Makenzie: Welcome to Conversations with Dr. Jennifer, a collection of interviews on the topics of relationships, sexuality, spirituality, and more, all featuring Dr. Finlayson-Fife. The following episode is the recording of Dr. Finlayson-Fife's recent presentation during a gospel study session hosted by Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon thought. Dialogue hosts gospel study sessions through Zoom on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. You can learn more about Dialogue and these study sessions by clicking the link in the show notes below. Enjoy the episode.
Ester Hi'ilani Candari: Welcome everyone to another edition of Dialogue Sunday Gospel Study. We're glad that you're here. We're grateful to be learning and discussing with all of you. I am Ester Hi'ilani Candari. I am a member of the Dialogue Board and I'll be conducting our meeting today.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is a relationship and sexuality educator and coach as well as a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Boston College. She wrote her dissertations on LDS women and sexuality and has taught college-level courses on human sexuality. She currently teaches online courses and live workshops to individuals and couples seeking to develop their capacity for deeper emotional and sexual intimacy. She is a frequent contributor to the subjects of sexuality, relationships, and spirituality on LDS-themed blogs, magazines, and podcasts, including the Ask a Mormon Sex Therapist Podcast Series. She and her husband are the parents of three children and are active members of the LDS Church. And to iterate as always, Jennifer is here to share her personal thoughts and experiences. Her opinions do not reflect that of the Dialogue Board or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We'll turn the time over to Jennifer now.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Thank you. Today, as you may know, we're going to talk a bit about the story of David and Bathsheba. And in particular, what I want to focus on is the spiritual fall of King David. We know that David was beloved by God. He was a shepherd boy who, against the odds, killed the giant Goliath with a slingshot. He grew up to become Israel's king at the age of 30 and is reputed to be Israel's greatest king. He united Israel and made Jerusalem the capital, and he endeavored to point the people of Israel toward God. Under his leadership, the kingdom had never been stronger. David is said to have been favored by God. One might even argue that David seemed to be so special that he was almost above the human condition, in a sense. The Prophet Samuel referred to David as, "A man after God's own heart." So the story of David's fall then, I think, is an exceptional story because it's a very human story and I believe one that we benefit from by seeing ourselves within. Because we are both loved by and special to God, as well as very vulnerable as human beings to our own hubris and self-deceptions. And this story captures a process that's really inherent to our spiritual development and how we essentially find our stronger selves.
So I first want to say, that what some people might imagine I’d be focusing on today is Bathsheba and the issue of sexual agency. My dissertation was looking at LDS women's sexual agency, or lack thereof, and the ways that we can, in patriarchal narratives, rob women of their agency and particularly their sexual agency. That is not what I'm going to focus on today. Bathsheba is a woman without agency in this story, or if she has any, it's obscured from the reader. She's treated like a prize, something to be taken or given. Someone who belongs to men, whose fate is determined by them, not as a person with any meaningful choices in her own right. And it's quite shocking, really, to read stories like this where the rape of a woman is too often turned into a lesson about modesty or pornography, and misses the essential point that Bathsheba, from all we can tell, was raped, used, and then her husband was killed in order to mask and cover David's sins.
So even though I care very much about the question of women's agency and the potential destructiveness of girls reading stories like this because of what it says about or implies about how women are seen by God, that's not what I want to focus on today. I did do a lesson in a public forum a few years ago where that was the focus of my comments, and I could post that if people would like it. But what I want to focus on today is how dramatic it is that David falls so completely. There's really no way to sugarcoat how tragic and destructive David's choices were–how dramatic his fall from grace was, the sin that David consciously committed, and then the consequences that spiraled out of control as a result. I think that it might be easy to see David as different from us because he was both seemingly more favored or living such a different life than you or I would live. And also, in fact, he was more able to be destructive given his power. (When people do have power, they can do more harm.)
But again, I think the story of David is an essential story for all of us. It's an important story of human self-deception and the ease of self-service. It's a story about the perniciousness of sin and our darker selves. We're exceptional as human beings at justifying our current realities or perceptions of reality and ignoring the information or the self-awareness that we need to be wise and to grow.
I was taking a CEU course yesterday on anxiety. The instructor was talking about how we organize what we see by what we already know. So if we look at several dots, we will impose a square upon those dots, for example. We impose what our view is on to reality, not the other way around. Our minds are very good at wanting reinforcement. We want to feel that we know what is real. But the vulnerability we have is to keep reinforcing the world as we know it rather than the world as it is. So we don't see things as they are. We see things as we are. And that's natural. But if we don't see it and go through the soul-tormenting process of waking up to deeper truths, we really deeply limit ourselves. We dam our progression.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said, "All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions." We usually find ways to justify the intentions of our sins. They serve our egos. They serve our desire for control. They often serve our view of ourselves as good but will obscure from us the self-deception in it, the evil in it, the self-service in it. And then often those choices will then undermine our lives and our relationships. So if we won't face and acknowledge our darker selves, we're a danger. We're a danger to ourselves, to others, and very importantly, to our spiritual progression and spiritual wisdom. I think one of the central themes of Christ is that the greatest sin is to not recognize that we're all sinners and that we all make mistakes and fall prey to our own arrogance.
The writer and thinker Scott Peck, in his book People of the Lie, says that in his view, the greatest evil lies in our demand to see ourselves as good. Thomas Merton, a Catholic theologian, says, "The basic and most fundamental problem of the spiritual life is the acceptance of our hidden and dark self." Today in church, earlier this morning, there was a lesson about not following what the wicked say and do. The problem, in my view, is that we are the wicked, are we not? And the idea that the wicked exists outside of ourselves is a way to not see, love, and know others. It is a way to also prop up a false security in ourselves that we (and our group) are good and others who are different from us are not. And so seeing evil as outside ourselves clouds our judgment and allows us to put ourselves above others, which is exactly what Christ was challenging in the Sadducees and the Pharisees who would look at others and judge them to prop themselves up as superior.
Because we want so much to see ourselves as good, we're very skilled as human beings at creating this ego-reinforcing perception of reality that's, in fact, false. We're very good at creating a persona. We want to be seen by others and see ourselves in a way that we imagine is more acceptable than the reality about who we are. And we can buy into this persona also. Then when our spouse or other people don’t buy into it, we think they're the problem. We want the idea that they are the problem and we often make them pay for not pretending to see us the way we want to be seen. A lot of what I teach people is that marriage is very good at showing us who we really are. Not because our spouse has a perfect understanding or doesn't have their own self-deceptions, but because we often want to see ourselves as better and kinder and more capable of love than we are. The incongruity of who we imagine we are and who we in fact are will often come out through our behaviors and in marital conflicts. And so we'll usually try to take our spouse down before we'll take ourselves down or before we will really confront what they know about us that is, in fact, right. We keep trying to run away from the truth because we love our own hubris. We love our own ego-reinforcing self-deceptions. So this desire in us, very human as it is, makes it really difficult for us to recognize that, while we are capable of good, we are also capable of evil. Again, that's where evil thrives (in the darkness of our self-delusions).
When we talk about the “natural man”, a lot of us put it in the frame of sexuality. But I think the natural man is better understood as the self-serving, self-deceiving part of us that resists humbling, resists growth, and resists change–because it hurts, because it feels bad to come into self-confrontation and feel the humiliation of it. And so we often resist it, thinking that we will save ourselves by resisting the truth, rather than the fact that we do damage to ourselves and our relationships when we won't step into what is in fact true and face our darker selves.
This is the story of beloved David, the faithful shepherd boy. To acknowledge the destructiveness of his sins is to challenge the view that there are good people and there are bad people. David is both a murderer, an adulterer, as well as a hero–having had courage, having accomplished noble goals, and being much cherished by God. So while our sins may be different than David's, we are all like him. We are each a mix of sinner and saint–every one of us. We crave ego-reinforcing praise, AND we can quietly do what's needed without reward or acknowledgment. We both love what's true, seek The Good, AND self-deceive and deny inconvenient truths about ourselves or others. We love and care for those around us. We also hate. Our capacity to love can be inspired by others. Our capacity to hate can also be inspired by others. So we humans are complicated.
There's a lot of counseling theory out there that we are all well-intentioned but just stumbling around speaking the wrong love language and so on. That's just not how I see who we are as human beings. We are not well-intentioned sometimes. Oftentimes we don't even know our own self-serving intention and how it's playing out in our behavior. And so if we won't face our darker selves, our darker selves will run the show. So much of being a trustworthy person is to know within yourself where you are not trustworthy, where you are fallible, and where you are vulnerable to your own self-deception. And in the work I do with couples, I see that when someone will really start to face a part of themselves and come into a deep self-awareness, and when they can no longer live with this part of themselves and they start to face it and deal with it, that's when the marriage improves. That's when the spouse starts to open up and trust because they don't have to be the messenger anymore because the person has come into a self-recognition and can't live with this part of themselves any longer. So much of how our development happens like this: At first we are in sync or feel comfortable enough with what we're doing. We just we're just acting in the world as we know it. And then some life event, some relational challenge, pulls us out of our ego-syntonic behavior into ego-dystonic self-awareness. We move into the ability to look and see more objectively who we really are and what our behavior reveals about our minds rather than what we have been telling ourselves about our minds. And that disharmony is what drives change or development.
As a therapist, coach and teacher, I'm often trying to help people move into disharmony with their self-deceptive narratives. I'm trying to show them what their behavior is revealing about their mind and what their narratives are trying to obscure about themselves. Sometimes in that ego-dystonic discomfort what people do is say, “Jennifer is full of it,” –(and sometimes I am, sometimes I am wrong, or I have my own ego needs that are getting in the way)--but sometimes the goal is to shoot the messenger, so to speak, and get back to a state of mind that you know and want, a state of mind in which you’re justified. When we have courage and are humble, we take ego-dystonic behavior to push ourselves to literally change our minds. That is the meaning of repentance. The Greek understanding is that our mind actually evolves. The mind isn't just a fixed container. Our spiritual and moral development is our mind in evolution, that the container of the mind is actually changing and starts to see the self and others differently. The way that evolution happens, is by moving into disequilibrium with how we understand ourselves and by tolerating the puncture to our sense of self and the world as we know it. To tolerate the disorganization that happens in that process, and allow our minds to reorganize at a higher level of understanding, then a deeper truthful relationship with ourselves and reality can emerge. The tolerance of that ego-puncturing process is what drives our forward movement–but it requires humility, a loss of ego to find a deeper form of self, a deeper form of who we are.
I'll say one more thing and then I'll just open it up in case Emily or Linda or anyone would like to say anything.
King David's goal was to basically cover this up and to try to erase the impact of his sins, or maybe a better way to say it was to erase any trace of evidence about who he actually was or what he was capable of. To obscure who he was, he went as far as killing a man and taking a woman to wife who may or may not have wanted that. It’s difficult to know, but it's hard to imagine she would have felt good about this choice. So King David tried to cover up the evidence of his evil and almost pulled it off. I mean, not that he was living in a peaceful, honest relationship with himself, but he was trying to pull it off. It takes the Prophet Nathan to come to King David. Nathan doesn't confront him directly–this is a very good therapeutic technique that the prophet Nathan is utilizing here–he is actually telling him a story of someone else. So he talks about this story of a poor man who had just one little lamb, who he loved like a child, only to have a rich man who had tons of his own lambs come by and take the poor man's lamb to kill it and serve it up to his dinner guests. So hearing this story, David is able to use his honest (albeit harsh) moral judgment, and says, "Kill the guy. He doesn't deserve to live." And Nathan responds with the famous words, "You are the man. You are him."
I sometimes have used this same technique with clients who say, "I do these things because my wife or my husband does these other terrible things. I would be better if they were better. I'm a great person. They're the problem." We love this idea. But sometimes what I have said is, "If your son were to grow up and marry a woman who was doing what you are doing in your marriage, would you like your daughter-in-law?" I've really had clients who were like, "Oh, heaven forbid. No!" "Why not?" "Well, because she's a martyr and she's self-focused, and she wouldn't really love my son." And even though it's exactly what they're doing, they have a way to justify their self-serving behaviors. But by stepping back, they recognize it's not acceptable. And so when we recognize we're in misalignment with what we really believe is true, that's what can, if we stay awake and courageous, drive us into deeper reconciliation of what we believe is true. It’s an awakening that can drive us into repentance. The Hebrew word for repentance is to come to ourselves, to our truer selves. The Greek form is to change our mind. And I think both are truthful expressions of what the process of development and change requires. So before I say more, I just would like to open it up and just hear thoughts you're having Esther, Emily, Linda, Chris, any one of you.
Emily Updegraff: I had a thought Jennifer. You led with the fact that the Lord loved David. And I think that's so important. The crisis that he needed to have, I mean ideally he would have had a crisis of thought before the events with Bathsheba, but the crisis that he had with Nathan after it had transpired is absolutely terrifying. "I am not who I thought I was. I'm not the good guy in this story. I can't hide from it." It's a truly terrifying moment I think that many of us have had at some level. And I think the thing that makes that terror productive and tolerable is that belief that we can still be loved by God. And David somehow knew that. And you see that in the Psalms. He struggled and sought ever after to be in the presence of that love and feel worthy of it, or just to feel the experience of it, to see that in himself and others. And it sounds so trite, but love is what redeems us. It's what redeemed him. He felt like he could be loved again, even after all of this had transpired. And I think in our relationships with each other, to believe that the person that we're in conflict with can still love us makes change possible.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Absolutely. I mean, you're capturing the thesis for me. That this ability to hold on to the truthfulness of who we are, which is both that we are beloved and sinners and that we are imperfect and flawed and valuable inherently. And the more we can hold that, the more we can actually grow into the truth about ourselves. Lose yourself to find yourself. Lose your ego, lose your demand to prove that you're worthy through a flawless ideal, and lose the need to hold yourself up as superior to others. Lose that to find ourselves, to find the truth about who we are. There's both terror in it and relief in it at the same time. That you can let go of all the pretense. I have a sibling who was in a crisis and, I'll blur the gender just to kind of create more privacy, but the person said, "I've been walking around pretending like I've got two queens and a king, and really I've got a three, a five and a seven at best." That is to say, "I wanted this fantasy that I'm doing so well and really the truth of it is that life is hard and I have deep limitations." But what the sibling was saying was, "There's also some relief because I don't have to lie to myself anymore. I don't have to pretend something anymore, and I can just deal with what's here."
Linda Hoffman Kimball: When I was rearing my now adult children when they were very young, I sort of marinated them in Fred Rogers’ Mister Rogers Neighborhood. And one of his many little songs was, "The very same people who are good sometimes are the very same people who are bad sometimes. It's funny, but it's true. The same is true for me, isn't it for me like you?" Something like that. Sorry, I'm pitchy. And I remember reading Bible stories to my kids and one night coming on the David and Bathsheba story and one of my kids said, "Well, I don't understand this. Is David supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy?" And then we both remembered Fred Rogers, who was channeling, I suppose, the voice of God, "The very same people who are good sometimes are the very same people who are bad sometimes." And to hold that tension of being beloved but also being imperfect.
It is very powerful and difficult. It makes me also wonder why in our LDS society we have such a priority on worthiness interviews. I guess I don't get the message very much. I didn't grow up LDS, but I understand the message of you can always be better and that your task on this planet is to be good, be good, be good, be good, and deny that there's any bad. When really, in my opinion, it's healing and necessary to accept that we are both.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I have a couple of thoughts about it. I think it was (Melanie) Klein, a post-Freudian theorist, who talked about how we live in these kinds of splits. Like the good mother and the bad, or act as though there are the good people and the bad people. And we want a black and white world. I remember when I was a little girl, I don't know why, but I had a good foot and I had a bad foot. And the good foot, when I was tired of standing, could stand on top of the bad foot. And I have no idea why I created the split. But then one day I started to feel compassion for the bad foot. And there was some deeper integration that maybe the good foot wasn't always a good foot. With client couples, I can still think like, "Well, who's the good one and who's the bad one?" I can sometimes still move into that simple-minded idea. And it's a very, very tempting idea because I think it relieves us of our own complexity. Like you said Linda, we are both good and bad. To hold that reality is uncomfortable, I think, in part because, in our young spiritual development, which most of us are in, we want a world in which we can earn our goodness. So we kind of participate in the idea of worthiness interviews. We want a world in which we can say, I'm doing it better than the rest or I'm just so good and so noble and I've memorized all the scriptures in seminary and so on because we want the idea that we can prove we're good.
But also, I think we want to be the brother/son in the prodigal story. The one that thinks, "Look, I've been here doing all the hard work and being the good guy and then the profligate son still gets all the same love. And that's not fair." And so I think a lot of us want the fantasy that there is a way to escape the inherent suffering and humiliation of life. I do think that there is value in having standards and expectations. I don't think we need to call them worthiness interviews. I think that's a problematic idea. But I think there is value, especially in early development, to have structures and expectations that we use to internalize a moral standard and internalize a sense of who we are. But we need ultimately to integrate and transcend that and grow into the deeper truth that comes when the early structures necessarily fail. Even if we obey all the rules, we try to do everything right, our liabilities and limitations will still show up and expose themselves to us and humiliate us if we're paying attention and being honest. And that's a necessary spiritual process. Obviously, the more you can align yourself with truthful principles, the more you use what those who've come before have learned, you will save yourself from learning perhaps the hard way. But there's no way, in my view, to really escape the developmental process of coming to understand that we are all flawed and we are all valuable. I think this is really necessary to coming into any understanding of being one with one another, to really grow out of any sense of hierarchy between us, not that we don't matter, but that we matter no more than anyone else. We are beloved and part of a process that's much bigger than ourselves.
Christian Kimball: I'd like to sort of vamp off a comment that Andie Pitcher Davis made in the chat where she says, "The wholeness of David is one of the truest narratives in the Old Testament." My reaction or my thought is that I'm loving the way you're taking this part of the Hebrew Bible, not in the Bathsheba direction but in the David direction. I tend to come to the Scriptures expecting a hero's story. A narrative about how wonderful the Prophet or the king or the leader is. And this is so powerful, especially what Nathan does. It's so powerful in not doing that. It’s taking the beloved and showing him and calling him out in a way that makes him an everyday man. What you're doing here Jennifer is making David someone I can relate to. I feel like this is an example I have to take into account. I have to think about it because this is a story about the King, a story about as much as I want to think good of myself, I'm not David and even so.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly. Yeah, absolutely. And it's a different kind of hero story, perhaps. I think we want the hero story of the one that comes in and saves everyone and is above the human condition. But there's another kind of story, that is essential, and that is the story of our spiritual fall. There are all kinds of narratives–literature and scripture–that revolve around falling from grace. And falling from grace is part of a larger story of character development. There's a fall from any fantasy or ability to skate above the human experience. And in that falling, we often find what's actually truthful about ourselves and the world, and we develop.
Richard Rohr wrote a favorite book of mine called Falling Upward. And in it he teaches the spirituality inherent to imperfection or what he might call meaningful failure. He says, "The genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness." That is to say that we integrate our experience and transcend our limited understanding. This is why repentance is so fundamental to growth because of the self-awareness and the humility in it. And in the process we find something deeper and truer. There's a deep beauty and freedom in honesty and contrition. Sometimes when I've come into those moments myself, they hurt so much, they suck. I want to avoid them, always. But there's also a beauty in it. A kind of open-heartedness, deeper compassion for yourself and others, and a deeper awareness of the suffering that we all experience. It's not like a bright beauty, but a dark beauty (as Rohr speaks of it). It integrates both. David's confession in Psalms 51 speaks to this, "Create in me a pure heart of God and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you." This kind of deep awareness of, "I want to be better. I see who I am. I want the good. I want to be in deeper alignment with God and God's acceptance." And I think that's where we find a truer peace. It's where we find our own soul and the soul in others.
Emily Updegraff: Jennifer, could I just say one thing? I'm so glad that you read that Psalm. It's one of my favorites. It's so beautiful. David puts me in mind a little bit of the sons of Alma and Paul. People who have a deep need of repentance and who had angels come to them and tell them so. And Nathan was in that role for David. But for most of us in real life, the angels are in disguise. Just people in our lives who don't always have the best intentions and are not always right, but still come to us with important information about ourselves and about the ways that we need to change. And I think one of the hardest things in life is to decide who to listen to and when and what parts of that to listen to. Because it's also true that people gaslight us and tell us things that are unkind and not useful. And those same people tell us things that are necessary and true and sometimes loving. And so how do you navigate that is the question that I'm asking myself all the time. And I don't have the answer to it. It's a constant struggle. But what I think is important is to be in the position of being a seeker. You said this many years ago, I don't remember when Jennifer, but it was something about an image of permeability where you have a cage around yourself that has structure and strength but is also permeable. And creating that filter is just so important. But that you are a seeker and you're letting things in but also being critical about what it is.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes, it is one of those challenging dilemmas: "If I listen to what you're saying, will I lose myself in some way? Will I lose myself in your view? And what if your views are not truthful, or what if you're manipulating me? But on the other hand, if I resist any information about myself, then I may be in a self-deluded state." And like what you're saying Emily, the terrifying thing about life is that people can see us better than we can see ourselves. We can see each other better than our friends see themselves. And so there is this need in a way, to be open to others, but they are imperfect and have their own agendas sometimes. So one of the ways that I teach this, but also something I've tried to do in myself, is to say I want to be open to what other people think because I want to know what I don't yet know. And this is when I'm being courageous and I want to know at least how they see me. It doesn't mean I must accept anything they say, but I do want to hold up what they say against my most honest self. Ultimately, I will decide if it's true. And a lot of times that's exactly what's happening. What happened with David is that Nathan tells this story and he says, "You're the man." It's not that he just believes Nathan, he has a moment of recognition, a moment of, "Oh my gosh, I am that man, and it's exposed to me. I can't hide it from myself anymore." And so that's what drives the contrition. It's when we are out of alignment with our truthful selves. And it sometimes helps me to know that I ultimately will decide, I will hold it up against my honest judgment and decide. No one's making me think something or see something, but I will have the courage to be as honest with myself as I can. And that's still an imperfect process. But the way you will facilitate your growth most and limit your suffering most is to be committed to honesty with yourself, even when it hurts.
Linda Hoffman Kimball: You mentioned at the beginning that you were not focusing on Bathsheba's story but that we're talking about David. I have written a long poem in haiku about Bathsheba because rereading that story can fill me with such rage and righteous wrath and injustice. And so it was therapeutic for me to write it. And I'll read it here if you'll allow me. But remember that it's coming from the point of view of someone who was really mad about what happened, as opposed to being gracious and generous to David to see him as a whole person. But here we go. This is justice for Bathsheba in Haiku.
King David decides not to go to war.
This time he'll sit this one out.
Other soldiers go, including the kind Hittite the loyal Uriah.
David has wives and multiple concubines.
Still, he feels randy alone on the roof.
He spies Bathsheba bathing ritually clean.
What choice does she have?
Bathsheba's "me too" moment.
Pure and ripe she goes under coercion as a ewe lamb to slaughter.
She must submit to his pride and thrust.
What's love got to do with it?
He takes what he wants.
Add murder to lust.
Uriah's strategic death.
Commandments be damned.
The Prophet Nathan foretells the consequences in vivid detail.
Grief gore war and woe.
Dead babies and fratricide.
The writer of Psalms weeps in valleys of shadows with no shepherd near.
Divinity cries "Oh, Bathsheba, my daughter."
We will not forget God's holy timing.
Many generations hence rings out the evil at last.
Her blessing, great-grandson in the manger, Israel's salvation.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's lovely. It's the right story to tell about Bathsheba. And for me, it speaks to sin because the culture offered a way of understanding women that made the level of sin more difficult to see within that context. It was a given that a king would have concubines and multiple women. But David’s behavior was still against the standards of the culture because Bathsheba was another man's wife. But women of that day, I imagine, knew an unarticulated level of suffering that they managed from not being treated as humans in their own right. It's a lovely expression of that anger.
Christian Kimball: So, Jennifer Linda's extended haiku is actually a setup for this. And before Linda read that poem I was about to say, this is the nicest, kindest hellfire and damnation lesson or talk I've ever heard. You're being so nice about it. And I know my reaction generally to being told to repent or pay attention to your dark side is not very good. This is the nicest approach. And then Linda comes through with that poem. I understand the anger. I understand where that poem comes from, but it also comes across as pretty accusatory and not the kind of thing I react well to. And so maybe I'm talking to the therapist here. And your comment about how Nathan does such a good job. If you see it in someone else, how do you do it?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, the reality is that when we sin, it isn't just about our spiritual progression. Our sin always harms others. And that's one of the deeply painful parts of it, is that even though it's human and natural, we do create suffering. And I think it's too much to ask people to be happy or tolerant of the suffering we've inflicted upon them through our limitations. So one of the things I also find in doing couples work is that someone will have done harmful things. And then they try to get their spouse to forgive as a way of papering over the impact of their sin. And so it's a way to mask by saying, "See me the way I want to see myself. See me kindly, see me with more compassion." Of course there are situations in which I've seen clients who've been aggrieved in some way and they make a life out of being in that self-righteous, accusing, aggrieved position. And of course that's also got its own sinfulness in it. But the way out for clients is usually by walking honestly and wholeheartedly towards the impact of their self-deceived behaviors. That's how they find a cleansing within themselves and a cleansing within the marriage. Stepping back from the impact of sinful behavior is usually ego-driven.
So now why am I being so nice about it? Well, because we're all in this together, right? And if I am moving into a self-righteous position with clients, first of all, it's not particularly effective, but it's also dishonest on some level because I don't know what I would have done had I been in that client's family experience, that client's biology, that client’s marital experiences. So to say, "Wow, what a loser," I think is dishonest. I think it's not fair. I think you can say "You're working against your peace in your life and in your marriage. Your self-deception is costing you greatly." I am, in a sense when I'm doing a good job, trying to be the ghost of Christmas future for people because I want them to have a better Christmas. I hope that people will self-confront to create deeper peace in themselves and in their lives. My lesser moments are moving into a kind of simple-minded judgment of others or a kind of fantasy that I know I would do better. We often don't know what people are up against within themselves or what they are trying to face or handle. But we can be compassionate and truth-tellers, and in marriage, being a truth teller is very, very important for a marriage to grow. For a marriage to grow it needs a truth teller about yourself and a truth teller about your partner. I think one of the deep challenges we have in marriage is that we want to go after our partners. Let's face it, we both have beams. I don't know many marriages where you have a beam and your spouse actually only has a mote. But at least dealing with the fact like, "We both have beams," and to be a really valuable truth teller is that you're not just talking about your partner's beam, but often you're dealing with how you both have participated in a meaning together that's been harmful or limited. You're both willing to look at yourself as much as your spouse. To love is to align with what's true and sometimes to say difficult things and have hard conversations, not with the purpose of taking the other down and proving you're right, but with the purpose of dealing with who you both are so that the marriage can grow.
Anyone who's listened to me has heard me say this too many times, Einstein purportedly said, "You can't solve a problem at the level of intelligence that the problem was created." You have to bring your intelligence up to do that. And to do that, you have to see yourself and your relationships more truthfully. And that's a disorganizing process, but that's where you then have the ability to do differently, to see differently, to solve differently. And we often resist that in marriage. But that's where couples grow closer. That's how couples come to respect each other truthfully. That's how couples start to feel genuinely grateful for one another because, "You love me in spite of me. And what a gift that you accept me despite my destructive and harmful tendencies at times. That is a great gift that you have loved me in spite of me." And we're all there.
I think this is also not only where we find ourselves and those we love, it is also in our suffering and our humility that we're able to really value one another more deeply. To be more truly grateful for friendship, kindness, and compassion, knowing our own sinfulness. It's also to have greater compassion and kindness towards others. But it's also where we find God. It's the love and grace, as Emily said so beautifully, that are God's answers to our sin. As Richard Rohr says, "Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.". And so it's really the good news of our faith. Not that grace erases the suffering that sin causes but it enables healing to take place. And it fosters deeper wisdom in us—the kind of wisdom that facilitates our capacity for compassion and grace–for ourselves and one another.
Ester Hi'ilani Candari: Thank you so much, Jennifer. I feel like I just got a free couples therapy session. Now I have a whole lot to go and apologize to my husband for. I just wanted to share one quick thought that I had. I think in our modern culture and dialogue we want to do one of two things when we run into the problematic aspects of a popular figure's character. Either we want to do some mental gymnastics and apologetics for those, “They were a person of their time. They had experienced this abuse and therefore they did these things.” So be soft on them. Or we want to unilaterally label them as a bad person. And what I love about what you did here today is you gave us a different paradigm for approaching those circumstances that you really point out the power that someone can change a country for the better or change a community for the better and do some really horrible things that also hurt that country or hurt their community. And we can sit with that and we can learn from that because if we don't, we can't do that for ourselves. How we see others and what we see in ourselves is really what I drew from your comments, and I deeply appreciate that.