PILAR: I now live in a very different space from the lonely corner I once occupied. My life isn’t perfect, but there are times when I wince looking back at the domestic abuse I suffered, the hell I went through in counseling with my ecclesiastical leaders, and the constant feeling that I was staggering, limping, or dragging myself to some imaginary finish line. I was determined to find a way to endure to the end because I’d been promised celestial glory for eternity, and I felt that somehow that would make it all worth it in the end. I try not to dwell on this at all, and usually I don’t. But last week’s BYU devotional by President Russel M. Nelson, with its “five truths,” really struck a sour chord. His messages of worthlessness and shame covered in declarations of love and conditional acceptance were eerily reminiscent of the things I heard on a regular basis from my abuser many years ago. I tried to push it away, but the throbbing and familiar ache returned like trapped, frantic birds tapping against a window, longing to be gathered up and flung into freedom that awaits them in the open air.
“If I don’t punish you, then you won’t take me seriously,” he used to tell me as he gave me weeks of icy silent treatment, denied me grocery money, or came up with a demeaning way to “earn my privileges back.”
“You need to understand that you are morbidly obese. I’m telling you this nicely because I don’t want someone else to be mean to you about your weight issue,” he calmly explained to me as I stood on the scale looking down at the number that read 135. This was just a few months after I’d had our third child. I was 12 lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight.
“This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was decent,” he said, and then he went through every dish I had made and gave me a score out of 10. My final averaged score was barely over six. “I know a few people said they liked your food, but they were just being nice. You do want me to be honest, and not just lie to spare your feelings, right?”
He could somehow seem loving and demonstrative as he tore me down and wrecked my self-confidence. He convinced me that I deserved his verbal abuse, rechristening it as “constructive criticism.” He had plenty of reading material that proved he was right, such as When Children Invite Abuse and The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. He reasoned with me, “If women and children wanted to be treated well, it must be earned.” He was telling me these things out of love, after all.
If there is one thing I learned from abuse, it’s that I know a lot of things about what love ISN’T. It isn’t tearing you down and devaluing everything you are so that someone else can define what you should be. Love isn’t forcing you into the mold of what someone else thinks you should be. Love doesn’t need to rip the flesh off your bones to expose you to the warmth of their fire. Love isn’t a ravenous wolf that tears you apart. Love isn’t jealous that you love yourself. Love doesn’t care if you’re queer or bisexual or gay or trans or cis. Love doesn’t lie about science that proves gender is not binary. Love isn’t concerned with insisting that everyone fit into their neat little heterosexual cis boxes labeled Boy and Girl. Love doesn’t fit in any box.
Here are those five points, improved.
- You are Children of God, but don’t be afraid to grow up and be an Adult of God. It’s okay to progress and change. And just in case there was any confusion, there is literally NO LDS song called “I am a cis-gender girl /boy of God.” Nope. Nobody sang that song. Ever. Nice try.
- In the immortal words of Regina George, “Stop trying to make ‘truth’ happen- IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.” The truth is, disaffected members may not know everything, but neither does the Church or its hierarchy. God is the arbiter of truth. The Church is NOT God, nor should it be conflated with Him. Last time I checked, Church leaders have been having difficulties of their own recognizing “truth.”
- God loves us each with a perfect love. I am reminded of Matthew 7:9: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son asks bread, will ye give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a serpent?” If there is anyone out there struggling to accept this message, I want to tell you right now this truth: You’ve been handed an enormous box of rocks and snakes. Go ahead and drop that rubbish into a sink hole. You don’t need that in your life. God did not send you that box. That wasn’t Him. God. Is. Not. A. Jerk.
- You don’t have to have a prestigious title at Church to share God’s message of love. In fact, the people who seem to be the best at sharing that love are rarely the ones also running around proclaiming “I’m a very important person. God loves you, but only if you do what I say. You can trust me because I’m called to be super important!”
- You may know for yourself what is true by going straight to God and asking him yourself. This is how I knew this devotional was wrong when I heard and recognized the patterns of abuse. When I left my own terrible situation, I asked God if I was the worthless, overweight, unattractive, horrible person I’d been told I was for years. The immediate response took my breath away. I felt the power of His immense love and can only describe it as a warm, expansive swelling that told me He LOVED me, that I am worthy of love AS I AM, and that I am ENOUGH. And so are you. Ask Him.
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