Most of the time, I try to live as objectively as possible. Of course, actual objectivity is impossible, but I generally try. I want to be fair to others, and most of all I want to invite the Spirit, which testifies of truth.
But this isn't a post about what is objectively true, it's a post about feelings. Pure, unadulterated, vulnerable subjectivity. Sharing what I subjectively experience makes it very easy for me to be attacked, but I'm tired of holding myself back so that I won't be vulnerable.
I know people who enjoy Reddit so much, I thought it worth trying out. "Find the right subreddits," they told me, "and it's pretty good," even though the bulk of the front page of Reddit is filled with conversations and worldviews peppered with lewdness and crudity. So I tried different subreddits. While they aren't as bad as the popular subreddits, there is still an underlying thread of people just waiting for you to trip up and make a mistake so they can metaphorically tear your throat out.
I think about this, not because Reddit is important, but because it is a test tube of what I see in society, and sometimes myself. We are all waiting for someone else to stumble, to look like a fool. We wait because inside we are afraid. We are terrified that, despite our technological sophistications and immense personal and global power, we are intrinsic screwups. If we can wave the red flag of someone else's errors, we can distract the hungry community hivemind from our own faults just a little longer. It's a sort of intellectual Hunger Games.
There was a time when I welcomed the challenge, but I don't any more. It seems like such a waste. Resources that could be spent on reaching out to the downtrodden and lifting up the hearts of those who are dying inside are spent on defending one's turf and protecting one's own. It reminds me of the story of the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon. Granted, our lives are outwardly civilized. Violent crime is going down. We are increasingly intolerant of domestic violence. We do celebrate the good. And according to Google, we search for what inspires us. But beneath it all runs a dark and cold river of fear.
A Subjective Vulnerability
I am well acquainted with fear. I can't seem to write much any more. Most of what I can say, I have said, and the rest is of the sort that I don't understand well enough to communicate. I've had a very busy year in my personal life, to the point where my stress level has stretched my ability to cope. Hopefully, that is over now (or at least slowing down!) and I can get back to a normal rhythm of life. But I haven't had the resources to spend on putting out emotional fires that I allowed to start because of things I've written or things I feel. Writing, for me, is supposed to be catharsis and a hope I might help someone. That doesn't really happen any more. I'm too strained to spend effort on sharing things that people don't want to hear.
I don't often write about the person I am in my day-to-day. I write about the undercurrent of pondering that is always running under everything else that I am. I see people, I see what they do, and my mind thinks about those things underneath all the thoughts about schoolwork, my career, and fixing the next dinner. But I have come to understand that MY thoughts and feelings about the world are ultimately relevant only to me. I'll never be understood, nor can I truly understand. Is it worth it to publish any of the wrestlings of my soul here, when not even those who DO know me day-to-day can understand them? Is the price of vulnerability too high?
Fear of Perception
I weigh more now than I have since post-pregnancy. This year, I've paid no real attention to what I eat, and my stress has shifted me towards eating far less healthily than I'm accustomed to. I've had no time for the exercise I love, and little inclination for the kind I don't. I don't feel healthy, and that matters to me.
Part of me wants to remain heavier. If I'm overweight, men discount me. Immediately, I can see them for what they really value in me. Men who care about weight won't give me the time of day, and I can live with that. When I was more attractive, I was just as objectified, but it took longer to figure out. I'm tired. I'm tired of being afraid of loving someone again only to find that he never loved me. I've done it once, and I don't have it in me to do again.
My weight has become a shield. Even though I'm still within healthy weight recommendations, I'm barely there. I don't want my fear of being objectified to keep me from doing the things I love. My body is a tool, not a decoration. It makes me angry that I've allowed my stress and fear to keep me from taking care of that tool. Now that I finally have a bit of breathing room in my schedule, I'm going to train myself back into better fitness. I'm done letting society's perception of me keep me from being who I want to be.
None of that really matters, except to show that the "objective" me, the one that people see, is no more objective than the inner me. We so often see people and assume we know them, but we don't. And I'm starting to think we can't. There is a person in my life with no qualms about telling me the negative aspects of my personality. I think there is no need for that, most of us are well acquainted with our own weaknesses. I know I am. I'm far too busy working on the ones I see to spend any more time caring about the ones others see in me. Why do we think that what we see in others matters to them? It shouldn't. We shouldn't bully people with our opinions of them, whether those opinions are positive or negative. I used to think I had to change myself to be loved and accepted. That was all I had ever experienced. But I'm at a point now where I'm coming to terms with never being accepted, and while it still hurts, it matters less each day. I need to live according to MY perception and MY world, which is no less accurate than anyone else's.
Objectification and Objectivity
My heart is torn. On one hand, I want to make space in my life for the things the Lord has asked of me. I am not worried about getting married, but I am very worried about shutting off the possibility. The Lord has laid a responsibility on me to be a particular type of wife, which I have plainly failed. Even had I remained married, I never would have been able to be what He has asked of me.
I've tried. I recovered from my marriage for about a year, then dated a few men more or less seriously. But my experiences, rather than helping me cast off the shackles of being a Domestic Violence Survivor, only made me feel them all the more. The men, all good men, still objectified me. None of them bothered to get to know me as a person. All my recovery has been in spite of the relationships with men I have had, not because of them.
I have a few excellent male acquaintances, but it seems I can only be treated as a person if there is no potential or hope for a romantic attachment. I fear that the only way I'll ever be able to love that way again is if a man is willing to be my friend first, and put his romantic hopes and expectations second. And what man, being so strongly commanded by God and the Church to marry, would do that? Under such circumstances, I am merely a waste of time. Without any indicators that I am interested in marriage, they need to move on to someone who is. My flaws are simply insurmountable, at least in an LDS framework which is the only framework I have any interest in at all.
I get that. I understand that what I'm asking is too much. So I don't even have heart left to try. I want to keep my heart open, I do. My God has asked it of me. But it is a constant reminder that I will never be enough, that I never have been enough. I am not an easy person to know. But I won't change that. The very things that make me hard to date, things like my family, my education and career, my fears of objectification, are the things I have earned through the blood, sweat, and tears of my last ten years. I have been forged in fires that may not be much to anyone else, but they were ultimate to me. I can't throw that away and become weak again for the mere sake of romantic attachment. So maybe I do judge too harshly, but I've learned to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to people. That is how I've survived. No one but God has the right to ask me to give that up, and so far, He seems content with it no matter how I've begged to have it taken away.
And so, the part that really hurts, I feel like I'm failing God. The part of my life on which I currently spend the most energy—my children—will be largely gone within the next ten to fifteen years. Then, I might have a schedule with a little more room in it. But by then, it will be too late to do what the Lord has asked of me.
I never felt unconditional love from anyone until my children came into my life. It is amazing to watch them grow, sort through the problems of their lives. It is a deep and indescribable honor to be their mother. Even when they bicker, I never lose sight of that honor.
Those who knew me before my marriage would never have recognized me afterwards. I have lost my fire, my determination to conquer weakness. My energy is gone. Now, sadder and wiser, I am a little more who I once was, but not entirely. Never entirely. I know now that I can be hurt. I know now that the things I love most are the things in which I'm going to fail. I understand now that my effort to fulfill the will of God is almost as likely to betray it. I'm a softer, more patient person. I am banked coals where I was once a bonfire. Still hot, maybe hotter, but not nearly as active.
I find it difficult to live this life, though I know there is much worse out there. But there is a joy that runs through my life. My joy, now, is not in hopes of being a good disciple of Christ. It is not in any sort of assurance that I will be acceptable to Him, nor that I will be able to accomplish things He has asked of me. I glean my joy, like Ruth in the fields, one grain at a time. In the laughter of my children, in their drawings and games, in the flight of a ladybug in my garden, or the smell of earthworms and loam. My joy is in going to the store and hearing a dad play with his daughter, in striking up conversations with strangers in the line and absorbing a small slice of their life, to taste how mine might have been different.
A New Year, a New Hope
Our world is so obsessed with offense: causing it, finding it, feeling it, fighting it. We are afraid that a word we say or something we do will offend someone. But guess what? We cannot stand as witnesses of God without offending someone. We cannot live lives dedicated to Him without being vulnerable to attack, and without accepting the potential that we will hurt people, we will make mistakes. But that is the key of the gospel! "Perfect love casteth out all fear."
I don't have to be objective to proclaim the gospel. I don't have to know my history, prove that Joseph Smith really did see the vision. The Bible doesn't have to be a literal, unbiased account. The history doesn't matter objectively, it matters subjectively! Our theories about what Joseph Smith was really like, what our bishop or stake president really meant when he praised his wife's patience, our emotional reactions to the way people treat us, and the mistakes they make only matter in how they change us and how they change others. They matter, not as objective recitations of fact, but as fluid and chaotic instruments of life.
Fact is meaningless in light of this great Truth: that God the Son came to earth. He jumped down into the trenches with us, not because he needed to experience every factual experience we have, nor because he had to right some cosmic scales of justice by becoming a perfect sacrifice. He came into our trenches, he labors alongside us, because He loves us. Don't you see? We can be vulnerable and strong, because He is right there with us. He will heal the hurts we cause and the ones we feel if we open our hearts to His love.
When we do that, we can never be the same. I will never again be the naive and mostly pure girl I was before I met my husband. I will never be a perfect mother, nor may I ever utterly overcome the sorrow I feel for loving someone with everything I had only for it to be rejected. But love like that is something my Savior knows quite well. And even if He won't take my faults away, He will hold my hand. He weeps with me and rejoices with me in the small things that give me joy. To Him, it doesn't matter what I weigh or how afraid I am to be vulnerable. Because He is eternally my Savior.
And there is nothing objective about that.