I have a complicated relationship with Relief Society. Some of the most sacred experiences I have had in church have been in Relief Society. On the other hand, there is an extremely destructive tendency among women in my church to be harshly critical of ourselves and one another. This can make Relief Society meetings become shame fests. In fact, years ago while I was in therapy for depression, I had to make a conscious decision not to pick up the invisible whip that I carried with me to Relief Society and self flagellate. It was an important step in my healing.
It has been a few months since I have been to Relief Society. I was hurt badly by someone in the leadership. When I reached out to try and fix the situation to make the environment safe for myself, I was shamed and blamed. This whole mess resulted in a major setback for me emotionally, but has also acted as a catalyst for me to be more open in my emotional journey which has given me greater courage and more confidence. As I have worked toward becoming stronger, I have built powerful bonds with several sisters in the Relief Society. I drew on their strength as well as my own as I went back to face my fears and my insecurities as well as the dreaded white lacy table cloth and silk flower arrangement.
It is funny how simple things like table cloths and flower arrangements can become powerful symbols in the brain. The homey tablecloth and silk flowers can disarm you into thinking that this is a safe place, that you can reveal your burdens and find helpful supportive sisters who will react compassionately. When you find out through painful experience that this is not the case, that your vulnerability can be used as a weapon against you, the symbols inspire cynicism and fill the soul with bitterness. It was hard to face those symbols again today.
I walked in right as the prayer was being said. I stood awkwardly and surveyed the room. Surprisingly, the tablecloth was red, doubtless to be festive for Christmas. There was also no flower arrangement, but a wooden nativity. As the teacher began her lesson, she told us that the table cloth she had brought was actually a shower curtain. She hadn’t realized it when she had been dashing around getting ready for church. She grabbed the red cloth out of the laundry basket thinking it was a red tablecloth. Only later did she realize it was the shower curtain she had been looking for that week. The fact that she was willing to share her funny story and allow us all to peek into her world that was less than perfect spoke powerfully to me. She was okay with imperfection, both in herself and in others. I felt that this was divine intervention. The Lord had changed the symbols just as together we will change the feelings behind them. What happened in the past doesn’t have to determine the future.
The two sisters who had hurt me sat behind me during the lesson and I could feel the awkward burn through the back of my head. I thought of all my blog posts and all the many times I testified of my Savior and his love for all mankind. I drew on that love and felt it radiate from my person like a bright light. It swallowed up my pain and the awkwardness of the moment. The negative force I could feel from behind me vanished. The pain of the past was real and the damage to the relationships I had with the women behind me were real, but all of it was swallowed up in the Love I felt from my Savior in that moment.
My relationship with Relief Society will most likely continue to be fraught with conflicting emotions, but I was glad I had the strength to go back to a place I was afraid to go. I’m glad that a growing number of the Relief Society sisters are becoming more comfortable with being imperfect and allowing imperfection. I’m grateful to strive beside these sisters as we work to make Relief Society a more compassionate and vulnerable place. As the lesson closed, the teacher said that she is working to expand her “safe spaces.” I echo her sentiment. I too am going to expand my safe space. I am going to dare to be authentic more often, take off the mask in more places, and make the world my safe space; the place I can be free to live unafraid.
It is only possible as I carry His Love with me as a lamp. In His light, the forces of cynicism, bitterness, and fear vanish away. His mercy and His forgiveness swallow up the pain of the past and give me the courage I need to face the future unafraid and with confidence. Blessed be the name of my Savior, for he is Mighty to Save! I will carry his light with me into dark places. I will not fear for He is my salvation and he will not leave me alone.