The Very Best Gift to Give and to Receive

A dear friend of mine’s husband was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. The terminal kind. The life-changing your-time-together-now-has-a-deadline kind.

I found myself desperately racking my brain for how to best help her. Clean her house? Watch her kids? Pray?

Yes, yes and yes, but would be the MOST meaningful gift to offer?

Also, when I see my husband going through a rough patch, I’ve often asked myself, “How can I be of best service to him here? What can I say? What can I do?”

As fellow humans, we all at some point come upon hard times. Eventually, we all come upon REALLY hard times.

Be it death of a loved one, financial crisis, health problems, feeling unloved or unwanted, or making major mistakes, we all come to those points where we just NEED something.

What do we need? What is the best remedy in our times of need? How can we be a good friend to those we love when they go through these hard situations?

Of course there are many answers and every situation is different, but I think one of the best gifts both to give and to be willing to receive is the gift of true acceptance- of hearing someone, empathizing and loving them.

It is the gift Christ gives to us. It is one of the most loving gifts we have at our disposal to give to others.

However, I’ve found true acceptance and empathy are not the first gift I think to give. In the above example with my friend, it wasn’t, and in the example with my husband, I almost always go to solutions before empathy.  “Have you tried keeping a gratitude journal? Maybe we could exercise more?”

Often when we are met with our own or other’s problems, our knee-jerk reaction is to go to solutions FIRST.

We’re natural problem solvers and sometimes solutions can be the answer, but often, it means more when acceptance and empathy come before solutions (or in lieu solutions all together).

Here are a few examples to back this empathy first thing up:

Examples of Empathetic Response


Perhaps nowhere is this tendency to focus on solutions, when we should be focusing on empathy, more apparent than in parenting.

via Unsplash

In two of the leading parenting books of recent decades: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk and Parenting with Love and Logic – both state that loving empathy (instead of solutions) is the key to unlocking successful parenting.

Typically when our kids get hurt or don’t make the team or get made fun of, our knee-jerk reaction as parents is to FIX IT. To take away their pain. Do you want to go to the ice cream shop? How about we pick out a new toy? I’ll call the coach.

We want to offer pain-relievers when what our kids need is our love and empathy.

These pain “solutions” we try to offer also have the potentially dangerous side effect of not allowing our kids to learn to solve their own problems and crippling their ability to deal with their own pain productively instead of running from it or numbing it.

Sheryl Sandberg

In the book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg relates how alone and isolated she felt after the tragic death of her husband.

She said the friends who helped the most were those who were just willing to sit with her, who never ignored her pain like an awkward elephant in the room, who didn’t say, “Well, at least . . .”

It was those who accepted her in any state she was in and let that be fine  that meant the most. Those who didn’t rush her recovery or feel uncomfortable around her pain.

via Irish Times

She said she made mistakes with those suffering with loss before the death of her husband:

I remembered the year before Dave died when a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I thought the best way to offer comfort was to assure her, “You’ll be O.K. I just know it.” Then I dropped the subject for weeks, thinking she would raise it again if she wanted to. Recently, a colleague was diagnosed with cancer and I handled it differently. I told her, “I know you don’t know yet what will happen—and neither do I. But you won’t go through this alone. I will be there with you every step of the way.”

The presence and acceptance of a friend meant so much more than silver linings, certainties or solutions.

Experiencing a Major Life Transition

The LDS (Mormon) church is such an all-encompassing community, that leaving it can often be a difficult, lonely and life-altering experience particularly for those whose family and friends are all LDS.

In doing research for my upcoming book, I asked several people who have left the church to tell about one person who really helped them through this difficult transition.

Without hesitation, all of them responded with people who offered acceptance instead of solutions. It was those who listened empathetically and were willing to sit with them through their pain even if they didn’t experience it also, even if it made them uncomfortable that meant the most. It was not those who offered (well-meaning) suggestions of, “Well have you tried ____?”

via Unsplash

In answer to the question of what was the most helpful thing during this difficult time of transition, one man said, “Just having someone I could talk to about stuff who would listen. [My friend] was hands down the most helpful. He said, ‘I’m not going to encourage you in or out of the church, but you are going to get through this’ And when you think there is no one willing to just listen and talk and give credibility to what you are going through- that was the most meaningful thing to me. It saved me.”

Mental Illness

In the FASCINATING book Voices of Hope for Mental Illness: Not Against, With, author Jackie Goldstein explains how in the U.S. and most of the Western world, when we encounter those with mental illness, we are obsessed with SOLUTIONS: more medicine, a different medicine, one kind of therapy, a different kind of therapy, etc.

But we don’t often talk about how focusing on all these solutions, ends up making those who struggle with mental illness feel very, well, PROBLEMED.

In the book, she talks about a community in Geel, Belgium that has a centuries-long tradition of caring for their mentally ill without any stigmas or typical “solutions” at all. Instead of trying to cure the mentally ill, they accept them. Just as they are.

The community has a tradition of having the mentally ill as boarders in their homes. These are not their family members, just community members.

They don’t try to change them or offer therapies or solutions, they just accept them as their friends and roommates.

via CBC News

And the results? The results are pretty amazing. Paradoxically by not offering solutions, these people’s problems do get better. The mental illnesses don’t go away, but the people are able to live peaceful, productive lives. Read the book, or at least listen to this podcast (totally worth your time!).

In a quote I think about all the time, Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Making people feel loved, appreciated, noticed, heard, understood and accepted are among the greatest gifts we have to offer one another. This is true for good times and bad.

But particularly in the bad, when we are in the midst of shame, suffering, loneliness and despair, a friend who can say, “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I’m here. I hear you, I’m with you and I love you.”

Those are the friends who mean the most.

Brene Brown, a leading authority on empathy, having spent her career researching human connection, has come to the same conclusion. She says,

“The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection . . . .Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”


(the religious part of this essay)

Speaking of Brene Brown, I love her personal story of faith and how she came to find the perfect friend after years of researching what it took to be a good friend.

In an interview about her religious life, she says she was raised very religious in Texas as a Baptist, went to a Catholic high school, but by college she saw the many faults that can come with organized religion and stopped going.

She also thought the role of church and of Christ was to solve problems, to take away people’s pain and suffering. She thought that is what they were there to do, and she saw they were doing a pretty crappy job of it.

Fast forward 20 years, Brene was immersed in researching what it means to be a whole-hearted person, what empathy means, what it means to be connected to each other and what it means to be a good friend.

She had a bit of a mid-life crisis when she realized her own life would have to change pretty dramatically in order to align with the results she was gathering from her research. This shook her deeply.

So she went back to church.

But this time, it was different.

In her own words,

I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away …. But faith and church was not an epidural for me at all. It was a midwife, who just stood next to me saying, “Push, it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.”

I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort. But what it ended up saying is that I’ll sit with you in it.

I never thought that that would be enough. But it’s perfect.”

I LOVE this story. I love thinking of Christ as our perfect friend. Not there to take away all our pain and suffering, because truthfully some pain and suffering is fundamental for our growth. I love that He loves us enough not to take it all away, but to always, ALWAYS sit with us in it.

And what better person could be designed for empathy than the only one who truly has experienced all our feelings, pains, emotions, problems, loneliness, loss, grief and sorrow?

The only being in the entire universe who is capable of 100% true empathy of every situation we could come across, is the one God has sent us as our perfectly reliable companion. Always there for us, waiting for us to realize the healing balm right there for us within his presence.

Sometimes, many times in fact, our expectations of His role get in the way of us experiencing His empathy and healing. We want that epidural- we want that solution to our problems, we want the pain and suffering to be taken when WE want them to be taken away.

But love isn’t the absence of pain. He loves us enough to allow us our pain, to allow us to solve our own problems, but He never makes us do it alone without that love and empathy we all truly needs when we are in struggle.

His love also means he allows us to come to Him as we are. He accepts us as His, even in our faults and mistakes. He wants us to be the best we can and helps us to change, but His love is not dependent on our actions. He simply waits for us to come and accept His love and help.

via Unsplash

Being a Better Spouse

In thinking of the best, most powerful thing we can offer our spouses, I think it is this- being a good friend- offering true acceptance, nonjudgmental listening, and loving empathy.

So often we’re afraid of our spouse’s weaknesses. Or we feel like its our job to correct them (thinking if not us, who else?). So often when our spouses come to us with their struggles, our reaction is to say, “Well, at least . . .” or “Have you tried?” or “Well, maybe you should . . .”

When more helpful responses would be: “Wow, that’s hard, I’m so sorry.” or “I don’t know what to say exactly, but thanks so much for telling me.” or “I know how you feel” or “I don’t know what will happen, but I will always be here.”

It is human nature to put our defenses up when we feel attacked or misunderstood. Bad behaviors result from feelings of shame. But empathy is the antidote to shame. When we meet our spouses with empathy, we offer them POWER to overcome their own shame.

via Unsplash

We hold a real power in our spouse’s lives.

And my friend whose husband has brain cancer? I came to watch her kids and clean her house. She said, “ya know, what I really need right now is just someone to talk to.”

I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect friend or spouse, but I hope in my loved one’s times of need, I will be able to provide them with that sweet healing nectar of acceptance, empathy and love.

I am infinitely grateful I have found those basic human needs met in Christ- a perfect friend, always there to remind me of my worth and value. There to perfectly empathize with every thought, mistake, feeling of shame or loneliness.

There to say, “You are not alone. I love you.”

Spiritual Sunday: Am I a Success?

Happy Sunday everyone!

This month for my spiritual Sunday post, I’m going to re-post something I wrote for that got published a week or so ago.

When I submitted the article I called it, “Am I a Success?” In publishing it was changed to “How I Learned My Worth Isn’t Measured By Checklists” which is totally fine since admittedly my title-writing skills are mediocre at best.

I’ll just say that this article deals with measuring success. I discuss measuring worth in this article (note: our worth is innate and not dependent on our measurement of it).

That said, here’s the beginning of the article- read the rest by following the link at the bottom.

When I was a teenager, if someone asked me about Mormonism, about what differentiated it from other faiths, I usually listed off a few outward expressions of what made our church stand apart:

  • Three hours of church
  • No drinking or smoking
  • No sex before marriage
  • Tithing
  • Dressing modestly
  • No rated-R movies

Since these things tended to outwardly distinguish me from the rest of my friends quite notably, they became what I thought were the “biggest deals.” They came to define my religion, becoming the benchmark of a successful Mormon in my mind. No coffee or beer? Wore sleeves to prom? Didn’t see American Pie? Check, check, check. I’m a success!

I see now that these things easily became my standards of success because they were measurable. They were the outward stuff. Anyone could see them and check them off lists.

Inner vs. Outer

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see the gospel as much, much more than those “outward” commandments. I’ve grown to trust and love the inward ones as well:

  • Love
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Hope
  • Charity
  • Gratitude
  • Devotion
  • Goodness
  • Kindness
  • Humility

These inward features have largely formed my new standard of “successful” righteousness. But there is one main problem with these new measurements: they are almost impossible to measure!

Do I have enough humility? faith? Do I love enough? I don’t know! How much is enough, anyway? 

[Read the rest here]

Spiritual Sunday: Why Do I Need Jesus?

Happy Easter dear readers.

My thoughts today have been on the question: why do I need Jesus? 

Not, why do YOU need Jesus, but why do I need Jesus.  This isn’t an essay to convince you to accept Christ (that essay would look very different), but rather to boil down what purpose He serves to me that I can’t find elsewhere.

Which is a little difficult to test since I don’t have a control group of me without ever knowing Christ.

So our starting point is the FAITH I’ve already gained in Him, which is may be a bit of a biased starting off point since I have found that when I do what He says (pray, repent), I get back what He says I will (help, comfort), which has caused quite a bit of trust going on, but it’s what we’ve got to work with.


So as a Christian, I believe I need Christ to help make me clean from sin and progress to a point where I can be clean enough to live again in God’s presence in the afterlife.

But, what about in this life?

Why do I need Jesus here and now? What benefits does He afford me that I cannot find elsewhere?


I’m a bit of a self-help junkie. I LOVE the feeling of empowerment when I read all about how to solve my own problems. I LOVE the feeling of progress. I love setting goals and working toward them.

This process of gaining knowledge, applying that knowledge and improving my life brings me deep joy.

So if I can improve myself all by myself by learning new things and applying them, why do I need Christ?

Often I think I say I need Christ in order to change and progress. I still absolutely think that is true for me, but is it true that a person CAN’T change or progress without Jesus?

It can’t be. People are doing it all the time! There are testimonials to every self-help book I’ve ever read that people are making all sorts of amazing, incredible, laudable breakthroughs in their lives- be it through their health, business, marriages, parenting or productivity- every single day without even knowing who Jesus is.


My next thought in answer to the question of ‘why do I need Jesus?’ was happiness. My relationship with Christ brings me happiness.

Does Jesus make me happier than I otherwise would be if I never knew Him? I like to think so, but its hard to measure.

Do I think people can be happy without knowing Jesus?

Yes of course they can. Millions of people are doing it right now all around the world. In fact, I think we do non-believers or former-believers a GREAT disservice when we don’t actually believe them when they say they are happy.

Research shows that happiness can be measured by positive emotions (peace, love, gratitude), engagement with a worthy cause, meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose.

Can you accomplish these things without Jesus?

Yes you can.


The next thing I thought of was comfort. Does Jesus comfort me? Absolutely! Can people find comfort without Jesus?

Of course they can. They’re doing it all the time. In fact, it would be terribly biased of God to only comfort those of His children who believe in Christ. God loves all His children equally and I think He wants to provide comfort for them all equally as well.


If I don’t absolutely NEED Jesus for progress, happiness or comfort, why on earth do I need him??

In order to unearth His unique contribution to my life, lets first look at what makes Him unique.

1 He was uniquely perfect.

While Christ was on the earth, I believe he was perfect and was in fact the only perfect person to ever live, so He uniquely presents me with a PERFECT example of kindness, returning love for hate, forgiveness, mercy and compassion to follow.

I notice a difference in the scriptoral depictions of him that is different even than other scriptures, which were written by and about awesome, but imperfect people. For instance, elsewhere in scriptures there are countless instances of common prejudices against other ethnicities and peoples. Christ, amazingly defies the very ingrained prejudices of his day toward other ethnicities and races (Samaritans who were looked on as less than by all Jews), gender (there are more references and stories involving women in the Gospels than anywhere else in scripture) and even those with horrible untouchable illnesses (lepers) and mental illnesses. Jesus loved and served them all. His example is unique.

2 He is uniquely all-knowing.

He is omnicient. He is all knowing. He knows what will happen when I die, what my potential is, what my purpose and meaning is.

Another unique feature of Christ is that He knew me personally before I came on earth. Because of this, we can have a very unique relationship indeed. No one else knew me before I was born, so no one can really provide me with the same level of companionship, connection and understanding that He can. He knows my unmarred potential, my faults, weaknesses, strengths and abilities better than I do, and that connection is unparalleled elsewhere.

3 Back to that progress, happiness and comfort thing . . .

Without meaning to diminish anyone’s experiences and beliefs who differ from my own, I think I could find happiness without Christ, but I have learned through experimentation that personally, I am HAPPIEST when I do what Christ says and strive to live as close to Him as possible.

And while I think I could certainly improve and progress many aspects of my life without Him, I have found a strength beyond my own as I ask for grace and divine help in my personal development.

And while I could find comfort elsewhere, for me, there is no comfort sweeter than the love and acceptance of one who has gone through everything I have already and still loves me.

Now. As I said this essay was entitled “do I need Jesus?’ not ‘do YOU need Jesus?’

DO you need Jesus? Well, I don’t know, that will depend on what you WANT.

I don’t know everything about God, but my faith is anchored in two great truths:

  1. God loves His children.
  2. God respects people’s agency.

Meaning, you get to choose where you end up and God loves you enough that He won’t put you somewhere where you won’t be comfortable -like in God’s presence when you don’t want to be there OR out of His presence when you DO want to be there.

I have found, I want to be there- in God’s presence and I believe I can get there- BOTH here and in the next life through Christ.

So, yes, I need Him. He is uniquely positioned to put me exactly where I want to be.

Spiritual Sunday: Is God Mad at Me?

In our church we talk a lot about obedience. This is for good reason, but I think being so obedience-focused comes with certain risks.

One of these risks is that we misunderstand the reason behind obedience. Not understanding the reason behind rules will make anyone resentful, annoyed and reluctant toward the rules.

As any parent can tell you, if you order a child to do something (“Don’t touch that! Clean your room!”) without making sure the child understands the why, what you get is an annoyed, reluctant child. Or a child who only obeys to appease and avoid punishment.

But if you lovingly explain the why’s (“If you touch that, your finger is going to get a big ouchie on it.” “If you leave your room a mess all the time, we’ll never find your toys and it will be smelly and then bugs will come and build little bug houses.”), then their obedience starts to come without resentment.

Instead of blindly obeying endless rules, they start to understand that the rules are in their best interest and come not from a cruel dictator but from a parent who loves them.

There have been many times in my life where I have kept all the “rules” reluctantly or with slight annoyance. I lost focus of the why. I mistook the means for the end. And then when I messed up, I became quickly discouraged and started to feel like God was upset with me.

And when you think God is mad at you, guess what you don’t feel like doing?

Praying, connecting with Him, keeping the rules, and good stuff like that.

Instead of seeing God as a loving parent who wants what is best for me, I start to be annoyed at all His demands and expectations.

Is God Mad at Me?

Enoch was shocked to find that when God looked out on the wickedness and misery of His children, Enoch found Him weeping. Perhaps he was surprised to not find Him mad or upset at all the people breaking His rules after all He’d done for them. Enoch was so surprised he asked God three times, “how canst thou weep?”

Of this encounter Teryl Givens says,

“In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume.”

God loves us to the point of utter vulnerability, which is astounding. Given that He has all power and knowledge, He could exact justice from a place where He wouldn’t be so affected by our actions emotionally. He could be guarded or emotionally detached. But instead, He weeps over us. He has literally given everything He can for the chance we will use our agency to choose Him and even when we don’t, He weeps.

Of all the versions of God I could choose to focus on – vengeful, jealous, angry – I choose this one: the God who weeps.

I choose it because those attributes that resonate with the deepest parts of me as good–kindness in the face of anger, love in the face of hate, gentleness when there is harshness, meekness where there is pride, charity, relentless forgiveness, love unfeigned, unconditional love, sacrifice, service–these things that I know from my gut are the most noble, honorable and deeply good things one can strive for- I HAVE to believe that God is not only the source of these things, but their very embodiment.

He has to possess those qualities or why would we strive toward them? Why would they resonate with our souls as good if God does not possess them in their perfect form?

And if I believe in this God who perfectly possesses all the qualities I value the most– goodness, forgiveness, kindness, compassion– He would not be angry at me when I mess up. Instead, I think He weeps and I think He waits hoping for me to choose my agency to let Him heal and help me.

In our constant desire for approval and validation and acceptance, we often get it backwards.

We are not obedient to keep God from being mad at us. We do not make good choices for His approval or validation. We are obedient because we understand what His divine love means for us. Because He loves us so deeply, we trust that He knows the exact path that will lead to our greatest happiness. And that is why we obey. Understanding His love leads to our trust in His rules.

God isn’t a pouty toddler demanding we please Him with our righteousness and if we don’t- He’ll take away His acceptance and love. His acceptance and love is not what is at stake. They never are. What is at stake are the barriers WE put up between us and His love and healing. Those are what we should be concerned about.

God loves us so deeply that His greatest desire- His work and His glory is to help us use our agency to CHOOSE Him. He loves us enough to never make that choice for us even if we wish He would. Even if HE wishes He could- He can’t. Because that is not what true love is.

True love is allowing what is best for the one you love play out over the easier, more comfortable route. And God is deeply devoted to what is best for us. So much so that He holds back, He holds back and weeps to allow us to ALWAYS be the decider in our own destiny.

So if you ever wonder, as I do from time to time, if God is mad at you. And especially if this feeling is keeping you from connecting with God, just remember that image Enoch described of your Father in Heaven weeping over you and your struggles. And then let that love wash over you and draw you closer to your Creator who loves you.

Application to Marriage

Just as we don’t do nice things for God to make Him happy with us. Our reasons behind being kind to our spouse shouldn’t just be for their approval, validation or acceptance. We aren’t nice to our spouse only so THEY will be happy with us. We are kind and compassionate because our spouses are WORTHY of kindness and compassion regardless of what we may get out of it. Our love should never be dependent on the love we get in return (although this is a VERY common misunderstanding).

We love because it is worth it to love. We are kind because it is worth it to be kind. Even if our love and kindness goes un-reciprocated or unappreciated — the very act of choosing love will expand us and make us grow in beautiful ways.

Is God mad at me?

This doesn’t mean we become doormats in the face of abuse. That is not love. Setting up boundaries is a very loving thing to do (and I’m going to be talking allll about boundaries in my next post). But love has to be at the heart of our boundaries or they are just going to be selfish lines in the sand benefiting no one.

Still, I truly believe returning love for hate, being kind in the face of anger or apathy is at the very heart of what it means to be God-like. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in marriage. Loving for the sake of love regardless of what we get in return is what real love is. Both for God and for our marriages.

When we get out of the mindset of “what’s in it for us?” we are able to worry less about the love our spouse shows and more about the love we show. We often waste so much time and energy worrying about what THEY think of us (No fair! They don’t accept me for who I am!) that we are blinded to the barriers we ourselves are constructing between us and our access to love.

Just like with obedience to God, the “whys” of why we love our spouse is crucial here. And the whys can’t be rooted in what we get in return for our love or we are going to be calling out “no fair!” whenever our spouse is human and doesn’t measure up to our expectations of what we should be getting out of the relationship.

That’s building your relationship on a sandy foundation. Instead, build it on YOUR ability to love. Love because it is worth it to love. Be kind because kindness is worth it. Forgive because forgiveness is the most beautiful thing in the whole world.

Spiritual Sunday: The Blind Men and The Elephant (and God and Church and Marriage)

In the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant we learn that we are often blinded to reality by what we connect with.  This parable extends to God, church and our spouses.

Spiritual Sundays are back!  Last year, I started doing a spiritual Sunday post once a month, but got out of the habit.  This year, I want to get back into it.  I really enjoy writing my thoughts about God and religion.  It is an important part of me.  And if you aren’t religious, that’s fine, I’ll always try to tie the topic into marriage at the end.  You can skip ahead if you’d like.  I’ll never know 😉     – Celeste

God as an elephant

I’ve often wondered which God in the scriptures is the most accurate depiction of God. Because they are very different. In the Old Testament, we get a version of God that is rather strict- lots of rules and punishments, lots of expectations to serve Him or else suffer the consequences. Contrast that with the God of the New Testament, and you get a picture of a very loving and forgiving God who wants nothing more than to help us come home to Him.

So which is it? Strict and tight-fisted? Or easy-going and forgiving?

I’ve thought a lot about this because who God is affects how I see myself and how I’m doing on my life goal to serve Him. There are potential pitfalls for me either way. If/when I see Him as the vengeful, strict God- I become prone to guilt-overload and worrying about not measuring up thinking He is easily disappointed with my weaknesses. If/when I see him as the kind and forgiving type, I get comfortable thinking that God will love me no matter what I do or don’t do and I don’t push myself to be better.

So it is an important question for me- which is He? The tight-fisted version or the easy-going version?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I think He gets to be both (and is certainly not reduced to my interpretation of Him).

Let me explain with a fable story from India about six blind men and an elephant.

The story goes like this- there were once six blind men who had heard of elephants but had never met one. So, they decide to go to the prince’s palace to meet an elephant. They each approach the elephant one by one and each touch a different part of the elephant and consequently get very different ideas of what an elephant is.

The first man touches only the elephant’s side, senses that it is strong and wide and thinks an elephant is like a wall. The second only makes contact with the elephant’s long, round trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake. The third connects with it’s sharp tusk and thinks an elephant is like a spear. The fourth touches the elephant’s round, firm leg and thinks it is like a tree. The fifth examines the elephant’s thin, floppy ear and thinks it is like a fan, and the sixth, who only touches the tail thinks it is like a rope.

The Blind Men and The Elephant

via Wikipedia

A wall, snake, spear, tree, fan and rope are six VERY different interpretations. When the men all come back together they start arguing, amazed that the others could be so different and wrong until the prince comes out and says that they are all right and they are all wrong. They had each only connected with ONE part and to know what an elephant is really like, you must put all the parts together.

I think God is like the elephant and we are the blind men. We make contact with one part and assume that is how He is. Often, I try to interpret God as only one, simple character trait, but no one I know displays only one personality trait, so how I can I expect God to?

I would hate to have someone judge me on only one side of me.  For instance if someone saw me at the store giving a punishment to one of my children who was acting out, and never saw me again, they would have a very different idea of what kind of parent I am than if they saw me at home snuggling with my kids while reading to them.  I get to be both a disciplinarian and a generous mother.  I also get to be many, many other things.

The point is God is complex and we do Him a great disservice when we reduce Him to only one quality.

For now, I can choose to connect with as many parts of Him as possible to try to get a better perspective, but the full picture won’t be displayed for me here. Until it is, I have faith that He both expects a lot from me AND is very loving and forgiving.

Church as an elephant

This analogy I think extends well into the construct of church also. I’m part of the LDS faith, but the analogy extends just as well to any church.

People have VERY different experiences with church. For every commandment, custom, practice and belief, you get experiences and opinions all over the gamut. To some it is stifling and constricting, to others its uplifting and heart-warming. I don’t think any are dishonest in their interpretation, so how can there be such different interpretations and experiences with the same organization?

To some church is sharp and pokey like a spear, to others it is flexible and graceful like a fan. Some insist that church is small and tough like a rope, to others it is as expansive and strong as a wall.

The Blind Men and The Elephant

Well, church can be all of these things at times and to different people. It doesn’t mean their interpretation or experience is wrong because it differs from ours. Nor that it shouldn’t elicit our empathy and understanding.

The good news is that YOU get to choose which part of the elephant YOU will make contact with. Which part you will focus on and connect with the most. Unfortunately, you don’t get to make that decision for anyone else. But I find it heartening that though I am blind, I can listen to other’s experiences while still connecting with the part of the elephant that strengthens me most.

Spouse as an elephant

Just as God or a church isn’t one-dimensional or defined by one trait, your spouse isn’t either.

Most likely, this isn’t news to you. I’d bet you’re well acquainted with your spouse’s sweet side, exhausted side, hilarious side and hangry (hungry/angry) side by now.

But just like the blind men were blind to the reality of what an elephant really is, it is easy for us to be blinded by who our spouse really is. We can be blinded to what they are going through, their struggles, pains, and anxieties. Particularly when we find our spouse difficult to get along with, it is always tempting to define them by just one of their less-flattering characteristics (You are always so inconsiderate!). But that is often not the whole picture.

It can be a scary thing when your spouse’s sharp and pokey parts are making themselves seen.  Just keep in mind the graceful, strong and sweet parts are still there too. It just may take a little contact and connection with those parts to bring them to the forefront.

So instead of seeing your spouse through a one-dimensional lens, try connecting with some of their other sides that maybe don’t come out as much- their funny side or spiritual side or appreciative side.

Remember, you get to decide which side you will make contact with the most, which side you will focus on, and which side will you define them by.

Let’s make it the best in them instead of the worst.