I’m a big fan of Brené Brown. I first saw her lecture on TED and it hit a resonate point in me. Her perspective and language reframed an issue into new understandings and I immediately wanted to embrace all that she said with full purpose of heart. It rung true. It felt good. But Mormon’s don’t always do vulnerability all that well. And knowing my own tendencies toward numbing away pain through a myriad of efforts, I also set out with an exuberance to “overcome” my numbing protective behaviors and get this thing figured out, and fast. I guess you can tell that I relate to Brené’s initial approach to tackle a challenge by taking the proverbial bull by the horns and “gettin’ ‘er done”. It didn’t work for me either.
As I’ve “sat with it” for a period of time and worked to give up each numbing element as it was ready to be released, I’ve enjoyed a much gentler process. Today, I noticed that I am far more forgiving of myself, far more patient with my follies, far more hopeful about where I intend to take this creation of mine. I see far more wonder in other’s individuality and what they have to offer at any given time. I see the miraculousness of circumstance and of interactions. I allow and tolerate and enjoy so much more of the process of living.
I was reading over a talk by Bruce R. Hafen, given actually the year before I married, 1983. What a journey that suffering wrought in my life. The pains we choose to go through together can lead us ultimately along a pathway that results in a forging together or a tearing apart. I foolishly thought that somehow in my earnestness to succeed at forging together, I could bear the burden for both of us and I held fiercely to that hope for nearly two decades. Ultimately in the end, I learned agency is a gift that must freely be given by each individual to not only the Lord, but also committed to each other.
When one withholds their agency in a relationship, progress is halted. As I think of the temple covenants of sacrifice and consecration, ultimately it is the gift of committing ones agency to the purposes of God where that offering of agency actually becomes the evidence of that covenant. I think that if you would ask any single LDS divorced person they would agree that withholding the offering of that gift was ultimately a downfall in the relationship. It becomes the avenue whereby many of the other problems being to creep in. And with that creeping in comes the suffering and ultimately the teaching begins.
Elder Hafen quotes Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wrote:
“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” (Time, 5 Feb. 1973, p. 35.)
When you think of it, that perfectly describes the stages of healing from a difficult marriage or relationship experience. It begins with suffering, then moves to mourning. (Far too many singles get stuck there.) Next comes understanding. Then patience, not only for yourself, but for the ex spouse. For me, love was a difficult step, because of years of disappointment, pain, and hurt. But I learned to love the experience from a gratitude space. From that marriage I had two wonderful children. I also felt gratitude for the experience and learning and development of myself. So I could at least love for the blessings of the refiner’s fire. It was when I learned to love, that much of the pain of the past relationship transformed to gratitude.
Openness…now that was a tough, tough stage for me. It became a matter of re-establishing trust in myself. I didn’t and still don’t want to make the same mistakes. So there’s a lot of self-scrutiny and self-awareness I went through. I’m trying really hard to keep my heart open and aware. But that very act of openness says that there is also a very real possibility of pain. Pain is going to be part of the process. So I think we need to embrace that part, too. Not that pain should be the objective, but that we are not moved to inaction by our own fears.
But to allow ourselves to be vulnerable? Who on earth wants to be vulnerable? To take the walls down? To allow another into my space, my life, and ultimately my heart? To believe that I am loveable and ready for giving on that level? That may always be a daunting task. But it is a task I will use my agency to willingly undergo. As many times as I need to, and I truly hope it isn’t many, I will try. In my initial tip-toes into vulnerability I have discovered exactly what Brené Brown discovered. It’s where the possibility of joy lies. It’s where we feel the completeness of the experience. It’s where we can allow another to tread on the “hallowed ground” of our creation. The interactions of that caliber are what I’m interested in experiencing. So I will bravely practice not holding back my heart.