This post has been sitting at the bottom of my brain basin for a long time, waiting to surface at the right moment. I actually wrote the majority of this post before the Mormon Facebook Apocalypse of 2015. Still, I’ve held onto this post. I think the time is finally right, as I confront the painful, vulnerable fact that I’ve been spiritually wounded. This is a loaded admission, one that opens up your soul to further misunderstanding, judgment, and (perhaps most terrifyingly and only in a few extreme cases) ire.
When I lived in Utah, I often found myself and my real opinions, my moments of weakness, and my expressions of faithful doubt, white washed with faithful and urgent conviction from other members. I understood, certainly. I even empathized to some degree. I remember the feelings of sadness whenever a friend left the church. But I realized that what made me sad was not a deep seated worry for their soul, but more selfishly, deep seated worry for mine. What did someone else’s loss of faith mean for me? What now must I confront?
This felt different when I started experiencing my own (terrifying, involuntary, kicking and screaming) spiritual quandary. Though I can’t characterize it as a loss of faith wholesale, I was on the other side of the hurdle. Every church meeting, what I thought was an honest search, was met with critics explaining that my spiritual hurdle wasn’t real, that with a little more faith, I’d overcome. I’d see.
It’s beyond hard, for the afore mentioned reasons, to admit that your faith fluctuates. What’s hardest about it is the soul-crushing fear that the honest and desperate desires of your heart will be misread, miscategorized, or mistreated. Deep down, our innate need to be understood is still alive and well within us, well after adolescence. I want you to get me. I want you to get me, and not the veneer of me that I project for the sake of self preservation.
I think it’s finally time for me to address this issue for myself and for others, because I find to great delight that many of my spiritual wounds are finally beginning to heal. But that, by no means, suggests that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in a place of hurt. (Note: I wrote this last week. This is a new week. There are fresh wounds.).
I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I wish people had known how to say to me. It’s such a touchy subject, especially when you’re a genuinely faithful person to reach out to someone in a different place. So, for the benefit both of those who have genuine desires to help, aid, and uplift, and for those who are struggling (whom, I perhaps naively become a spokesperson), here are some tips for talking with (not “talking to”) the spiritually wounded soul.
How to Talk to the Spiritually Wounded Soul
1. Realize that being spiritually wounded is not an active choice (and the rhetoric you employ about it being a choice can be harmful to many of us trying and failing at choosing to feel otherwise). People with spiritual wounds are not choosing to be offended. This is not the parable of the Cream Strippings. Surely, the deeper wounds become, the easier it can be to become defensive and angry quicker, but for many of us, spiritual wounds happen in a time when we least expect them. My faith was never stronger when the catalyst for my spiritual pain began. I don’t mind telling you that it was the first time I went to the temple. In a place where I was expecting spiritual enlightenment and progression, I came away feeling raw and confused. I didn’t choose to feel that way. I’ve spent years railing against that feeling. But it was there, and no amount of choosing not to feel hurt could change the hurt that was there.
2. Resist the urge to bear your testimony at him/her. Listen to theirs instead. It may not begin with “I’d like to bear my testimony and I know this church is true.” Instead it will leak out of them through teary expressions of guilt, and desperate desires to stay. It might lack the formal expressions heard over the pulpit, and it might only contain the word “know” when preceded by the words “I” and “don’t.” But their testimony, even if it’s a tiny minnow of testimony is still in there somewhere, otherwise they likely would not fight so hard to stay.
I firmly believe that most of my friends back home were well-intentioned as they shared their testimonies with me. It is what we have been counseled to do, and it’s what we’ve practiced since we were children. But as well-intentioned as these proclamations of faith (and knowledge) may seem to you, they can feel overwhelming to a spiritual struggler who desperately wants (and can’t, for a myriad of reasons) to feel the same things you do. Listen instead of proselyte. Converse instead of testify.
3. Don’t engage in spiritual warfare. This might require you to be the bigger person. If you feel your precious beliefs attacked and belittled, resist the urge to fight back. I’ve learned that the spirit flees when inside a defensive body. The spiritually wounded soul in front of you might say things that are hurtful, unkind, or, in your opinion, wrong. Turn the other cheek. Instead of retorting with vitriol and a self-aggrandized determination that you are doing what’s right, search every part of your own soul for empathy. Understand the painful steps that person went through to get where they are, and try to recognize—they’re tender, they’re aching, they’re searching for their balm of Gilead. They’re not trying to cause you pain back, even if that’s the unintended outcome. But since your cup of faith runneth over, know in your heart what you know and never sling it at them like a weapon. This applies TEN FOLD on social media, where it is way easier to A) let your emotions get out of control (from both sides) B) believe there are no earthly consequences for the things you say on a keyboard. The way we converse with each other is being watched and evaluated. Remember that first and foremost, we are Christ’s ambassadors for kindness. I promise the conversation will have a better outcome if you can limit your defensiveness and search for ways to be kind. Be the Balm of Gilead that person needs.
4. Express Love, Then Do It Again. And Again. 10 more times. Repeat. One of the worst struggles a spiritually wounded person goes through is wondering if the love their LDS friends and family members feel for them is predicated in a rock solid belief in the exact same things. Of course for many this is just an irrational fear and for some, sadly, it isn’t. Eliminate this fear! Find as many meaningful ways to express love as you possibly can. Remember that saying “I love you, but…” is not an effective way to say I love you.
I worry that many well-intentioned parents and friends use their love as a condition as a way of steering the spiritually wounded soul back into the church. Don’t. It causes shame and marginalization. Love freely and listen. Nothing could be more effective than a profusion of love.
I love you, brothers and sisters. As I say that, I can’t help but think about the reasons Latter-day Saints use those titles. Mostly it has become standard greeting. But I think the intent was to foster the family community—that all under God’s plan are brother and sister to one another. That doesn’t mean that our relationships are tension-free. But it means ultimately that we’ve made a greater commitment to love one another.
These are difficult times with floods of emotion. Let’s reach out to each other with compassion. Let’s genuinely invite the spirit into our conversations with those who are grappling for it (myself included). This is me, reaching out to my spiritual brothers and sisters—both those who are hurting and those who are hoping to help.
This is me reaching out and saying “Be my balm in Gilead, and I shall try to be yours.”