Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Grace of Community and Friendship

Posted by Seraphine

Last week I began to ponder how the Atonement might apply currently to the struggles I’m facing. We’re taught that the Atonement is not only there for sinners, but for everyone who needs healing and reconciliation. I began to wonder how it might be possible to use the Atonement to reconcile myself to a God from whom I am distant and with whom I am very upset.

This was in the back of my mind as I went to church on Sunday. During fast and testimony meeting, I felt prompted to get up and share some thoughts. I got up, said I wasn’t going to share a standard testimony because I was in the middle of a crisis of faith. I talked about how faith is a risk, and that this past year, I took a leap of faith and ended up in a very confusing, difficult place. I talked about how now I’m questioning a lot of my beliefs, but that what I’m holding on to right now is a desire to believe, and right now, for me this is okay. Then I sat down.

As I was sitting in the pew after sharing my “testimony,” I started getting quite anxious. I had been really honest about how difficult I’m finding things spiritually right now. I had made myself quite vulnerable, and a large part of me wanted to run and hide. How were my ward members going to react? However, my anxieties were short-lived. Multiple ward members approached me after the meeting (and over the next couple hours) and expressed words of support, appreciation for my testimony, concern for me, etc. Many of the people who approached me with kindness and empathy were people that I had never spoken to before.

After regaining some composure in the hall for a few minutes after Sacrament meeting, I proceeded to Sunday School, where the class was discussing D&C 121 and 122, the sections on Joseph’s experiences in Liberty Jail. The teacher was focusing on questions of discipleship and the Atonement–primarily, how do we remain disciples of Christ when we reach difficult moments in lives and we feel like things are unfair? And how does the Atonement apply to these moments? The exact pertinence of the lesson and these questions to my life did not escape me.

The class had a multitude of great thoughts, and then the teacher ended by emphasizing the power of friendship and community. She talked about how peace came for Joseph Smith and the others in Liberty Jail through the kindness and love of their family and friends, and she talked about how we can remain disciples and access the Atonement through participating in a community and experiencing the support and love of our friends.

Everything came together for me in that moment. I recognized that while my relationship with God is still really difficult, I have been the beneficiary of an outpouring of love and support–essentially, the Atonement has been at work in my life through the people around me. The comments on my blog posts over the past 6 months have sustained and renewed me. My family and friends have blessed me with their patience as they’ve listened to me for hours as I’ve cried and talked to them about the complicated difficulties of my life. And on Sunday, my ward members reached out to me with compassion when they saw that I was struggling. I haven’t reached the end point of this journey yet, but I have realized how much grace I’ve been receiving from others along the way.

14 Responses to “The Grace of Community and Friendship”

  1. 1.

    Really beautiful, Seraphine.

    I don’t feel particularly close to my ward now, but there have been times when my church community has meant everything to me, times when ward members have saved my spiritual life. Thanks for reminding me of those times and those possibilities.

  2. 2.

    I don’t know what you are going through, but I know how you feel. Not that it makes you feel better, it doesn’t make me feel better when others tell it to me. But I thought that what you expressed was beautiful. You were able to get up in front of everyone and tell the truth. I feel like a lot of Mormonism is teaching people to lie about how they really feel.

    My ward is afraid of me because I answer questions very straight forward. No Fluff. Like Eve, I don’t feel close to my ward at all. But I was really happy to hear how your ward responded to your “testimony.” A reminder that there are normal people out there, even if I don’t run into them. It gives me hope that some day I will again.

    I hope your journey begins to make sense and clear itself up for you.

  3. 3.

    This was beautiful. The phrase ‘tender mercies’ can seem almost trite anymore in our LDS language, but they are so real and so powerful. It’s those kinds of moments that allow me to hang on when things are tough. Do you find that even as you don’t understand God, this helps you know He is there, aware of you? FWIW, I feel that powerfully in this post.

    I was really moved by this, and I am so grateful you were able to feel grace, love, and compassion at this difficult time. I send you a virtual hug as well.
    m

  4. 4.

    This is beautiful, Seraphine. I’m sorry that you’ve suffered like you have, but it’s wonderful to be able to draw strength and support from community — when it’s working right, that’s one of the great things about the LDS community.

    Hugs to you. :)

  5. 5.

    Thanks for counting your readers here as members of your community, sustaining you as well as we can from a distance.

  6. 6.

    What you described is exactly what I have experienced, also. Keep wrestling and working through this. It is the most valuable of all struggles -the sincere search for the truth about God. You are very important to God. That is why He inspires so many of His sons and daughters to help you.

  7. 7.

    Good thoughts, Seraphine. In looking back at some situations in my life, I’ve wondered whether there might be times when God actually couldn’t communicate with me, couldn’t get through to me, because of where I was emotionally and spiritually. I’m not even thinking of times when I was avoiding God (though I’ve certainly had those!)–I’m thinking of times when I was begging him for an answer, and intensely frustrated by his apparent silence. Since my tendency (as you know) is to fall into a default position of, “God is mean and out to get me,” I think I’ve at times needed to experience kindness and acceptance from other human beings to have any faith that the universe isn’t ultimately malevolent; God couldn’t tell me that because I wasn’t in a place to hear or believe it.

    (And I just have to add that I think that raises some really interesting theological questions–we encourage people to go directly to God and get answers, and I certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I wonder about its limitations. Given the extent to which our sense of God is inevitably intertwined with our experience with others, is it possible to even talk about grace in completely individualistic terms?)

    Your post also reminded me that for all my complaining, the church community has done some amazing things for me in my life–not least of which has been connecting me to people who’ve really made a difference when I’ve needed it. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  8. 8.

    Thanks, Eve. I’ve had a variety of experiences in church communities (including negative ones), so I realize it doesn’t always work this way. But I will say I’m really, really grateful that at the moment things I’m in my particular communities.

    Phannie, I agree that some wards have a hard time with honesty or complicated narratives. I’m usually hesitant to be as honest as I was because the outcome isn’t always positive. I’m feeling pretty lucky to be in my ward right now (even though my bishop wanted to talk to me this past week because I think he was kinda concerned after my testimony and wanted to see if there was something he could do to resolve my issues).

  9. 9.

    Thanks, m&m. I’m not sure if I have a stronger sense that God is aware of me. But I do feel the pain of feeling betrayed by God lessening through these experiences, and it definitely seems like a stronger possibility than it did a few months ago that I’m going to figure out how to trust God again.

    Thanks, Kaimi. And I agree–the LDS community can be pretty amazing when it’s working right.

  10. 10.

    Ardis, the support I’ve received both through comments on the blog and behind the scenes has had a significant impact on me. And even though there are limits to how my on-line readers/friends can interact with me, I do feel their love and concern. :)

    Thanks, Angie.

    Lynnette, this past spring I would have had a difficult time accepting much of anything directly from God. I’m not sure I believed He was out to get me, but He just seemed so distant and mysterious and strange (in ways I’ve never felt before). I’m guessing my relationship with God will never be quite the same again (which may not be a bad thing), but I definitely think the kindness of others has grounded me in such a way to feel more comfortable confronting that strangeness and figuring out how it might still be possible to have a personal relationship with Him.

  11. 11.

    I love this post, Seraphine. I haven’t had to go through anything like the difficulties that it sounds like you’ve suffered through. But even so, in my smaller struggles, I’m often struck by the kindness of people around me who bear my burdens with me.

    I particularly like that so many ward members came up to you after your testimony where you feared you had made yourself too vulnerable. I wonder if it’s often the case that we’re all too reticent to share our difficulties with one another, so when someone is actually willing to say they’re struggling, everyone else is relieved to have the possibility of struggling even put out there. So it’s like a public service to admit everything isn’t going hunky dory for you.

  12. 12.

    thanks for this, Seraphine. I’ve had many moment when I wished I had the courage to do as you did and have wondered how people would respond. When I have been brutally honest, the reaction has sometimes been good and sometimes not so great. Last year, the response was not so great and my ensuing battle with God has not been so great either.

    I believe very much in the communal nature of the Atonement. That is to say, I believe the only way to truly experience the Atonement is to connect with other people–both by receiving love and sustenance from them and by giving love and sustenance to them. I liked Lynette’s aside:

    (And I just have to add that I think that raises some really interesting theological questions–we encourage people to go directly to God and get answers, and I certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I wonder about its limitations. Given the extent to which our sense of God is inevitably intertwined with our experience with others, is it possible to even talk about grace in completely individualistic terms?)

    I very much believe that our sense of God is “intertwined with our experience with others”–so much so that I don’t think it’s possible to know God except by knowing and loving others. For me, God cannot exist in isolation as an individual.

    and after all of that, I have to say that I struggle with the communal aspect of God in spite of my belief in it. Largely, I think, because I do not feel that I exist in community with those I encounter at church. Not through any fault of theirs or mine; just by virtue of the stark differences between how I understand my world and how they understand my world. Perhaps that *is* a fault on my part–maybe I perceive differences that do not exist or at least that do not or should not carry the weight I give them. But I struggle finding my place in a community with which I find myself disagreeing so very often and on such very important questions.

    In spite of my own difficulties finding acceptance in my church community, I am glad that you have found some in yours.

  13. 13.

    [...] I have recently found a renewed appreciation for the Mormon community, my worries about God were rolling around in the back of my mind as I went [...]

  14. 14.

    [...] past month has been miraculous in unexpected ways. As I wrote recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Atonement. I realized this summer that the Atonement was probably the only thing that could heal my [...]

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