Thursday, May 16, 2013

beauty (a talk about shame & vulnerability)

I was asked to speak at my RS enrichment meeting about "inner beauty" this week and I thought it went pretty well. I recorded it so Matt could have a listen and I've included the text as well as the recording on this post. I spent a lot of time studying for it and really love the information I found, so I figured other people might as well. The recording and the words don't match up perfectly because I wasn't reading the talk but trying to do most of it from memory. The message is the same and it's probably better articulated in writing, but has more personality in listening.

(If I can get the listening feature to work... but I don't think it will work on anything other than a computer...sorry cell phones or iPads! I'm new to this audio world.)

Today we will be talking about beauty, and I am trying to specifically address "inner beauty." I do think that it can be a tricky subject to discuss because we use "beauty" to describe a huge array of topics... people, specifically women, babies, art, nature, sports games, touchdowns or slam dunks or goals, animals, homes, relationships... we can use the word beautiful as an adjective to describe almost anything.

So in my study to internalize beauty, I hope to start a conversation for all of us as to what it means to have a beautiful heart and a beautiful spirit and how it makes us more connected to each other and to heaven.

I'd like to begin with Creation and the Garden of Eden. The creation of earth has just been completed, and in Genesis 1: 26-27 it READS "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over...the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and femail created he them." So God has just created Male and Female in "his" image, but I'd like to read between the scriptural lines here and say He created us in "her" image- because as much as I share a similar forehead, nose, and nailebeds as my earthly father, I have breasts and a uterus and female parts like my earthly mother, and therefore my divine heavenly mother.  So here we have it - Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden and are of "one flesh" and are existing in "perfect union" as inseparable companions. They were working in perfect union with each other, but also in perfect union of Spirit and Physical body, and the first time on our earth this had happened. In Genesis 2:25 it says "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." What a wonderful beginning for mortality! I think we see glimpses of this type of unity between the spirits we are and the physical bodies we inhabit when we welcome new babies into the world. Have you ever known a young child that is ashamed of his or her body? They think being nude is spectacular! Forget about clothes or body image or fear or shame, they want to show you they have hands! They can jump (and will show you 100 times today!) They learn to kick and do jazz hands while kicking and singing all at once! It's amazing. And then something shifts... For Adam and Eve it was partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3: 7 and 9 -10 which reads "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked...And the Lord God called unto Adam,and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." They had just experienced their very first shameful experience and they were afraid. Shame & fear now exist, because good & evil exist. And we know that it's real because we believe in Satan. I think it's different for each child (and for each of us), but at some point they stop marveling in the fact that they have hands, and start pointing out qualities (both good and bad) about their hands. I can jump, but you can jump higher... etc. Once we have knowledge that opposites exist, we can never go back to the innocence that once was. We are then forced to use agency to choose how we are going to wield that knowledge. Are we going to stay perpetually naked, even if there are benefits to putting clothes on. Or are we going to put on so many layers of clothing that we stay hidden and afraid? 

Now it's easy to get caught up in naked vs clothed analogy, but lets take it a step further and bring it internal. If I have this beautiful spirit gifted to me from heavenly parents - what is the opposite? Ugly. And there is a lot of Ugliness in the world, and once again I am not speaking externally - but internally. Fear, shame, jealousy, deceit, anger, lust, viciousness, hatred are examples of some of the "ugly" feelings & emotions that are counter-productive in our progress of divinity. Counter-productive to our true selves. Do both have to exist? Yes! We more fully understand what is beautiful, light, spiritual and divine, because we have (and know) the ugliness of darkness. And its in having to choose between beauty and ugly, or light and dark, that agency is manifest. Agency! God's most important gift to us (and the only thing we actually own) and the whole reason for earth life. 

Now I know a few ways to get out of having to use agency. Addiction, blame, and avoidance are all tactics. Making yourself a "victim" to external situations saying "I didn't have a choice." We can "numb" ourselves with distractions or living on the surface of "everything is fine" as long as we don't talk about it.  Brene Brown is a researcher that spoke at a TED Conference a few years back (Talk 1 and Talk 2) and she studies shame, vulnerability and what she refers to as "whole hearted" living. She says that "we cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions as well." I'm not sure how many of you have read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but he has some great quotes in that book. One being... "That's the thing about pain... it demands to be felt." I sometimes think that I'm better than my faults or painful experiences, and I try to move on in my life without addressing them. It may last for a week, or a few years... but eventually we have to feel the ugly to allow more beauty. Brene Brown goes on to say that "Shame works like a zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." Doesn't that sound like why we need the Atonement? We believe in change because we believe in repentance and Jesus Christ, and shame is taking that away from us. So if we understand shame more fully, we know that it breeds fear, secrecy, humiliation, regret, a focus on shortcomings and flaws, and unhappiness. Does that sound like someone leading a beautiful life? To me it doesn't.

But! Thankfully we believe there is opposition in all things and so shame must also have an opposite. And tonight I'd like to make a case that the opposite to shame is vulnerability. If shame is ugliness and darkness, than vulnerability creates light and beauty and has the capacity to bring us closer to each other, to God, and to our divine potential as eternal spirits. If you look up "vulnerability" in the dictionary it says "capable of being physically or emotionally wounded."  Now at first listen, that doesn't necessarily sound like a positive quality. Most of us probably try to make it through each day without being physically or emotionally wounded.  In a book that came out last year written by Terryl and Fiona Givens called The God Who Weeps they make the case that the God we worship in Mormonism is tender, loving above all, and therefore also vulnerable. God's ability to love us and to be merciful to us also leaves his heart exposed and capable pain - and that's scary. (Here I read in Moses 7: 28 - 37 regarding the prophet Enoch when he witnessed God weeping because of the wickedness of the earth. I also read pages 25-26 in The God Who Weeps.) God's pain is as infinite as his love. He weeps because we are sinning, and because we aren't taking care of each other.  Brene Brown writes (in her new book Daring Greatly) that "Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path." Doesn't that sound like a beautiful life being created? A life full of love and belonging, of self-worth,  joy, courage, creativity, accountability for our actions, and authenticity. This is REAL. It is not necessarily winning or losing, it's showing up and being seen and willing to participate whole-heartedly.

Now here it gets a little tricky because I'm not sure there is a "ten step program to a more vulnerable you" guide. It's very unique and looks different for everyone. I do know that it does require more honesty, more compassion, more love, and quite possibly a therapist. I think counseling is underrated because we all could use some advice on understanding ourselves better. If we're asking ourselves often "How can I improve" instead of "What will they think"- that's healthy. It's not selfishness to want to improve ourselves, because improving ourselves will hopefully make us more able to help others. And we have to take care of each other!

Everyone in the room has probably been in the situation of meeting a new friend or even boyfriend. There is the getting to know you stage, the "i think we like each other" phase, and then there is the scary phase where you have to put yourself out there not knowing if they'll feel the same way. Being the first to say "I love you" in a relationship is scary, because what if they don't say it back? If they don't, then we opened ourselves up for pain and ouch... this time it came to us. BUT! Imagine saying I Love You to someone and they turn around and yell it back even louder I love YOU and then you hug and if it's a boy you might even kiss and then get married and then have a baby and are so very happy... the rewards are HUGE.

I told a story about crashing my brother's car and how he responded so wonderfully to a very shameful/embarrassing/raw experience. (Thanks Gary!)

We're constantly putting ourselves in vulnerable situations whether we do it intentionally. Having kids is opening a vault of vulnerability because we say I Love You everyday, and sometimes they behave in a way that sounds like "I hate you, mom." Or we say I love you so much I want you to make good decisions, and they go and make some awful decision that leaves us hurting and sad. And yet, tomorrow we hopefully will try again and say (maybe even a little louder) I LOVE YOU SO MUCH and I really hope you make good decisions. And maybe they'll once again make an awful decision.. but maybe they won't? There will be points in our lives when we won't know if we can keep taking the pain of rejection or disappointment or heartache... that's how it works sometimes.
But what I think one of the most beautiful things we can do for ourselves & for others is to never become calloused. Although having heart that is protected by sturdy walls & layers of clothing might sound safer, a living, tender naked heart that yes - is capable of pain- but is also capable of immense joy & beauty is worth it. 

Living authentically and putting myself in vulnerable situations has always paid off. Accepting and loving myself and the people around me that are imperfect, but authentic and vulnerable has always paid off. The rewards really are huge if we embrace this kind of life (and try our best to live it.)

And I'd like to end by talking about the most vulnerable and beautiful person we know, our Savior Jesus Christ. He accepted a situation that he knew would be painful, and he had ever single part of his heart pierced for us... but he did it knowing the reward (joy! love! eternity!) would be worth it. I'm forever grateful for that knowledge, and for the knowledge that we have heavenly parents who love us so much. Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight. I'm so grateful for the sisterhood of the Relief Society. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 


  1. Unfortunately, the player doesn't work. I tried it in the latest versions of both Chrome and IE. Invalid file path.

    1. it wasn't working at the very beginning, and it won't work on phones or tablets... but i think it should work on computers! this is all new to me!

  2. Worked fine on Chrome for me.

  3. I've never thought about beauty like this. It totally fits. All the people I think are truly beautiful and who I admire, exhibit charateristics of vulnerablity. I enjoyed reading this. I wish I could have been there!

  4. This made for a great read so I could enjoy pumping breastmilk instead of feeling like it's a chore. ;)

    1. any way i can help a mama feel less like a milk cow... i feel good about. oooooh pumping! i feel like you're really awesome for already having another baby btw. our #2 is still a twinkle in an eye ;)