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The Art of Loving


This live is a follow up from the live we did in November, where I was talking about overcoming resentment in marriage. Several people in the group asked about how you overcome the feelings of resentment that you might have about ways that you felt you were inducted into false ideas, either through church culture or family culture that really limited your life, shaped your choices, but perhaps in ways that are hard to support or feel good about now. These aren’t easy topics, and I’m going to be trying to give you some of my best thoughts about how to think about this, how you overcome this, how you forgive life for being a deeply flawed experience, which is no small task, right? Learning how to handle our disappointments without them undoing us is a real important and meaningful challenge. What I’m going to do is read just a couple of questions that came in on the topic of overcoming resentments towards church culture, and then I have a couple more questions that have to do with resentment in marriage. We’ll kind of just see how we do for time. 

This person writes, “I got married at 19 and had my first child at 20, definitely the result of church messaging. Now I have an empty nest, and I feel so resentful. I loved raising my kids, but I feel like I traded that for a career or personal opportunities. I feel like the Church promises endless happiness if you follow the plan, but I feel like I gave it my all, and then got dropped off the side of the road.” That was a woman who wrote that last one. This is from a man. “I’ve been struggling with how I feel about the Church. I’ve been dealing with wounds I have and trying not to lash out at the Church. I don’t know if I’m just looking for something to blame, but I can’t help but think that my pain was caused by the Church. I feel myself distancing from it. I cringe when my parents call, I don’t want to talk to them about anything. They represent the Church to me. I struggle to want to participate in my callings. I stopped wearing my garments, because they represent all the terrible messages about sexuality. Right now, I’ve never felt closer to God, but I’ve never felt farther from the Church. I’m scared to even start confronting my feelings. My relationship with my wife is better than it’s ever been. I regret how long it’s taken us to get where we are, and I can’t help but blame the Church culture as the major limiting factor. So, my question is: How do I move forward and find a place in a church that I feel has hurt me so much? How can I forgive my parents? I know they did the best they could, but it still hurts.”

These are not easy questions, and let me just give you a few of my thoughts about them, and then I really would love to hear some of your thoughts or follow up questions. The first thing I would say is that these feelings and experiences are real, and they’re legitimate, and I think it’s really painful to feel like you trusted in an idea that worked against you ultimately. I know a lot of good people who feel this way. For example, I know some good women who feel like they were taught not to pursue a degree or career, and maybe even trusted in that against their own desires or their own wishes and now find themselves stuck or economically dependent, right? And that it’s too challenging now to go back, or even if they do go back to school, it’s not the same as the opportunities they gave up for trusting in that ideal. And so, you know, that’s hard. That’s really hard, because it’s one thing just to follow an idea that leads you in the wrong direction, because I think that happens to all of us. There’s lots of ideas out there, and some of them pan out and others don’t. I think it’s another challenge when you go against your own inclinations, because you’re being sort of taught to trust other people’s ideas about what you should do and be, and that if you are a good person you will trust in it, or you will sort of suppress your own thinking around it. So if you’re being taught, like, “This is the true way. You should not listen to yourself,” and then you do that, then to become disillusioned with that source is especially painful, because you feel duped, or you feel misled, or you feel like your trusting inclination was exploited. So, you know, it’s not easy. That’s a big part of our church culture, that idea that we’ve got the answers. Now, we do have a lot of answers. We do get a lot of things right, okay? There’s a lot of core principles that are profoundly valuable and important, but we can overextend what we’re confident about, what we’ve gotten worked out, and use it to pressure validation from people within the group, pressure people to conform to certain ideas, and we kind of overplay compliance, often. There’s real value in borrowing wisdom from people who come before us, right? There’s real value in it, but we often overplay that to the detriment of the other part of our Gospel, which is this idea of coming to your own testimony. Not just, “Hey, go get confirmation that everything you’re being told by others is true.” I mean we do sell it that way a lot, but you really have access to Divine inspiration. You really do have access to sort out what you think is true, and we ought to take that very seriously, but in our immaturity collectively we underplay that truth, and some families are much more dominant in this way, that obedience, compliance, not questioning, not asserting your own thoughts, thinking, values is really intrinsic in the family culture, and so it gets played out a lot more with a lot more costs, in my opinion. Now, to grow up in a family where there are no rules, and there are no principles, and there are no expectations, that’s its own form of challenge. It’s its own limitation, but I think when you have been taught that somehow not listening to yourself is valuable, it’s really costly in your development. So...I think another piece is that sometimes when people start to bump up against the fact that the ideas that they have inherited have limited them, are not sufficient, have really handicapped their marriage or their sexual relationship, or their own development in some important ways, sometimes, in the process of trying to speak to that, or start to talk about it, or to question some of the things that you’ve learned, you then get treated like a threat, that you’re a pariah somehow, that you’re speaking to things that shouldn’t be said because they challenge other people’s perspective about what’s true, or what’s right, or what’s safe. So that can be especially hard too, because, “Is there room for me to talk about what I’m starting to struggle with or what I don’t any longer understand?” So, the first thing I would just say about this process, and this is what I wish I could say to my younger self, because I think my younger self felt in this vacillation, which I think a lot of people do, either I’m screwed up or the church is screwed up. Like, which one is it? And so you can kind of go between either “I’m all wrong or you’re all wrong.” And, so there's this difficulty of which one, how does this work itself out? And what’s happening is, as you’re starting to, sort of, sort out your own thinking, you come right up against the invalidation of the group. And what I would say, if I could say something to my younger self, is, “This is normal development. You are in a trajectory of personal development and even moral development that matters. And nothing’s gone wrong.” Really, first of all, if you study moral developmental theorists or spiritual development, there is this important process of, you know to put this in really, kind of crude terms, when we first start out, the world is really around this idea of where will you get punished if you do certain things versus where will you get rewarded. So, very ego-centric in moral thinking, but as you grow beyond that, as you become the age of accountability, psychologically, you become more able to access and reference group standards. You become capable of civility. You become more able to reference what the rules of the group are. This is very, very important in moral development.  It’s very important in personal development. To become capable of being in a relationship, you have to start to reference outside of how something directly impacts you, which many people as adults have not grown out of, to live in a much more black and white world versus being able to move into a collectivistic mindset more, or a social mindset, where you’re more able to reference the standards of the group, what makes things fair in this group, what are the rules of engagement. That’s what’s needed for any democracy, or any civil society, is that kind of system, and so that’s valuable. You need it. And you transcend these stages as you internalize them inherently, but then you grow to a higher level, and then you internalize that level. A lot of times when people are starting to kind of say, I kind of leaned in to the validation inherent in this group, but it’s limiting me. It’s not enough. So, a lot of times people can think, “Because this doesn’t get me the social validation I want, I must be doing something wrong or limited. And rather than, “I’m growing into deeper personal autonomy than I had in the earlier stage.” And if we look at our own theology, that is in our theology. If you’re going to grow to become like God, to become godly, to become wise, you need to grow into deeper autonomy in your moral reasoning, into deeper ability to discern right and wrong. I remember that was part of the discussions when I was a missionary, is that part of earth life is learning to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil, and that’s a lifelong process. And I think it really is. You know, we can start with very simplistic ideas about right and wrong, very back and white world, whereas we grow in our reasoning, grow in our maturity, grow in our understanding to take in more of what’s real in the world, our sense of what is good versus what is evil grows in its complexity, and we become more able to make sense of the world. Things that seemed paradoxical at one stage, you start to see how they are inherently related to one another at a different level of understanding. So this is my way of saying that when you start to look at the limitations within the group, it often feels like you’re betraying rather than you’re growing, or that the group betrayed you rather than you’re in a necessary process. I’m not discrediting, though, the way that we can limit each other often, by our own limitations within the group. I remember my son saying to me once after a Primary class, when we were driving home from church. He said, “Mom, do you know that our church is the only true church? You know? Like we are the ones who’ve got all the answers?” And I just said to him, “Is that what you learned in Primary today?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, I think what that means is this is our current best attempt as a group to ascert what is true, but we are always growing and evolving, and you know, we need to be. So it doesn’t mean that we’ve got all the answers, but that we’re pursuing what is ultimately true and hopefully we keep growing.” I think that for him, he was like, “Whatever, Mom. You don’t get it.” 

When I look at spiritual developmental frameworks, Fowler did one, or moral development, Kohlberg did one, Loevinger. There’s lots of different versions of this. Ken Wilber. There is this ability as you develop to grow into this ever increasing ability to account for more of humanity and more of all living beings, and to feel a deeper ability to understand how interconnected we all are. And when you’re in a younger state, you’re in a much more self-focused or community-focused understanding of morality. And our theology is pushing us out of love, out of love being the drive wheel, the desire to understand, to be known and to know, to seek to live in a Christlike manner. It’s how we live, it’s not the ideas that we have, that will drive that wisdom forward. I think what is often the crisis point for people is maybe two things. One is the idea that they were taught that all the answers are here, and if you just obey, you’re going to be good. You’ll be safe. You know, a lot of us love that idea. I liked that idea. I wanted, in some ways, for that to be the right idea because it’s an easier world. I’ll just do what everybody tells me is true, and I won’t have to kind of step into the complexity and take deeper responsibility. In my own wrestling with God, it was clear to me that that wasn’t the right idea. I had to take responsibility and to assert my own self in the world, and to do it imperfectly, and to learn as I go, but that earnest pursuit of what is really true is a refining process. It’s what creates strength and moral clarity within you, but it’s more exposed and it’s harder. So, I think a lot of times what we feel is, “Hey, I was given this idea. I trusted it, and it’s not been working out for me, and there’s been real cost.” I think there’s three antidotes to that. I think one of them is to think, “You know the people who have been teaching me these ideas are themselves in their own moral development. They are themselves in their own position of thinking about what’s true and not true.” For example, if somebody has grown up in a reality where sex has been dangerous for them, has been explotative. Or somebody who feels like they themselves have no real control over their sexual impulses, because of where they are in their development. They are very likely to teach a framing of sexuality that promotes that idea, because it fits with what they understand to be true. Sex is scary. Stay as far away from it as you can, and, you know, even though the child can track that the parent has an ambivalent relationship to sex, or doesn’t always just stay away from it, and can even be indulgent with it, and so you can’t really offer a framing that you don’t yet know, to a large degree. You have to kind of understand it to be able to encourage and bring other people towards it. We’re often offering to others about where we are, and that doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve as a church community, because we have the theology to support much richer, better understandings of God, of truth, of love, of sexuality, of intimacy, of what strength is, of what authority is. I think we have it all in our theology, but we tend to go and speak more to the parts that are, I mean, we really tend to do what Christ was critical of, which is we focus on hierarchy and rules, and we tend to focus more on the rules for their own sake versus what they’re creating or not creating. So, one antidote is just understanding that people are offering faith at the level at which they operate. And the second is to maybe understand that this is a developmental process that I’m in, and it hurts a little, and it’s uncomfortable. Where some people get stuck is they move into a self-righteous rebellion, which facilitates their indulgence in a way, rather than deeper responsibility. They can say, “Well, I was disillusioned. This doesn’t all work out the way I wanted. Therefore, I can...I’ve worked with some people who’ve been disillusioned with the church and left, but then they’re drinking midday on a Wednesday, because the church isn’t true. You know, that kind of thing. It’s like, wait! You still have responsibilities to your family, to your wife, to yourself, to your job. You can’t use your unhappiness with something to justify, to get yourself out of the inherent morality of living life and what impact you have on other people. So that’s a tempting place for people to get out of the pressure of taking deeper responsibility for their lives. I think another antidote is understanding. When you’re a child, you don’t really have the ability to think through and make a different decision than what you’re being given, but how was I complicit in the systems or realities that have worked against me. You know, for example, some people feel angry. I was working with a couple recently where she’s feeling upset. I’ll use this metaphor--I hooked my cart to your horse, and I resent that I’ve been following you around for years. To his credit, he was trying to be the best horse he could be. And she was trying to be the best cart she could be, but there’s inherent limitations in that, and I think they were both unhappy and had a lot of resentment with each other. But it’s easy to say, “You’re the stupid horse. You’ve got it better than me.” And I’m not sure that that’s entirely true, actually. I’m not sure. I don’t know which role in that I’d prefer, because they’re both limited. So in some ways, can I see, like, how did it serve me? I mean, she was saying, “It did serve me to follow, because I had some fantasy that somebody else was going to forge the way, keep me safe, give me a purpose, and I didn’t have to tolerate the anxiety in doing that, so I was complicit in a role or a dependency that I could hide in, that felt safer to me.” 

Amanda says, “I feel like my struggle was in the belief that God and the Church were one and the same, and somehow all of these humans had authority that I needed to defer to because they spoke for God. That left me no room for me to be a good person if I felt something said by an authority wasn’t right.” 

“Yeah, sovereignty is the word I use for this antidote.”

Yeah, I agree with both of those things. Exactly. Again, family culture can really make a difference. I, very fortunately, grew up in a father tended towards libertarian ideals in his politics, and there was room in the family to not think in orthodox ways. There just wasn’t any push back for it. There was room to have the thoughts you had or to think about the things you thought about. So, even though I certainly understood the ideal, cause I remember as a missionary just feeling like, “What is the matter with me? Why does everybody get it? Everybody’s confident about everything, and I’m like something fundamentally broken about me, because it feels much more complex to me than this.” And so I saw it as a curse, not a blessing, and I saw it as something that was underdeveloped in me, because it seemed to me that smarter and more righteous people were fine with it. So, I’m like, “Alright, I clearly have plenty of work to do.” But, I think that that pushed me to struggle more in my relationship with God. “What is truth? And what is expected of me? Who am I supposed to be?” And all of these questions. “Do you want me to just close my eyes and just do what everybody tells me? Is that what will yield goodness? Or do I need to approach this honestly but humbly?” I maybe told this story before, and I won’t get into it now, but after a lot of struggle over a long period of time, that’s really the answer that I got, which was, “This is a struggle that’s meaningful and important.” 

So, okay, I’m losing my antidotes here. I think I’ve said a few of them. Recognizing, sometimes, our own role in yielding to something or going against something in ourselves. Oftentimes, it feels safer. We don’t have to deal with the social invalidation of it. Seeing it as normal. Forgiving people for being where they are in their own development. I think another antidote is, I think that a lot of times our resentments come because we sort of believe the idea that life should be free of suffering, that if things were going the right way we would not be going through this difficulty, wouldn’t have to suffer our losses, wouldn’t have to metabolize grief and paint and frustration, and I think that even that process is a process that is refining. And I know that sounds a little cliche. I don’t mean it in a cliche way. I really mean it in a very real way, that to be up against how disappointing life can be in a sense. Life is hard. Life has a lot of suffering in it, and so any fantasy we have that we’re going to be handed an easy life is really a fantasy that we all like. We all want that idea, but it really isn’t the truth about life. Recognizing that opens us up to both  gratitude for the good things that we have, how things could be much harder or much worse. And also, who are we going to be in the face of a world that is hurting, and a world that needs strength and needs love. To be resentful about the love you don’t get, or the wisdom you don’t get. Honestly, I make room for some of it. I mean, we’re going to have feelings, and that’s okay, but to build our life on that resentment is much more dangerous, rather than what can I learn from this? I am disappointed. It does hurt. I feel disillusioned. What can I learn about human beings, about humanity, about myself in looking at this? What’s my responsibility in it? What do I choose going forward in the face of what I’m learning? Those are the questions that help us move forward. Those are the kinds of questions that help us bring our courage into a world that needs it desperately. I think my own process of discerning what is true and not true and daring to tolerate where I stand, even if it’s limited. I can remember once working with Dr. Schnarch in a practicum setting, where I was presenting a case and I was role playing being a therapist. I remember, I was basically saying, “I can’t tell if this is the truth about this couple or if this is the truth about this couple.” And I was just vacillating between these two positions and never taking a position. I remember him saying, “The only way you’re going to know what’s right about this couple is to take a position. Claim a position and go with that position, because if it’s true, it will reveal itself to you. And if it’s not true, it will reveal itself to you. What you’re not seeing will become exposed if you’re in the wrong position. And if you’re in a good position, that will also reveal itself.” That was a very helpful idea, because what it means is in order to keep progressing in our wisdom, we have to tolerate making imperfect choices with imperfect information. As long as we stay humble and open to learning from it, and tolerating our imperfection in it, and the imperfection of others in it. And I think that this teaches us a lot about God. It teaches us a lot about what’s true. But it’s a rather harrowing process a lot of the time, to be confronted with your own blindspots, your own limitations, how your own fallibility has created difficulty in your life, how the fallibility of other has created difficulties in your life, and how to not let that destroy you or undermine you or turn you into somebody who is just resentful and bitter, but somebody who metabolizes those losses and uses them to grow into strength and love and courage. That’s what real faith is. That’s the best understanding of faith I have, that you keep believing in the fact that truth will set you free, even though it hurts often in the process of coming to see it and to know it. What’s interesting, I think that one of the things that I’ve seen in myself is that as I’ve given myself freedom to think what I think or believe what I believe, and not like, “This is my belief and I don’t care what anybody thinks”, but like, “This is really where I stand. It may be wrong, but this is what I think.” Just staying open, then life continues to teach you. It’s kind of interesting, because there are ideas that I’ve rejected as a younger person that I learned at church, that as I get older I understand them in a different way, and they are true again in a different way. So, for example, when I was younger, this idea of self-sacrifice, particularly for women, was an idea that I saw working against me and many other women. That, you know, you should just be happy doing what the husband wants. You just take his name, have his kids, clean his house, you know, the worst version of that. The upside is you get to belong to somebody, you have position within our church culture society, you’re married. There’s obviously a lot of limitations in that understanding, just as there are in the reciprocal position, which is if you’re a good man, you going to take care of somebody, and be the strong one, and be the one that leads her, and is kind of pretends strong while she pretends dependent. So, I didn’t like those ideas, and I had a lot of issue with them. Part of the thing that I was struggling with was, in the MTC, just the divine sanction, supposedly, for a really limited role for women, and one that I thought was dangerous for me, at least, if not for others. But as I’ve gotten older and I’ve really been able to establish a stronger sense of self and to be in a partnership where I am a real equal, and there’s a real collaborative alliance between me and my spouse, what’s also been true for me, or come to be clear for me, is how much self-sacrifice is fundamental to goodness. Now, I don’t mean to say I didn’t get it then, and I should have, but you can’t really get it until you start to have a self to really give, to have a clarity about who you are from which to really share your strength or your capacity in the world, and that there’s something about that that accrues to you in a way that’s fundamental to living a good life. So, I think there’s a lot of things like that, but that process is important. Trust that process. As long as you’re in pursuit, the most honest pursuit of what you believe is good, and you’re willing to stand honestly by those positions and not use them to rebel or self-serve or anything like that. Well, the world needs more of honest pursuit of truth. The world needs people that honestly take up their responsibilities, even though they will do them in a flawed way and continues to learn through that. That’s what increases people’s ability to find deeper joy, deeper freedom, and a deeper ability to serve and give within the community that sometimes disappoints them, or relationships that sometimes disappoints them. So let me just see what thoughts some of you have before I touch on some of the other questions. 

This person says, “How do we avoid falling back into deference when interacting with childhood relationships, for instance?” Yeah, well it’s easy to do that for sure. You know, I bet if I went back to a high school reunion, I’d be like (puts finger in side of mouth). I’m sure it would be very easy to fall back into the roll, or how I saw myself then, or how I think other people might have seen me, but I think it’s a process. You know I used to sometimes think when I was trying to work through some of these places where I’d go in to a one-down position, and then I’d really think through them and think, “Okay when I’m with this person that really makes me feel inferior, or that I easily feel inferior with, I’m going to hold on to my own sense of self. I’m going to be kind to myself.” And then I would get with that person and I would immediately fall back into my limitations. It’s a process, and the more you solidify into your own sense of what’s true, and you’re less concerned know, when I was writing my dissertation, I was seeing a therapist that was really helpful to me, because I was in the process of writing it, feeling disillusionment, feeling frustration about some of the teachings that I thought were limiting to me and others, and trying to sort out what I wanted, and then going to church and feeling angry about the validation I couldn’t get from other people around my concerns about some of it. And then I’d try to bring it up, and people of course didn’t want to hear about it, and I’d feel more self-righteous and indignant, and, I’m sure, annoying. And I remember complaining to my therapist about all the things that people wanted from me--the way they wanted me to think, or the way they wanted me to see things.  You know, that I felt pressure that I had to be at church, even though I felt, sometimes, claustrophobic there. And I remember her saying, “I keep hearing about what everybody else wants from you, but what do you want around this? Who do you want to be here? What do you want your relationship to the church to be?” And I thought, “I don’t like those questions. Let’s stick with victim. Let’s stick with how unfair it is that people don’t appreciate where I’m struggling.” But, those are the right questions. For me to grow up enough to think and take deeper responsibility for who am I going to be in this world, in the face of the limitations I see, and what do I desire for myself around my spirituality and my growth and my relationship to the church. Owning it is really, really important in moral development, and scary to do and easy to get away from and find others to blame instead. 

“The one thing most feared. The one thing that I pled with God to never let me go through. I haven’t asked for much in life, but a loving marriage was the one thing I really, really, really wanted, even if I failed at everything else. I’m living my own worst nightmare every day. For as long as I can remember, I really believed that divorce was a suffering worse than death. I still feel that’s true.” Yeah. Divorce is a very hard thing, and betrayal and disillusionment is extremely hard. I think it’s extremely hard to say, “I was doing the best that I could, and either it still wasn’t enough, and it’s cost me, or that other people took advantage of my trust, or took advantage of me.” And to face that, and to tolerate it, is not easy. I mean, it just isn't’ easy. I think that the most helpful thing is to trust that learning from it will help you find more solid ground. I know it’s cold comfort. I’m not offering a Pollyanna view of what it is to live, but truth is solid ground. “What is true about my role in this? What is true about my spouse’s role in this? What is it that I have to grow up in me to create the one thing I really, really, really wanted? What is it that I need to keep addressing in me, knowing that I don’t have perfect control?” You could do all the right things and still be betrayed, or still have somebody who doesn’t want to love you back. So we don’t have control over more than who we are. But it still matters. I mean, I think that one of the things that I will tend to cry about is watching people in the face of suffering do what is good. Watching people bring love to a really horrifying situation. I remember going with my son a few years ago to New York City to see the World Trade Centers that were replaced there, and I just remember walking around the memorial and seeing the names of each person who died, and seeing different individual’s flowers stuck in the names of whose birthdays it was. It was snowing when we were out there looking at it, in a kind of gentle, beautiful way. And I just couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop crying because of how much people wanted to take all that was dark and hurtful and turn it into something good, to salvage what is good. Watching people be honest when it’s at their expense, meaning, when they’re doing the right thing, even though it may cost them. That gives me hope and courage. Even if they do it in a way that others disagree with, and disagree with credibly, that they are still trying to stand up for what is right and true and will be good for the whole. That takes courage, to sacrifice ego for the benefit of all. I think it’s valuable to see that that is true in the world, when we’re confronted with so much disillusionment, or hatred, or hostility. 

This question of I don’t know how to ever trust anyone again, least of all God and the Church, I think what it has to do with is learning to trust yourself more deeply to be more able. I think it comes to trusting your own ability to measure what is true and what is good, because if you have a blind faith, you shouldn’t lean back into that kind of trust. If you’ve trusted for the sake of it, or without being wise. So belief in and of itself is not inherently a virtue. Trust isn’t inherently a virtue, but a grounded trust is, a grounded faith is. Faith in what is true, faith in the reality of love, those things, well I’ll tell you, you deserve to trust that that’s true, but discerning what it is, takes time and earnestness and perseverance and hope. Sometimes, we have to dig through a lot more darkness to find our way to it, or to feel that it’s real, and especially people who have come through really difficult things. So, I don’t stand in any simple judgment of someone who despairs or has a hard time trusting or believing in the reality of goodness. Thankfully, it is there. 

Can you give some practical ideas on how to move forward, like how to re-engage with my parents and not hold my own space and not just fall back into their expectations? Yeah, you know, I would say that if it means being more willing to be knowable, and tolerating the intimacy of it. I think it’s easier to resent the validation you don’t get than it is to say, “This is what I really think. This is where I am currently in my thinking. And I don’t demand that you see it the same way or feel the same things about it.” It’s being more willing to be knowable, and to say what we think and feel, and not to convince or make people see things the same way as you do. I know I would try to do that at first. I would try to prove to people whatever I thought, as opposed to a more honest position of, “This is where I am. This doesn’t work for me. This doesn’t fit for me, and this is why.” So I think that it’s more a practice of showing who you are. 

What do you do if you’re disillusioned with God? I would say that it’s good to become disillusioned with God, because I think we’re all worshipping a false god on some level. As you grow in your wisdom and understanding, hopefully your view of who God is evolves also. You may have had faith in a God that isn’t real, a God that would give you, if you checked all the boxes, then you would get the vending machine of rewards. That’s an important God to become disillusioned with, if that makes sense. What I think is harder is trusting in a reality in which good is real, or love is real. It can be easy to become cynical and not keep trying. 

“Jennifer, thank you for doing these love sessions. Your approach and your words, thoughts, are so enlightening and helpful. Thank you. Thank you. I’m in a really hard place right now, and I’m trying to find myself and understand how I move forward personally and in my relationships as a husband and father.” Yeah, that’s great. I’m actually working on a book right now with a BYU professor on sexuality and spirituality. We’re not covering all these themes, of course, but what we’re taking up is the question of how spirituality and sexuality can really be integrated as you grow as a person, and grow in your own relational development and spiritual development. The series that we’re writing in has a lot of excellent writing. They’re releasing a book at a time. It’s the Faith Matters publisher, and they’ve released the first two books. One of them is Terryl and Fiona Givens’s book. Patrick Mason did the second book. I know the next one that’s coming out is Sam Brown. He’s writing about another aspect of faith. These are really beautiful visions of what our theology offers to us as possibilities, and ways that we can grow and still claim our faith in more expansive ways, in ways that help us come to know God in richer ways. I mean, these are obviously not the final conversation or anything, but they are at least an honest and earnest attempt to offer some thinking on these topics. 

“Though he has grown and changed a lot, for much of our marriage, especially in the early years, my husband was really awful about his reactions, if he didn’t feel he was getting enough attention sexually. He once told me, ‘We are never visiting your mother again unless you promise to have sex with me everyday.’”

That’s not a good move.

“He’s much better in the last several years, but I have a hard time letting go of the resentment that built up over the last 25 years. How do I get past it?”

I would just quickly give a few answers to that. I think here are some forgiving agents, if you want to say it that way. Some things are the antidotes to that resentment. Forgiving is one thing, as we talked about a few sessions ago, as opposed to trusting. Those are two different things. Forgiving is not living in resentment and hostility, but trusting someone is dependent on them becoming trustworthy, or growing into a different and better position. So, assuming from what you’re saying, that your husband has grown into a better position, he has outgrown that mindset and is a better man and a better husband. How do you forgive that that was a part of your past? One idea is tolerating the inherent process of learning that we’re all in, including yourself that you married someone capable of saying that. Now, I don’t mean to say that you had it coming to you, because you were low in your development or something, but more that couples cocreate so many of these dynamics, and they’re often a reflection of where both people are. It hurts, and there’s so much more possibility than where the couple’s engaging. So in some ways, forgiving us for coming into this in such a limited way. I was talking to a couple recently, and they were talking about their family cultures, and I reflected to them, “I don’t know how you could have done otherwise than exactly what you did when you got married. It’s exactly what your families set you up to think and feel and believe. And you came and recreated it. Now, you’re finding its limitations, and it hurts. So, it’s easier to just say, “How dare you have thought or believed or done these things?” as opposed to, “I can now see the limitations of the view that I’ve been in, and the way that I’ve engaged, and how it’s hurt me, and how it’s hurt you, and I want to do better.” It’s just recognizing this is an inherent part of life, that we all learn from wherever we start, from whatever we were given. Where much is given, much is required, but also, where less is given, less is required. I’m just saying that’s what we get. We start with what we have, and then we grow from there, as hard as that might be. Forgiving that fact is not a small thing, but that’s the terms in which we live. I think another thing is if you see your spouse really changing, and striving, and trying to do better, that’s important to recognize, if it’s real. I don’t mean pretend something’s real that isn’t, but if it’s really true that he understands it, he sees it, he feels regret for it, he’s trying to be a better person, well then there’s a lot to acknowledge in that. Because, change is hard. Not falling back into our old patterns is hard. Under duress, we will tend to regress to what is most familiar, so to watch a spouse not do that, to self-correct, to ask for forgiveness, to be a better person is no small thing. A lot of people underappreciate how good they have it when they have a spouse who will do that. The last idea I have about that is, “Can I let my spouse's limitations go?” That is to say, “Am I going to use my disappointments to punish them forever?” It’s easy to do that for several reasons. One is that it excuses us from growing up and opening our hearts, because we can say, “Yeah, but you still hurt me, and let’s not forget that, okay?” It’s a way of keeping a one-up position out of a victim frame. It allows us to not really let the marriage move forward if the spouse is really trying. So, you don’t have to open your heart back up. You really don’t, but I do think it’s important to take seriously the question of, “Am I willing to do that? Can I allow this person to have been who he was, and not make him pay for it for life? Or do I not have that in me enough to do it?” When somebody just doesn’t want to forgive, and just doesn’t want to open their heart up, it’s better to be honest about that fact, rather than keeping somebody looking to finally be forgiven, or loved again, or trusted again. 

“I’d like to know how to respond when a spouse continues to have compulsive behavior after having education and understanding about accepting his sexuality and giving space for him to decide what kind of relationship he wants with sexually explicit material and himself. He says it’s not working for him, so I’m not sure why he keeps getting pulled in to the compulsive behavior. It’s coupled with dishonesty, even though that’s the only thing I’ve asked for.”

Yeah. I mean, I know we’ve done a FB Live on that topic that maybe we could find and repost or draw people’s attention to, but we could also take up some of those topics again, cause life is this balance between, “Is this person really doing the best they can? Or are they taking advantage of my trust?” It’s not always clear and easy which one it is.  Is this person really trying, or in a human process, or do they know that I want this to not fall apart enough that they keep giving themselves a path? Those are important questions to sort through as honestly as you can, to know whether or not trust is wise or engagement remains wise, or if you’re having your hope exploited by the person’s indulgence in their limitations. Those aren’t easy questions to answer, certainly for me, without having more understanding of what’s going on, but that is the question at stake. It’s a distinction between forgiveness and trust, and they don’t go together necessarily, meaning you can reengage with somebody and go blind to who they, while resenting them the whole time. You can divorce somebody and forgive them, or you can forgive somebody and choose them again and trust them, because they are trustworthy. So, those are all different variables.

Thanks, everybody, for participating. I’ll look at the things you wrote, and, if I’m able to, make some comments on them. I’ll see you all next month! 

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