It’s been a wild ride these last few weeks. And it has little to do with being “locked in”.
Being locked in has given me more quiet time than I am used to for sure. In “normal” circumstances I don’t stand still much. I’m a doer, a goer, always on the move.
I’ve been involved in some pretty deep conversations with one of my friends lately. Discussions about authenticity and what that means. She’s had some pretty direct and bold conversations with a family member lately and having practiced that approach with her over the last few years, it seems to have brought them closer. Even though there are some fundamental things they don’t agree on — faith being the main thing — they are still able to converse and be honest where each other stands in their feelings.
And I found myself a wee bit envious.
Though I am by no means a people-pleaser, I am an incredibly empathetic person. I have always been compassionate – even when I was young and a bit of a bully – I never wielded my bullying at the underdog. I generally stoo as their defender. And though I have no trouble with bluntness or conflict – I don’t like to say things in a way that cuts like a knife.
For instance, this friend also left the Mormon corporation (the further I go, the harder it is for me to refer to the organization as a “church”) several years ago. When you ask her why she left, she’ll look you straight in the eye and say, “because it isn’t true.” If you ask me why I left, I will generally say something like, “I tugged at the thread of Joseph Smith and everything unraveled.” Same difference? I’d like to think my approach opens the door for discussion – especially with someone who might still hold active membership. Where my friend’s approach shuts down the conversation at the start. Is my approach “better”? Not necessarily. Unless you are balancing our objectives, I think.
I want to continue the conversation.
During my membership, I had another friend who was willing to have conversations with me along the way. I was Mormon, she was Christian. There is absolutely a difference.
There were times a long the way I would shut the conversation down because what I was hearing was so different than what I believed to be true. And she would back off a bit when that happened, but she never walked away, never threw her hands in the air, never gave up on me.
Over the many years of exhaustion in my pursuit of worthiness, she continued to share a message of Grace. After a while, I started to wonder what I was missing? What didn’t I understand? It lead me to the bible and in its pages I was lead to a freedom I hadn’t known before. And now I want to share this understanding with others.
But that can’t happen if I stop the conversation before it begins.
Empathy requires active listening. There is a meme I LOVE that explains this in a simple picture…
I try not to assume I understand someone else’s experience, even when we’ve shared something similar. Just because I was once a member of the same organization does not mean my experience is entirely the same as the person who remains involved. That’s not to say the conversation is always equal or easy on both sides. Sometimes, no matter how gentle I try to be with what I am saying, if the other person is defensive or doesn’t trust me, the conversation isn’t going to move forward. And that brings me to why I was feeling a wee bit envious.
I consider myself to be a pretty authentic person. I am who I am. I don’t sugar coat it and I don’t change depending on who is in the room. Except I do, sometimes, particularly with a person I love and hold more dear than all others. My bestie.
I would like to say I’m 100% authentic when it comes to our relationship, but I am not. At best I am 80’ish % myself. But the part I hide is probably the part that most makes me who I am. My faith. It’s not that we don’t discuss prayer or faith at all, it’s that we’re so very careful about what we share.
When I first left Mormonism and came to Mel to share my decision we talked a lot those first few weeks. One particular day, she was over helping me paint my kitchen (again) and she said something that I have carried with me deep in my heart and it always rears its head when I want to take a step and have a deeper faith-based conversation.
Mel has had experience with family members who have left long before me, and their approach to discussing the organization was so negative that it made having those conversations difficult. What Mel said that stuck with me went something like this, “I hope you don’t one day become condescending like others who have left have.”
That statement has literally frozen me in my steps.
When I have an experience through my understanding of Grace, I find it difficult to share it with her. Every time I think of the words I would use to share my experience, it sounds condescending to me. Not because I know better, but because I now know differently. And because as much as Mel believes what she knows to be true with every fiber of her being, I believe it to be untrue with just as much umph. And I don’t know if it’s a divide we can bridge and keep our precious connection in tact. And that terrifies me.
And that brings to me a cross-roads.
I have recently started taking some classes. I am working toward my certification as a Christian Life Coach. At the end of the program I will be certified to partner with others who are working to see what God would have them do in their lives. To cheer them on, to offer guidance, to point them to the Word so they can self-discover. There’s no mincing words here. I could have chosen a general Life Coaching course. They are certainly easier to find than one with a decidedly Christian approach, but I chose to follow what I deeply believe and wish to share — a message of Faith and Grace.
Soon I will start a new website and blog under my name – which is fine – however, my Facebook page and Instagram are already under my name, so their flavor will change and this is where my careful word choices with Mel may be challenged.
My audience will be those in life transition. Sometimes that will be a faith transition. Sometimes that will mean a transition away from a high-demand religion. Though kindness and empathy will always be the foot I lead with, directness and honesty go hand-in-hand. I cannot serve others well if I cannot bring to the table the things I have learned in my life and in my training. I believe this to be true, but there’s still a part of me that just doesn’t feel brave.
My friend who started me down this rabbit hole sees life as a series of deaths and rebirths. I believe there is truth in that as well.
Leaving Mormonism was definitely a death. A death of an entire belief system I once held dear. A way of life that I had followed for 20 years. When I left I had to reestablish a series of things in my life. I had to redefine myself. How did I see the world when I wasn’t following men who told me how to think? How did I see God when it was just me and Him and the bible to guide me? How did I define modesty? Did I like coffee?
Questions that seem so simple to others were monumental to me and I had to take one at a time and rebuild who I was, who I wanted to be. A rebirth for sure.
As I move closer to fulfilling the calling that I feel on my heart, I feel the tug of a looming choice. Hard conversations are going to be required between Mel and I in the not too distant future. I deeply fear this will mean another death — not that I think our friendship will sever, but it will certainly undergo some change. I have no idea what it will look like on the other side of those conversations and I feel it in the pit of my stomach just typing these words. I just know it can’t stay here – at 80%. And I know the weight of this lies squarely on my shoulders.
I have no idea if Mel senses the distance between us, I imagine she does. And if she does I can’t imagine she feels much differently than I do. I long to close the gap. To be able to come to her with whatever I am experiencing and not fear hurting her feelings.
My friend pointed out that perhaps I’ve needed to rest here a while, to keep the peace these past few years when so much around me was under construction I needed my friendship with Mel to be a constant and I wasn’t ready to disrupt that in the midst of all the other turmoil. Now that I have put to rest that part of my past, I am ready to move forward with this next phase of authenticity. It certainly doesn’t feel safe and peaceful anymore. Where before I didn’t give it much thought, it now weighs heavily on my heart and mind all. the. time.
This is where I’ll leave these thoughts for now. And why I am so thankful I can turn to prayer and listening. I feel like I need a lot of both for the journey ahead. I don’t have all the answers yet – and I may not have them all as I start on this journey – but I find comfort once again in words Paul wrote:
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time He said, My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That is why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)