Some gifts are less painful to give than others. For the first eleven years of my marriage, I looked in awe at my husband’s hands each time he gave someone a blessing.
He blessed the single mother who lived in a trailer park with her elementary school aged son. He blessed the teenage boy who’d shown up on our doorstep in the middle of the night. And he blessed our own children one by one, my boys in onesies, my girls in white dresses, as I sat in a wooden pew in the back row of the chapel, unable to see either my newborn child or my husband’s amazing hands.
I believed in the priesthood. I believed he held authority from God, that my Heavenly Father didn’t want me to give the gift of his word to the single mother in the trailer park, the abandoned teen in our guest room, or the children in my care. I wasn’t a man. My hands weren’t capable, and I’d never had the desire take on that responsibility.
Okay, so maybe that last part’s a lie. There had been a time—one time in the summer of 1996—when I had wanted to hold the priesthood.
That particular night I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my blue minivan, parked in an empty lot with a boy beside me. Except he was more a man than a boy, older than me by at least a couple years and wiser to the world. He thought me a naïve Mormon girl. I thought him a jaded gentile. What was a nice, virginal girl like me doing with a man like that?
Well . . . I was watching him cry. His shoulders shaking as he buried his head in his hands.
There’s something about seeing a proud man break that makes you want to lift your face to the clouds and ask God why? Why did you put us here? Why do you allow this kind of sadness, this kind of loneliness, this kind of desolation? If our humanity can make the strongest of us break, what’s the point of being strong at all?
James was falling apart before my eyes, and I wanted to put him back together. My heart fissured as he sank into despair. And I thought of what had comforted me in the darkest moments of my own life, of my father’s hands on my head. God’s love flowing from my dad’s fingers into the pores of my skin. I thought of the peace that filled my soul whenever he spoke in the name of God. If I brought my friend home to my father, he would amend this. He’d make it better.
“Do you want a priesthood blessing?” I asked James.
His breath caught. For a moment his shoulders stopped shaking, and slowly, ever so slowly, he removed his hands from his face. “Sure . . . go ahead,” he said, his eyes meeting mine, open and searching.
My stomach sank.
He wanted me to give him the blessing. I opened my mouth to speak, but my good intentions stuck in my throat. Nope. I had no words.
“Please do it now,” James said.
And I wanted to. I wanted to so badly that my hands started shaking. All my life I’d been told not to seek the priesthood, that it was selfish and power-hungry for a woman to desire it. All my life I’d just assumed that if I ever felt this kind of need, it’d be caused by my stubborn pride. Not by compassion.
“I . . . can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“I’m a woman. I can’t. Women can’t hold the priesthood.” I shrugged my shoulders in a gesture of helplessness. “But I could take you to my dad, he’s—”
“From you it would have been a nice gesture,” he said, interrupting me. “No offense, but I don’t want a blessing from your father.”
When I left James that night, I felt like a failure. A failure for my inability to make things better, and a failure for the inherent weakness of my character. I’d not been able to take away his pain. I’d not been able to make him whole.
But people aren’t puzzles. There’s no perfect formula to put a person’s ego back together. No way to speed up the grieving process, to make them happy, or to force them to behave as we wish them to. I learned this the hard way when I started having children. There are those who read mountains of parenting books in an attempt to stay up-to-date. I was never one of those people. Tradition determined my mothering style.
I let my babies cry themselves to sleep. At four months I started weaning them from the breast at night. At nine months, I’d turn on the fan and let them scream themselves into exhaustion when they woke up at 2 am. That may seem cruel, but I was training them to sleep through the night. I would not lie beside them on the bed. I would not rock or coo or coddle them. The sooner they learned to sleep soundly in their own crib, the better. I was preparing them for life, helping then detach, and doing them a favor.
I was determined to shape them with my influence.
Even so, when my fourth child was born in 2007, I was too exhausted to “train” him. Every night, when I put him down in his crib, I’d stand over him to help him fall asleep. If his pacifier fell out, I’d stick it back in. If he held out his hand, I gave him my finger. When he woke up screaming in the middle of the night, I put him into bed beside me, letting myself drift off as he nursed. When the sun peeked through the edges of the blinds, I’d wake up with my son sleeping calm and peaceful in the crook of my arm.
I grew closer to him in that first year than I could possibly have imagined. He taught me that the greatest form of love can only bloom when we give up control. All my life I’d put value in the words of the prophets, the counsel of my father, and the blessings of the priesthood. I’d come to believe that the highest form of spirituality came from bestowing God’s wisdom, shaping those within my influence.
But as I lay in bed on a hot summer night in 2007, my son’s small body warm next to my heart, I realized that I’d always had it backwards. Spirituality didn’t come from holding the power of God inside your body like a form of light. It didn’t come from knowing all the answers, from soothing other people’s pain or from living a perfect life. It came from holding nothing, from knowing nothing, and from allowing others to feel their own pain. It came from being flawed and empty and open. It came from letting go.
–Angela Felsted (http://www.angelafelsted.com/)