It's been quite the couple of years, hasn't it, church? I have not had the happiest time being a Mormon. First there was the women thing, and the excommunication stuff, and then (oh, and then) the big policy reveal. And my heart ached, and I cried, and I stayed and stayed and stayed.
And I'm still staying, just to get that out of the way. No danger of abandonment yet.
Lately the struggle hasn't been the anger or the hurt, or the beautiful wrestling before God. Lately, I've been struggling with the nothing.
No emotion. No connection. No spirituality.
It's been consumed with the never-ending motions of the every day: the go-go-go to work, the go-go-go to spend time with my daughter, the go-go-go- to do housework and cook meals and lesson plan and get sleep so I can function. And oh yes, the barest of go-go-go to fulfill my church calling. The barest, and yet it's enough to make me dread those three hours every Sunday.
I'm in the Primary Presidency, and I spend the first hour stewing over sharing times and other undone administrative tasks, simmering in all my inadequacies. I spend sacrament meeting, that one hour where I could learn of God, consumed by the things I have to do and have not done. I spend the following two hours doing those things, those teaching and organization tasks that are so close to what I do during the week, but worse because it's with small children. I go home exhausted, wondering when restoration will come.
Where is space for the divine? If I don't get to recharge at church, how can I find space to do it myself?
I whine about the culture of the church a lot. My struggle with the Utah ideals I grew up with dominates my therapy sessions. A huge target of disgust is the idea of sanctification through suffering—how the more we sacrifice in silence, the better a person we are. It's pervasive. Good Mormons sit in silence and suffer through. We put our shoulder to the wheel.
But what if the wheel crushes us?
I talked to my therapist about what I can do with my calling. It seemed an impossible situation. I am called, and so I have to do it. What other option is there? Besides, the primary president has done so much for me, and I don't want to seem ungrateful.
In the middle of listing all the things the president has done for me, and the little I've done in return, my therapist said, "If she didn't want to do those things, she'd say so. That's what people do—they share emotions, they let you know if something's unpleasant or part of a bargain."
"Not where I grew up," I said. Cue lightning bolt.
Oh. I grew up seeing people, particularly women, serve and give of themselves far past the point of enjoyment, and often to the point of silent resentment. Usually that resentment would bubble up, siphon itself out on people. People, but never the person responsible. There wasn't direct conversation. There were clouds of anger, falsity, and a pervasive air of distrust. People wallowed in insincerity because everything was an angry, holy sacrifice. We were the sacred martyrs. Our suffering brings us close to God, even if we sink into personal despair.
And there I was, expecting the same from myself.
I don't have issues setting boundaries and expectations in any other setting. But church? Boundaries shouldn't exist. And although I give good lip service to defying that culture, I find it's unexpectedly buried deep. It's tightly woven into the fiber of my being.
Driving away from therapy, full of solutions and new resolve to be the change I want to see in the church, Andrew Bird's Are You Serious? played on my stereo.* The song "Truth Lies Low" began, and Bird's mellow voice resonated:
Here's a little game, you can play along
Oh you do the walk of shame
From the comfort of your home.
So here's another game, you can play along,
Where you empty all your blame
From your guilty bones.**
Album version here for better sound quality and less song-building.
I don't have to sacrifice. It's not worth my happiness, my sanity, my testimony. Yes, I can do it for now, but it's OK to say I can't do it forever. And it's OK to let people know I'm not happy—if I don't tell them, how will they know?
I don't have to walk in shame. There's nothing redeemable about guilt,
*Side note: this album is FANTASTIC. It's his latest, and finally managed to convert my husband to Andrew Bird. Listening to "Valleys of the Young" as new parents was a mind-altering experience.
**I can acknowledge that Bird probably did not mean to write about people tortuing themselves with guilt and self-loathing (especially considering the last verse referencing what sound like trolls), but that's the beauty of lyrics--it just takes one line at one moment to become part of a person's unique experience forever.