Vulnerability; the New Bottle

You know you’ve made the right decision when you feel a weight off your chest! Seriously, I feel like I’ve lost twenty pounds off my shoulders since I made the blog private. I have lost five pounds since Mother’s Day, but that is anxiety/depression related. Maybe I should start a new fad diet…..the Anxiety Diet! Just set yourself up to be humiliated in a public place and three weeks later, you reach your ideal weight.

Warning for language….

Warning for crude humor……

Looks like fear dieting is already a thing. Humor aside, I am coming out of my latest emotional setback, thanks so much to the loving support that I have had from near and far. Looking through the email addresses of those who have followed my blog makes me so happy! I am so humbled to think that there are so many people who value what I have to say. For those who don’t, that’s okay. I can love them from a distance for the people they are and not despise them for who they aren’t.

There is a grieving process though. I am still mourning what might have happened if our ward had been more willing to embrace vulnerability. A couple of years ago the church was instituting some changes in Relief Society. The women were supposed to arrange their chairs into a circle so that everyone was facing each other. It was clearly to invite collaboration and input. I think it was supposed to feel more like a support group than a lesson. It reminded me of a group therapy session. That’s what I envision a functional, nurturing Relief Society being like.

“Hello, I’m Bridgette Burbank, and I’m a sinner.” Just like Alcoholics Anonymous. It fits right? Aren’t we all addicted to our own pet sins? Wouldn’t that be awesome if we could just get that vulnerable with a group of sisters? Then I talk about some of the stuff I did that week. “I played Blossom Blast for three hours while my kids lounged around in their pajamas watching gamers on You-Tube. I was afraid I would start yelling at them if I told them one more time to please do their chores. Sometimes parenting feels like a never ending marathon.”

Supportive responses would sound like, “You are doing such important work with your kids. It can be so discouraging and frustrating. Let’s plan some playdates this week to get you guys out of the house. What do your kids like to do?” Or maybe it could be, “Sometimes parents need a timeout too. Maybe playing that game was what you needed right then. I’ve found that drawing, crocheting, and journaling are really effective to help me when I’m feeling upset at my kids.”

Maybe another sister would say, “I spent hours shopping for the perfect Mother’s Day gift for my daughter. She has told me she doesn’t want a relationship with me anymore, but I wanted to try and reach out. I mailed it so it would make it in time, but I got it back with ‘return to sender’ on it. That hurt so bad! Sometimes I think Mother’s Day is the hardest day of the year.”

Supportive responses would be, “That is so painful! I can’t imagine how hard that would be to have that kind of reaction to your gift. Even though it feels like the gift didn’t do any good, I’m sure your effort to reach out showed her that you haven’t forgotten about her and you still love her. Your act of love mattered.” Or maybe, “Mother’s Day is one of those holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day that can either be heaven or hell. I’m so sorry you were treated that way.”

Maybe someone else would say, “My husband had surgery two weeks ago and I am so tired of trying to take care of him. When I was at the grocery store, I didn’t want to come home. Then I felt like a terrible person.”

Supportive responses would be, “It’s hard not to feel badly when you feel like you are falling short. Remember that you have been taking care of him for two whole weeks. Anyone would feel tired and overwhelmed. Maybe it’s time to ask a friend for help. There’s no shame in that. Everyone needs a break sometimes.” Or maybe, “When I was taking care of my son after a surgery, he got so grumpy from being cooped up. I decided to invite one of his friends over to play a board game with him. It made a big difference for him and for me. He wasn’t so grumpy, and it was easier to get some stuff done since he was distracted from his pain.”

When lessons become support sessions, when people open up with vulnerability, healing and love is possible, even when sins and problems are really big. Consider this scenario. A sister comes back to church for the first time in a long time. She has become addicted to pain killers after a surgery she had. No one knows how difficult her addiction has become to manage. She feels ashamed and doesn’t know what to do to get help. She’s touched by women who are willing to open up about their problems, so she decides to share. With tearful eyes, she tells her story of how she became entrapped in addiction.

Supportive responses would be, “We all have things we struggle with. That’s why we come here! No one here is going to judge you for your sins. The Savior’s grace is enough for all of God’s children. Your decision to come to church today was you answering God’s invitation to your healing path. We are here to help you on your healing path and give you the tools you need to get your freedom back.” Or maybe, “You are so brave for sharing your pain with us! Addiction to prescription drugs is a far more common problem than most people realize. It is easy to get caught in trap you can’t get out of. I had an Aunt who became addicted after her back surgery. She found an excellent rehab center that helped her get off the pills and out of pain too. I can give you the number for it if your interested.”

This kind of vulnerability invites us to share and learn from real experiences and make meaningful connections with the people in our church families. It is, to me, what my church has been trying to create in our Relief Societies. Unfortunately, shame, judgment, Mormon woman aggression, and other fear based responses to vulnerability shut down these pathways to connection. Without leadership and direct instruction to help people learn appropriate responses to the pain of others, we are stuck repeating old dysfunctional patterns that build walls between people. I talked to a friend yesterday and she told me that in talking to a family member about my experience on Mother’s Day, the woman said, “That is how old LDS is killing new LDS.”

I’ve thought a lot about that statement. The Savior taught about old and new bottles and how people don’t put new wine into old bottles because the bottles will break and the wine will spill. The irony is, without flexibility, the old bottles can never have the new wine. They are shut out from the blessings of the new gifts that God is offering. Unfortunately, when they do what they did to me, they also keep others from having it. When people see what happens to those who are genuine and vulnerable, they learn to close off and armor up. That’s unfortunate. Tragic even.

The good news is, seeds are being planted. I’ve talked to several women in the ward who have said that there are some good lessons in our Relief Society and that what happened on Mother’s Day was not typical. If that’s the case, I hope that we are making progress toward the ideal supportive environment I can be safe to share in. If we are able to create that kind of refuge, that kind of healing space, that kind of support, there is no limit to the miracles we would see.

I think probably the biggest impediment to vulnerability in church is that people feel the need to fix the problems of others. Just because someone revealed a problem to you, doesn’t mean you are required to fix it for them. The act of sharing is, in itself healing. To share a burden with others and have it met with understanding and love frees up the guilty conscience to righteous action. It is Christ’s love that people need most. If they feel that, they will ask for what they need when they are ready to make another step on their healing path. Maybe the woman addicted to pain killers isn’t ready to go to rehab. Maybe she has some other strategies she is going to try. Just knowing that she has a support group to fall back on when things go wrong is extremely helpful. We can have the faith that she and the Savior can work things out. We extend our assistance when it is asked for.

Another impediment to vulnerability is the need we have to blame someone. A person blamed is not a problem solved. Often it becomes a problem hidden. It isn’t our job to judge the people who reveal a burden. It isn’t our job to judge their parents, their spouse, their abuser, or their children. Its our job to love and support, listen and encourage. Withholding judgement is a vital piece of a supportive group. A supportive church family can take a lot of pressure off of our bishops and relief society presidents who are often burdened with the sins and struggles of members unable to ask other members for help because of the culture of judgment and shame that is allowed to fester.

The Savior says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How oft would I have gathered thee together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not.” How often does he try to give us more, and we settle for less! How often do we behave like crabs in a bucket. If you want crabs to stay trapped in a bucket, you have to have more than one. If you put one crab in a bucket, he will climb out. If you have two, one will always pull the other back into the bucket.

I’m climbing out of the bucket. I’m going out on my own. I have my own group of supportive people I can share my journey with. Once I am stronger and decide to go back into the fight, I will work to make my church a place where the Savior’s love is so thick it will feel like Houston in the summertime! Praise the Lord! He is Mighty to Save! He leads his children to peace and rest.

2 thoughts on “Vulnerability; the New Bottle

  1. The church you envision is one I long to be a part of. I knew something was missing for me at church, but this puts the finger on what it was. Thank you for your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

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