the stuff of loving

guestMormon 18 Comments

This post is by Heather B.   I believe that transparency is the way we love.
A friend once told me, “You can’t love someone if you can’t talk to them.” I think we were discussing boys or dating at the time, but the older I get, the more I agree with her.

I think this means at least two things: One, it means that if you find yourself unable to say things that are meaningful to you to another person, then you probably don’t love that person. That an inability or reluctance to say things to someone else is a sign of deeper troubles. But two, I think this means something harder. I think it means that if we don’t talk to people, if we don’t say meaningful things to them, if we don’t put out the effort to communicate how we feel and what we think, then we are not doing the work of loving.

What does this have to do with Mormonism? As my family and I have left the church, I have felt the void with our friends and family. Some write us off, shutting us out of their lives. Some pretend that everything is the same, but avoid talking to us about anything meaningful in the name of avoiding contention. Some honestly and without guile believe that they have nothing in common with us anymore because we are not members. Few want to know the ‘real’ reasons that we left. On the same token, there have been times that we have written people off because of their level of church involvement.

It’s a lonely place. How do we fix it? Is it worth fixing?
I think we have a responsibility, the necessity, to be as transparent as we can be in at least our personal relationships with people. We can’t love someone, if we aren’t telling them what we’re thinking and how we feel about it. And we aren’t making it possible for them to love us, if we aren’t trying to make it easier for them to tell us what matters to them, if we aren’t trying to make it easier for them to be transparent.

I do want to recognize that we are all bad at this. The church is bad at it, the members are bad at it, and those of us on the other side of belief are bad at it. We get hurt, or fear getting hurt, and we shut ourselves away.

However, Christ asked his followers to love their neighbors. According to LDS scripture God showed his love by sending his son to make his plans transparent. Mormons believe in continuing and evolving scripture, that they have a Heavenly Father who has not ceased communication with them, because he loves them. Even here, on Mormon Matters, we do not all agree. But we do our best to communicate with each other, even when the divide is wide. I have kept and appreciated every e-mail from my fellow bloggers, letting me know I think you are wrong, but I really do appreciate your input. I know only a few of them, and they don’t HAVE to step out on a limb like that. I think of my small children, and how excited they are to tell me about life, and to listen to me teach them about it. Is there any better example of love?

The Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard says that there is no such thing as talent (except in the fields of music, mathematics, and chess—and if you have such a gift, you’d know it by now). She says that we like to believe that people are born with innate talents because we like to think that the amazing things they do are easy for them, “that Rembrandt painted because he ‘had to’.” She says: “We want to believe all these nonsensical things in order to get ourselves off the hook.”

Loving people is hard work. Talking to people is hard work. Transparency is hard work. But valuing transparency, working towards transparency, is the stuff of loving. It’s the way we invite people around us to be where we are. It’s the way we end up where we want to be with the people we want to be there.

Comments 18

  1. The concept of transparency makes me think of a recent lecture I heard from author Dr. Tim Keller, where he, referring to C.S. Lewis, I believe from “Mere Christianity,” addresses the topic of transparency. As I remember, Lewis said we appreciate looking thru a window to see the garden beyond because the window is transparent, and the garden opaque; A completely transparent world is the same as everything being invisible. It is opaqueness in the right places that allows us to see beauty in the world. (Okay that last sentence I think is more flavored with my interpretation of Lewis’ words than I think what he said.)

    Since our family left Mormonism and began attending a Christian church it was a huge blow to my family. While many in my family are devout LDS, I thought it odd to find less-active or jack-Mormonism in the family tolerated quite well, but us taking the step to affirm a different faith practice that works better for us, was considered scandalous–well that was bizarre. (They knew I hadn’t attended the temple for over a decade.)

    Unfortunately my parents were not that interested in hearing what was in my heart, how we felt much more in tune with faith, and God’s path for us since making this step. I wanted them to see past that our sons may not be going on LDS missions, but we hope they will consider doing humanitarian mission service in the future, if that’s what they desire. We wanted them to know we would still attend when a niece or nephew is blessed, or baptized; we still respect and celebrate faith and milestones. Our youngest would still be baptized someday, and even if not an LDS one, and it would be on his own timeframe and act of choice if he wants to pledge his faith in Jesus Christ. We told them they’d be welcome to also come to our church if they ever wanted. I wanted all the external judgements to end, to be completely transparent. But for now the opaqueness they see is all the “ordinances” we now have given up and how we won’t be in heaven with them again some day.

    The opaqueness I’d hope they will eventually be willing to see is what’s inside: the fire, conviction and hope I have that what we’re doing is right for me, for our family, for our marriage. Even the pain that comes from not feeling I can be accepted for being true to myself and to God. Some matters of belief and practice won’t be the same, and may never be shared nor reconciled. But some things are shared, and that can be love, compassion and mutual respect.

    I like when you said, Heather, “…[I]f you find yourself unable to say things that are meaningful to you to another person, then you probably don’t love that person. ..[A]n inability or reluctance to say things to someone else is a sign of deeper troubles.” Very wise. When my wife and I realized that we had gone 14 years without being able to overcome this barrier in matters of faith, we realized we both deeply wanted something different. We began to search for that together, asking for God’s guidance. We were able to find love so we could begin putting our marriage back together, and begin finding hope in God. I can’t say whether we’ve found everything we need from a faith practice yet, but at least we are now consciously, meaningfully, taking each step together.

  2. I wonder about what keeps us from being more transparent, and here are some thoughts that come to mind.

    1. Sometimes I don’t tell people what I’m thinking about them because I’m ashamed of myself for being so petty. I think it’s good for me to keep this stuff bottled up and try to deal with it internally.
    2. Sometimes we just don’t possess the necessary communication skills to approach difficult conversations with tact, so we keep our mouths buttoned up.
    3. Sometimes we haven’t yet developed truly unconditional love for each other, and although we may not be fully conscious of that fact, I think we subconsciously sense that. As a result, we fear having difficult conversations because we fear whether our bonds of love are strong enough to withstand the tumult of words that might ensue if we are open and honest. Or worse, we don’t open our mouths because we don’t even care enough to do it.
    4. One area where we all have no excuse for not being transparent is in our gratitude for one another. I think of how often I’ve thought about how wonderful my daughters’ primary and nursery leaders are compared to the few times I’ve actually told them that. We serve each other a lot in the church, and yet we can seem quite ungrateful at times, as if we just expect that service, as if someone is just doing their duty and that we have a right to that service. We need to communicate appreciation at every possible opportunity.

    I love the line in D&C 121 about how after there is rebuking with sharpness, there needs to be an outpouring of love afterwards to show that your love is stronger than the cords of death (or something to that effect). Sometimes having a difficult conversation is the best way to love someone, but only if it’s done right, i.e., with that outpouring of love. The rebuking with sharpness part can come easy, but the outpouring of love afterwards, I mean a genuine, honest outpouring of love, can be difficult but is so necessary.

  3. Wonderul post Heather…absolutely wonderful.

    To love and be loved we must be honest and willing to trust.

    This is hard to do in conditional relationships. Relationships where the conditions of one’s conduct and belief system are part of the relationship.

    This is what I find so beautiful about aspects of Jesus in the NT. He was more willing to dine with prostitutes and taxpayers then with the “quick to judge” Pharisees. This is the unconditional and forgiving Jesus I believe in.

    Thank you again Heather.

  4. Hey, let’s go a little easy on the Pharisee’s. After all, they were the outcasts of that time in the Jewish community. Perushim, which is the Hebrew word means separatists.

  5. Nice thoughts. You know, not being able to accept people for how they are, such as in or out of the church is really a function of how people view themselves, not the other persons. They are insecure, therefore they reject.

  6. When I read your post, I thought about my parents, both of whom converted to Mormonism after they were married. In both cases, while they were not disowned, there was definitely a lack of support for their decision. Both sets of parents (my grandparents) felt that it was okay to belong to a church, and perhaps even attend sometimes, but to get as involved as Mormons do could only lead to fanaticism. They accused my parents of still drinking coffee and they made snide comments about the amount of time they spent doing church things. Eventually, they came to terms with it after a fashion, but they truly never understood their decision or felt it was wise. I would say my parents weren’t close to their parents and there were bad feelings toward in-laws as a result of what happened at their conversion.

    Two of my siblings left the church when they became adults, and my parents have been very careful to make sure they treat them equally and still love them, but there is still a lack of understanding and a hope that they will return (even after decades). Everything that happens in their lives is reviewed for a glimmer of hope (still allows visiting teachers, so that’s a good sign, attending another church – bad sign), like there’s a tally of things on each side and eventually there will be enough positive signs that they will just join the church again.

    I always wondered if my parents were a little distant toward them because they were readying themselves for the eternities, but then I realized, they are just not close to people in general. I can’t say whether it’s generational, cultural, how they were raised, or a by-product of what happened at their conversion. Yet I can see that they love after their fashion. It’s not like what you describe above, but I still think it is love, the best love they have to give.

  7. I believe you can tell more about people (both inside and outside the Church) by how they deal with the joy others find outside their own organization (or with differing perspectives that bring joy inside their own organization) than perhaps by any other criterion. One type of person lacks internal joy, constantly finds fault with the joy of others and actively seeks to undercut that joy; another type is secure in his joy and not interested in the differing joy of others; the final type accepts and embraces the idea that others have their own degree of joy – and tries to add to it (and, through it, add to their own joy) whenever possible. I don’t want to argue with the healthy and happy; I want to learn from them. I want to spend just as much of my time administering joy to the sick and searching.

    When I entered the world of blogging, I was struck immediately by two competing forms of discussion: the vast majority of those who participate in the blogs I frequent are sincerely searching for greater understanding and increased joy – no matter their particular religious leanings or affiliations. Even when they disagree strongly, there is little true vitriol. They appear to respect and love each other – again, even when they disagree.

    Some of them, however, seem to be stuck in a cycle of trying to undercut the joy of others. There is little if any love in their comments; there is an over-abundance of accusation and a cutting edge to their words. There is little of, “Please explain that more,” and much of, “That is stupid and illogical.” That is true of some “anti-Mormons”, but it is just as true of some “believing Mormons”.

    Religious denomination or pronouncements notwithstanding, I believe you can learn more about someone’s heart by how they respond to statements of joy that differ in content and source than their own than perhaps by any other measurement. For example, Just for Quix’s comment was moving and heartfelt; it saddens me that the family can’t see and accept the joy expressed in it.

  8. I think what happens is a paradigm adjustment. At heart is the concept of truth. To a believing Mormon, his testimony affirms truth, not the post-modern truth of the 20th Century where different truths apply to different people, but a rock solid affirmation of truth in the same way that we see the sky as blue, that we will all die someday, and that taxes will always go up. For a loved one to choose another way, they can’t separate what they know to be true and what a loved one has chosen. In Mormonism, there is the added difficulty of forever families. Someone choosing another path is akin to breaking that bond in the eyes of their family members. It hurts, and if that dissaffected person once had a testimony at one time it makes it worse. Those with strong testimonies of the Church tend to also be more polaristic in their thinking about good and evil. As my testimony has strengthened over the years, I have found myself feeling more polaristic about righteousness. It’s very hard be ambiguous when you feel so right about it yourself. The separtion that therefor happens, is coping mechanism to help you cope with how you have constitued reality.

    Okay, so paradigm shift. I believe in a universal truth, that one day, far into the eternities, the laws of God will be as iron clad as the laws of nature. Until that day, and especially in mortality, there is an element of personalized truth. Sometimes we each need our own dialectic to figure things out. I have met people who I believe sincerely are following the path that God wants them to follow right now, and it happens not to be Mormonism. I still believe Mormonism is a universal truth, but I trust and have faith that an all jsut God will sort things out, that in the probationary period we call mortality, that there are ways to see things as true in the short run. Once you get here, it is much easier to deal with the emotional distress that comes from someone choosing another way than you have chosen. Once you can past your own personal distress, it’s much easier to love.

  9. I think you are confusing love with intimacy.

    I have a much simpler definition of love:

    Love is when you can count on someone to help you when you are in trouble- even if it’s going to make trouble for them, and even if you’ve pissed them off recently. That’s love. When God sent His Son to show His love it was not about communication- it was about the Atonement- even though we had sinned against Him. That was the act of love.

    You’re talking about intimacy. The ability to share our true selves with others.

    Now obviously they are connected because when we love someone we desire intimacy- and intimacy often leads to love.

    Well- Guess what. If you’ve left the church, then church members are going to have a hard time being intimate with you because you’ve just rejected something that is an essential part of their true selves. Your expectation for there to be continued intimacy in such circumstances is frankly self centered. You think about how you feel unable to connect with them, and why don’t they work at reaching out. Why don’t you consider that they simply can no longer have the same intimacy they once shared with you because you no longer value things that are central to their lives.

    This doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore. If you were in trouble- would they not come and help you if you called on them for aid? True love is not dependent on being paid for through intimacy- it’s like what Paul said about charity. It seeks not it’s own.

    Intimacy does not guarantee love either. I’ve known people who are so easy to be with that you find yourself sharing deep and meaningful communications with them- and you think you’ve established a friendship- but then they leave you in the lurch, sometimes holding the bag for a problem you’ve created.

    Intimacy is not something you can force. If you want your friends to be intimate with you again then you are going to have to be patient and show them that you can still be trusted with their true self. That you won’t be secretly mocking their testimony of the church, and that you won’t resent their hopes for your return to the fold. If you can’t feel good about those things, then obviously they should avoid sharing that with you- because they love you, and they don’t want to have contention with you.

    Love is never appreciated until you need it, and intimacy is over-rated until it fails you.

  10. True love is not dependent on being paid for through intimacy- it’s like what Paul said about charity. It seeks not it’s own.

    Intimacy does not guarantee love either. I’ve known people who are so easy to be with that you find yourself sharing deep and meaningful communications with them- and you think you’ve established a friendship- but then they leave you in the lurch, sometimes holding the bag for a problem you’ve created.

    Those are interesting perspectives. Reminds me of a number of performing arts types I’ve known. Intimate — surely. But likely to leave you in the lurch — of course.

    You’ve given me food for thought.

  11. I tend to think of loving as having many levels, just as transparency is easily considered as a scale. I likewise think as love as having shades. I love some people differently. Certainly the love and affection I have for my wife is qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from the love I have for either my children or my mother (or my father who is passed on).

    But transparency is useful in love, but I don’t think complete transparency is wise. Think of the people that don’t filter what they say to others, whose conversation consists of all their thoughts. I think that what we mistake as transparency is sometimes an excuse for masking our deeper thoughts with the shallow ones, which is just as dangerous.

    Sometimes, I think, in order to talk about the more meaningful things you mentioned, we have to be willing to keep our mouths shut about the silly petty things we think and feel.

  12. It takes courage and trust to be transparent. This is something I’m still working on. I think it not only takes the right kind of attitude, though, it also takes the right kind of people and relationships. Not everyone responds to transparency with maturity, and in relationships with those people, it’s harmful to share too much. Still, on my experience, it’s something that many people, with enough communication, can learn. It just takes a lot of time and work to build that kind of relationship sometimes.

  13. @ Peter Brown, (10) – I think your paradigm shift marks a maturing understanding of the liberality of God, and His ability to provide for His children. I get the feeling more and more that the characterisations of the ‘believing mormon’ (as you explained it) and the ’20th century postmodern’ view are frequently stepping stones to the widescreen view of the Plan of Salvation. We have so little knowledge in the gospel about the specifics of the afterlife – so it’s naive to overly worry about things we don’t have understanding of. I think you’re exactly right in pointing out that it’s easier to love once our view becomes more inclusive. On earth, our responsibility is to not judge, but to love, accept, and try to understand the humanity of those we come into contact with. That’s the essence of love – acceptance! It’s much easier once we get our attitudes right.

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