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Sabbath Revival: “The Beauty of Baldness,” by Kathryn Soper

By Catherine Pavia

HeadFor today’s revival post, I’ve chosen “The Beauty of Baldness,” by Kathryn Soper, originally posted on October 22, 2006. It’s been a year now that we picked up our family and our way-to-many possessions and moved to another state. Yesterday somebody asked me if I was glad that we’d moved. Since then, I’ve been thinking of what I lost in the move, what I gained, and what’s yet-to-be-determined. Friendships fall in the yet-to-be-determined. It takes a long time to make good friends (for me, at least). Kathryn’s post explains a bit why: The first time God spoke to me—I mean literally, with words—was through the mouth of a police sergeant. I don’t remember his name, but he changed my life. I was seventeen, miserable, and in a whole mess of trouble. And while I know you’re just DYING to hear all of the sordid details, I’ll just have to let your vivid little imaginations take care of that. Suffice it to say that I was a really stupid sheep who had followed some really stupid other sheep in to a really, really sheepishly stupid situation. The sergeant was arresting me. He was darn nice about it. In fact, he is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. He knew that I had just been humbled to the dust, and that I was in prime position to be taught. So instead of telling me what a loser I was, he did just the opposite. Or, I should say, God did. “You don’t belong here,” he said. “You are better than this.” And I believed him. Five years later I attended a meeting of the newly-reorganized Young Women presidency in our ward. I was the new Laurel advisor. The eight of us had moved our metallic folding chairs into a loose semi-circle for the occasion. At one point the discussion turned to the importance of nurturing each young woman’s individual worth. I felt inspired to share my police-station experience as an example of how an adult in tune with the spirit can change young lives. The spirit filled the room as I spoke, warming each of us as we sat in the cramped, dimly lit room that Sunday evening. Sharing the story was easy to do. Back in those days, I often referred to my checkered past to illustrate gospel principles. I rarely volunteered any truly gory details, but I wasn’t afraid for people to know where I had come from. After all, I was living proof of the truth of the gospel and the redeeming power of the Lord. But in the years that followed, my comfort level in sharing such experiences took a nose dive, and I became an expert at wearing “the church face.” I trust I don’t need to explain what I mean by church face. I imagine I’m not the only one who prefers to broadcast the signal that I’m in control, that I have my life together, that I’m faithfully performing in all the ways I’m expected to. And always have. It’s understandable, of course, this urge to convince our social group that we’re hot stuff. As if public opinion determined reality. But my compulsion to act the part really took its toll. At one point, I peevishly explained to a friend of mine that I did not want to burden my church community with the skeletons in my closet. And I cited my police-sergeant story as an example of what NOT to share. “That’s too bad,” she said. “Hearing that story makes me love and respect you all the more.” Over time, this friend, Angie, tried to help me understand the value of being open about our selves, our lives. It took her considerable time and effort, but through her mentoring I began to remember the beautiful things that have happened in my life thanks to openness—my own, and that of others. I was so grateful for the teaching that I browbeat Angie into writing on this subject for Segullah’s debut issue. The resulting essay, “On Being Bald,” is a poignant look at the value of remaining vulnerable, of taking risks, of being truthful about ourselves as we interact as sisters in the Church. She reminds us that while there are risks—big ones—in being open with each other, there are greater risks that come with wearing our church face. Even at church. Especially at church. When we insist on being fake-happy, fake-confident, fake-righteous, we create and maintaining distance between ourselves and others, distance that prevents us from truly knowing and loving each other. That doesn’t mean that we should engage in an emotional free-for-all during every church gathering, or that we should constantly spill our guts on our Visiting Teachers’ laps. The extent of our openness should be gauged according to the situation, and especially according to the inspiration that we feel, or don’t feel. Furthermore, there are times when we’re not feeling strong enough to be candid with people we’re not already close to. Disclosure can be exhausting. We shouldn’t feel obligated to hold our pain up for everyone to see, if we feel fragile. The timing needs to be right. But I think that most of the time, we are capable of being more real with each other than we usually are. And typically, we err by sharing too little, not too much. I am convinced that, for the most part, incredible things happen when we’re willing to be open about our ourselves: our dreams and fears, our successes and failures, our questions and our faith, our struggles and our joys. I believe that inviting a sister into our inner sphere is one of the greatest gifts we can give another. Today in Relief Society, Sister H. was teaching. She’s one of the few elderly women in the ward, a paragon of righteousness and obedience. You don’t mess with this woman. She toes the line, and reminds all of us that we’d better darn well do the same. But she’s also incredibly humble. The lesson was on Pres. Monson’s conference talk, “True to the Faith.” (The one that had the octopus-lure story. You know, the maka-fete. Say that ten times fast.) One of his points was about the terrible struggle of those who are ensnared by drugs and alcohol. After leading a discussion for a few minutes, Sister H. told us about her daughter’s war with heroin. “You have no idea,” she said, voice trembling, “of the agony I’ve felt as I’ve held her, and felt her cry and shake, as she’s come down off that drug.” As she spoke, the spirit of truth filled the room. She grew luminous, transparent, as she wept for her daughter and for herself. We all cried too, grateful for the gift, awestruck by the beauty of baldness. If you haven’t read Angie’s essay, do it now. And tell me: What inspires you to be open with your church sisters? What compels you to stay closed? What benefits have you experienced from openness? How can we help each other feel safe enough to be real?
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About Catherine Pavia

(Prose Board) has worked as a cherry sorter, file girl, piano teacher, writer, editor, and college professor. She currently works full-time as the art director, events planner, chauffeur, and referee for her four children. She spends a good deal of her time running—be it down the supermarket aisle after an escaped child, around the living room in a heated game of flag football, or on early-morning runs/therapy sessions with her neighborhood friends. She earned her BA and MA in English from BYU and her PhD in English from UMass Amherst.

4 thoughts on “Sabbath Revival: “The Beauty of Baldness,” by Kathryn Soper”

  1. Something I have been wondering of recent as a newly called YW Pres. I look at these girls and they are sooo good compared to what I was like at that age. I live a long way from where I grew up and no-one here knows what a trouble maker I was as a youth. They see the temple marriage, RM, so called perfect children and strictness to commandments as someone who is perfect.

    Instead I see the strictness to commandments kind of like the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's. I have come back and have no desire to even get close to breaking any commandments and trying to help my children not to take the same path. I never left activity but I broke a lot of commandments. I also struggle with PTSD from a bad car accident 9 years ago.

    I remember in the MTC a lesson we were taught that I struggled with was not to reveal past transgressions. I could see benefits to revealing the past struggles but I kept to this rule – and have stuck to it hard since. I sometimes wonder if this was wise.

    My oldest is 14, she has struggled with depression and anxiety since she was 9. People always tell me how lucky I am to have such easy children. It is not my place (and she doesn't like people to know) to share her burden – just so that people can know that what they see on her "church face" is not as perfect as they think. The nights I worry myself sick about her – will she win this battle.

    I have recently taken down a lot of my "church face" for her. I have given her my journals from my teenage years. I did not record everything (or I may not have given them over) but I did record a lot. We have always been close (as we fight the depression battle together) but I hope this shows her I understand what she is going through as a teenager.

    I do not feel I could do this with the women at church – the YW yes but not the women. They keep me at such a distance that it would be too hard to show them where I have come from. The few times I mention the PTSD from the car accident they blow it off as something I should not worry about. I have a husband who understands and loves me, as well as children that do. I have come to realise I don't want to be open as I don't think I would be welcome.

  2. The big things in my life that trouble me, that weigh me down, are not mine to share like that. My husband's disbelief in the Church (while still mostly being active); my 15 yo daughter's disbelief, anxiety, and leanings toward SSA. But, thankfully, there are a few in my close inner circle who know enough that I can share with. It was torture for years before I was able to disclose to someone what I was going through with my husband's disaffection. The day I was finally able to tell someone (due to my son's upcoming baptism) was one of the best days of my life. It wasn't that the problem/issue went away, but that finally I would have people who could share my burden with me. I could finally get priesthood blessings from someone to help me through it. And just knowing that there were others who knew and could support me was such a relief.

  3. i completely agree with strollerblader. one of the things that makes openness so tricky is that those things that make us real, complex, and three-dimensional beings are usually intertwined with other people. and when we share some of those things, it sometimes exposes those that we love the most to others in an unfair way. it's a really tough balance between having a support system and trust and loyalty to those we are sharing the struggle with.

    another thing that i find interesting is that even though some of these issues are unique to the church because of perfection complexes, etc., it seems to be human nature in general to be guarded with the majority of those that we interact with and only truly open with a select few. as members of the church, though, we voluntarily subject ourselves to far more interactions with people that we may not otherwise choose to interact with. i think that this is one of the beauties of the gospel. it also means that i may not become close to everyone in my ward though, just because of personality differences. that doesn't mean that i can't show them that i'm human and be open about questions i have, it just means that i may not let them in on every detail of my life.

  4. Thanks. I very much needed this. Right now I'm trying to work out how to be vulnerable in a way that fosters connection. At church, lately, people have been able to read my face like a book, and several wonderful people reach out to me, but I'm largely unable to reach back and accept the help.

    Debra makes a good point. Vulnerability is a powerful tool, but like any tool, you don't use it for everything. I'm often inclined to show everything and be hyper-honest, which can push people away. But I'm very grateful for the times when vulnerability solders me together with my fellow Saints.


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