Tonight, Mormon women will be tuning in to the Church’s first-ever “women’s meeting,” a special gathering for all women and girls age eight and up.
In my mind, this is the most recent in a series of changes that have affected the lives of Mormon women, but the most far-reaching such change was the October 2012 announcement that the age requirement would be lowered to nineteen for women. Tens of thousands of “sister missionaries” answered the call and are serving around the globe.
And now there is a terrific book available to inspire them and help them prepare. In Do Not Attempt in Heels: Mission Stories and Advice from Sisters Who’ve Been There, female RMs give greenies the skinny on how to feel the Spirit, deal with difficult mission companions, and get mice out of your apartment kitchen. (Who knew?)
I loved the book, and I know a number of young women for whom this will be my go-to graduation gift from here on. I asked the two co-editors, Elise Babbel Hahl and Jennifer Rockwood Knight (the daughter of my late stake president here in Cincinnati) why they put the collection together and what they hope it will offer to readers. Here are their answers, plus a 90-second trailer to give you a sense of the book.
RNS: Why did you want to compile this book of stories and advice for sister missionaries?
HAHL: We wanted to help sister missionaries to stay and succeed on their missions. If my older sister hadn’t been honest about her own mission, I might have panicked when I realized I wasn’t waking up each morning, thinking, “This is the best time I’ve ever had!” Our goal was to give future sisters a realistic picture, but also to share what helped us, and why we believed it was worth it.
KNIGHT: I wished I had a book like this when I was prepping for a mission, and that was thirteen years ago! This book is long overdue.
RNS: How did you react personally when you found out about the change in age for sisters?
KNIGHT: I was ecstatic, of course, and wished that it had changed when I was a freshman in college! I think it’s significant that women are getting an opportunity to train in ecclesiastical leadership at essentially the same time as their male peers. I think it will really change the landscape of leadership in the church.
RNS: The book has many faith-promoting stories, but also some reality checks. The sisters are honest about big-time struggles. One sister writes that two days after being placed in her first area, she was sobbing in the shower because it was all so hard. What are some ways that young women can prepare for those realities?
HAHL: They can prepare by doing something hard. It can be just about anything, from living abroad to working as a waitress at Chili’s. My mission in Brazil was physically demanding, so it actually helped that I had spent so much of my life running in circles around a track! I think it’s also very important that the mission isn’t the first time these women have ever been away from home.
KNIGHT: I completely agree with Elise! Also, really knowing the scriptures before a mission will give the Spirit more material to use to comfort and uplift them in times of trial.
RNS: What were a couple of your favorite stories in the collection?
KNIGHT: That’s like asking us to choose our favorite child! We like them all!! I did think the compilation chapter on following the Spirit was really helpful. Trying to hear the voice of God in missionary work is such an individual thing. There are so many different ways to be prompted to do things, and I love that the experiences in that chapter reflected that.
HAHL: I don’t know that I have a favorite, but it’s always great when you become so engrossed that you forget your red pen. One of the essays I had fun getting lost in was the one about the sister missionary who realized that she had intense feelings for an elder [a male Mormon missionary], which distracted her from serving the way she wanted to serve. I love the pacing of that story and how painfully funny it is. The author shows just how much she had to rely on the Lord to regain focus on her mission, and the message was very touching to me.
RNS: How do you think the Church will be affected in the long run because so many more young women are now serving missions?
HAHL: Over the long run, I think having more sister missionaries means we’ll see even more resilience and confidence among our women, who will bring their talents to their work, their families, and their service in the Church.
KNIGHT: The church will absolutely be better off for having so many more women go on missions. A mission really trains you how to work well with other people and have a service-oriented approach to leadership. A mission taught me in a very real way that power comes from focusing intensely on Christ. I learned that Christ-centered leadership has no gender lines, no age limits, and no racial biases. We can all serve like Christ did! It can only be a good thing for more women and men to learn this early in life.