The Effort to Subdue My Rebellious Heart


The juggernaut of reality shows doesn’t seem to be slowing down…they keep producing more and more the about many elements of sometimes peculiar humans. There seems to be a never-ending supply of people who will do just about anything to be on tv.  I think our fascination with these shows lies in 3 factors:  One…we love feel-good stories because we have tender hearts. Two….we love to watch people make idiots of themselves because it makes us feel like we aren’t the only ones who do stupid things with great enthusiasm.  And three….we love to see just how strange other people are because it make us feel less strange ourselves.  After all, just what is normal ?

By far the strangest new reality show that our household watches is called Sister Wives. It’s about a family in Utah living in polygamy.  Three wives, a husband, and a girlfriend, who over the course of the season becomes wife number four.  It is strangely compelling to watch.  Apparently polygamy is alive and well.  They get around the laws by only doing a legal marriage ceremony with the first wife.  It is hard to even imagine living like this…watching your husband kiss another woman, spend one night in four with you, make babies with other women…the list goes on and on.  The husband in question always has a goofy grin on his face…I wonder why?  The wives seem to get along well with each other and there are tons of kids.  The first wife has one kid, wife two and three have six each (!) and wife number four brought three kids into the marriage (from a previous marriage) and plans to have more with her new husband.  That’s 16 kids.  Wife number one seems to be sad.  Apparently the big tragedy in her life is that she’s not able to have any more kids.   I do understand that and don’t want to belittle her pain.  However, she has a beautiful daughter and there are many of us out there (myself included) who would be happy to have even one child in our life, and life had other plans for us. I think her sad countenance has more to do with watching her husband with these other women. She has admitted to having jealousy issues about the other wives.  My heart is sad for her.

While the thought of letting another woman deal with my husband when he has the occasional grumpy day does sound appealing…I can’t imagine the rest of it.  I read an interesting diary excerpt of a Mormon woman dealing with the issues of Polygamy in 1880.  I was impressed that she was able to maintain a sense of humor about it, under horrifying and humiliating conditions.

“Ever watchful as I was, I noticed little changes in my husband, which under ordinary circumstances would have escaped my observation.  By this time one all-absorbing idea had taken possession of my mind, and my husband’s thoughts, I believe, were turned in the same direction–only our wishes did not exactly coincide.  Polygamy was the thought common to both, but upon its desirability we entertained dissimilar views.

A man with Polygamy upon his mind was then a creature which I did not understand, and which I had not fully studied.  Some years later, when I had a little more experience in Mormonism, I discovered several never-failing signs by which one might know when a man wished to take another wife.  He would suddenly ‘awaken to a sense of his duties’; he would have serious misgivings as to whether the Lord would pardon his neglect in not living up to his privileges;  he would become very religious, and would attend to his meetings—his ‘testimony meetings’, singing meetings, and all sorts of other ‘meetings’; which seemed just then to be very numerous, and in various other ways he would show his anxiety to live up to his religion.  He would thus be frequently absent from home, which, of course, ‘he deeply regrets’, as ‘he loves so dearly the society of his wife and children’.  The wife, perhaps, poor simple soul! thinks he is becoming unusually loving and affectionate, for he used not, at one time, to express much sorrow at leaving her alone for a few hours; and she thinks how happy she ought to feel that such a change has come over her husband, although, to be sure, he was always as good as most of the other Mormon men.

My husband was a good and consistent Mormon, and very much like the rest of his brethren in these matters; and the brethren, knowing themselves how he felt, sympathized with him, and urged him on, and, by every means in their power, aided him in his noble attempts to carry out ‘the commands of God!’

One evening when he came home, he seemed pre-occupied, as if some matter of importance were troubling his mind.  This set me thinking, too.  I saw that he wished to say something to me, and I waited patiently……the idea that some day another wife would be added to our household was ever-present in my mind, but, somehow, when the fact was placed before me in many unmistakable words, my heart sank within me, and I shrank from the realization that OUR home  was at last to be desecrated by the foul presence of Polygamy.

Almost fainting, now that the truth came home to me in all its startling reality, I asked my husband when he proposed to take his second wife.

‘Immediately,” he replied; “that is to say, as soon as I can,’…

From that moment I felt like a condemned criminal for whom there was not a shadow of home or a chance of escape.  Could I possibly have looked upon the sacred obligations of marriage as lightly as Mormonism taught me to regard them, I believe I should have broken every tie and risked the consequences.  But I had vowed to be faithful unto death, and if this second marriage was for my husband’s welfare, and for the salvation of us and of our children, I resolved to make the effort to subdue my rebellious heart, or die in the attempt.”

—Fanny Stenhouse,  An Englishwoman In Utah,  1880

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