Scarred, Broken, and Held in Trust

Someone else has left. Friend, family member, online acquaintance. It’s shocking but at the same time not surprising at all. They’re leaving by the dozens, by the hundreds, by the thousands. He’s found another path. Time will tell if she was called to this other path or if he was simply called away from our community, anywhere but here. You get that. You think daily about doing the same. He’s still there, of course. She hasn’t died. Well, he has died, but she found a way to live again. A different kind of resurrection.  But he can no longer identify as one of us. That’s okay. We’re still figuring out what it means to be “one of us.”

A friend once wisely commented that when someone experiences the death of a loved one or a loss of faith, ideally the community would show that there is no gap or hiccup in their love and acceptance. We are still here should you choose to return. We are always here for when you need a roof fixed, or a meal delivered, or a shoulder to cry on. We know you’d do the same for us. And those beliefs and hopes about your once-accepted sense of the world that now are shattered?  We are holding them in trust, preserving them, discarding the ones that hurt, refining and polishing the ones with potential to redeem, should you ever be ready to receive them back again. Communities don’t usually do this, of course. But they should.

Consequently, our questions cannot be: Why did she leave? How can we get him to come back? What can we do better in the future? Oh, these questions will still there, but only because they inevitably intrude, obscuring what is more important. We will get to them eventually. But they are distractions from what must be done first, above all else, before we can attend to them humbly and honestly.

What if, instead of gazing outward from the snug interior at the uncomfortable No-Man’s Land of self-imposed Exile, asking academic questions about causality and communal loyalty, we instead take upon ourselves the responsibility to become a sacred archive of trust? We take and catalog those scarred and broken objects that he or she once lovingly held close to their hearts, those beliefs and hopes that were once meaningful but have become too painful to hold, or too useless to implement. We tinker with them, polish them up so they work better than they did before, put our own names on them, tack them on to our own precious beliefs and hopes, make them shine a little brighter, function a little more imaginatively, and, hopefully, much less destructively. We hold them and preserve them as pearls of great price, so that if and when they should ever return we are ready to give them back, labored over and spit-shined, ready to be put to use again, but in different ways, for different purposes, as reawakened memories that bond and redeem instead of alienate and damn. Such a work requires knowing and loving the other person well enough to understand what she thought about them, how they looked to him, what secrets they held, what feelings they provoked.

It would be narrow-minded in the extreme to assume that because they have left and we have remained, that we ourselves will never have need of delivering our own worn-out hopes and beliefs to the archive, our once-precious treasures that we seem to have outgrown and out-loved, to be held in trust by others when we can no longer carry their burdens ourselves. Sometimes these objects are sufficiently bruised and battered that, even if we stay, we need to put them down for awhile, leave it to others to restore them and make them better, to think of grander, more creative ways for them to work and not break so easily.

One sign that we carry objects around like this that have in fact broken long ago, is when we say that we are grateful for our certainty of timeless truths, appreciative of our status as the very elect who have not been deceived, relieved that we have done nothing to put ourselves in the position of these poor wayward souls who couldn’t accept joy or see truth. Instead of recognizing that some of our belief and hope objects have been broken or scarred beyond recognition, and that this inevitably happens over the course of a lifetime, we insist to ourselves and others that every object, entity, and thing is perfectly and timelessly fine, perpetual motion belief and hope machines that are in no danger of slowing down or corroding. Then we wait until nearly every object in our world has shattered, and there’s nothing else to hold on to. When that happens, there is often nowhere else to go except anywhere but here. Or, worse, not being in a community that can archive and repair these worn-out objects, others insist that nothing is broken, that nothing could break, and when something does we are to blame for carelessly mishandling them. Ironically, though they were certain every object was unbreakable, now they happen to have the solution: don’t touch the objects.

Instead, if we are fortunate, there will be those willing to be that archive of trust for us, those who understand that perhaps we will one day be able to believe all things and hope all things and endure many things–but not all at the same time. Here, please take this; I cannot speak of it anymore. It’s very name causes me pain and sorrow. But it’s a part of this world, of this community, for better or worse; perhaps someday we will all collectively discard it. But if not, I trust you to hold on to it for me, to understand what I thought about it and felt for it, perhaps figure out a new name for it, plant it in a new landscape where it can grow in different soil, be set against a different sun in a different sky, and become something I can touch again and speak about, if not fully shoulder and claim as my own. 

When people leave we are forcefully reminded that there is work to be done. There are hurts to attend to, teachings and rules to carefully reconsider, purposes and goals to rethink. It’s not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, or what is true and what is false so much as a more focused attentiveness to to where there is suffering and why. The work is to pay attention to the ways in which shares objects might be scarred and broken in order to heal the scars and fix the breaks, or perhaps discard them altogether.

They may one day return. Or they may not. We may one day leave ourselves, even if only temporarily. Or we may stay forever. If our religion is real and not fantasy, we’ll take seriously the proposition that if we truly love them, and if we are truly loved by others, there will be those that will be joyfully prepared to give us back what was once ours and much, much more. If we can’t sing for them, this will be our song. If we can’t preach, this will be our sermon. If we can’t finally die for them, this will be our final act of love.



5 thoughts on “Scarred, Broken, and Held in Trust

  1. I wanted to try to say thank you for your words here, but instead maybe I could just share what I wrote tonight on a blog that only my closest friends read.

    “I’m not sure how, but “faith crisis” is now a noun in my vocabulary/life/conversations.

    All I know is I have hated my garments for a few months now. I have zero desire to wear them. I stare at them and they just personify everything that is painful to me right now. I have been endowed since September 2001, so for 13 years I have worn them “day and night” as I promised. Not now though. I talked to my therapist about it, told her I feel like after my world shattered all around me I have been forced to pick up every single broken shard and see each piece anew and try to figure out what and how it fits into my new life. I told her it’s a big freaking deal to not want to wear my garments. She said her suggestion as a therapist was to ask myself what felt most therapeutic, wearing them or not wearing them? I said NOT. Easily. I have to force myself to put them on, when I do.

    The times I wear them are because I could not handle my church leaders sending the missionaries to give me inspirational thoughts or because I could not handle being the reason that my parents wet their pillows with a thousand tears every night. I wear them sometimes because I don’t want to have to explain to my children why I’m not wearing them. But I don’t feel *good* about wearing them. I feel like I’m lying every time I put them on.

    My therapist followed with, “When you ask yourself, ‘What helps me feel closer to my higher power – wearing them or not wearing them?’, what do you answer?”

    I just stared at her.

    “I guess not wearing them.”

    I don’t feel very close to God. At least not usually. I feel angry at him. I feel unsure of his existence. I feel empty. But I can’t really say much more than that. The only times I feel like He has a place in my heart is when I hold my babies and imagine death being the end. It just can’t be.

    But I sure as hell don’t have the kind of faith I used to have. I don’t know what kind of faith I have, and honestly, it’s not really high up on my priority list to figure it out right now. I feel like my motto about faith is, “It’s on hold”. I’m just trying to survive, thank you very much, Faith.

    I read this post tonight and just sobbed. I’m still sobbing as I write this, actually.

    Thank you for being *this* for me, my friends:

  2. R:

    I hear you and feel you across the distance. This is where countless faithful have found themselves over millenia of faiths. I don’t know your specific struggles but I resonate with the fact of your struggle. If you are like me, you find yourself caught between the “easy yet impossible exits”: go back to the former world of your first naïveté: impossible. Or simply leave and build a new world. Possible, maybe, but far from simple and maybe not viable at all. You are where you are and it hurts like hell. When we don’t have the privilege of early inoculation, or a community of trust brokers willing to hold on for us when we cannot, it’s the definition of despair. I hope writing about it and sharing these things with others brings you a measure of peace. And things will change eventually, with our current circumstances or in the external world. They always do. But the waiting is an eternity in a very real sense. And the question will be where our hearts are when that happens. Thank you for reading and sharing. I’m in this with you.

  3. Jacob,

    I guess I’m starting a tradition of communicating with you through blog journals, which makes me laugh out loud. But here is what I wrote a couple days ago on my private blog about your comment:

    “I cried for hours after I read it. Cried again when I went to find it and copy it here. The old cliche is so true, there is no way through the pain but through it, but the only way the pain doesn’t kill our souls is if we let others walk with us through it.

    Anne Lamott wrote:

    “If someone forgives you, they have found the willingness to feel awful again, and to re-experience the injury you did to them. And then to find something greater than themselves that lets them say “Goodbye, let’s be done.” And I hear your apology, your contrition, and I forgive you. That to me is so amazing. Maybe the most amazing thing is when somebody forgives me for a serious injury I’ve done them.”

    It’s like by telling this stranger exactly how horrible I feel, and hearing him respond that he’s “with me” – I felt a sense of relief, a space open. And my grief spilled into that space. It’s that way when anyone hears my pain and responds without fear or a solution for fixing me. When I’m given permission to be hurting and hating and questioning and hopeless. And when I really let myself feel all those things, when I let others see where I really am, I realize – I’m still here. Feeling didn’t kill me. I realize I am, without meaning to, letting all the pain run through me and out of me, making space in my heart for the possibility of re-experiencing an injury of this depth again. What a strange thing life is – a willingness to feel awful again and again and again is what helps us. And I am doing that with a community of those willing to hold on for me when I cannot. Thank you dear friends and strangers. You are the reason I am not the definition of despair.

  4. You are exactly on the money here. If we have a community that can bear the weight, it can bear our hopelessness and despair and even our atheism. So little in our lives regarding our worldviews and our passions and emotions and our thoughts and logics is permanent. These things won’t be either. We just need a space where we can give them to those who love us, and at some point we’ll be ready to take up old crosses again and help others bear theirs.

  5. Jacob, everything you say is so comforting. Ever since my world fell apart I have felt…threatened by the mantra I feel all around me: “KEEP YOUR COVENANTS OR YOUR ETERNAL SALVATION AND THAT OF YOUR CHILDREN’S IS AT STAKE!” I just can’t hear that right anymore, I can’t believe in a God who is afraid for my soul because I was angry at him or questioned his existence. Obeying for blessings or because it’s my “ticket” into the gates feels so .demeaning right now. It feels like fear mongering and it makes me want to run far, far away.

    Every time I put on my garments I give myself a “c’mon, R., take one for the team” pep talk. Because almost all of my loved ones would be so scared if they knew I took them off, they would shake their heads and start calling me to tell me spiritual experiences they had at the grocery store hoping that I’ll feel the spirit so they can start breathing again (that has already happened, btw).

    Why, during the worst time of my life, when I feel like I am a shell of a human, when I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and not be completely consumed by my grief, why do I have to worry that my faith crisis is hurting them? Why can’t they just trust me? I just want to be trusted.

    “If R. took off her garments then there must be a damn good reason, cause she’s a good person with a good heart and I trust that she’s gonna make it.”

    I didn’t trust myself for many years and now that the truth has come out it has shattered my heart, but also filled it with a burning, stubborn, angry determination not to let anyone or anything else be the reason that I deny my true feelings.

    I read this recently:

    “Amish Coming of Age Tradition: Rumspringa

    In Amish tradition, Rumspringa marks the time when youth turn 16 and are finally able to enjoy unsupervised weekends away from family. During this time, they are encouraged to enjoy whatever pleasures they like, be that modern clothing or alcohol. The purpose of this period is to allow Amish youth the opportunity to see and experience the world beyond their culture and upbringing. In this way, returning to their community and way of life thus is entirely their choice. Those who return are then baptized and become committed members of the Amish church and community, marking the end of Rumspringa (but they must do so before turning 26).”

    I read it and was so jealous. It just reeks of *trust*. I don’t know if I want my children growing up in a religion that feels so untrusting to me. So fearful. And really, I do. I want to stay Mormon. But I’m questioning everything I’ve ever known, and I just want to say thank you for being a member of my religion who isn’t afraid of that. Who trusts that wherever my children and I end up, it will be better than the hole of pain that we’re in now.

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