Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Me and the Priesthood: On Being Open

A friend texted me from work a couple weeks ago. "Am I pregnant?" she asked.

"Um, no?" I responded.

"Just checking," she said. "I've had three people ask me today if I am, so it made me start to wonder."

*

I felt similarly after publishing my last blog post

I suppose I should start by saying that I consider myself to be an active, faithful, believing member of my church. It is a core part of my identity, and I love its unique doctrines, its rich heritage, and its quirky culture. 

One aspect of our culture is that, by and large, Mormons don't often openly express doubt or questions (in non "faith promoting" contexts, that is). We like to keep things conflict-free and black and white, we are most comfortable in homogenized congregations, and we tend to downplay cognitive dissonance and stickier aspects of our faith. Mormons are great at putting on happy faces, which I think, for the most part, is an admirable trait.

But even though I know this, I was still surprised when my series of what I thought were pretty benign vignettes elicited a fair bit of concern for my soul from immediate and extended family, church leaders, friends, and acquaintances. 

After being asked, both directly and indirectly, if I was "okay" by multiple parties, and hearing second-hand about concerned conversations regarding my spiritual welfare, my confident response of "yes, I'm fine" started to fray a bit. Maybe everyone knew something I didn't. Maybe I really wasn't okay.

But the thing that really baffled me is that this is who I've always been. I have always been a boundary tester, an asker of difficult questions, a critical thinker, a crusader. I often get down on the mat and wrestle with my faith. It is a beautiful and dynamic journey, a spiral through darkness and light, a testing of the opposition in all things.

I admire and appreciate those who see the world in black and white, those who are content with the status quo, those who accept without resistance. But I know there are also those like me, those for whom faith does not come freely, those who wrestle.

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"While there are risks—big ones—in being open with each other, there are greater risks that come with wearing our church face. Even at church. Especially at church. When we insist on being fake-happy, fake-confident, fake-righteous, we create and maintain distance between ourselves and others, distance that prevents us from truly knowing and loving each other.

"That doesn’t mean that we should engage in an emotional free-for-all during every church gathering, or that we should constantly spill our guts on our Visiting Teachers’ laps. [...] But I think that most of the time, we are capable of being more real with each other than we usually are. And typically, we err by sharing too little, not too much. I am convinced that, for the most part, incredible things happen when we’re willing to be open about our ourselves: our dreams and fears, our successes and failures, our questions and our faith, our struggles and our joys. I believe that inviting a sister into our inner sphere is one of the greatest gifts we can give another." - Kathryn Soper

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Last Sunday, a friend of mine taught the lesson in her ward's Relief Society. She asked a few women to share an experience of a time they had either provided or received inspired help from another person. One of the women was young and new to the ward, but she bravely stood and shared that when she was 20 and single, she found out she was pregnant. She was terrified and didn't know what to do. Later that same day, her mother showed up at her door because she felt her daughter needed her. This young woman received the help and counsel she desperately needed and ultimately moved home, had the baby, and placed it for adoption. The Spirit filled the room as she spoke of how transformative this experience was in her life and how grateful she was that her mom had responded to the prompting to come see her. 

*

"It is easy to make assumptions about each other too quickly. We are all complex and beautiful women, and the depth of our personalities and experiences encompasses far more than what is visible on the surface. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give each other is openness. In sharing some of those less obvious aspects of ourselves, we give those around us permission to be fully themselves, and we allow God to more fully use each of us for His purposes. I have found that our combined goodness, despite the occasional insecurities that may prompt, also makes the women of this church wise, kind, and tolerant. I believe that we have a tremendous capacity to accept and love the uniqueness in each other." - Angela W. Schultz

*

Shortly after I published my last blog post, I was approached by a man I didn't know but recognized as an intelligent and respected member of the church. He told me he had read my post and that he appreciated what I'd said. He mentioned that he felt many members of his congregation would be surprised to know some of his true thoughts and opinions about things, but he didn't feel comfortable sharing them openly. He seemed a little sad and resigned as he said, "It makes church less... enjoyable."

*

"I submit that a variety of points of view in any organization is the norm and nothing to fret over, whether or not the press notices. On the other hand, a Church which teaches the love of Christ, but whose members cannot manage it one for another, simply because they differ, is a much greater worry."  - Lisa Torcasso Downing

*

I knew last month, when I shared something so personal on such a controversial topic, that I was risking rejection and opening myself up to judgment and criticism. The vast majority of the feedback I received, both in public and in private, was supportive and compassionate (thank you. No, really, Thank You.), even (and especially) from many with different views and experiences than mine. But there were a few who felt hurt or defensive. Some were judgmental. A couple were even mean. And that was to be expected.

*

"I’ve haemorrhaged emotionally and spiritually in the dark. It’s not a situation I’d recommend, or ever want to find myself in again. The thought of people I care for feeling that such a place is their only recourse or refuge chills and fevers me. I don’t want to become a toughened, emotionally void bit of gristle believing that anyone who lives or believes or struggles differently than I do isn’t worth my time, my listening, my consideration and conversation. I don’t want to wrap my heart in a box; I want to wrap it around people. If a friend is worried about a sickly, injured, scared or fevered part of their world, I want to know about it, to be a safe place for them to share their aching hearts. I think being honest, being vulnerable with pieces of ourselves, is like cuddling your own newborn self and then letting someone else have a hold. Newborns are delicate, sensitive, messy and precious, no matter what they look like, or what led to their birth. Just like our vulnerabilities, we need love, gentleness and consideration – even when we’re screaming." - Kellie

*

There is risk inherent in openness. The desire to be known must be carefully weighed against the desire to be safe and accepted. Unapologetic authenticity gives birth to gaping vulnerability, and the world at large is free to dispassionately poke, judge, celebrate, or reject these shared pieces of your soul in about as much time as it takes to back out of a driveway.

It's easier to be safe: to smile and nod, to be who people expect you to be, to not rock the boat. I don't judge anyone who wraps themselves in that cozy identity. But for me, it itches.

From me, integrity demands vulnerability. And so I am honest about who I am, hoping (and seeing) that my openness gives others permission to likewise be their authentic selves. I own the risk of being misunderstood. 


I choose to be known.


{England, 2007}

{The quotes in this post were taken from blog posts or articles that have touched me deeply in the past month. I encourage you to click on the links and read them all--they contain beautiful insights from strong women.}

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for choosing to known, and for showing authenticity. You are amazing! I envy your ability to give yourself this permission. Another beautiful post. Much thanks.

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    1. Thank you, Krista. You have such a beautiful heart.

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  2. I loved this. Thanks for sharing, Lindsay!

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  3. Hi,

    Your post seems very philosophical and intellectual, with an abstract feel to it, so I'm not sure I've understood it properly... but I think I disagree with your premise.

    The main point that I think you are trying to make is that you, as a person, are one way but many others in the Church, maybe even the majority, are another way. I believe that this is not true, and I believe that you are like most of the rest of us in the same ways that you give to set yourself apart:

    Being a "boundary tester, an asker of difficult questions, a critical thinker" is actually what makes a Mormon a Mormon. Our religion started with a question, from critical thought(s), from a boy who tested the boundaries and went seeking for a true church. This is our heritage as Mormons. This is how people forsake all else and join the Church. This is how people stay in the Church in such an age as we're in - all those who don't face the tough questions and resolve them spiritually can easily fall away in the face of the opposition's constant bombardment nowadays.

    And if you're talking about current boundaries in the Church - they are there because they have been set by the Lord (like men holding priesthood keys, or no sexual relations before marriage; basically doctrinal boundaries), are the best judgment of people who have already tested the boundaries, and made by those adhering to spiritual guidance for their time. Some of them could change a little, and I've seen this many times in my life with operational things like Church policies, but others, like those set by the Lord, have to wait for his say to change.

    I also disagree with the negative aspects you've given people in the Church and find them to be common mischaracterizations that are frequently thrown around without much debate because, in reality, the majority are too busy with their lives serving faithfully to not care or not see them:

    I can think of only one other Mormon I've met that I could construe as seeing things in black-and-white, and this is probably a horrible misjudgment on my part because it was only an acquaintance from my college years. Everyone I've come in contact with who view a large portion of Mormons as black-and-white don't actually know and understand the people they're talking about.

    Accepting or not accepting "without resistance" is not a virtue in itself. I accept a lot of what my leaders say "without resistance" because I respect them, their mantel, and I can receive personal confirmation of their direction in spiritual or Church matters. I can promise you that people in their callings at church, all the time, give resistance in many cases; however, we ultimately come to spirit-led agreement (if humble enough) which can result in a different (better!) direction than that was originally proposed. I've rarely seen blind obedience, which is the opposite of faithful obedience even if it may look the same to an observer.

    Finally, the strongest point of disagreement I have is that you suggest there are people for whom faith comes freely without wrestling. I believe that there is no one that exists for whom this holds true. Every person of great faith I have ever met, read about (in the scriptures or elsewhere), or heard had an equivalent level of tribulations that went with and produced their faith. None have wrestled more than those who have great faith.

    Again, I may be misinterpreting what you wrote. If so, I am sorry for the confusion.

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    1. Oh, sd8888. I wish you could have heard my helpless chuckle as I read your comment. I don't know if we know each other since you chose to remain anonymous, but I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt when I say that I don't consider any of the things I said to be "negative aspects" of church members. I also hope you'll accept that my experience has been different than yours: I know several people very well who self-identify as "black and white" in their world views, others who really are able to accept things without resistance (and I accused no one of "blind obedience"), and still others who have certainly struggled in their lives but have never questioned the existence of a God or the truthfulness of various aspects of the gospel. My premise is not "me vs. them" (it's actually the opposite), and I wasn't passing judgment on whether any of these traits are "good" or "bad." I also wasn't saying that I am the only critical thinker or that I am vastly different from or superior to anyone else in the general church membership. I was saying, (again) in my experience, we don't tend to talk about things that make us uncomfortable, we often don't like to bring up our differences, and it leaves those of us who do have questions or doubts (yes, even about those "current boundaries in the church" you mentioned) wondering if we're the only ones (which is scary and alienating). Anyway. I don't feel the need to try and explain myself on every point you made because it sounds like you probably still wouldn't get where I'm coming from. Just know that I don't view any of those traits (and they're certainly not absolutes any more than "humble" or "confident" are absolutes) as negative, and I also don't believe that the qualities I "assigned" others and those I "assigned" myself are mutually exclusive.

      You accused me of "giving" people negative aspects, generalizing, and mischaracterizing, but I would like to point out that you (perhaps unintentionally) did just that in your comment (e.g. implying that I (or others like me) am only allowed to have unchallenged opinions because everyone who might disagree is playing on a higher plane, or that I must not be "busy serving faithfully," or that someone will always get the "right" ("better!") answer IF they're humble enough (it's not always so clear-cut)).

      The "main point I am trying to make" is actually that I believe there could be more openness and authenticity among the membership of the church, that our diversity of opinion and experience is a strength, not a liability, and that there is room for all of us here, regardless of whether we agree or where we fall on the faith spectrum. The more we seek to understand each other without casting judgment, the more we're able to have compassion for each other, but we can't seek to understand if people aren't willing to openly share. This post (and my last one) are my attempt to do just that.

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    2. Haha, Erik. I wish you were. :)

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    3. Hi and thank you for your reply. I have learned much, especially from your response.

      Farewell,
      SD

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  4. Loved this! I'm a boat rocker too bad often feel like everyone around me is all "stop it, stop rocking the boat and making us feel uncomfortable!" Sorry guys, but being uncomfortable is what makes us learn and grow!

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    1. Thanks, Sara! I absolutely agree with you, and I am so glad that I'm not the only one.

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  5. I think I told you yesterday or the last time we spoke on the phone that authenticity is expensive. Women have only been able to share their faith and faith stories openly for a short period of time. The voices have always been male, white, and from places of authority. I am grateful that we are in an age where women are free to write and connect. It is scary, beautiful, and lovely to be open. However, it is still expensive-- and will continue to be as long as people (anyone, not just women) feel silenced or at risk for sharing their hearts.

    Your faith has been a building block for mine. I have watched you like an older sister-- wrestling with your own thoughts, helping me through mine. Your faith as a Latter-day Saint is rich and beautiful. I love the way you and Jay have chosen to raise your daughter. I love your openness and authenticity.

    I wanted to speak to one thing: I do not believe that the black and white thinkers or the letter of the law people are the most faith or true or whatnot. I think the people who wrestle are.

    Keep writing, keep wrestling! I fully expect that we will all arrive at Heaven and if were aren't exhausted then I don't think we did it right here.

    Love you.

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