Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To First Acknowledge One's Brokenness

This post is the eighth in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

women with and without children by Caitlin Connolly

"Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?"
3 Nephi 9:13

I have an old friend, a woman I once visit taught and someone I respect very much, who a few years ago made a small study of feminism. After some research she finally concluded that she could not identify with the movement (particularly its Mormon branches) because she felt like it "implied a sort of dissatisfaction with how you are treated as a woman."

Now, I do not intend to disrespect her stance. I admire her tenacity and the prayerful integrity of her search for answers. I believe that we need a range of perspectives in the Church and in the world, and I am grateful for hers. Especially because ultimately, her feelings were that her pre-eminent duty was to align herself with Christ.

That I can agree with. Wholeheartedly.

Although we have that in common, I have to admit that when I first read her post, I laughed. Not a haughty or a scornful laugh, but one of disbelief I think.  Dissatisfaction didn't even begin to capture what I felt.  I wasn't merely dissatisfied. I was angry, hurt, confused, betrayed. I felt these things, surely, for how I had been personally treated as a woman in moments, but more largely I felt them for how women as a whole, through the ages, had been treated. Both inside and outside the Church. I've come to believe since then that feeling anger, hurt, confusion, and betrayal are among a collection of natural emotions that universally follow a tragedy, regardless of whether or not that tragedy falls within the boundaries of injustices exclusively dealt to women.

The truth is, that in one very needed sense, the history of the entire world, irrespective of gender, is a tragic one. Every life that begins with an entrance and a breath, will inevitably end in a breath and an exit. And that is a tragic reality. But as I've said before, too many times probably, women have certainly been dealt their fair share of oppression, sorrow, and pain. Woman pain.

"When the frailties and imperfections of mortality are left behind...then shall women be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as an exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God."

-James E. Talmage, "The Eternity of Sex," Young Woman's Journal 25 (October 1914): 602-3

While Elder Talmage beautifully recognizes in this quote what I'm trying to articulate here, it seems like many people within the Church are unable to access woman pain. Perhaps some folks are more natural optimists. Perhaps they are oblivious. Perhaps they choose not to see it. Are they afraid of it? Are they worried that they won't know how to handle it, that it will be too heavy?

I saw this happen recently with the passing of my aunt. One of my mourning cousins, my aunt's daughter, felt especially upset when people would tell her, "At least we know you'll see her again." Or, "aren't you glad that you know about the Plan of Salvation?" These expressions, while very well meaning, seemed to dismiss my cousin's grief. Like she wasn't allowed to experience the pain associated with her loss or something.

But maybe this is not a fair parallel. I'm sure while my friend used the word dissatisfaction to describe what she saw in Mormon feminists she would not have used it to describe the bereaved. But isn't it all kind of the same? Are Mormon feminists not also grieving? Isn't brokenness brokenness?

Perhaps that's where the divide is between myself and my friend. Perhaps she believes that the way things have been and the way things are is how God intends them to be, and that seeking something more is, in a way, wrong.

And I think that she does have something right. God did intend for the Fall to take place. He (and She) foreordained that transaction. But God also intends for there to be an Atonement, a Resurrection, a Restoration of that which was lost.

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so... righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility."

Can a person who doesn't feel some measure of dissatisfaction with their current state truly long for home?

If we must taste the bitter to know the sweet, then doesn't it make sense that we must actually taste it? My bitter might be woman pain, and yours might be the loss of your mother, but isn't bitterness bitterness? Isn't brokenness brokenness? And isn't my woman pain, after all, more like the loss of your mother than you think it is? Am I not mourning the loss of a Mother and the following grief and confusion of her Daughters?

I think I am.

As I write all this, my mind is drawn to the body and how it is healed. Many small scrapes and bruises do mend themselves. You give them time and they'll patch up alright. But some wounds need more attention.  Like tumors or infections or curving spines. They need the healer's touch. Time alone will not fix any one of these ailments. In fact, the more time you give a tumor or an infection or a curving spine, the more severe the ailment becomes. These particular maladies can even threaten death. And if a person were struggling against some such thing, it would be preposterous wouldn't it, for that person to suppress their illness, to dismiss it?

The answer is obvious.

I believe that the same thing applies to the wounds we carry in our hearts. So really, the first step in being healed is easy. You have to acknowledge that you are broken. Not simply acknowledge it. You must also allow yourself to be the kind of broken that you are, whatever that is.

Are you gay? Do you have questions? Are you a trauma victim? Have you been mistreated by a Priesthood leader? Are you a porn addict? Are you transgender? Have you been abused? Is it something else?

It doesn't matter. Take however much time you need to accept your brokenness. And then, move along. Now you must desire to be healed. You must call for the Savior.  Even if you have felt abandoned. Even if he hasn't answered your prayers and pleadings before and his silence has left you to fall even deeper into your brokenness. Sometimes we are meant to fall quite far before he will pick us up again. The depth of your bitterness will be recompensed in the height of your healing, your joy. If what you have experienced has weakened your faith in him you must keep calling until you have the faith you need. And it is then that he finds you.

So, if you're like me, and you have pain, I urge you to truly feel it. Feel it high and low. Taste the bitter. But in your bitter, don't forget the point of it all; that they taste the bitter that they might know to prize the good.

And when you have tasted enough of it, (and God knows when this will be for you), allow Christ a place in your heart and be healed.