Monday, September 16, 2013

Loving When You Get Nothing

"I know God loves me. He's finally given me everything I wanted!"
—Facebook post of a newly engaged woman

I am a perfectionist. Some people say that with a bit of pride, "I'm a perfectionist!" Glad to show they always try to do their best. But perfectionism . . . the real thing . . . is nothing to take pride in. I've been thinking about my perfectionism quite a bit lately. It is rooted in a deep-seated knowledge that I cannot be loved unless I am perfect. I've struggled with it from birth. Unfortunately, my experience has almost unilaterally provided evidence that it is true: being loved is dependent on being flawless. On conforming to expectation.

It was this perfectionism that drove me to work so hard on my mission I was fifteen pounds underweight by the end, and that led me into an abusive marriage. It causes me to push people away the moment I feel I've disappointed them. It gives me this haunting fear that I will never measure up, will always fail at anything that is truly important to me, and that I will always be unloved. It robs the Atonement of its power. I fight so hard against it, but it is always there.

Yesterday, as I was sitting in Church, furiously and silently knitting while listening to the litany of things I should be doing better, out of nowhere the teacher quoted something I had said in a testimony a year or two ago. "I like to call myself a disciple." It seems so silly, but in that moment, I could barely hold my tears in. I had said something that mattered to someone! Enough that they remembered it years later! And it was someone in my ward, a place where I'd be glad to feel as normal as a black sheep. Do I still even feel like I'm capable of being a disciple?

I'm so tired. Being sick and having jaw pain from dental work this week has really taken it out of me. I'm tired of always trying to measure up, to be what people need. For once, I just want to be loved for who I am and not for what I can do. Every man I've dated has sat in judgment of me, building a fantasy around me that little resembles who I am, and/or when I prove unequal to the fantasy, rejecting me. It is because of this tendency for dating to feed into my perfectionism, my need to be whatever someone else needs, that I've had to stop dating.

For the most part, my friends have no real interest in being a part of my life, I matter only as far as I'm a part of theirs. When I can't be as much a part of theirs as they like, they fade away. I want someone to see me and find value in me. I just want friends who enjoy being around me.

Finally, my feeling that I have to be good enough to be eligible for God's love underlies my discipleship. Why do I love God, despite so often feeling like I disappoint Him? Why do I keep coming to Church despite the pain it gives me? Why does it even matter to me? And like the crash of incoming tide, I knew why. I keep coming and keep trying because I love Him for who He is, someone who spends His existence in service of the imperfect. It isn't that Christ performed the Atonement and rescued me that I love. It is that He is someone who WOULD. That kind of being inspires solid loyalty and love.

That is why, even though I have suffered many of the same feelings and experiences that the Mormon feminists constantly cite, even though I have never really felt a part of this Church, or equal to the Gospel, even though for the last four years attending the temple and church means more emotional pain for me, I still go. Because I love Them. And even if my fate is to be nothing but a handmaiden, an eternal servant, always a failure, I will still go. I will still try. Even if what and who I am will never be perfect, and never be equal to the task of discipleship, and even if I never see the realization of the blessings promised me in my Patriarchal Blessing which I have tried so hard to build my life around, my dedication to my God will not change. Because He will not. It is intrinsic to who He is, not to what I get out of it.

Because I admire and love everything that He is, His glorious, just, merciful and true self, my efforts are not dependent on what He has given me, or even if I feel His love. I can desire to serve Him though I judge myself imperfect and wounded. And maybe that's the point of the Atonement after all.


  1. For me, being a perfectionist means having a hard time trying anything new, because I want to be able to do it absolutely right the first time. Course, even with things I've done for a while, I tend to have a hard time staying on task if I feel I'm not going to be able to do it perfectly. That's part of why my blog posting is kind of random.

    I wish we were closer. I think we could be good friends, homebodies that we (my wife and I) are. AF may not be very far compared to some, but it seems like far.

  2. Thank you, Frank! I agree. You and your wife seem pretty awesome.

    I have a few friends down that way, but mostly talk with them via internet and phone. I suppose that will have to do. ;)

  3. Guess what? My computer didn't freeze on your site! I keep coming here and checking and this is the first time! So jazzed. I do crossword puzzles during church so thank you for making me feel more normal.

    I'm surprised and dismayed to hear you say you have no real friends. (Is that what I heard?) Because you're so cool. I remember being a young single mother at the age of 29 and being incredibly lonely. I did have many close friends (it's a gift from God to make up for my utter lack of artistic talent), but I was lonely.

    But then I married Bill and what can I say except "be careful what you wish for."

    SR, I think you're awesome. I agree with Frank. I think we'd have a blast together. (Well, if not a blast, a snicker :))


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