Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ministry and Suffering Alone

There is a rising trend of people talking about reaching out to those who are struggling. I'm not sure how I feel about that. While I don't think that reaching out is wrong, there's something about this effort that doesn't sit well with me.

It started with the new ministering program. I absolutely love the idea of ministering. I've struggled with the visiting teaching program for years. At the time of ministering, I had asked to not be visit taught any more. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted to mean that I didn't want to visit teach any more, and I'd been entirely cut off from the whole program, but that is another issue. When they announced ministering, my heart sang. This is what I'd wanted to do and be, and never really knew how.

But then reality struck. Up until very recently, I've been pretty overwhelmed with my life. I've just barely gotten to the point where I'm strong enough again to try to reach outside of my own little circle. And I have found that by simplifying my life in order to manage it, I've created a habit of only dealing with my life.

Ministering requires not only serving, but also being able to be served. And I can't do that very well. I am fiercely independent, and the few times I've managed to admit to needing help, it has only been by compartmentalizing how I feel about being helped away from my mind. One of my greatest fears is being a burden. To the point where I'd rather suffer than risk being a burden to someone.

Because I feel this way, I also have an unrighteous habit of looking the other way when people are hurting. I don't want someone to take advantage of my weakness, so I don't serve unless expressly asked. Ministering to God's children doesn't work that way, though, as evidenced by my own life, where I've needed help desperately and not been able to ask for it.

So I guess that's why I have a hard time with this concept of reaching out to those who are struggling. I don't want anyone and everyone seeing my pain and weakness and trying to fix me. If I'm struggling, I don't want it to be visible enough for people to notice and help. But at the same time, I know I need it. Desperately.

I don't know what the answer is. But I know I don't want to be a project. I really would rather suffer than that. Even though I know that, technically, not being open enough to be helped is antithetical to Zion and God's Kingdom.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Hunger and a Thirst

This is a difficult topic to discuss, because it's offensive. I guarantee that someone is going to claim that what I'm saying is Pharisaical, that I'm saying I'm more righteous than they are. But I'm not. I have some very definite sins that I'm struggling with which keep me separated from God.

But despite this, an observation has been weighing on my mind. This is my attempt to explore what I'm feeling by intuition and try to ferret out the logical reasons why I'm so bothered.

I've been participating in various online LDS communities on and off for over 15 years. When I first started, I noticed that many people online resented the various rules we were given. Whether it was a rule as silly and simple as wearing white shirts to pass the sacrament, or as serious and grounded in doctrine as eternal marriage being only between a husband and wife, nothing has escaped the criticism of the self-selected Mormon intelligentsia.

For many years, I thought it was a bias. Those who struggle with feeling that the church is restrictive, and that the leadership are closed to change naturally look for a safe space to air their grievances, which the internet naturally provides in vast and varied venues.

But over the past several years, I've seen these paradigms spread and grow in the average Mormon community. This drive to fight against rules is a natural one. And sometimes those rules should be opposed. That's what makes this so difficult to discuss. It's 90% good mixed with 10% danger, and speaking against the 10% offends people, who then deflect your concerns to the 90% and claim thereby that you are wrong.

And my thoughts on this topic are by no means complete or fully formed. So let's start with what I know.

Friday, May 18, 2018

This, Not That (Or, what to say to people who are grieving.)

Just some thoughts to help people who don't know how to help or what to do:
Not ThatSay This

Variations:"It will be okay in the end/the next life."

"I know that, despite what you're going through, God really loves you and is pleased that you are still fighting even though things aren't ideal right now."

Why: The next life is utterly irrelevant to current grief. We were sent here to this life to live in this life, even the bad parts. Encouragement and acknowledgment of the battle the griever is fighting can help give them the strength to keep trying.
"You can be happy despite your circumstances.""What you are going through right now is really horrible. It's okay to be angry, or sad, or disappointed."

Why: Grieving people are trying desperately to put a smile on it, to fake it 'til they make it. But they need to know that what they are feeling is okay, and it's okay to show it.
"You are so strong. I don't know how you do it." Variations:"How do you get it all done?""Come here and let me give you a hug, and we can cry together."

Why: People who are grieving have put on a mask of strength, but it is a lie. They are simply bundling up their weakness and hiding it from everyone. They need permission to be genuine, to act as they really feel.
"Maybe you need to simplify, and cut back.""What is frustrating you the most right now? Let me see if I (or someone I know) can help."

Why: Most of the time, people who are overwhelmed by grief have already cut back as much as they think they can. It only feels like one more failure to be told to cut something else that is vital.
"I know we haven't talked in forever. I'm just so busy.""I am so glad I got to talk to you again. I've missed you."

Why: Layers of guilt mixed with feeling like you're a burden isn't helpful. But feeling appreciated and valuable is desperately needed when you're grieving.
"I'm worried about you. Are you okay?""I know exactly what it is like to be so overwhelmed. Don't be so hard on yourself. What you're feeling is something you need to get through. I am here."

Why:When you tell someone you're worried, you are putting one more layer of guilt on someone who is already feeling like simple life tasks are too hard. Be a shoulder to lean on, rather than one more person they have to take care of.
Any others?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"That they might have joy."

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "forced joy," or (much like Elder Uchtdorf's talk in fall 2017) the idea that we can be joyful in spite of circumstances.

It's something I'm really struggling with. I can pretend to be happy. It's not hard. I can spare everyone around me the struggles that I'm facing. But the more I try to pretend I'm not facing them, the more they weigh on me. The more "joyful" (read "of positive affect") I become, the more sorrowful I truly am.

When I accept that it's okay to have a hard time, that the things I'm going through really do suck, and really are hard, and really do hurt, the more I can separate them from me and find joy in spite of the hardships. But other people often don't see the joy I feel, especially since few of them are around me to see it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Pride of My Heart: Doing it Myself

And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty. —Alma 4

There are so many things about recovering from a divorce you once swore you would never allow to happen, and subsequently coparenting with someone who likely has serious mental issues that gives a person "cause to mourn." I have been mourning the loss of my marriage and the loss of peace and freedom for years now. Until recently, I haven't been able to truly look at the cause of my afflictions and (hopefully) see them for what they are.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tale as Old as Time

This isn't exactly a review. I wasn't terribly impressed with the live-action Beauty and the Beast. It was okay. A little more backstory, sure, but nothing like the Cinderella remake.

Beauty and the Beast used to be my very favorite movie. A heroine who loved to read and had her own horse? I was hooked. I loved idea of learning to love, rather than falling in love.

But I saw Belle's and the Prince's relationship differently after I married. I realized that happily-ever-afters are really just in stories. That people who are abusive stay abusive, people don't really change. So I was hoping that the new movie would revitalize the story for me, and help me see the beauty again.

I didn't learn what I wanted to. As I was watching Emma Watson's Belle and the Beast develop their relationship, the sudden realization came to me that I identified much more with the Beast than with Belle.

At that point, the story completely changed for me. It was no longer about falling in love. It was about forgiving myself. Forgiving myself for never being enough. For always falling short. For being imperfect. For being ugly. For making huge, earth-shattering mistakes, the consequences of which are also bourne by innocent people.

My seven-year-old poignantly summed it up two nights ago. "Mommy, it's okay to make mistakes. That is why we are here. God wants us to make mistakes so we can grow and be better."

Beauty and the Beast wasn't about Belle overcoming all odds to fall in love. It was about the Beast learning to forgive himself. Sometimes beauty is not only found within, it is found in imperfection and ugliness. Our struggle to learn and become like God is ugly and messy, and not at all heroic. At least not the way we think of heroism.

In reality, repentance is much more about the Beast's story, than about Belle's. I doubt that was the message the writers intended. But it is the one I needed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"You have no power over me!"

When I was in kindergarten, I used to go to the principal’s office to read TIME magazine to him. Occasionally, he would ask me what a specific word meant. I remember being worried I wouldn’t explain it correctly, that I would be wrong. That summer, I spent weeks wrestling with math, sometimes literally banging my head on the desk in order to catch up enough to enter 2nd grade.

My mom was an early childhood educator, and my dad was a social worker. It was the early 80s, a time for child psychology. I was born with some natural intelligence, but my parents trained and honed it. I was in the Gifted classes. I was told how unique and special I was. How I was smart. I was raised to believe I could solve any problem, accomplish anything if I put my mind to it.

As I got older, I went to college, graduated in veterinary science, became a web designer, served a mission for my church, came home, and met a man.

He was not of my faith, and I was only interested in dating people who believed as I did. He said that something had been missing from his life. He wanted the family life, the life of faith. He wanted to have the relationship with God I had. He listened to the missionaries in my home, and was eventually baptized into my church.

Everyone in my ward said how cute we were together. When, the night before I moved away, he floundered over asking me to marry him, I said yes before he finished his sentence. I had prayed about it. I thought it was right.

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