I talked to my bishop yesterday about some of this stuff. The whole ward is kind of upset by everything that happened Sunday, and that’s understandable. A ward is like a big family, it can be pretty dysfunctional at times. He said something that has stuck in my mind. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was something like, “We are all really imperfect people, and we all make mistakes and hurt each other, but we can work it out. That’s what makes us saints.”
So this post is my good faith attempt to clarify my experience on Sunday and be a saint. I want to work things out with my ward family.
My experience on Sunday is mine. It is what is sometimes called, “My truth,” which includes my intentions, my feelings, my perceptions, etc. It is not the whole truth, which only God sees. Each of us sees a situation from our own perspective and that means everyone has a different view of what actually took place. I respect the right of others to have a different view.
I walked into Relief Society and took a seat on the back row. The lesson was disturbing to me on many levels. As I considered the way the discussion was handled and the attitude toward things like science which seemed to me was lumped in with the philosophies of men. It seemed that the Family Proclamation was being held up as the ultimate source of truth and that any evidence challenging anything in the proclamation from whatever source should be considered suspect. The whole discussion made me feel frustrated and brought up a lot of the same confusions I’ve felt in the past. I decided to disengage. I thought of getting out a notebook and writing. Then I had a thought about my friend and my experience with her. I thought, “That is just what this discussion needs. A personal experience that can really get to the heart of this.” Then I hesitated. It would be like throwing a hand grenade into the room. The teacher was clearly hostile to any ideas that would contradict the narrative she was pushing, which I gathered was, “The prophets have all the answers. They are in the Proclamation. Anything else is from Satan.” Then I had a clear feeling. A prompt. “You need to say this. There are people in this room that need to hear it.” So I raised my hand.
My eyes met with hers for a moment, and I could tell that she was ready to be done. There were two other hands up. I said a quick prayer in my heart that if he really wanted me to give this message, that she would call on me and that her heart would be softened to accept what I had to say. As the moments ticked by and she called on every possible person in the room, she said, “Yes, Bridgette. Make it quick, we are out of time.” I was flustered. How could I make it quick? My mind raced through the incredibly painful and life changing experience I had helping my friend through her struggles with these issues. Seeing the pain in her face as she told me she had missed choir because she had been in inpatient psychiatric treatment, of the depth of her testimony and the heart-rending truth that life in the church was going to be difficult if not impossible for her. My voice faltered a bit at first, but then the prompt came again. “You say this, and you make sure this message is heard.” I tried to be quick. I had only told the bare facts of the story in a rush, and I heard her say, “Okay, we’re done.” I stopped, stunned. I had hardly said anything. I spoke up again, a pleading in my voice. “I just would really like to finish my thought. I just wanted to say that-,” and then she interrupted me and started talking again. Louder. I felt driven to speak. I had to say what I said next. I said, firmly, “We don’t know everything. That’s okay. All I know for sure is that Jesus loves her,” my voice cracked as I thought of how much love He has for my friend, and for me, and for each precious soul that faces these issues and suffers misunderstood. “He has a path for her. That’s all I have to say.” And then I started crying. And crying. I said softly, “This is why I don’t come to Relief Society. I’m never coming back.”
There were a couple of comments after I spoke. I didn’t hear them. I heard the children in the halls. Primary was over. All I wanted to do was get out of that room. People were coming up to me. They were comforting me. Some were angry at how I had been treated. Some were touched by the story of my friend. I was surprised at how much it resonated with them. I had hardly told the story well. Maybe the spirit had told them what I could not. I wiped my tears, gave hugs, and listened to heartfelt comments of support. Then, I made a beeline for the first exit I could find that I could get to my car. I saw another couple of sisters. I gave them hugs and we talked for a minute. Then she walked up. Our eyes met again. She gave me a hug. I wanted to think that she was sorry for how she had treated me. I nodded along as she made her excuses of time and children. I wanted to believe them. But I didn’t.
It wasn’t the time that was the problem. I sense that either it was me, or my message that primarily caused her reaction. I took comfort in the realization that although I wasn’t able to share my friend’s story well in Relief Society, I could share it on my blog. Also, I could explore some of my feelings about grace and the tendency of church members to gravitate toward works. When I got home, it felt so good to explore on my blog, what I didn’t feel able to do in that class. The way I felt trapped and confused in Relief Society gave way to feelings of peace and acceptance for what happened to me and my friend.
I was humiliated. I was shouted down. I was treated badly by someone called to serve and love me. That’s part of this life. It hurts. But in this world, that’s what happens. I’m just the broken handmaid of the Lord. Look what they did to Him! He was a lot more perfect than I am. It’s not really that surprising, even if it is profoundly disappointing.
This whole thing has been a roller coaster of emotions. I put this post out there to lay to rest any confusion about my comment in Relief Society being somehow motivated by a desire to sabotage the lesson or purposefully make anyone look bad. Anyone who knows me knows that that isn’t me.
This morning I’ve been thinking about how much division this has revealed in our ward family. I don’t think that my comment or even the horrible way it was handled is the root of the problems we face. The good news is, I don’t have to fix those problems.
This morning as I snuggled with Austin, I thought, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of me. It doesn’t matter if they gaslight me and blame me for what happened. I have my husband and my children and my Jesus. Worst case scenerio, I can take a break from church for a while. Maybe I could even get permission to change wards. I could go to a ward in North Arlington. A ward outside of the affluent suburbs, well manicured lawns, and privileged lives. Somewhere where people are hurting and can empathize with a tortured soul like me. I could sing in their sacrament meetings, and bare my testimony for them. Maybe I could find acceptance and love instead of shame.
All I know is that I will never stop blogging. I will never stop speaking when I feel there is something I need to say. I just need to find a place where I can speak safely.
As I make these difficult decisions, I ask for some space. I’m not going to be on Facebook for a while. I probably won’t be posting on my blog or responding to comments. My son has been neglected for several days as I’ve written and cried, and laughed and celebrated. He doesn’t deserve that. He needs his mom, and I need a break from all the drama.
Please pray for me. Pray for my ward family. I’ll be praying too. Miracles can happen. Hearts can change. The Savior has a design. Sometimes there are Gethsemanes before there is a resurrection.