The Healing Power of Genuine Community

"I feel so relieved after listening to your talk and hearing your experiences." And, "I thought I was the only one who struggled with this. Thank you for sharing your feelings." As a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency and as a college instructor, I frequently hear these comments. I am willing to "put myself out there" and expose my weakness and vulnerability because I've come to understand the power of genuine community. (Hence, the reason for this blog.) Unfortunately, too many of us in our LDS community feel isolated and afraid to share our weaknesses and burdens with our ward and/or stake family. Why? Here's my list of reasons:

  • We fear judgment from fellow church members.

  • We suffer from the "Don't-make-me-look-bad-as-a-parent" syndrome. When our children are less than perfect or fail to "set a good example" for their peers, we feel shame and embarrassment.

  • We want to epitomize the ideal LDS woman and/or family whom everyone looks to with respect and admiration.

  • We don't want to look like or be "an outsider." We want to fit into the Mormon mold of having an eternal, loving marriage with the "correct" number of children (who, by the way, had better serve missions and get married in the temple or risk judgment from fellow church members).

  • If we don't live up to these ideals, we often feel that God is a little bit mad at us.

The Addiction Recovery Program of LDS Family Services discusses three basic needs in our lives "that we continually seek to satisfy":

  1. The need to be safe. Feeling safe covers things such as knowing were our next meal is coming from, knowing we won't be thrown out of our homes, and knowing that no one will hurt us physically or emotionally. 

  2. The need to belong. We are part of a family unit, a church group, a work group, or a neighborhood. Belonging is so important that young teens will join gangs in order to get a sense of being a vital part of something. Our group is a place where we are seen, valued, and loved just for being a part of the group.

  3. The need to be valued. We can be loved and valued for who we are and what we have to contribute. The need to be valued is met when someone says "ask so-and-so, they will know just how to do that," or "don't worry, so-and-so will never let us down." We don't have to be good at everything, but we do need to know that we can make a meaningful contribution or we will begin to feel worthless (LDS Family Services - Utah County North, p. 27).

In order to have healthy interpersonal relationships and a loving community of Saints, we need to meet these basic needs in appropriate ways. LDS Family Services further counsels:

When we know that others are always there to love us regardless of our choices or behaviors, we grow to trust them. By learning to recognize and state our needs clearly, we can become stable and attract stability from others. In this setting we can recognize where we are off balance. Our confidence in our Heavenly Father's plan and for that of others is strengthened. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love and value us. Their relationship with us has always been and will ever be real, secure, and healthy. Our goal becomes one of developing the same relationships with those around us. Our basic needs will be met and we will be part of meeting these same needs with others in ways that are appropriate and according to God's will (p. 27).

These concepts sound simple enough, but unless we are truly emotionally aware, we feed into hurtful and harmful communication patterns to build up our own fearful selves at the expense of another person's (as well as our children's) fearful self. As I've stated in previous posts, the only way I freed myself from fear (and to be a more effective instrument in helping others) was to begin by openly sharing my own struggles. I have no doubt that some people disapprove of my openness and directness. But it doesn't bother me anymore, and that, in and of itself, is freedom; I know I am loved by others--warts, wounds, and all. And, I know I'm giving the Lord more to work with by casting my fear upon Him.

"Sisters of Cinderella" by Walford Graham Robertson

Dr. Scott Peck discusses notions of community in terms of family and various types of community:

In and through community lies the salvation of the world. Nothing is more important. I need you, and you me, for salvation. We must come into community with each other. We need each other. True communication, like the charity it requires, begins at home. Perhaps peacemaking starts small. I have discovered its extreme importance in my own life and in the lives of thousands of my fellow humans as we struggle together to communicate without superficiality or distortion or animosity. Spiritual healing is a process of becoming whole or holy. Most specifically, I would define it as an ongoing process of becoming increasingly conscious. [We need] to make the unconscious conscious...those aspects of ourselves that we do not want to own or recognize and that we continually attempt to sweep under the rug of consciousness. It is no longer possible for us to save our own skins while remaining ignorant of our own motives and unconscious of our own cultures (The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, p. 18-19).

I agree with Dr. Peck; I'm starting small in the peacemaking and community process by becoming conscious of my own thought and behavior patterns...and then talking about them. Let's give each other permission to be who we are and who we are meant to be. Let's give ourselves permission to be who we are. We cannot become sincerely loving toward ourselves and others unless we come to some sort of place of self-acceptance. I was in my 40's before I finally felt free to be me!

Here's to a "commitment to community,"