By That Same Spirit

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I don’t read near as much as I did when I was actively navigating my faith crisis, but I do occasionally pick up books that catch my eye when I see them mentioned. Recently, I read Truth Seeking by Hans Mattsson. I think one of the reasons these types of stories still appeal is that faith crises follow a very similar track, and anyone who has experienced one can relate to the journey of fellow travelers.

If you aren’t familiar with Hans Mattsson, he was the high-ranking area authority that was at the center of the Swedish rescue. The church sent their historians right from the top to meet with a core group of Swedish members who were deeply troubled by historical issues in the church. Instead of the questions being resolved, this meeting led to the defection of dozens of very faithful families. Frankly, it was a bit of a disaster for church headquarters though that isn’t really the point of this commentary. What really struck me when reading this book was a very brief few paragraphs that are close to the end. Mattsson’s connections meant that he was good friends with general authorities in the church. When it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to reconcile the historical issues and would leave, one of these people sent him a last-ditch letter in an attempt to persuade him to stay. This is a brief excerpt of what really stood out to me:

You are too good of a man to come to the other side unrepentant. You will quickly remember…that you allowed something to happen to your spirit, and you changed. You will also recognize that you can no longer do anything to change that because the same spirit that you had here in this life will be with you on the other side, and you will feel miserable when you realize that you have been bound to Satan.

I have no idea if other religious traditions use this paradigm, but the idea that you will possess the same spirit you leave this world with is something that I have always been familiar with. It is often used in this context, where it comes across as a bit of a warning which, from a black and white way of thinking, makes sense.

I genuinely appreciate people who care about me enough to be concerned about the changes in my life. The truth, however, is that I haven’t changed that much at all through this process. My conclusions are different than they were before. My relationships with people and things have shifted. But, my character is exactly what led me here, and I find a lot of confidence in that fact. The ability to look at an issue objectively is a positive in my life. The desire to know where the facts lead at all costs isn’t a scary thing for me. I am extremely comfortable anymore with uncertainty and don’t stress near as much as I used to about it.

I could be wrong in my conclusions. I am not infallible or incapable of misreading the facts. However, my ultimate desire to genuinely sort things out, should that be the case, will right me quite quickly when I reach my judgement day, I have no doubt. Because, if missing information changes the overall picture of how I see religion, it will be my nature to reassess that and move on in the direction of greater clarity. I trust that process a lot at this point and don’t fear it. I trust God and my ability to discern much more than I trust men and the messes they make in the midst of dogma.

I have a few favorite quotes that guide how I interact with issues like these. I’ve liked them for a long time, though it’s probably only been a few years that I’ve felt brave enough to live by them.

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” – J. Rueben Clark
I have never felt more honest and at peace with my relationship with God. The concept addressed here, that you don’t just magically morph into a different person when you die, rings true to me. Still, rather than being a warning, it has become quite a comfort. I am doing the best I can with the information I have and will continue to live my life by that standard. Rather than a dance with the devil, integrity leads one to truth, even if the journey is more windy than one would expect. Because of that, my spirit is strong, and my conscience is clear.
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Taking the Good With the Bad

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In an almost serendipitous fashion, life has a way of being a study of contrasts. You can be deep in an experience of heaviness, feeling the weight of the world upon you, suffocating and life-sucking, only to be plucked back up into joy and life and love. These moments are particularly sweet when marked against the bitter.

I’m no stranger to divorce. My parents’, firstly, with all its implications and the way it nudged my life and changed it forever. My parents were amiable and decent, but it’s impossible to take things that were bound together apart without damage. I’ve watched members of my family walk through it and heard them express the wish that it could be different, despite the fact that I’ve seen the reasons why, and they were valid. There usually is a good reason, though it sometimes takes time to see where the responsibility lies from the outside. Sometimes you are never quite sure. Sometimes it’s mutual selfishness. I wish it wasn’t this way, and that people were always as good as they should be and that children were always put first. But, it’s not, and it’s painful to watch, even from a distance.

Walking from this experience made the good news we received a few days ago particularly sweet and poignant. We have two beloved family members that intimately know the pain of betrayal that leads to divorce and have walked it under some of the most extreme circumstances I’ve ever witnessed with grace and dignity, not to mention a depth of character that is rare indeed. I got the most amazing text letting me know that their friendship and mutual support had become something more, and they were engaged. They are both exactly what the other has been missing and, despite what I expect will continue to be complicated, I have no doubt that they will build something lasting and beautiful. This news was very much akin to sunlight breaking over a very cloudy sky to me.

I think it’s easy to see events like this, especially in such a dramatic fashion, without realizing that they are poignant moments frozen in time that were actually built from the everyday, mundane moments of life. I’ve lived moments like this. We all have. Sometimes, I’ve succumbed to less-than-admirable motives, and people I love have suffered. Mostly, though, my marriage has grown into the opposite, with longevity and love the result of two partners that have chosen to look beyond ourselves (at least I like to think so.) The truth is probably a slow realization of the former that gave us both the fortitude to choose the harder but better way. While people rarely weigh the thousands of tiny actions that make up life, the fact is that these are the make-or-break things that happen to us, as normal as they appear. And, marriage has a way of making it impossible to ignore when you haven’t lain it all on the table.

A few years ago – five, probably – we were in the darkest part of our marriage. There was so much hurt and disappointment and blame, and neither of us were doing well at managing it with kindness and love, really. I came across a Ted Talk that sunk deep into my soul and shaped how I began to look at relationship. I’ve taught classes on the concepts of the bridge between the worlds and the relational space since and continue to recommend this talk it to couples I know.

I sincerely hope that all my readers are in a good place in their lives, but having lived it myself and seen others go through it as well, I’m not that naive. Either way, the 20 minutes it will take to watch this are well worth the time. I hope your week has not been cloudy, but for those that know the feeling all too well, maybe this can be your own sunshine breaking over the gloom. “The adventure of life is not about discovering new landscapes. The adventure of life is seeing the old ones with new eyes.” Choose love. I’ve found it to be so worth the price.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex!

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I’ll go ahead and start this post with a disclaimer that I will be frank about this subject. If you’re squeamish about sex in general this might be outside your comfort zone, and you can click away now. (On the other hand, it might be just what the doctor ordered!)

I’ve made it a bit of a life mission to understand relationships in general and intimate relationships specifically. I study people, and it’s not at all uncommon to make a comment in passing about an observation and to later find out that I was actually picking up on something correctly. People fascinate me. How people relate intrigues me. While this has served me well as a tool to nurture a strong and successful marriage, it wasn’t always that way.

The first eight years of my marriage weren’t always amazing, and it was mostly my fault. I was raised in a super conservative community that really didn’t provide much in the way of guidance on what constituted a healthy marriage. Because of my background, I don’t trust men easily, so I went into my marriage with the attitude that men were pretty much pigs but mine was mostly okay. (This legitimately embarrasses me now.) This caused a ton of conflict for me. My husband and I have always had a very strong intimate connection (ahem, we like sex), but I constantly felt a push and pull emotionally about it. I will never, ever forget when that shifted for me. We were arguing one day, and I yelled right in his face, “YOU ONLY WANT ME FOR MY BODY!” My memory of this unfolds in slow motion as I see the face of the most amazing man in my life crumple. I could see in his eyes that I had hit my mark in the most heartbreaking way. I immediately and profusely apologized, but it took many days for things to feel normal again. Some time after that fact, I found (just kidding – he brought it home to me, and I swallowed my pride and actually read it.) The Proper Care and Feeding of Husband’s¬† and had the most important paradigm shift of my life. Realizing that my husband’s need to connect with me was not only sweet but incredibly flattering was eye-opening, freeing and changed our marriage practically overnight.

My interest in relationships coupled with my abuse background means that I talk to a lot of women about these things and how they relate. (I’m not sure how it comes up, but it does.) What I’ve come to understand is that a LOT of women struggle with sex. A lot of women are conflicted about it. A lot of women aren’t well educated. A lot of women, especially religious women, can’t reconcile the messages they receive, and their relationships suffer. A lot of women eventually give up on it altogether. This makes me so, so sad because it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ve had a few conversations over the last few weeks that have really made me think about how important this subject has been to my marriage and how I wish more women had a healthier relationship with sex. I guess you can think of this as my list of things I would try to communicate to, say, my daughters (who happen to read this blog – you’re welcome, girls!) about what I hope they won’t have to learn the hard way.

Sex is good for you. As in, active couples experience less stress, less pain, greater immunity, stronger self-esteem and consider themselves happier than couples who aren’t as connected.

When you look behind the curtain around social issues surrounding sex like pornography addiction, there is pretty strong evidence that shame plays a huge part. Unhealthy attitudes about sex can actually contribute to the perpetuation of what psych professionals classify as “intimacy disorders.” Regular sex in healthy contexts reduces¬† the shame, guilt and disconnection that are the root of these problems.

While there are many things that contribute to divorce and tons of complexity surrounding why marriages fail, having regular sex reduces your overall risk of divorce. Sex is not a band-aid that can fix or save otherwise crumbling marriages, but it does facilitate strong relationships. I have a hard time understanding how people not having regular sex overcome arguments, misunderstandings and the general stress of life. We would have sunk a long time ago.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying your partner. Nothing. If you have issues believing this, see point 2 – guilt and shame weaken families; do it for your kids. (So much innuendo! I couldn’t help myself.) My seemingly pretty conservative father-in-law pulled my husband aside after we said “I do,” patted him on the back and pretty much said, “Go enjoy each other.” I continue to be grateful for that gem of advice.

Regardless of what your personal religious beliefs are, there are very few things between husband and wife that are actually doctrinally prohibited in the bedroom. 95 percent of the things people get up in arms about are pure dogma. If you and your partner are comfortable, safe and connected, everyone else can shut up and get out of your bedroom. The quality of your relationship is the key here. It’s all about respect.

You’re biologically built to connect with your partner. Sex releases prolactin and oxytocin that are known as bonding hormones and literally makes you closer to your spouse. If you’ve noticed that it’s easier to have hard discussions after sex or to overlook things that might bother you when you’re stressed, this is what is at play.

If you genuinely don’t see what all the fuss with sex is about, read a blog, find a counselor or pick up one of the many books that are amazing resources.¬† It can be better than just something that you get through to have kids. These are a few of my favorites that I recommend regularly.

And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson – This is written from an LDS perspective and is particularly suited for those who are either still LDS or those that aren’t but still find it hard to get past cultural messages that can interfere with intimacy.

The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Wray Gregoire – I love everything that this blogger does. She’s Christian but very open and frank.

Intimacy Ignited by Dillow and Pintus – This is an excellent study of the Song of Solomon that can really help people to unlock religious shame around sex.

P.S. I also wanted to link up to my guest feature on http://www.inspireyourmarriage.com. I’m honored to be able to share with a wider audience how I make my marriage a priority. Check it out along with all the other marriage-strengthening stories! (And, welcome to any readers who found me through this blog!