I went to Italy last week, and the trip was, of course, amazing– in all the ways you are imagining, and in some ways I’m pretty sure you’re not imagining. I went to church in Vicenza, in a small American military ward (congregation), and it felt like home. I looked around the chapel and thought, “These women are already my friends!” It was an odd contrast to what I’ve been feeling in my own ward at home where I’ve lived for almost a year and a half, but where I’ve struggled to feel like I fit in at all. It wasn’t hard to guess why I felt this way. I’ve spent most of my adult life in small, overseas, American military wards. The women in Vicenza spoke my language of PCSing, DoDDS schools, living on the economy and deployment. When your biological family is an ocean and a continent away, your ward becomes your family and making friends is a skill you pick up pretty quickly.
I was not ok with how I felt about my ward at home and I decided I needed to do something about it. But what? It was hard going from being the mom at church who appears to have her act (and family) all together, to the divorced single mom from out of town with troubled teens in a ward full of people who live down the street from their cousins. I was feeling judged, isolated and ignored. And frankly, a little afraid to put myself out there and ask for friendship if I was going to get the cold shoulder.
|Catholic church in Italy, not LDS,
just in case anyone was confused
While I was in Italy, I visited a friend, and I realized part way through the week that I was intimidated by him. He seemed to know how to do just about everything I don’t know how to do. Assemble a bike? check. Which knife to use for what? check. Steady job with awards and a nice paycheck? check. Lift heavy weights, ski, and scuba dive? check, check, check. Connect 593 electronic devices from different countries, sync them and get them all working wirelessly? check! I mean, really? Who can actually do that?
When I told him that I was intimidated by him, his response startled me. He asked why I would be intimidated by anyone. He said he was surprised that I’d been surprised to get into a program I’d recently applied to, and he started listing things I’ve done or know how to do. At first I thought, “Yes, but those are all easy. Anyone could do that.” Then it occurred to me, he didn’t think they were easy. To him, it looked like I was capable, with no reason to be intimidated. Which was exactly how he looked to me.
And I thought, “Huh. I suppose the evidence shows that I’m a capable adult. I do actually know how to make a movie, write a novel, and put together a neighborhood clothing exchange. And if I took the time, I could probably learn which knife to use, to assemble a bike, and to scuba dive. Maybe not hook up all that electronic stuff– but we all have our limits.”
Then today in church, something happened. We had a meeting with all the women. All of them. The ones who teach other classes were relieved of duty for the day and the Relief Society (women’s organization) room was overflowing. We just got a new Relief Society president, and she wanted to stress the need we have for sisterhood. I have jet lag and was seriously thinking about going home early to take a nap, but every time I thought about it, I felt a little voice saying, “You need to stay.” So I stayed.
Good things always come when you listen to that little voice. 🙂
In Relief Society, a few women had been invited to tell how they have felt the love of Jesus through other women in the ward. I felt a little sulky at first. Women talked about how loved they feel here and how we need to not judge each other, and in my mind I thought, “I don’t judge people. I accept everyone for who they are. I’m really good at that. So what am I doing wrong?“
And then Chelsi stood up, and her message was different. She talked about how she’s struggled to find friends in this ward. And women all around the room started sniffling. She talked about being scared to call people, to ask if she could join in things that were happening.
And suddenly, in the middle of her talking, I realized that the judging that I had been so proud of not doing only moments earlier, was exactly what I was doing. All the time. I was judging myself. In ways that are far from kind. For everyone else I am compassionate, forgiving and kind. But for myself I am harsh, judgemental and negative. I see that I can’t lift heavy weights, have never been skiing, haven’t finished my degree, and struggle to raise troubled teens by myself. And while I would never think twice about these things in anyone else, they are my focus in myself.
In a recent talk, Elder Holland spoke of a young woman who, when asked why she was so hard on herself, replied, “So no one else beats me to it.” I cringed when I heard that because it’s exactly how I feel. If I point out my faults first, others won’t have to. How unkind is that?
1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”
As my friend in Italy pointed out, being self-centered does not have to mean thinking about how good you are. It can mean thinking about how incapable you are. It simply means you’re thinking about yourself– good or bad– instead of focusing on helping others.
The solution, I think, is two-fold. First, I need to be kind to myself, and not envy what others can do. Do you know that song, “Kindness Begins with Me“? This gives it a whole new meaning. And– at least as importantly– I need to focus on the women sitting next to me, many of whom were discretely dabbing their eyes while Chelsi spoke and, I realized, feeling every bit as alone as I have been. What was I doing to relieve their suffering? As I looked around the room, I remembered times when nearly every one of those women had said hello to me, smiled, been kind and happy to see me. I need to get out there and do what I’m good at– making friends in a short amount of time. Because one thing the military life taught me was that there is no time like today to be a friend.
I’m also tackling the weight lifting thing.