Saturday, April 30, 2011

Facing the Mirror Gate

"There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

In my last post, Howard asked a good question that I cannot simply answer in a comment. Knowing that I had begun this post years ago and never quite finished it, I decided to bring it out of the "Drafts" cedar chest, shake off the dust, mend a few tears with things I have learned since, and use it as my answer.

I am a fairly introspective soul. Using others as mirrors to see myself, I try to gain a more accurate picture of who I am and who I should be. Unfortunately, this has led to the poor character trait of letting others define me, something I'm having a horrid time shaking.

Of course, we should ideally use God as our mirror. As He said to Moroni, "if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness," and then He will make those weaknesses strong.

In one of my interviews, my first mission president asked me a question that has weighed on my mind ever since. He asked if I knew how God feels about me. The thought terrified me. Still terrifies me. Not long after he asked it, I tried to open myself up to understanding how God sees me. I succeeded somewhat, but I have not yet been able to truly let go and feel it. Perhaps a part of me is like the weak knights, who "ran away screaming" when they saw who they really were. Yet I feel that this is part of my journey to understanding charity.

Now, as a mother, I believe I understand something of God's love for me because of how I feel about my daughters. But there is a part of me that cannot accept that a divine being could feel that way about me. There is a part of me that is convinced I am not worth that, and I am afraid of the expectations that come with it.

Although I know, intellectually, that love towards me could exist without expectations of behavior, I have never experienced it. I have no framework for it. Now that I have children, I have a little framework for it from the other direction, but it is still inconceivable to me that I could be the recipient of such a love, though I know it must be so.

I am coming to believe that this is a large part of why I don't really want to try to find an eternal relationship. I know that until I learn to accept God's love, I cannot accept mortal love. That is probably why I allowed myself to accept a cheap substitute for love in my failed marriage. That is probably why real friendships make me nervous. I'm always anticipating my failure of the hidden expectations on the part of my friends.

I don't think there is really any way to prepare to look into the Mirror Gate. I know I can't do it when my children are around, and I've succeeded in busying my life to the point where I really have very little time alone any more. So in a week or two, instead of planting or weeding, knitting or sewing, dating or playing, I plan to take my journey.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Young Women's Values—Good Works

"Fear not to do good, . . . let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; . . . Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet. . . ."

As shows in previous posts, charity and good works have been weighing heavily on my mind. Possessed by a fey restlessness, I have been trying to redirect my life back towards the good goals that I once had and lost touch with. But I keep coming up against roadblocks of resentment, both against myself and the world around me.

I really don't know much about the value of Good Works yet. If anything I think I might know less than I did as a Young Woman. It seems to me that so many things that seem to be good turn out to be bad. I don't know how to serve others. I thought maybe I'd learn something by the time I posted this, but I haven't.

What I do know is that fear has something to do with it. As Christ says above, look to Him and move forward in service with courage. Not as simple as it sounds, I have found.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If You Love Me

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
—1 John 4:10-11

I have been giving a lot of thought about love. God loved us, and so sacrifices for us, focuses on us. I tried my best to do the same in my marriage, and still try to do it with my children. But the more I think about God's love and trying to actually create room for that type of love in my heart, I feel more and more inadequate. I come to realize more and more that I really haven't the least idea how to make that love a part of my life.

I worry about love and my capacity to love anyone freely again, let alone a spouse. I did the best I could once, let go of my fears, and it wasn't enough. What if it can never be enough? How can I try to give all I have all over again after so painfully recreating something to have in the first place?

I think about Christ, suffering alone in the Garden of Gethsemane and hanging alone on the cross, feeling abandoned by His Father, and not knowing in that moment if anything He gave would be enough to save anyone. Not even knowing if one person would appreciate what He was doing, giving His all.

I can see that Christ's love is not a love that comes with any expectations, not even the expectation of acknowledgment. Broken and lonely, He "finished [His] preparations unto the children of men."

I am afraid to try to love others, to serve others. If I open myself up enough to be responsive to their needs, the tight bands I have wrapped around my pain will burst all over again. And I am thoroughly sick and tired of vomiting out my emotional ugliness.

But then comes the image of the Savior again, crying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" and I know that somehow, broken and lonely and afraid, I have to find a way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Starving for Validation

Not long ago, I wrote a post that mentioned that validation is one of the things a recipient of abuse desires most. And, although I am essentially healed from my marriage, the scars still pull sometimes.

For example, as I was sitting in General Conference listening to Elder Holland speak, I was overwhelmed with an intense desire to know the Apostles personally. In analyzing that, I realized that I want to know them in part so they can tell me that I am okay in the sight of God. I shouldn't need them for that, but the desire to be told by His servants that I'm okay was almost overwhelming.

I occasionally read blog posts dealing with various aspects of marriage. Cheating, for example. Because my ex accuses me vociferously of emotionally cheating on him, and there is some evidence that he might have emotionally and possibly physically cheated on me, such a topic draws my attention. Even now, over a year after the divorce, whenever the topic of cheating comes up I can't help but obsess about the accusations all over again. Did I really cheat? If so, how? What was it I did wrong? Should I have refused to speak to any male outside of a public sphere? Should I have not been open with my spouse about male acquaintances? The questions just keep mounting ever higher.

I am reminded of a plea which has always touched my heart, but which resonates even more with me now, "What could I have done more for my vineyard?"

What more could I have done for my marriage?

It's not an obsolete question, because I am afraid of making the same mistakes I made—whatever they were—again. I would do almost anything for someone I could trust, someone who knows the Lord, to give me the answers, to teach me what I did wrong.

In short, to validate me.

But I must come to accept that I will never be validated by anything but the Spirit of God working in my own heart. I can't look to the apostles, or people online, or anyone to validate my decisions.

Just me and God. And I don't know that I can do it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sword of Scholarship, Shield of Truth?

Ephesians 6:13-17
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints . . . ."

I have been thinking about scholarship and its place in the framework of the Church. Many people try to dichotomize the tension, classifying people as those who ask questions and are familiar with church history, usually with issues about certain points therein; and those who simply soak in what they are told. There is a third option: those who are familiar with history but accept it without reservation.

Scholarship and knowledge seem to fit into the armor of God, in truth and preparation, but they are passive defenses. It is the girdle of truth and the shoes of preparation, not the sword and shield. Interestingly, these most active defenses are Faith and the Spirit. This seems to indicate to me that knowledge and scholarship are not to be used as weapons in arguments via "Bible bashing" encounters.

The interesting thing is that the next part of the scripture, Paul entreats the Ephesians to pray for him, not that he might be delivered, but that he would speak boldly. There is something to learn from that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Being a Lady

Although I used to have no time for such silly nonsense, I have developed an appreciation for courtly graces (as in courteous graciousness).

For example, I was at a singles event not long ago, and there was a point at which tables and chairs had to be folded and put away. Although most of the women moved to the sides and let the men handle the "hard labor," I helped without thinking much of it. This is pretty typical for me, and I have observed a few different reactions by the men.

Some don't notice. Fair enough.

Some rush over and grab the whatever out of my hands and do it themselves. Thoughtful, but certainly not courteous.

But this last time, one man came over and helped me fold up the table. Every time I grabbed a table, he grabbed the other end. I would thank him, and he'd wheel the table away while I started folding up another one. By about the third table, he grinned at me and said, "You really shouldn't be doing this, you know."

I said, "Yes, but I'm not the type to sit on the sidelines and watch other people work." And he just smiled again and nodded agreement. He didn't try to stop me, but he was aware and courteous enough to assist me.

This is the essence of grace.

Now, I could choose to be all offended and see his assistance as a message that I can't take care of myself, or that I'm weak. But even if he had been one of the ruder examples above, it would be demonstrating extreme gracelessness on my part to choose offense, especially when the offender's motivations would be trying to be thoughtful.

I have found myself being less gracious lately, and I want to change it. There is no benefit demonstrating my irritation with certain things, and every benefit in accepting things that are less than ideal with poise.

This goes for things in the Church as well as in my own personal interactions. Sometimes Church leadership deals with things in ways I don't like. But that is no reason to grump around at people and make my opinion known. I really, REALLY want to work on being more gracious.

So that's my spring resolution. Now I just need to figure out how to do it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Young Women's Values—Choice & Accountability

One of the most essential doctrines of the LDS Church is that of agency. We believe that we chose to come here to earth, and that we have full ability to choose whether or not and to what extent we will follow God. I used to think that the choice part of the equation was good, and the accountability not so much.

A prevailing opinion seems to be developing that we, as humans, deserve choice without accountability. I believe that this is one of Satan's most powerful mockeries of the eternal principle. Being able to choose and taking responsibility for the effects of our choices—good and bad—are two sides of the same coin. You can't lose one without losing the other. This has been a painful lesson for me, as I have had to learn to stop taking responsibility for things I did not choose, at the same time that I learned to take responsibility for the things that were my choice. However, as I've come to understand agency better, I have also come to see that taking responsibility is just as liberating as choosing.

It took an indescribable amount of soul-searching to come to the decision to divorce. And a great deal of pain came to me and to others for that decision. Yet, as I exercised my ability to choose, I also came to accept the responsibility for the effects of that choice. If I had not realized that the good effects of my choice far outweighed the bad, it would have been impossible to make. Yet, I sacrificed others' good opinions of me, my good opinion of myself, my personal comfort and feelings of safety, and in some measure, my daughters' comfort and safety, so that I could protect myself and my children in the long run. And, unexpectedly, my good opinion of myself as a daughter of God has returned tenfold. My children are happier and I am far happier than would have been possible had I not trusted the promptings of the Spirit to make that hard choice.

And I know that I am right in the sight of God, and that is priceless.

When we use our own judgment and the input of others to make our own decisions, and when we own the effects (foreseen and unforeseen) of those choices, we become a little more like God.

This also applies to conference talks and other things that are sometimes taught in the Church. LDS doctrine makes it very clear, for example, that divorce is not the ideal. Yet, because of the power and love of God, I was able to hear the Spirit and know when it was time to make the exception in my life. Though it was painful, it was empowering. And it has helped me believe even more strongly in the doctrines of the Church. I believe in eternal marriage and marital fidelity even more than I did before, and now I believe with a full heart and clearer vision of what marriage should be.

As we come to accept the doctrine of agency, and learn to choose wisely and take responsibility for the choices we make, we progress even closer to God and to understanding His doctrines.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Joy of Service

It was interesting to me how many talks in General Conference this year covered service, since I have been focusing on that for awhile now. I realized that a lot of things I do as just part of life, others could think of as service. I think that might be the point.

To reference my previous post, I don't think the best way to give advice to someone who is hurting and lonely is to say "forget yourself and serve." At least, not unless you already have a deep history of love and respect between you and the person you are giving advice to. A much better way would be to help them discover how to serve. Because it is a skill, and a very difficult one to master.

For example, say something like, "this might be a strange question, but can you think of anyone you know who needs help?" And if the answer is no, just say something like, "tell you what, you find someone who needs help, and I'll work on your problem." Of course, it sounds a little cheesy here, without context, but I have had this approach come to mind when discussing with the Lord ways that I might serve and/or address issues in my life. In many ways, it is the same thing, but it expresses a great deal more caring and thought for the person who is hurting.

And, rather than telling a person what to do, it encourages them to change their way of thinking and looking at the world.

To me, that is the key to service. Not just to consciously (and, as I pointed out last time, awkwardly) serve, but to become a person who serves without realizing it. That is when the joy comes and the charity can grow.

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