Today I helped a new sister clean her house before she moved in. I usually never do stuff like this, but I decided to today for several reasons. For one thing, this lady was assigned as one of my ministering sisters. Another thing, is I am trying to be supportive of the new Relief Society presidency. Another thing is, it’s good for me to serve and socialize even though it isn’t my favorite thing to do.
When I arrived, I saw familiar faces from church standing in a circle and chatting. I had just dropped off my baby with the sitter and was eager to get started, but I engaged a little in the small talk about the house. I thought it interesting to see how each sister chose a different part of the house to clean. I chose the tile grout. Why?
I like getting deep into the dirty parts in the foundation. A clean floor is a clean house to me. Other sisters wiped out cupboards or did other stuff. I didn’t really pay attention to them. I just focused on my job. As I listened to the other sisters talk, I thought about all the reasons I don’t fit in. I remember long ago my counselor talked to me about women and the way we compete with one another for status. Being thin, pretty, a good housekeeper, a devoted mother, having a wealthy husband, having a successful career…..these are all values that we compete in. Inevitably, I find myself feeling inadequate as others jockey for position within the female social framework. Why? I am reasonably thin, well educated, and otherwise successful. What makes me ashamed? It is self-knowledge.
Self-esteem has always been a tricky thing for me. You can’t esteem what you don’t understand and I don’t really know myself. This depressive episode has charted more territory in my self-discovery than ever before, but I don’t always like what I find. Self-discovery can be painful when I confront my own illusions, my motivations, my fears, and everything else that I prefer not to look at. Also, as I discover more about myself, I realize that who I am is not under my control nearly as much as I wanted to think it was. I am a product of forces like my community, my family, my genetics, my habits. These things are like concrete. At one time, they may have been flexible and moldable, but over the course of the forty years I have been alive, they have hardened into the shape of me. This shape I am still discovering, but one thing I am certain of: no amount of working out at the gym, reading to enrich my mind, or self-improvement effort is going to make me over into the person who can, with authenticity, present myself to others as anything but a deeply flawed person. I am convinced that the only way I want to live is with authenticity, so I don’t have much to say in superficial conversations that seem to involve posturing.
This is tricky territory I am wandering into. I don’t want to imply that I am judging and condemning other women for their posturing. I would just as soon condemn my dog for licking her bottom. It is what dogs do. As women, we posture and compete and jockey for position. It’s what we do. I just don’t do it and I never really understood why before, but today I think I made some progress. Sometimes I thought something was wrong with me and that was why I seemed disinterested, discouraged, or even annoyed during these social interactions. Now I see that what is right with me is what is wrong with me. My own self-knowledge of my flaws, coupled with my determination to live with authenticity, result in my overall disenchantment with superficial human interaction in general.
So what I thought in the past was social anxiety, seems to be to be something else. It is a tendency toward self preservation; a need to live authentically and be accepted for who I truly am, not for a projection I’d like others to think I am. So as I scrubbed the stains from the tile floor, I considered myself, in that space, being me, observing the other sisters around me, and seeing everything from this new perspective.
And then, I started thinking about the people who were not there–the previous owners of the home. Of course, they had foreclosed the house and left it in a sorry state, so no one was very complimentary of them. We were engaged in cleaning the grime of years that had accumulated in what had been their home. Then the thought occurred to me, that these faceless, nameless people had been in our ward. They were not members of the church, but they had lived in my ward boundaries and as such, they were technically in my ward family. They had struggled and suffered and lived out their days in my neighborhood and only now did I spare a thought for them. Why was I cleaning their house now, and not months or years before? Why was this family worthy of my help and the other wasn’t? Were they not just as loved by their Heavenly Father? At this moment, that family is probably moving into another home somewhere, but surely God is aware of them and loves them just as much as he loves me. Seeing myself within this picture of other divine children both on the covenant path and off it, helps me to understand my own place in this world and what he would have me do. I’m not the woman I wish I were, but perhaps I am who he needs me to be.
That is where grace comes in. I am not the woman I wish I were. Still, the Savior died for me. He loves me that much, so I can give myself a little grace. I can look into my dark places and give myself some forgiveness that I fall short. I can restrain the inner critic and unleash the inner nurturer and allow myself to be; to exist without judgement. There is no greater gift one person can give another; suspended judgement.
When something imperfect is allowed to exist, it reminds me of the plan of salvation and the wisdom of my God. He created this world, an anomaly within the cosmos, a temporal vaccuume in the fabric of eternity, a place where justice and perfection are suspended and sin and death are allowed to exist. This place, the training and testing place of the spirit sons and daughters of God, is a crucible of pain and growth. One of the hardest things to learn in life is to do as God has done. To suspend judgement. To allow our fellow men to make their choices and love them regardless of what those choices are and how they affect us is to approach the throne of God himself. That is what he has done. He suspends his judgment until the end. He has given us the hope of salvation through the sacrifice of his son. And he waits. He waits for us to find ourselves and one another in the mess that is this world. He waits for us to feel after him and remember ourselves; not the shallow images of our vain imaginations, but the God that lives within us. He waits. He waits for me.