I was going to blog about something else this time around, but after Steve’s post yesterday, I have several thoughts that I’d like to share about owning our lives and our stories.
One of the common catch phrases of the popular LGBT ideology is that those who are same-sex oriented need to be “true to themselves”—and, by implication, that the truest way to do this is to adopt a particular sexual identity and pursue a same-sex relationship. While I do believe that someone can do so from a place of authenticity, sexual orientation is not the central organizing principle of an authentically lived life. I believe that authentically owning our stories, fully acknowledging our humanity and weakness without shame, and living the deepest values of our hearts is. I also believe that is the only way to live an authentic faith in Jesus Christ.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Brené Brown, she’s a professor of social work here in my (current) home state of Texas. Her research and writing focuses on shame and vulnerability, and her two TED addresses, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” are must-sees. One of the reasons I believe her books and talks have gone so viral (aside from the fact that she has an fun and endearing personality) is that they resonate with people on a deep “soul” level.
There is a thirst in the human soul to be fully known and fully loved, to be seen and accepted even in our weakness and frailty—our “shadows” to use the language of Carl Jung. I believe that thirst is something of an echo of what we had in the eternal world we came from, and toward what we hope for in the eternal world we’re preparing for. I think it’s interesting that one of the descriptions of the Celestial world in Joseph Smith’s vision of the kingdoms of glory is that those who are members of the Church of the Firstborn will “see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace” (D&C 76:94)
However, part of the myopic human condition is that we’re less interested in knowing than being known, and in seeing than being seen. We don’t want to be judged, but we’re quick to judge others. One of the ironies of the wake of conversations following my and my wife’s story in LDS Living magazine and Josh and Lolly Weed’s blog-post-gone-viral was that some of the very folks who lamented people using our stories as a sort of “Well, see? If they can have a happy marriage, why can’t you? What is Ty doing right that you’re doing wrong?” hammer were the first to clobber folks in our situation with some version of “Well, see all these marriages that have ended in divorce? Haven’t you heard of Gerald and Carol Lynn Pearson? If they can’t do it, neither can you. It’s only a matter of time until your marriage inevitably ends in heartbreak for your wife and kids.”
Both our broader secular culture and our Mormon sub-culture seem to have demands that can be suffocating and toxic to the human spirit. Whether it’s the superficial “sex-crazed-ness” of pop culture or the compliant “perfection” of our religious culture, neither feed our souls with what we really, truly long for—the kind of love and intimacy that Jesus came to model for us, and calls us into. One evangelical author has written,
“The more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons. In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness… Somehow we have created a community of respectability in the church. The down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, [don’t] feel welcome. How did Jesus, the only perfect person in history, manage to attract the notoriously imperfect? And what keeps us from following in his steps today?”
I’ve thought a lot about why it is that we are so reticent to be open and authentic with others around us. Humans long for human intimacy and connection, and then in shame and fear we close ourselves off from that for which we most yearn. Daily we seem to be like Adam and Eve who hearkened to the call of Satan to “hide” in the bushes, shameful of what we’ve done or what we perceive ourselves to be, while God is constantly calling us out of the bushes and into His light.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend who mentioned the loneliness he feels in even close relationships with some of his friends because he doesn’t feel he can be open with them about the most intimate and vulnerable parts of his life (in this case his SSA). He yearns to be being more open and authentic—for the feeling of being seen and known and loved by them, fully—but he fears their judgments and rejection. And while our fears are often unfounded projections of our own shame, that is not always the case. People can be cruel, or at the very least insensitive, leaving evidence that they cannot be trusted with our hearts. I’m of the conviction, however, that we’ll never truly become a truly Zion people until we collectively learn to truly and fully love, and true love doesn’t exist without knowledge. We can’t fully love someone until we fully know them, and the more we hold pieces of ourselves back from the most important of our relationships around us, the more we rob them of opportunities to learn to love in the way God loves us, and in which He calls us to love others.
Elder Maxwell once said that sometimes our trials or circumstances are not fully for us, so we need to have patience and realize there’s a bigger story at play when God doesn’t change us in the way we desire. “Patience,” he said, “helps us to realize that while we may be ready to move on, having had enough of a particular learning experience, our continuing presence is often a needed part of the learning environment of others” (“Patience,” Ensign, Oct. 1980, 29). I’ve always loved that sentiment. Sometimes our circumstances or our temporal differences are to help others learn the meaning of love and to develop a greater capacity for charity, which “seeketh not her own” (Moroni 7:45).
We came to this world, affected by all its fallenness, to have experiences that would require us to develop qualities and capacities of godliness. The only way we can truly do that is to begin where we are, owning our lives and living out of our hearts, seeking to understand the weakness God gave us to learn humility (Ether 12:27) and understand grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). As difficult as this can be when we’re blinded by our own shame and weakness and vulnerability and insecurity, it is required for our growth into wholeness and holiness.
This is what I so love about Steve’s post. One of the things I find most inspiring about people like Brené Brown and Steven Frei and others who seek to live with authenticity and vulnerability is that they give me permission to likewise—to be human and weak and powerful and courageous all at the same time. I refuse to be held hostage to fear of how someone might perceive me if they knew the real me. Brené wrote that “owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
I’ll close with one last statement from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that I love. “The most beautiful people we have known,” she wrote, “are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
I believe that the more we own our stories the more we gift to others an opportunity to know and to love us; the more we gift to ourselves the empowerment and life and joy born of authenticity and vulnerability and deeper human intimacy; and the more we gift to God the opportunity to heal and sanctify us, engendering within us spiritual life and holiness. He cannot change anything that we keep tightly and shamefully tucked away in our metaphorical bushes or closets. We must first come out of the bushes and into His light. From there, He, as the author and finisher of our faith, helps us write an ending to our story that is worthy of His promise to make “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3) and which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which [He] hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).