“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” ~President Spencer W. Kimball
There is a statue of Christ that was damaged in a war with missing hands and a sign at its base that says, "You are my hands."
“A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: ‘You are my hands.’” ~Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
When God allows us to be his hands, he gives us the opportunity to develop sustainable relationship of Amae with our family, friends, and community. These are like the covalent bonds we learn about in chemistry. If we all relied directly upon God for all our needs, we would not be able to establish bonds with each other. We would all bond directly with God but not with each other.
Because we are all separated from God and his immediate love to a certain degree, we all have the need for Amae. Our spirits need spiritual nourishment to live just as our bodies require physical nourishment to live. God designed families as the primary way we receive both physical and spiritual nourishment. Functional families successfully provide this nourishment and thus bond with each other. Dysfunctional families struggle with the ability to provide it and that bond can't be formed. Most families fall somewhere in between totally functional and totally dysfunctional. Because we may not be able to provide the level of nourishment our children need or because our parents may not be able to do that for us, God provides back-up resources. Back-up Redeemers.
Sometimes the inability to provide Amae may be ascribed to purposeful negligence and abuse but other times it may be ascribed to objective random reality. The imbalanced relationship that results in dysfunction may only be a result of random circumstances. In other words, we can probably safely attribute the overall cause of dysfunctional conditions to the conditions of the Fall. Sickness, death, natural disasters, lack of maturity, generational neglect and abuse. The list of inherent weaknesses and misfortunes goes on! All of it can be categorized under the Fall. One dysfunctional condition causes another dysfunctional condition and like dominoes we all go down. The Atonement of Jesus Christ redeems our AGENCY. It gives us the power to overcome the conditions of a dysfunctional upbringing. It provides us with Amae where we didn't have it. If choose him (and his back-up resources) as our Redeemer these Fallen imbalanced conditions can be corrected.
My Specific Adversity: What Happened?
What exactly happened to me as a child? As is the case for all of us, God primarily provided that needed spiritual nourishment through my family. That was my first-line resource growing up. Because that was dysfunctional to a given degree, I also had dysfunctional behavior before I learned to turn to my Redeemer for re-functionalization. Thankfully, part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ includes giving each of us Time to find Him and recognize how to turn to and rely upon his Redeeming love.
My parents divorced when I was really little. I barely even remember my dad. He thought it was best to completely sever ties with us so I didn't grow up knowing him. In my teenage years I had some positive interaction with him. He was very kind. But I never had that father/daughter belonging relationship with him that would fulfill the purpose of family for me.
I’m not sure why my biological father did what he did so I don’t want to go into that. I’m only sure that it was a combination of the Fall and his own choices. So he left our family early on. He left us to the care of my mom and eventually to my step-dad. My step-dad was born and raised in an abusive culture. I know he was verbally and physically knocked around a lot by his parents and siblings. So that was passed along to him and then to me and my siblings.
From his family line, he learned that the solution to get children to obey was to force them to obey through physical pain or threat of it. The imbalanced character trait went like this: If children do not do what you say, you should increase their physical pain. In Behavioral Psychology--Operant Conditioning--this would be called Positive Punishment. Increasing or adding an undesirable stimulus like whipping a horse to get him to run faster. It is hitting a child after she has done something wrong in efforts to create a fear in her to not repeat that behavior again. If you consistently train a child like this she is going to assimilate those character traits, whether she would choose it or not.
These imbalanced methods of training children can indirectly promote other imbalanced character traits in a child when they are the primary methods by which she learns to make her choices. If she did not know she was doing wrong in the first place, punishment was used as a teaching method, and this training was repeated throughout her childhood, what would be the consequence? What would she learn? I know what I learned—a fear that whatever I did could possibly be wrong. No space for trial and error. No time to make mistakes without the hammer of swift and painful judgment coming down on my head. It was not okay for me to be imperfect in any way. I developed an ultra-self-correction mechanism almost like an auto-immune disease and major self-defensiveness against anyone who attempted to correct me. I will correct myself before anyone has a chance to punish me. That was my unconscious attitude. As I grew older, I grew angry. And this is probably the same process that put such intense and virulent anger into my step-dad before me. The results of the Fall--generational abuse and neglect. Lack of Amae.
Neglecting to Protect
The problem is not just in passing on dysfunctional love and character traits but it’s also in NOT passing on functional Amae and character traits. What does a child become when she is not protected by her parents? What happens if the very ones she should go to for safety, comfort, guidance, and support are the ones she has to hide from? How does she develop faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Where does the vital nourishing love come from? How can a child learn how to be merciful if she never was given it? And this is where she learns to protect herself. She learns that no one has her back. She believes there are no Back-up Redeemers. She learns to Turn and Revile Again.
I share this story knowing that almost everyone has experienced generational abuse and neglect to some degree. And if we see it in ourselves, we may be tempted to evaluate ourselves in Toxic Shame or to evaluate our parents in Toxic Blame. My goal is to objectively see these things as the product of ignorance and the Fall. When we recognize them as such, we can get to a place where we understand how the Atonement of Jesus Christ can be implemented to resolve the conflicts these dysfunctional relationships have created for us. These are the resultant conflicts that we are still struggling with today.
When the level of love and training our parents provide for us is not enough, the Atonement of Jesus Christ operates on our behalf. God knows what is going on. He works to put into place subsequent levels of resources that redeem us--compensate us. Our siblings may step in to help us because of their mercy and God-given abilities. They can be a resource for us especially when our parents are not. But since they are usually still learning and growing, as we are, and are receiving the same level of dysfunctional training, they often are not capable of playing this role for us. Yet mine did to a certain degree. My older sister was a beacon of light for me. She consistently read her scriptures, prayed, and went to church, which gave me a clue that these resources might be valuable to me as well.
We are all only required to do what we are willing and able to do. Love and Amae are about voluntary sacrifice, not forced sacrifice. We can't force people to love us. If we are willing, we can increase our ability to sacrifice over time in order to provide Amae for others through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But if a parent is not aware of this chance to improve or is not willing to develop his ability to sacrifice for his children, our Savior knows about our situation and will send alternative resources. Others are called into action. Those others can be extended family members, friends, and members of our church.
I had a few other Back-up Redeemers growing up. My grandparents, my best friend and her family, and my church, its programs, and many of its members. These resources retrained me in important ways to learn how to obtain my desires and resolve my conflicts using higher skills than I was raised with. I discovered for myself that the prophets, scriptures and personal prayers were a vital resource for me. But it wasn't until I developed the faith to really depend upon these resources, and specifically upon Jesus Christ who they all were pointing to, that my Amae needs have been completely redeemed.