Guest Post: Worthy of Being Known #MormonMeToo
“And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” There is something profoundly beautiful about intimacy. Humans have a deep desire to be fully known. We long to see and be seen. To love and be loved. And yet, we feel unworthy of that closeness. We feel we must hide our dark parts, our imperfections and our weaknesses in order to be valued. We hide in shame.
To have someone acknowledge the goodness in you and to love you despite all your darkness is powerful beyond measure. It is the intimacy and love that God offers us and that we begin to understand in our human relationships. It is the power of holding a newborn baby and loving her not because she will love us in return or come home with good grades or clean up her room, but simply because she is. She is loved just for the sake of being. Fully, completely, unconditionally loved. It is the beauty of love for a 95-year-old woman, not because she will compliment you on your cooking (she won’t) or tell you new stories (she won’t), but of loving her simply because she is human. It is the joy of marriage that stands as a symbol for the union we are striving for with God – to stand naked before Him, to be seen and to be loved.
I can readily see the goodness of my children and I am getting better at loving them even in their moments of obstinence. It is easy to love my husband. But having compassion for myself often seems beyond reach. Coming to know myself and stand naked before God is personally my greatest challenge. Overcoming the shame of sexual assault can feel like a daunting journey. Resilience grows as I begin to see myself as God sees me. Healing starts as I allow myself to grieve for that which was taken from me, as I learn to accept that it was not my fault, and as I fully feel my worth.
Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, defines shame as the fear of disconnection. “We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging. Shame is fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.” For me, the shame of my assault silenced me for many years. For years I blamed myself.
As I’ve reached out to others, it is clear that I am not the only one who has been silenced by shame and hopelessness. I see a need to help people understand that nothing can separate them from the love of Christ. I see a misunderstanding between worthy of God’s love (always) and worthy to administer in the priesthood, go to the temple, etc. Reflecting on my own experience surrounding love and connection, I am so grateful for my unshakable faith that God loves me. It has anchored me. It has sustained me through trials. I have asked myself, If I know God loves me no matter what, then why do I feel such pain and shame and fear that others will see me as unworthy of love? I have to reality check the messages, especially stories I tell myself, that fuel shame. I have to have compassion for myself for wherever I am on that journey on any given day. I affirm that God wants us to bear one another’s burdens and I am so grateful for the countless talks, lessons and particularly, the acts of kindness that remind me that God loves me. Nobody needs to travel the journey of repentance or love and healing alone. People need connection with others, they need the strength of facing life’s challenges with others, they need to hear the soothing message that Christ lives. I believe they also need people to witness to their worth and to trust in their goodness. As Chieko Okazaki pointed out, “I would hope that every teacher in the Church will remember that in his or her classroom is almost certainly at least one person who has survived sexual abuse.” We need to be careful with the language we use when talking about sexuality at church. It’s not about people taking unnecessary offense. It’s about creating a safe environment for people to heal.
Love is a powerful force. It binds us together and protects us from the vicissitudes of life. My story is about the shame surrounding sexual abuse, but as Brene Brown points out, we all experience shame and feeling never enough in one way or another. She describes her own fear of vulnerability as a shield “too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known.” Brown also describes the beauty of empathy and its power to pull people out of shame. “Empathy doesn’t require that we have the exact same experiences as the person sharing their story with us. Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance… Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”
Mahlah is a lover of children, books and giant mugs of herbal tea.