I know you are, but what am I?
I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time. “Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult. My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool. It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms. The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”
The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are. My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that. The question is troubling, and terribly insistent. For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.
Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her. She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents. Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.
For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church. From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents. But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image. And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.
For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it. Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity. In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him. I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven. I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven. I know who they are, but who am I?
I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone. But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men. I know that’s not true. But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that? I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word. So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.
Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?