The other day I was reading about whole object relations. Mentally and emotionally healthy people are able to see others as they are and resist the urge to either idealize them or demonize them. That has been a skill that I continue to struggle with. Black and white thinking was all I knew for half of my life and too often it is encouraged within church society. Some people are socially savvy enough to pick up whole object relations, but many like me, have to learn it the hard way.
Donald Trump has been a particularly polarizing figure in part because people want to simply paint him as black or white. He is the savior of democracy and America or he is the devil sent to destroy it. The truth is naturally more complex. Donald Trump, in my mind, is a seriously flawed individual with a fragile self-esteem who didn’t have the skills to lead and couldn’t cope with that reality. The fact of his defeat in the election was simply something his mind could not deal with. His inability to accept and acknowledge defeat was obvious to those who understand his psychology. They predicted this outcome. His former lawyer and fixer Micheal Cohen warned us in his congressional testimony. His niece Mary Trump also warned that the transition of power would not go well. They were right.
His psychology is fairly straight forward. The national psychology is more difficult to understand. Why did so many identify in a personal way with the former President? Why did they project virtues on him that he clearly didn’t possess? Why do they vehemently protect him from any consequences he has earned including poor press coverage during his term and the impeachments that resulted from his irresponsible and dangerous behavior. Why? I assume that the lies they tell themselves about Donald Trump are similar to the lies they tell themselves about who they are. The hardest lies we face are the ones we tell ourselves.
This world is inhabited by imperfect broken people. We hurt one another and ourselves. At best, we have social structures that encourage and reward pro-social behaviors and punish anti-social ones. These structures are never perfect, but as they erode, we find that we miss them. At worst, those structures fail us and complete chaos and brutality prevail. I fear our once great nation is dissolving. It started slowly, but it is accelerating. Like the pandemic that rages across the land, the chaos, cynicism, and hopelessness are spreading exponentially. We lack the mental resources to cope.
As I posted on Facebook, I made the decision to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For now. I feel like God is calling my spirit to wander for a while. I need to embrace the fact that I am a pilgrim in a strange land and my heart yearns for a homeland that doesn’t exist on this planet. I keep going back to the same church and hoping my experience will be different, but sometimes the answer lies outside the box we place ourselves in. God is everywhere. He is in the stream and the mountains. He is in the wind. He can find me in my closet and sit beside me as I comfort a friend. He doesn’t live in buildings built with hands.
It has been tempting to see the church as evil; a deceptive organization that has hurt my recovery and shattered my illusions about God. There are times I feel that way. But when I try to conceptualize the church with whole object relations, a much more complex image immerges.
My depression accelerated when I was newly married and starting a demanding Elementary Education program, I was unable to afford treatment. My mom gave me some pills through my gynecologist at home so that I could manage my suicidal ideation. I tried to get counselling, but the student counseling center hours conflicted with my schedule as a student teacher. As I explained my plight to my bishop, he said, “I will be your counsellor.” We visited weekly. Looking back, it was a miracle that he was able to help me as much as he did. The Lord provided support for me when I desperately needed it. And he did it with a bishop who had little to no training in mental health.
After I graduated and I was able to go to counseling, I went to an LDS family therapist. He became like a second father to me. He helped me in ways I don’t think anyone else could have. When I needed to change counselors to someone closer to home, there were no LDS therapists nearby. Even though my new counselor was not LDS, my bishop still paid for my sessions when we ran out of money to pay for them. He made an effort to understand and I appreciate that. The church invested in my mental health and I will never forget that. If I can ever give back to the leadership or the members of the church, I will gladly do it.
On the other hand, I’ve seen in the members and some leaders an irrational and impenetrable resistance to the reality of mental health and what they don’t know. As the Savior said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They hurt people like me. They think they are helping. They want to help, but they refuse to see. I pray that God will open their eyes that they might be better ministers to the increasing number of suffering people.
The prophet and his apostles are trying to help us. They have provided the resources in handbooks, websites, youtube videos and manuals. Unfortunately, there are political and social trends more powerful than church leadership that have alienated members from the truths that could set us free from mental and emotional ignorance and the catastrophic consequences. There are none so blind as they who will not see.
As I look back to my pioneer ancestors for inspiration I see that they chose to build, not to tear down. They chose to serve, not to demand entitlements. They chose to get better, not to get bitter. That’s the path I want to take. I hope that someday the church is a safe and healthy place for me to be. Until then, I will go where He wants me to go. I will serve where he wants me to serve. I will be what he wants me to be. I will give judgement to the Lord who sees with perfect whole object relations. He is ever merciful to me as I plead for His forgiveness. Can I fail to give it? No. I will forgive to seventy times seven as my Lord has instructed. His grace is enough for me and for thee.
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!
Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.
Edward Henry Bickersteth