I Pray You…Bear My Joy Awhile

for JS

A few weeks ago, the Relief Society lesson in our ward was about Eternal Marriage. By some demographic fluke, I am the only divorced person in my ward (and one of only two unmarried women). I really didn’t want to be there for the lesson, partly because it would be uncomfortable for me, and partly because my presence would make some of the women in the room feel less free to express their opinions, for fear of hurting my feelings.

How to teach ideals without making people who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to achieve them feel bad is a regular theme in the Bloggernacle, probably because we don’t have any good answers. I certainly don’t have any good answers (which, alas, doesn’t always stop me from pontificating about it when people say particularly hurtful things). But in this case, the teacher was a dear and wise friend, so as I bravely ran away, I was thinking about what I would say to her if she asked me how to teach this particular lesson without wounding me freshly, or re-opening old wounds.

As it happened, I’d been having a particularly hard time in the weeks before that lesson, feeling sorry for my sad, single self, and mourning deeply for the idyll I’d planned, the sweet, peaceful childhood I had intended for my children, now irretrievably blighted. It was the sort of mood in which God sometimes manages to get through the layers of pride and neurosis behind which I usually hide from divine help. Alas, Deity is constrained to speak to us  “according to [our] language, unto [our] understanding,” which means, in my case, that He has to resort to channeling second-rank sentimental poets:

I pray you if you love me, bear my joy
A little while, or let me weep your tears;
I, too, have seen the quavering Fate destroy
Your destiny’s bright spinning—the dull shears
Meeting not neatly, chewing at the thread,—
Nor can you well be less aware how fine,
How staunch as wire, and how unwarranted
Endures the golden fortune that is mine.
I pray you for this day at least, my dear,
Fare by my side, that journey in the sun;
Else must I turn me from the blossoming year
And walk in grief the way that you have gone.
Let us go forth together to the spring:
Love must be this, if it be anything.

(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

It seems to me that some willingness to bear each other’s joy as well as our burdens is a necessary lubricant to sociality in the church. If the fact of someone’s pain requires silence about our own joy, the bearing of one another’s burdens becomes grim duty indeed–those burdens, it seems to me, can be borne better as they are lightened by shared happiness. Being all members of one body cannot possibly provide relief if every part of the body must constantly suffer the affliction of all the other parts.

Moreover, we simply can’t, by force of will or intellect, anticipate all the ways in which our talks, our lessons, our casual chatter in the halls, might cut a beloved bystander to the quick. The song goes “in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” It isn’t that we won’t see it, or don’t want to, but that, in the terrible, beautiful words of Charles Dickens,

every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Or again, in Mosiah’s grimmer articulation, “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.” We go around flinging darts at those we love, not out of malice, but out of a wretchedly inevitable ignorance. We fail at charity constantly, on our best days, because we cannot see each other clearly–we cannot yet “know even as also [we are] known.” The hopelessness of the situation does not excuse us from doing our best to see and understand each other (and we ought to think long and hard about the unkindness we can easily avoid), but it does free us to look for help from sources beyond our own fretful thoughts and inadequate imaginations. Another liberating idea I take from that poem is the reminder that both our blessings and our trials are so often “unwarranted”–it seems to me that a great deal of the hurt we inflict on each other comes from looking for explanations, for secret sins or particular righteousness that justify our own happiness or others’ misery. Even where such explanations may exist, the likeliness that they are deeply hidden–part of the “profound secret and mystery” locked away in a far room of a “darkly clustered” house we may not enter–spares us the requirement of advising or correcting or praising. We covenant, simply, to respond sympathetically, that is, to feel with our sisters and brothers, to love them as ourselves. Because they are our selves. And Christ’s.

If we begin to understand that our most careful efforts at not giving any offense will fail, we can stop trying for pale, polite, bloodless niceness and risk the deep connection that is the beginning of real charity. When I remember that the ragged, chewed thread of my fate is part of the same thick, golden cord as your beautifully spinning thread–when I know and feel that the fact of my sisters’ and brothers’ happy eternal marriages is a joy that belongs to me as it does to them simply because it increases the amount of light and goodness in the world, when I learn that it is my duty and privilege to rejoice with them, even as it is theirs to mourn with me–then, and only then, it seems to me, can I start to receive the gift of charity that makes it possible for all of us to speak freely and love fully in our congregations. It requires the sort of humility that C.S. Lewis describes as the capacity to “rejoice in [our] own [gifts] as frankly and gratefully as
in [our] neighbour’s [gifts] or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.” Our spiritual and emotional blessings have to be shared as freely as our material possessions if we are ever to arrive in Zion. Enduring the discomfort of sitting together in a lesson on an awkward topic, saying what we really believe, and listening to what others say with the deepest charity we can muster, is a chance to practice, in a tiny way, being “of one heart and one mind.”

(And luckily, I just got called to teach Primary, so I can afford to be preachy about how everyone in Relief Society ought to behave ;))

Comments

  1. If God wanted the ideal to be consistently so, he would make it that way. I would venture to say your divorce (and the other ladies’ singleness) are just as part of the plan as your friends marriages. Different? Yes, but still a big part in shaping the person you become.

    At least that’s what I’d start off with if I were teaching the lesson…

  2. *lady’s

  3. Hmmm. Maybe. I’d kind of prefer to think not, because from here, that looks like a really dumb plan, and I want to think God’s smarter than that, and intended a better shape for me :)

  4. Steve Evans says:

    “We covenant, simply, to respond sympathetically, that is, to feel with our sisters and brothers, love them as ourselves. Because they are our selves. And Christ’s.”

    Simply gorgeous.

    Of course the catch is that we must seek to feel with them on their terms, on their wavelengths, and not our own.

  5. This makes me think of the church manual Obert C. Tanner wrote, with the chapter on magnanimity. That’s one lesson I’d like to see brought back.

    On my most generous days, I can see the roots of my dismissing others happiness as naive and stupid is really my coveting it. On my least generous days, I claim others are coveting what is mine.

    I think one of the things about the ideals in the church is that the most fundamental doctrine of the church is that no one lives up to the ideals. That is why we need Christ’s atonement.

  6. I LOVE that manual, Matt. Thanks for reminding me of that chapter–I’ll have to reread it.

  7. The idea of bearing one another’s joy is one that had never occurred to me. Thanks for sharing such a profound thought.

  8. Beautiful.

    I especially liked this sentence: “When I remember that the ragged, chewed thread of my fate is part of the same thick, golden cord as your beautifully spinning thread–when I know and feel that the fact of my sisters’ and brothers’ happy eternal marriages is a joy that belongs to me as it does to them, that it is my duty and privilege to rejoice with them, even as it is theirs to mourn with me–then, and only then, it seems to me, can we speak and love fully and freely in our congregations.”

    I believe all of us have thick, golden parts and ragged, chewed parts. I get into trouble when I start comparing my ragged part to someone else’s golden part. Sometimes it’s so hard not to do.

  9. ” I can see the roots of my dismissing others happiness as naive and stupid is really my coveting it. ”

    Talk about being cut to the quick! Matt, you just shook my whole world.

  10. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    Beautiful, Kristine. Thank you.

  11. Just so, Becca–I have healthy kids and a job I love and a gazillion other things that other people painfully lack, and for which I’m forgetting to be grateful when I’m busy thinking about the husband I don’t have. That’s what’s cool about yarn–all the fibers are different thicknesses, strengths, broken off in different places, but when they’re all spun together, they make a single strong length.
    /end hackneyed metaphor :)

  12. Excellent.

  13. Kristine, thank you for this.

  14. Kristine, I love you.

  15. Gorgeous.

  16. Great post. I think this is a really important and edifying perspective.

  17. The best thing I’ve read in a long while. Thank you.

  18. Amazing and beautiful insights. Thank you so much.

  19. I love your Dylan-esque re-writing of the poem in the title.

    This is certainly a post to re-visit.

  20. I second Kevin Barney. It had never occurred to me either. This is a great post — a lot to think about.

    From Steve’s comment:
    “Of course the catch is that we must seek to feel with them on their terms, on their wavelengths, and not our own.”

    When I’m suffering and the other person is happy, or I’m happy and the other person is suffering, I can’t find their wavelength. There are those who can do this sort of thing, but it must be a gift and not a talent, because I’ve been unable to develop it after years of trying. That’s why Kristine’s

    “If we begin to understand that our most careful efforts at not giving any offense will fail, we can stop trying for pale, polite, bloodless niceness and risk the deep connection that is the beginning of real charity.”

    Is important to me, because my natural inclination is to give up and withdraw.

  21. Thank you. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and you articulated it beautifully.

  22. This is a really great way to frame something I’ve dealt with. I’ve got a disabled son (autism). He’s fantastic a great and we are so proud of the strides he has made. But it is hard sometimes to hear from family and ward members about the perfectly wonderful and normal events in their kids are experiencing. Bearing their joy is a good way to put it.

  23. Lon, me too. But I figure most parents also aren’t as thrilled when their kids say “This is the worst dinner ever!!” instead of throwing all the dishes on the floor :)

  24. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time, and I’m going to be a better person for having read it. Thank you.

  25. Lovely. What a beautiful thought.

  26. Thank you, Kristine. Many of us end up in places we never expected, having fully anticipated that our tickets promised an entirely different destination. “Hi. Welcome to Rwanda!” “What? I bought a ticket to France!” It’s easy to just find the nearest cemetery and grieve behind the stones instead of fully engaging with what we find around us–and even enjoying the postcards from Paris.

  27. Sharee Hughes says:

    Thank you for this great post, Kristine.

    For those of us who are divorced (for me it’s been 40 years) or never married (there are several of each in my ward–both men and women), we need to remember that it seems nearly every conference, the brethren promise us (at least the sisters) that if we live righteous lives, we will not be denied any of the blessings of the next life if we do not find our eternal companion here on earth. That is some comfort, although it would be nice to have someone in the here and now. It’s hard to find a good man, especially as you get older. And since I doubt I’ll find a mate in this life, I’m holding out for a really super one in the next. I do not feel any discomfort in a lesson about eternal marriage, because I believe I eventually will have one, although I sometimes do when the lesson is about children, since I never had any when I was married. I read a posting recently–I think it was on Times and Seasons–about how so many men go inactive, especially those who are divorced. So perhaps we divorced/single women, even if we do sometimes feel “out of place” in some settings, suffer less hurtful treatment than the men do. Or maybe we just accept it better? I belong to a study group in my ward of primarily single sisters, some of us divorced, some widowed. .We all love each other, no matter what. We bear each other’s joys a little while and weep each other’s tears. And are strengthened by our association..

  28. Thank you K. So much.

  29. A good read after a guy in my ward told me this week that in an ideal world we wouldn’t allow divorced people to remarry…

  30. Well, of course, chuck. We’d stone them :)

  31. If people stopped focusing so much on specifics, rather than general principles…
    Instead of motherhood..being a good example to your community
    Instead of wifehood..being a good person
    Instead of how to keep the sabbath day holy…how to build family and friend relationships
    etc.
    i like to think you wouldn’t have to worry about offending people.

  32. also awesome poem. loved it.

  33. Sharee Hughes says:

    rqt #30. I agree.

  34. Thank you, Kristine. Your post encapsulates what I have found most troubling about “don’t hurt me” posts. I couldn’t put my finger on the right words, so I’m very glad that you did.

  35. I ususally try to quote the sentence or thought that jumps out the most to me – but that is impossible in this post.

    “Beautiful” is all that comes to mind. This should be required reading throughout the Church.

  36. Mommie Dearest says:

    Familiar ideas, beautifully expressed by better poets than me. (Kristine included.)

    I’m relieved that there are people who don’t have to navigate life the way I’ve experienced it; what a sorry bunch we’d be if everyone had my same trials. Instead, some are blessed to have the ideal family in appearance, but all people have their hidden sorrows, and sometimes not so very hidden.

    These are my takeaway gems:
    “We can stop trying for pale, polite, bloodless niceness and risk the deep connection that is the beginning of real charity.” I have to learn this or die trying.

    “Enduring the discomfort of sitting together in a lesson on an awkward topic, saying what we really believe, and listening to what others say with the deepest charity we can muster, is a chance to practice, in a tiny way, being ‘of one heart and one mind.’ ”

    I still firmly think that the best solutions to dealing with these myriad problems will be found somewhere in the teachings of Christ, and I have the most power to apply them to myself.

  37. Reading this made my day better. And made me feel a little better about the backpedaling I felt compelled to do during discussion of this lesson in my own RS. :) Love yer guts, K.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what this post has to do with the Red Sox. Probably nothing.

  39. God bless you, Kristine. Extraordinary.

  40. Just beautiful. Thank you so much.

  41. Thank you. Just… thank you.

  42. I needed to read this tonight. Thank you.

  43. This is beautiful. It makes me determined to try harder to be less prickly, wait just one more moment before responding, bear the joy (yes, sometimes it’s much more difficult than bearing the sorrow or burden), and simply be more grateful to a Savior who loves us all. Thank you.

  44. (I hope this is okay to share.)

    My patriarchal blessing says:

    “I bless you to truly have the ability to feel joy at the success of others, even though it is a success you would desire. To have that attribute is one of the greatest that the Lord admires and loves.”

  45. Lovely Kristine.

  46. Thanks, Kristine. So much to think about in this.

  47. Ps. Primary Is the promised land.

  48. Anne Lazenby says:

    “we can stop trying for pale, polite, bloodless niceness and risk the deep connection that is the beginning of real charity”

    I love this, Kristine.

  49. To #28. When the guy in your ward is divorced by his wife, he will be in trouble finding a new wife.

  50. Wonderful thoughts.

    It seems to me that one of the hardest things in life is to cope with the perception that somebody else is getting a better deal — more praise, a larger slice of pie, a bigger raise, whatever. I think this was the toughest thing to try to teach when our kids were younger — “just because we said A is good at xyz doesn’t mean you aren’t good at it, too,” etc.

    I like to think that I’ve put away such childish things, and then Bob gets a bonus and I don’t, or Jennifer gets the new car that I can’t afford, or Kim gets praised and I don’t, or whatever, and I quickly find that all those five-year-old attitudes are still there.

    Anyway, for me it’s often easier to mourn with those that mourn than it is to rejoice with those that rejoice.

  51. RE: #26: Sharee wrote, “It’s hard to find a good man, especially as you get older”. That is very true, thus the Church has supported single conferences for the older members. After my first wife died of cancer, I attended a Church Singles Conference, for those above age 40, where I met a wonderful woman and we got married. We were married for 8 years until she died of “symptoms like Parkinsons” (to use the words of the doctor). I was later introduced to a lady in another state by a family who had moved into our ward. The wife had both bishops phone each other for consultation before they gave their consent for her to introduce us to each other.

  52. Nothing but praise for this post. It has made me see a very sticky issue in our culture differently.

  53. I gave the post a +1, fyi,

    I spend a lot of time bearing other people’s joy. I think it is critical. Otherwise we just go to Church, someone reads 1 Cor 13 or Moroni 7 and we go home. There is a terrible need for application, and when we do that, there is always an issue. General principals are great, but there is also a great hunger by many for application (and just how do I do that?).

    I think it makes us a better people to have joy in what others joy in.

  54. thank you, kristine.

  55. love k. love.

  56. The art of the sermon is not lost. That was beautiful.

    Sharing our joys with others seems such wonderful idea. A few months ago I had received a wonderfully good gift to my life, but I feared to share it because I knew that others were struggling and I held back. But it made me feel alone and alienated. “I learn that it is my duty and privilege to rejoice with them” is so hard sometimes–it’s also hard to allow others the opportunity to rejoice with us. Thanks for sharing this insight.

  57. Beautifully written essay on a difficult subject! Thank you for the insight. I will remember your profound words and try to implement them in my future lessons/life.

  58. Terrific post. Made for some extremely uncomfortable self evaluation, which is always a good thing in the end.

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