It’s been almost a year since I wrote a couple of posts that turned my world upside down. I’d been exploring and learning about the good news of Christ, and seeing how sometimes hurtful things sneak in and call themselves “gospel”. Friends were struggling, desperately looking for a way to be healed, for a way to let go of old narratives and find a new sense of being where they could actually believe that God loves them. I found myself really sitting deeply with some of the things that had affected them, and I saw how those things had shaped my thoughts about myself and others too.
Right or wrong, I put words to these experiences on my blog. The reaction was far from homogenous. I had many reach out thanking me for my words and the hope they now felt. I had others who worried about me, not understanding what I was talking about. I won’t place blame here, I’m not a magical wordsmith and I’m sure my posts can be quite fuzzy at times. In the end, there is always a cost.
When I was in the bishop’s office after being called in about my posts, I had a really hard time keeping my emotions together. I arrived early and sat in my car in the parking lot, taking time to be alone in contemplation, to pray, and to ask God to help me know what to do and say. I knew the bishop would have questions. I also knew that I loved that man. I’d seen him try so hard to show love to the ward over the past year and a half we had worked together at church. I wanted more than anything else to make sure that whatever I said was compassionate and loving towards him and his desires to perform his calling in good faith. I was simply going to just love him and be okay with whatever happened.
When I walked into his office, I felt like I had prepared myself the best I could. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the types of questions he had for me. Somewhere along the line, he had been led to believe that I was apostatizing, part of anti-Mormon social media groups, and even being actively deceived by the devil. He even thought that I might try to use scripture to argue against him. I was honestly very shocked by his assumptions. And also honestly, I probably shouldn’t have been. We were both operating from different perspectives, and it got things all tangled up.
For a while, I had been involved with a Latter-day Saint leadership improvement group, which was led by believing members who sought to help those called into leadership positions feel better equipped to execute their callings with grace and love. There were a lot of leaders in that group, and it made me think that perhaps the church was moving more wholly towards proactively teaching its leaders these new ways of serving in their callings. I made the assumption that any conversation I would have with one of my own leaders would go the way I had seen modelled in this group. That was an unfair assumption to make, and it led me to set the bar impossibly high for the average lay ward leader who spent more time at work and with family than reading about their calling on the internet.
On the other side of the desk, the bishop had most likely seen many people leave the church. Most of us have. And to the perception of many, it is often with some sort of angry argument against doctrine or policy, usually learned from something they encountered online. Another unfair assumption I made was that he wouldn’t think such things of me. For as much as I felt we had gotten to know each other, we didn’t really know each other. For all I know, he felt just as shocked and hurt that he was having to deal with this as I did. I don’t know what he had been told, or how much of what I wrote he had read, and it wasn’t fair for me to expect anything other than what happened.
I did practically nothing during that meeting except cry, and try my best to carefully correct the assumptions he had about me and my positions. Again, I don’t blame him. The whole thing seemed rather awkward for both of us. Eventually, he reiterated his desire to help me through this struggle I was having with my faith and I reiterated my insistence that I wasn’t struggling with my faith, and I left his office.
I know that when I say “let me be clear” there is still room for error. Apparently. Or I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess to begin with. But, let me be clear, I have no hard feelings toward my bishop. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. We’ve had many positive interactions since that day in July. And this post isn’t about my relationship with my bishop. It’s about the things my meeting with him taught me about love.
Choosing to love him wasn’t enough for me to keep my wits about me during that meeting. Why wasn’t it enough? I had read so much about how love can heal wounds and change the world. And I really believed it too. Love is everything we ever need. Why wasn’t it enough?
As I’ve unpacked all of this, I realized that there was a critical piece missing in my understanding of love. I had sat at the feet of the divine and listened to all it could teach me about loving others, but I hadn’t heard what it was telling me about the love the divine has for me. I wanted to believe I was unconditionally loved, and I would say things like that out loud or in posts often, but I hadn’t really sat with it and personally internalized it. I was still fighting off the voices that told me I wasn’t worthy or good enough, and spinning between the opposites, I hadn’t fully rested into God’s love for me.
When I walked into that office, no amount of wanting to love the bishop was going to be able to keep me from being caught off guard by the confusion of things not going even remotely like I had assumed.
One of my favorite spiritual directors said, “To be with a spiritual teacher is to be with someone who’s perhaps as confused or more confused than you are, but they’re not confused by the confusion because they know it’s just confusion. We get confused by confusion because we believe that confusion has the authority to name who we are.”
Once I was confused by how things were turning out, it felt harder and harder to not wonder if I wasn’t good enough or worthy enough to have God give me the strength I needed in that moment. Where was God? I let the confusion creep in and define who I was.
I was worried I’d get defensive with the bishop, and I didn’t want to. I thought being determined to love him would keep that from happening. But if I had walked into that room fully grounded in God’s love for me, that sure foundation would have sustained me better than any resolve I had for any action of my own.
God was always there. I didn’t need to focus so hard on loving the bishop. I needed to believe, really believe, that I was infinitely loved, wanted, and worthy. If I could just believe that, then I would show up as love because that’s who I am. It wouldn’t have stopped the situation from being confusing, confusion happens, but it’s just confusion. It doesn’t have the authority to name who I am. That authority belongs to my true self encircled in the arms of an infinitely vast loving universe.
Now, I’m determined to spend more time sitting with God. To be still, to know. And from that place of feeling totally loved arises all the love I’ve ever wanted to have for others.