Until We Have Faces

How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?[1]

When I was a little girl I once declared that green was my favorite color. My older sister replied, “No it’s not.” Instead of contradicting her I was filled with doubt and wondered what my favorite color was, since it obviously wasn’t green.

An unfortunate confluence of my own proclivities, my family dynamics, and the way the gospel was presented to me turned me into a person who was quite literally selfless. When I say ‘selfless’ I don’t mean generous, or kindly, I mean an empty shell who was what everyone had instructed me to be. For example, my favorite color was the color that my older sister liked best, because it was the best color. My life plans were the plans given to me in Young Womens. I believed that there was one, objective, correct way to be human, and I supposed to be that way.

As a teen I was told that God knew me better than I even knew myself. I was so relieved to hear this, since I didn’t know myself at all. I prayed earnestly that God would show me who I was. That He would tell me what I should do with my life. I wanted to be commanded in all things, even down to the clothes that I wore, and the way I cut my hair.

I grew up, got married and had kids. The depression, and pressures that came with motherhood wiped away what little ‘self’ I had left. There were things that bothered me, polygamy, priesthood, the place of women in the Celestial Kingdom. I prayed in anguish that God would just make me feel the way I was supposed to feel about those things.

But God was silent.

Soon after I fell silent as well.

In all the years since that time I haven’t said a private prayer. For a while I felt guilty about it. I see now that nearly all of the prayers I had ever prayed before were the ‘vain repetitions’ we hear so much about. They were prayers said because praying is what I was told to do. I recited the ‘correct’ words every night and morning because that was the ‘correct’ way to live. There was no part of ‘me’ in those prayers.

I wonder now if God’s silence wasn’t ultimately the answer to the earnest prayers I gave as a teenager. I wanted to know myself, and so God withdrew from me so that I could have the space to learn for myself. I no longer feel guilty about my lack of prayers.

Yes, God wants us to bend our will to His, but in order to do that we must have a will of our own. Yes, God wants us to give ourselves to him, but in order to do that we must have a self to give. Yes, he wants to speak with us, but in order to do that we must have a voice of our own. Someday I will pray again, and when I do I will be speaking with God face to face, but in order for that to happen I must first have a face.

1. “[C.S. Lewis] in a letter to his long time corespondent, Dorothea Conybeare, explaining the idea that a human ‘must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask.'”

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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30 Responses

  1. DefyGravity says:

    Starfoxy, this is absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching. This especially rings true for me: “I wonder now if God’s silence wasn’t ultimately the answer to the earnest prayers I gave as a teenager. I wanted to know myself, and so God withdrew from me so that I could have the space to learn for myself.”

    I’ve always had a hard time with the idea of God knowing me better then I know myself, simply because what I was told God wanted me to do felt so wrong to me. I equated God’s will with church leaders telling me that I was supposed to be married and have kids, etc. etc. and that never felt right for my life. For a long time I was unable to trust myself because what “God wanted me to do” didn’t feel right to me, but I must be the one who was wrong. It wasn’t until I disconnected God from the church that I was able to trust my feelings about who I was and what my life was supposed to be and figure out what God was really saying.

    Thank you for this. These insights about knowing ourselves in order to give ourselves to God are stunning.

  2. Deborah says:

    I’ll eventually think for something cogent to say in response, but first, thank you, particularly for your final paragraph

  3. So beautifully said.

  4. galdralag says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  5. Miri says:

    This is beautiful, Starfoxy. So many thoughts rolling around in my head right now. Trying to figure out if this could be anything like an explanation for my own years of useless experiences with prayer. I wonder if prayer would be different now that I have begun to be myself, and not just the clone I was before. I was actually just thinking about giving it another shot a couple days ago, and maybe now I really will.

  6. Alisa says:

    I resonate with much of this, but I’ve never thought of God withdrawing from me to give me space to figure out who I am, to get a face, a character, a will of my own, something I can offer up to God. I grew up always-already compromised, sacrficed. I started out deficient. This is something I’m going to be thinking about.

    Right from your title, I thought of the Pablo Neruda poem. He’s an athiest, but the way he describes poetry resonates to me with Spirit/Universe/God/That other Force of Good. If you substitute your version of God for his version of poetry, the poem can take really apply here:

    And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
    in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
    it came from, from winter or a river.
    I don’t know how or when,
    no, they were not voices, they were not
    words, nor silence,
    but from a street I was summoned,
    from the branches of night,
    abruptly from the others,
    among violent fires
    or returning alone,
    there I was without a face
    and it touched me.

    http://peacefulrivers.homestead.com/pabloneruda.html#anchor_16109

    I realize this poem is a little contrary to the post. This is a different take than what you say here–here Poetry approaches the person even without a face. There’s a grace in that idea that the faceless have hope that I love. But for me, Poetry/God/whatever didn’t really come, even at my darkest times as a child when I could have used that grace. I kept waiting and waiting, praying and perfecting, but I felt so alone. So whether it happens by grace to a faceless person, or whether God meets me face-to-face, I have to keep moving to make who I am going to be.

  7. honey says:

    Self knowledge is the hardest to come by and it can’t be bestowed by anyone, even God (agency ya know!) And we can’t really be honest with God until we are honest with and about ourselves. He can’t give us real answers to phony questions.

  8. Alliegator says:

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  9. Kristen Says No says:

    Horrifyingly familiar and beautifully articulated.

  10. Bobman says:

    Aside from being a man and having different issues that pressed on me, I feel your words could easily have been mine if I’d found a way to express it as you have.

  11. Mórrígan says:

    I wonder now if God’s silence wasn’t ultimately the answer to the earnest prayers I gave as a teenager. I wanted to know myself, and so God withdrew from me so that I could have the space to learn for myself. I no longer feel guilty about my lack of prayers.

    This is just so beautiful!

  12. spunky says:

    Too familar for words…. thank you for this.

  13. Maryly says:

    You will see your face and it will change you forever in myriad good and happy ways. School gave me a face every day; I lost it every day among my “popular” peers on the bus and especially at home, where my father called me the Educated Idiot. I went 800 miles away to college (good) but it was BYU (sometimes problematic). When I was 27, we were transferred to Mose Lake, WA for 11 glorious years. Women there were integral to their farmer husbands’ success – and the guys knew it! By the time we were sent to Western Washington, I had a clear view of myself. We’ve been here 24 years, and my oldest son says I have intimidated every man in each ward we’ve lived in here. Good! They need to see what a strong woman is. You are one of those strong women – you will see yourself clearly and you will change the world.

  14. Mike H. says:

    Profound. I’m still at a loss to know details of myself. SOme things about our own personality don’t seem to get ready answers. I would in the past have encouraged you to start praying again, but I’m not a shining example of perfection or knowledge through prayer.

  15. Sunshine says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I identify perfectly with the whole first half myself, word for word. Living my life full of “supposed to” and doing things because they are the “right” or “correct” thing to do, regardless of my own beliefs (because, well, I don’t know that I know what they are), has driven my life until very recently. Finding out who I am and what I think and believe has become the focus of my energy lately and it is proving to be a long, difficult road. Prayers have never been “answered” for me and so I, too, have stopped praying. Thank you for expressing so eloquently my exact feelings.

  16. Thank you for this beautiful post, Starfoxy. It resonated with me. Because of my personality and upbringing in the church, I allowed others to tell me who I was and what I should do with my life. I suppressed certain aspects of myself in order to be liked and validated by those around me–because I did not like myself, far from it, in fact.

    Now, I’ve realized the damage this attitude of compliance has done. Therapy has helped me assert my self and my beliefs a little better, but it can be very difficult–especially when family members don’t like the changes I’ve been making. My mom especially. I can’t have any “real” conversations with her because she constantly invalidates my feelings and has difficult supporting or understanding my decisions–even when they have nothing to do about the church. I understand why its difficult, the church gave her one job to do, raising her children to be faithful members–and I know she feels like a failure in this regard with me. I don’t know how to help her understand that I *am* following God–of course, she likes to say I’m just misinterpreting the spiritual impressions I’ve received.

    Ultimately, I feel like I have been able to overcome my depression to a large extent by being more true to myself and allowing myself to have opinions . I’m so much happier and mentally healthier. But it comes at a cost–my relationship with members of my family. I wish there were some way they could understand–but my experiences cannot fit into their paradigm.

  17. alex w. says:

    Ah, that was so beautiful and resonant. The Exponent blog at its best 🙂

  18. kmillecam says:

    This was, like others have said, heartbreaking and beautiful. I have also felt the empty shell of just wanting to be filled with all the things I was supposed to be doing that other people could choose for me because I didn’t trust myself at all. This was my experience growing up in the church as well, feeling that void and like I was a vessel.

    But of course, I have come to different conclusions: I don’t believe god exists, at least not in the strict sense of being out there somewhere and our creator. I find my own worth and identity and value in letting go of the god outside of me. I don’t worry about it anymore. Instead, I marvel at the beauty of the world around me, my own body, the connections I make with others. This is the only source of true fulfillment that I have found.

  19. Alex says:

    We are typically taught that our prayers should follow certain patterns (which sometimes feels contradictory to that warning against “vain repetitions”), addressing Heavenly Father with the highest degree of respect shown with what may seem to some to be overly formal language. In my private prayers I often forego this language in addition to deviating from the “‘Dear Heavenly Father,’ giving of thanks, asking for something, closing in Christ’s name” pattern.

    I feel like making these suggested patterns into strict rules of prayer detract from my relationship with Him. It makes Him seem more distant, like some formidable figure I must approach with caution, more like a medieval king than like a dad. I show respect to my earthly father though I don’t use such formal language or any specific pattern when we talk. In 3 Nephi 20:1 we learn that we should never cease to pray in our hearts. For me, this means keeping the lines of communication constantly open. Sometimes I just send up a sentence or two of thanks or of asking when I’m busy at work and in turn sometimes revelation strikes me in the most unexpected moments.

    At times I’ve questioned my practices of prayer. I say more standard prayers out loud when asked during church gatherings, when I begin and end my day, and before meals. But I’ve still wondered whether I should be more reverent throughout the day. Over time I’ve realized that this is MY relationship with my heavenly Father and no one else’s. Each relationship is special, sacred, and vastly different. This is my voice.

    Thanks for helping my testimony grow, Starfoxy.

    • Meggle says:

      You are being reverent! You are revering God as your father in heaven by communicating with him constantly. Reverence is a feeling we have, not certain words or actions. I love your way of praying-maybe because it is very much how I pray. Speaking to heavenly father throughout my day (or sometimes forgetting for several days) makes me feel a connection to someone who loves me and knows where I’m at- physically, mentally, emotionally- and His love is not conditional.

  20. Howard says:

    One of the goals of gnostic esoteric pursuits is to become an empty vessel and a smooth bone. An empty vessel is a person free of bias available to receive a spiritual message. A smooth bone has weathered the meat and marrow are gone it becomes a tube of sorts or in other words a spiritual conduit. This is what prophets are made from.

    • Annie B. says:

      That’s really interesting. The sentiment that a prophet should seek to be free of personal bias (or full of Godly bias) seems to make sense. Although it’s clear to me that real prophets are not just empty shells, and are very much their own people with agency to do great things or not so great things and often enough their own bias does influence their message. To pretend otherwise seems quite harmful.

  21. christer1979 says:

    Thank you so much. I never felt like I didn’t know my desires as a teenager, but now that I’m a married adult and chronic illness is looming over all the dreams I took for granted, I worry about whether I’m praying for the right thing. Your post (and that fabulous CS Lewis quote) are such a reminder that honesty is the only thing that will get me anywhere with God. It’s why I love my MoFems.

  22. Ziff says:

    Wow, Starfoxy! Thanks for putting this so well!

    You said that the cause of your becoming selfless was a combination of “my own proclivities, my family dynamics, and the way the gospel was presented to me.” Thinking about the last of these causes, you alluded to this point in your post, but I just wanted to restate it to make sure I’ve got it right, because it’s such a great insight. When the gospel is presented as a series of rules that govern actions as seemingly trivial as hair and clothing choice, the loud and clear subtext is that we should be selfless. I had never thought of it this way, but I think you’re spot on.

  23. Jenna says:

    This post and the comments throughout are exactly what I need right now.

    This part cut right to my core:

    “As a teen I was told that God knew me better than I even knew myself. I was so relieved to hear this, since I didn’t know myself at all.”

    I am going through this very transition right now. Trying to figure out who I am, and what I believe, in dependent of my parents and leaders and friends.

    I am lucky to be married to a very pragmatic man, who has helped me come to a place where I believe what is right can be found by using the knowledge I have at my disposal to form conclusions. I don’t know if that makes sense, but for so long I was relying on everyone else. Any higher power would not only know me better than I know myself, He/She/They would also know my intentions. And so I don’t have to worry so much about doing the wrong thing, as long as my intentions are in the right place.

    I am also reminding myself that what I am doing right now, the choices I’m making, aren’t forever. I can try out what feels right for now, and I can change later.

    I can’t pinpoint a time where I felt like God answered one of my prayers. I’ve felt good about some things, but I’ve also felt “good” while watching Bones or Drop Dead Diva. What does that even mean?

    I just want to be good and kind and care for others while caring for myself.

  24. Emmaline says:

    I don’t have much to add to the previous comments other than to say “Me too!” I feel like I found my voice/face/self in the process of my education, that it showed up through peeling back that shell of “what everyone expects.” Now I’m finding ways to fit the self I’ve found into the framework that dominated my thinking for so many years.

    That re-fitting has been a years-long process, and I’m still not done.

  25. Rachel says:

    I thought of that good ol’ French boy, Levinas, and his famous face to face.

    Thank you.

  26. runningcaj says:

    This fit perfectly with thoughts I had today. I love the idea that we can bend our will unless first we have a will of our own. Lovely!

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