give them comfort? I just wanted to do the right thing and make everyone happy.
So I did the best I could with what I had. When asked, I showed up and begged for divine guidance. Lacking that as I always did, I said what I could without overcommitting myself.
From various talks given in church by other men, I don’t think I was the only one. One man during my missionary years openly admitted in a fireside that he usually just said safe, comforting things. One stake president taught in stake priesthood meeting that we should feel no pressure to prophesy when called upon to give a blessing. It was a nice idea, but impossible for me in practice. People expected to hear some prophesy, and I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint them by admitting that I wasn’t capable of it.
I left church that day knowing that I couldn’t lie anymore. I dropped a letter in the mail to my Stake President the very next Tuesday. I am so grateful that I never have to give another blessing.