And they are right...mostly.
I did leave because of loneliness, but not until I realized it wasn't a disease in and of itself. It was a symptom.
Several years ago I listened to a book on tape by my favorite apostle (Elder Eyring). He shared a story about a boy who had strayed from the gospel. He asked the boy when was the last time he had felt lonely? And the boy was surprised to realize it was while he was at some party with his "friends." For whatever reason, while at this party, the boy remembered a childhood bonding experience with his mother, and felt lonely.
The point of the story, I think, was that the things of the world won't satisfy our emotional needs.
Hmmmm. I had a loneliness epiphany too. Only, mine came in the middle of a gospel-centered life, also surrounded by "friends." For me, I finally connected my loneliness with underlying beliefs that 1) I would always be loved more for my conformity than for my individuality, and 2) My needs and desires should rank way below those of everyone else I truly love.
I still don't really believe in a life without loneliness. Isn't that part of the human condition? Yet, I believe it's really important - and telling - to investigate why we're lonely.
Just before I came to reject the church, I began to consider the paralyzing fear I had of doing so.
I remembered something I'd been taught about agency. According to Spencer W. Kimball, “If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency. … There would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.”
And yet. I began to realize that leaving the church was never really a viable "choice," because 1) I'd feel miserable and guilty, 2) I'd become depraved and purely hedonistic, 3) I'd become arrogant and hard-hearted, 4) My family would be heart-broken, 5) I'd go to hell. Where was the agency in the face of such consequences?? I had NO choice!
Sure, there was a back-door out (engaging in some carnal sin, and then seeking to justify it)...but I'm not a back-door type of person.
Thankfully, as I made my way out anyway, I began to realize that the consequences I'd expected as set in stone were really just bluffs. I wasn't miserable. I didn't become consumed by passion and carnal lusts. I felt an increase of love and compassion, for myself and for others. My family was sad, but did not reject me. I knew that the god I believed in would not condemn me to hell for seeking emotional health and happiness.
I am a firm believer in these words of Meier (from the same article mentioned above):
"Even where a mainstream view (consensus) exists, alternate views that challenge the consensus are critical to the society's health."
I couldn't explain why. Even when I tried to explain, she didn't understand. And she won't understand why I felt or feel the way I do, without ever doubting her belief. Nor, honestly, would I ask her to.
I have noticed that I often feel inept when it comes to explaining my position to my friends and family. I believe that is because there are certain "pieces of evidence" I do not share with them. Why? To be honest, I don't see the point. I know exactly where they're coming from, I know what they have to lose, and I know how they will react. I've been where they are. When I was in their shoes, no amount of evidence could have made a difference in my faith. I just wasn't ready for it.
I don't love my Mormon friends/family any less for not seeing things the way I do. I think that eventually they may be surprised to find...they don't love me any less either.
By the time I arrived at BYU in Fall 1999, I had selected a more appropriate path: Home Economics Education. In theory, I'd be preparing for a just-in-case career. But all the while, I'd gain practical preparation for my future as a SAHM.
My second semester of college, my courses included a couple generals as well as German, two Spanish classes, and some introductory Home Ec class. German and Spanish were pure fun. In Home Ec I realized I would not last long. I could care less about sewing and crafts. I adjusted my route - I'd focus on nutrition. There'd be no more time for frivolous language learning. Instead, lots of excellent preparation for motherhood.
As a sophomore in college, I frequented the International Cinema - free on-campus viewings of foreign films. I saw the Chinese film "To Live," and absolutely fell in love...
I felt a desire to study Chinese, and prayed for affirmation that it was an acceptable desire. I was so pleased to receive a positive response! Two years later, I finally squeezed Chinese 101 into my schedule.
Oh dear heart, it makes me ache a little...to think how I always felt like I needed permission to follow you!!
Of course when I became converted as a teen, I realized that spirituality wasn't just a natural trait -- it could be developed.
So, I developed it. I think I can say I excelled at it.
On my mission, I continued to be very spiritual. But somehow, I felt very empty.
I began to observe that spirituality did not equate goodness. In fact, spirituality began to seem a deceptively comforting imitation of goodness.
I began to ask myself...Is it comfort that I seek? Or do I want something more?
Now, I view spirituality as utilitarian. I can understand why it is important, and desirable, to so many people! It served a purpose in my life, and...it no longer serves that purpose. I want something more.
1. Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey
I could completely identify with the character Oscar. [Well, except for the compulsive gambling bit.] Anyway, he believed whole-heartedly in the religious paradigm he inherited from his father. Yet his commitment to that very paradigm led Oscar to reject his church, to leave his father, to justify self-destructive behavior, etc. etc. The writing is intriguing and poetic, and I highly recommend it.
2. One of Ours, by Willa Cather
The end of this book lost me (I got bored), but the beginning provided an excellent treatment of one man's transcendentalist yearnings. I loved this quote:
"Ruin and new birth; the shudder of ugly things in the past, the trembling image of beautiful ones on the horizon; finding and losing; that was life..."
3. Life of Pi
METAPHOR FOR MY LIFE. :) For the past six months, I felt very much like a girl floating to who-knows-where, drifting further and further from everything I'd known and loved, meanwhile accompanied by a tiger that demanded my constant attention or else I might get eaten alive.
Isn't it interesting how and where we find metaphors to help make sense of our lives? Who would've thought a girl like me would have discovered so much of herself in the stories of a pious compulsive gambler, a discontented midwestern youth (okay, maybe that's not such a shocker), and a ship-wreck surviving lion-taming Indian boy.
Well, probably the authors.
I was walking to my car after counseling on Thursday, marveling at the counsel I'd received, marveling at the beauty of the earth, and contemplating my belief in God.
As my belief in the LDS Church has unraveled, so has my belief in Christ. But I haven't been able to shake my conviction that God exists. He seems very real to me. He is good, and kind, and patient, and understanding, and loves me completely KNOWING my thoughts and motives and actions.
Then, I had an epiphane. My view of God = my view of how I am, or at least my view of what I am becoming. How convenient is it that he has always wanted me to be happy and helped me make decisions that I was convinced would promote my happiness, whether or not aligned with anyone or everyone else's convictions...
My god may share characteristics of others' gods, but the complete package is unique. I thought of other people, and their individual takes on God's personality (for example, some people believe God is more jovial than others). I thought of the church, and how the view of God (or at least the characteristics emphasized) has changed throughout history as well.
Is it possible that all theists - believing mormon and otherwise - are really just following after their own gods?
As a child, I was taught how to judge by how I felt inside. Good thoughts/actions yield good feelings. Bad thoughts/actions yield bad feelings. Easy enough.
My younger sister and I often fought. When we fought, we would pinch and shove. I never felt good about it. Eventually, I learned how to restrain myself physically. That felt good.
But then I grew up. I studied the doctrine. I became "wise." I learned that knowing/living the truth was not as simple as feeling good - that wasn't "enough." Plenty of people felt good, but they did not recognize or seek the truth!The Right Feeling
When I was living in Taiwan, I went to my roommate's non-denominational Christian church one Sunday. As the congregation stood and sang, I could feel some very positive emotions. As the pastor gave his sincere message - to a very attentive, earnest congregation - I thought to myself sadly, how easy it is to be decieved by emotions! At the time I believed that what everyone was feeling was just that - emotion.
In contrast, I thought of LDS meetings. Quiet, routine, almost monotonous...and full of the Spirit, of course! Nearly imperceptible, except to the truly humble. That was the beauty of it.
The way to judge, I determined, was not by having good feelings. It was by having the right good feelings. Which required a whole lot of humility and/or study to recognize.
As a twenty-three year-old seeking for happiness, my efforts seemed frustrated. I determined that I should pray to God to know if I should stay in Taiwan (to get married) or go back to school (to get married). One particularly unhappy night, I poured my heart out about this question. As I finished, I had two thoughts.
First: "It's not the time for me to get married."
Second: "It's time for me to go on a mission."
I was distraught. Neither was the answer I wanted. How could I be sure the message was from God and not me, that I wasn't just predicting my own worst fear?
I had learned well enough that feelings were tricky and deceiving. So I turned to Moroni 7. I reviewed the well-known teaching that "every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ;...it is of God." My heart was heavy, but willing. I couldn't deny that the prompting to serve a mission would lead me to do good and love god. I accepted it as his will for me.
Works (motivated by faith)
By the time I became a missionary, I had determined that emotion was not wholly reliable. Throughout my mission, I gained more and more evidence of this.
But I clung to inner desire as the true indicator of right and wrong. In myself, I could identify true desire by self-evaluation against the scriptures (as I had in deciding to serve a mission). But what about everyone else? How could I help others to have faith in a pattern of living, if they couldn't reliably distinguish between good feelings and the right good feelings?
I found the answer in the words of Christ: "By their fruits ye shall know them."
So when I visited a young inactive family, and I wanted to give my strongest argument for the gospel, what did I fall back on? Feelings? No. I testified that the gospel must be true, and I knew it was true, because it brings out the best in people.
And at the time, I really believed what I was saying. I believed that the restored gospel, as contained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, truly made the best of people.
And it all falls apart
My progressive understanding of how to judge ironically led to the undoing of my own faith. As a missionary, and then as a returned missionary, I became increasingly aware of the fruits of the gospel in my life, and in the lives of others. I didn't like what I saw. Which led me to become increasingly less-satisfied with those fruits, and less-convinced that the best fruits were really so exclusive to the church.
Return to the Basics
When I first began to consider that maybe my faith in the church was mistaken, it was terrifying. How would I be able to judge? If I could no longer judge rightness by acts (worthiness for temple recommend, etc)...and I could no longer judge rightness by spiritual promptings ("I feel strongly that I should do this, even though I have no idea why")...how could I continue to be a good person?
I've returned to the basics. I will seek to do more of the things that help me feel good. I will seek to do less of the things that cause me to feel bad. I will seek to discern between external definitions of good/bad and those that are true to my personal conscience.
Amazing how simple, and how much more emotionally honest that feels.
1. I believe that now is eternity. If I were to die now, I believe I would be the same person. I believe I'd possess the same desires. The same happiness/unhappiness. If I'm unhappy now, how could I suddenly be happy after death? Which leads me to...
2. I believe that happiness is a state of being, not a result of the presence or absence of some external conditions. I have been taught that it doesn't (or shouldn't?) correlate with the presence of positive things, or the absence of negative. If that is true, and I still believe it is, happiness does not come from being rewarded, correct?
So if I can't be happy now, in spite of the many reasons I have to rejoice, will I be happy in eternity - just because of more reasons to rejoice, and fewer reasons to sorrow?
3. I don't believe in a god who would require [years of] unhappiness in order to grant happiness. Some unhappiness, yes, but long-term misery? No. (I should say I believe good can come of that sort of thing, but we shouldn't have to feel there's no escape from it.)
Instead, I choose to believe that the time to find happiness is NOW. It is this life! And if we can't learn to be happy in this life, then...well, I don't know what. But I'm afraid we might miss the point.
Why are some people good and some people bad? Because the bad people sin.
Why don't all good people believe the same things? Because their ancestors sinned.
Why is it fair for people to be judged in terms of good and evil after death, if they aren't all taught the truth? Because that will be taken into account, and they all have a conscience which if followed will lead them to the truth, and furthermore, those people will get another chance.
There was a logical explanation for everything! Well, not exactly. But for everything that didn't make sense, the operations of "the wisdom of God appears as foolishness to man" and/or "if one part is right, the WHOLE thing must be right" or something along those lines usually did the trick.
The fact that things could always be worked out was very comforting. It was secure. In fact I would say security was the dominating emotion in my life. It was so important to me that I mistakenly interpreted it as synonymous for happiness.
Until, of course, I realized I was miserable.
After twenty-eight years of reasoning everything into making sense...I realized I was very secure, but not really happy. I also felt incapable of dealing with variables and factors and operations that didn't seem to fit in my increasingly-complex equation. I longed for a different, more real kind of security...in which everything didn't have to add up for me to feel okay.
About six months ago, my sister called me on a Sunday evening. She told me that she'd had a dream about me and couldn't put it out of her mind.
In her dream, she and I were together, preparing to go on a jog. Then suddenly I told her that I'd decided not to go anymore and abruptly left. It was getting darker, she had her baby with her, and she was worried and confused about why I'd left her.
The events in her dream may seem random, but they impressed her, and as I listened, they felt very metaphorical to me. "So, are you okay?" she asked.
At first I asserted that I was, but my mind was reeling. I didn't know what to say. I knew I wasn't okay. I was miserable. On top of that, I had stopped going to church a few weeks earlier and was grappling with the knowledge that I didn't want to go back and what did that mean?!
But my sister's dream-induced concern seemed connected to my feelings, and so it gave me courage. I honestly wouldn't have imagined that my sister (or anyone in my immediate family, for that matter!) would be receptive to what I had to say, but the dream seemed to me a divine indicator of a safe sounding-board. I started to cry (relieved to be able to talk to someone!) and told her I'd stopped going to church, etc. Apart from my roommate who couldn't help but notice my inactivity, my sister was the first to know I was "going inactive."
We proceeded to have an amazingly-connecting conversation. Since then, I've been able to talk with my sister in a way that I haven't been able to with anyone else (besides my therapist). She is a great friend and listener.
This experience was part of why it was hard for me to disbelieve the gospel as I'd experienced it. But eventually I had to admit that Mormons certainly don't have a monopoly on meaningful dreams. So where do they come from I wonder...?
Throughout my life, I was taught (and believed) that the Christian way was not to take offense. As one LDS apostle has recently stated, "It ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else."
Yet as an adult, I often wondered why it was not okay to be offended by words/behaviors directed at me (whether intentionally or not), but it was okay to be offended for God's sake by the "immoral" words/actions of others? For example (I'll try to keep this light), many people seem to feel they are rightfully offended when others swear, or take the name of the Lord in vain (especially in their presence).
Seriously?? What if those using the phrases do not believe them to be offensive, or (for example) have never been taught the Lord's name, used casually, is believed to be offensive to him? Aren't individuals only judged in accordance to what they've been taught?
I honestly never felt virtue leave my being when SOMEONE ELSE employed a phrase that to them seemed harmless and colloquial and was not intended to be blasphemous. Sometimes I was shocked, of course. But I didn't understand why members felt so miffed by the behavior - which to me indicated only that the perpetrator was not as well-instructed on "appropriate language" as I.
If man, in his weakness, is strong enough (and understanding enough!) that he can choose not to be offended...would not a god be even more capable to choose when to be rightly offended or not, especially with his full knowledge of the intentions and educations of his finite-minded children? Do you believe God needs to edit the lives and conversations of his ignorantly "offensive" children, in order to tolerate them and maintain his own purity?
The thought that my path will lead me to some similar outcome makes me sad. I am proud of my Mormon heritage. I credit my noble parents with inspiring me to love and respect mankind, to seek learning, to value goodness, and to be true to my conscience in spite of opposition.
I feel so grateful to them, and to my progenitors who likewise chose to follow their consciences and seek what they understood to be a greater good, in spite of social rejection, trials and failures, and probably their own fair share of cognitive dissonance. I love my LDS friends, the most Christian of whom bring credit to themselves and the Church by continuing to love and show kindness towards me, in spite of their misgivings about my decision.
Someday I may find my name removed from the membership records, but a part of me will always be Mormon and fiercely proud of it.
I'm fortunate that the recipients of all four letters have been kind and loving and supportive, even though they all disagree with my decision to leave.
A few years ago, while on my mission, something in my heart started to change. I felt dead inside. I came home, and tried to be the person I thought I was supposed to be. But I continued to feel unhappy and lost and apathetic, and less and less desire to be around other people.
After a particularly confusing and emotional week recently, I went on a bike ride and ended up stopping at [my aunt and uncle's] house. I started to cry as soon as [my uncle] invited me in. I hadn't really intended to go there, but there I was, and I felt maybe he could help. We talked about several things, and I finally asked him about the history of mental illness in our family. I felt comforted after talking with him, that maybe there was more to my experience than just over-indulging in self-pity.
Two days later, I met with a therapist at the University of Utah. This was something I'd wanted to do for a while (and had talked to [my social worker cousin] about two years ago), but never felt I really deserved or could afford. Fortunately, it is much more affordable for university students. Anyway, the intake counselor and my assigned therapist both said that my symptoms indicate depression. That seems unreal, or exaggerated. Part of me still thinks I am just making this into a bigger deal than it is. But I know, if only because of my shizophrenic missionary companion, that mental illness is real. I know I want help. And my counselor has been so compassionate and supportive.
It's only been a month or so, but the weekly sessions are a highlight of my week. It has been such a relief to talk about the things I feel without fear of judgment or criticism. As a result, I have felt more desire to be open with you about my decision not to attend church.
I understand that this will be disappointing to you. That is hard for me to swallow, because I don't want to be a disappointment. But I hope you will try to understand that I am still me, and I still have good desires, and I think I am a good person.
I am not angry with God. I feel he has continually supported me and blessed me and comforted me and guided me and given me great opportunities to learn and grow. I don't feel that he is punishing me. As I walked out after my first visit with a counselor, all I could do was offer up my gratitude and marvel that he would help me.
I still believe many of the same things. I want to live a clean, moral life. I want to love my brothers and sisters. I want to do good and be better.
But right now, when I go to church, I do not feel good feelings. I don't like many of the people there, I don't agree with the things they say, and I don't like how I feel when I'm around them. I know exactly what you're thinking when I tell you this. I know what you want to ask me to do. You think I should be humble. I'm sorry. I am choosing another path right now.
You probably don't want me to feel pain or lose the blessings of membership in God's kingdom. I am asking you to let me choose. Please, let me choose for myself.
I love each of you and hope you will understand.
Sorry it's taken a few days. It really means a lot to me that you would care what I am thinking and feeling. One of the things that has come up as I've met with my therapist is that I've felt uncomfortable for a really long time feeling the way I do and talking about how I really feel. I'm trying to build my communication muscles. :) So, thanks for listening.
I am not sure how to tell the story of coming to this decision. I think many things have contributed. The struggle to find balance between fanaticism and apathy. Being burned out from church service, including multiple simultaneous callings, on multiple occasions. Recognition of manipulation as manipulation, however well-intentioned. Disagreement with certain common practices, including some proselytizing techniques.
And throughout most of my life, a feeling that I wasn't quite like other members of the church, or didn't want to be exactly like them anyway.
When I went on my mission, it wasn't because I wanted to, it was because I felt it was what the Lord wanted me to do. I was willing - so it was my choice - but not really my desire, you know what I mean? In some ways I was excited, in other ways I was quietly resigned. What I truly wanted was to get married, I think you probably knew that. Of course I'm grateful now I didn't get married. And I went. And within less than six months, for a lot of different reasons, I began to feel dead inside. I think now that I was dealing with depression. But at the time I felt guilty and ashamed of what I felt and tried to minimize it or keep it hidden. I came home from my mission and picked up where I'd left off, trying to be the way I thought I was supposed to be. But the depression got worse, and I had absolutely no desire to read my scriptures anymore.
I continued to go to church, of course, because not going was wrong and not an option (even now it seems really unreal). During the last year, I felt more and more uncomfortable associating with other members of the church (AT church, and church functions). I began to feel more and more that not only did I not want to be around them, I did not want to be like them.
And finally, I stopped going. Although again, I was kind of in denial.
About a month and a half ago, I started getting counseling. It has been wonderful for me. The sense of relief at being able to express myself to someone without worrying that they would point out all the things that I am very much aware of (the signs of apostasy, and pride, and sin, and personal guilt) was IMMENSE.
Like I said, it feels unreal to be "inactive." I'm not sure how temporary or permanent my decision is. All I know is that I want to be healthy, and honest with myself and others, and I want to have personal integrity.
You asked if I feel happier now that I've stopped going. I do feel happier, but I don't think it's because I've stopped going per se. I think it's because I'm making an effort to understand and deal with my pain and sorrow, rather than trying to ignore, deny, or mask it.
For example, this week I had a break-through. As I talked with my therapist I realized I had always felt other people's love for me was conditional on me being a certain way. Some responses to my declaration this week seemed initially to confirm my fear, and that was painful. But as the week has progressed, the overall response from the people I care about most has been overwhelmingly and surprisingly and humblingly positive. Like you. And like my dad, who read my email and called me to say he was proud of me and supported me in whatever I decide.
You asked if I could be satisfied with giving up happiness (referring back to my blog post I think). The truth is that I don't believe God grants happiness in an all-or-nothing way. Even with the depression or whatever, I've always felt a level of happiness. I have several friends of other lifestyles and faiths, and I see that they have their own happiness too.
The kind of happiness that I experienced or that I felt that I could hope for when I was doing my best to live the gospel was ultimately not satisfying to me. That feeling of unconditional love and acceptance that I just mentioned above, regardless of whether I measure up to the hopes and expectations of others, THAT brings me great happiness. I feel liberated. I feel more free to choose according to my own desires.
Wow, this is quite an epistle. Thanks for letting me share and explain. Thanks for worrying and caring and for being my friend.
I first stopped going to church in February. Started again in April, stopped again in May. The "why" goes back at least three years. The brief positive experience ultimately couldn't make up for my long-term lack of conviction. I basically haven't been reading my scriptures (except for rare spurts) since right after I returned from my mission in April 06. And everything else gradually followed, as I expected (but couldn't really imagine) that it should. The gospel wasn't superficial for me, it WAS me - it was the lense through which I perceived everything. So for a long time, I couldn't conceive an alternative to a life in the church - until I finally admitted to myself (the second time around) that I actually felt more miserable going to church than not going. That I didn't WANT to go.
I've noticed myself becoming progressively less religious since mid-way through my mission. Yet, I didn't see God's blessings in my life decreasing one bit (which confused me). I continue to feel known, loved and blessed. The day I decided to seek counseling I believe I was inspired and guided.
I started counseling in July. As I left after speaking with the intake counselor in my first visit, I felt an immense sense of relief and hope and conviction that God knew my heart and was willing to help me. All I could do was pray my thanks. When I met with my assigned counselor for the first time a few days later, I felt as soon as I saw her that she could help me.
I consciously chose not to go through LDS family services. To be honest I think there are plenty of the philosophies of men circling among the members of our church but accepted (and taught) as precepts of our faith. To me it is much safer to meet with someone AWARE that what he/she is teaching is philosophy/theory and colored by personal bias, than to meet with someone who is just as biased and philosophical but who fails to recognize the line between what is human and what is divine.
Luckily, my counselor does very little talking or teaching anyway. Mostly she does a whole lot of asking. She asks a lot of questions about what I experience, how I feel, and what I think, and I get to practice putting my thoughts and feelings into words, without fear that she will tell me I am saying/feeling/thinking things wrong, or that all my problems stem out of selfishness and pride (which is what I've believed my entire life). It's a new experience for me. It's helped me to be more honest with myself and with my family, which has surprisingly resulted in my enjoying being around them more than I have in over a decade.
I know what I am risking. Yet to me, it is worth it. 28 years of not feeling that I deserved happiness is long enough. In my opinion I don't know how to be emotionally healthy within the church. I can imagine how it feels to read these words, considering the strong faith and conviction you feel. I'm sorry if it makes you sad.
At least I hope you know you have always been a kind friend, and you were very much what I needed and an answer to prayer in high school. I hope our friendship can continue!
I also suck at regular correspondence. I wasn't really writing for a response anyway; I just wanted to say thanks! Not that I don't appreciate a response. :)
I don't think it's rude for you to ask why [I've left the Church]. In fact, I rather like when people care about why! And I like it a whole lot more than when people want to try to fix me, now. Because the why is a lot more complicated and has been in process for a lot longer than just now.
Which is a long way of saying, sure I'll tell you why. :)
Simply put, I don't consider myself emotionally healthy or happy. I'm no nutcase, but I look back on my life and see a recurring cycle of depression. I have usually found ways to cope with it (generally by becoming more physically active and/or almost-fanatically zealous about the gospel). Part-way into my mission I again began to experience a profound depression. But I knew I was trying my hardest to be a good servant and love and follow the spirit, so I felt guilty and ashamed.
I became progressively more unhappy, and by the end of last year I hated how I felt at church (bitter and angry). I didn't want to feel bitter and angry. So in February I stopped going. After a month and a half I decided to try again (family ward), but eventually...I just couldn't handle that either. I felt like I couldn't think clearly at church. I still feel like I can't think clearly, but I've been seeing a therapist (since July) and that has been wonderfully helpful. I feel safe with her. She is the only person besides God to whom I feel like I can reveal my true self. And she is helping me practice recognizing and communicating how I actually feel, rather than just how I think I SHOULD feel.
I am proud of my heritage and my LDS upbringing; I'm grateful for my faith and my relationship with God. I believe in Christianity, and in living a virtuous life. But I don't like who I became within the Church, and even though there are many wonderful people who I love and admire, I'm not so sure I would want my children (if I have any) to grow up in that environment either.
Anyway, that is the short version. Thanks for asking!
Within the church, I was living a lonely half-life of spiritual comfort and emotional death. But the older I got, the more clearly I could see my future - as the old maid sacrifice required to satisfy the family gods.
Here on the other side, I know that my chances of finding satisfying companionship are just as slim - perhaps more. But somehow I feel more free, more empowered to pursue my own kind...full knowing that I may still perish unfulfilled, in the attempt.
But I've found a loophole in the niceness rule. In regards to apostates - those who once believed, and now do not - Mormons are allowed to be anything BUT nice. Be evasive. Be cold. Be blunt. In fact, be downright bitchy!
Of course. Because being bitchy to dissenters is clearly the only way to warm their stone-cold hearts and rekindle their desire for the love of God and fellowship among the saints.
While living in Taiwan, I observed how it was seemingly impossible for individuals (including myself) to raise their own standards without believing everyone else should do the same. I started to feel cautious about having standards that were "too high." Then, on my mission, I could clearly see that the more zealous the missionary, the less humble and less able to connect with others. The more mediocre a missionary's spiritual dedication, the more compassionate, patient, etc. It didn't make any sense!
Leaders and scriptures continue to teach the need to be ever better, purer, holier. Yet, I would submit that the members who are trying hardest to be better, purer, holier become socially isolated and out-of-touch and struggle more to love God, themselves, and others. Those who become leaders have learned that they need to balance their strivings for perfection. And most mainstream members don't seem to give a care about their pet sins and worldliness, because they live "well enough." They are active and temple recommend bearing, so why can't they watch crappy shows and live superficial lives?
I just don't believe in a God who would punish those who work the hardest - trying with all might, mind, and strength to be obedient to his commands! - and then reward only those who work just "enough."
Throughout the rest of my mission, I considered that my purpose. It was not to convert souls - I could leave that to the numbers-oriented elders. MY purpose was to share with individuals - every one of them - a bit of God's love.
I have been so confused during the past year as I've explored my beliefs. But the sentiment I felt as a missionary remains one of my strongest convictions:
EACH person in this world is deserving of love and respect, regardless of how they act or respond. Somehow, we are all brothers and sisters.
Of course, I have to give my disclaimer that just because I believe that doesn't mean I always show the love and respect I consider ideal...
(Who knew! I'm a humanist!!)
1. Mortality as a Test of Obedience
In Abraham 3:25 is identified the purpose for man's mortal probation: "And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them."
If the purpose of mortality is truly a test of obedience, how fair/logical is it that such an incredibly minute percentage of the earth's population is even exposed to the supposed [correct and complete] rules? It seems more accurate to suggest that mortality is a test of obedience only for those who were "most faithful" before birth, and everyone else has a bye.
2. Likelihood of Conversion, Mortally vs Post-mortally
Considering the likelihood of conversion to the LDS Church among those individuals who have it offered them in this life, what is the likelihood of post-mortal conversion? And if the likelihood is truly higher, then I would question whether it's fair to offer it to ANYone in this life? If they will have information after death which will aid their acceptance? Doesn't this defeat the whole purpose of the mortal probation?
3. The Social Identity of Converts
It is true that many converts to the LDS faith become self-sufficient, contributing members; yet, how many more are dependent, insecure or at least socially-awkward individuals? Are we to believe that these merit the Celestial Kingdom more than the many other self-sufficient, humanity-serving, virtuous men and women of other faiths? If we would rather associate with the latter in life (and I would argue, based on the continued neglect of new members, that many mainstream members would), why not in death?
4. The Universal Desire for Happy Endings
Although Church doctrine accepts that baptism for the dead by no means guarantees the acceptance of salvation by its recipients, how many faithful members of the Church actually believe their ancestors will turn it down? In word, members respect the agency of the dead; in mind, it seems to me that members prefer to believe in only happy endings for themselves, their families, and the brotherhood of man at large.
Indeed, a doctrine that to me always epitomized the fairness of God, now seems a rather unfair idea that is pleasing to those who can only be satisfied with the promise of happy endings for themselves and their loved ones.
Many of my friends felt similar frustrations with over-the-pulpit inconsistencies and social mores. Yet, they told me, partaking of the Sacrament brought meaning and purpose to their church worship and sustained their faith and commitment.
Even though I'd known for many years that partaking of the Sacrament was purported to be the most important part of our worship, it had never felt like the most important to me.
I reflected often on how I was supposed to feel, and how I actually felt. I thought of other rites and rituals, and realized that overall, participation in them was NOT what sustained and augmented my faith. It was personal study of principles and application to my life. I saw a disconnect between the spoken word and my own gospel experience.
Called to Serve
As a nine or ten year-old, I watched the church video Called to Serve by myself one Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, I found myself bawling uncontrollably. I ran to my bedroom, knelt at the side of my bed, and prayed that I would be able to become a missionary.
Initial Interpretation: It was God's will for me to become an LDS missionary.
Current Interpretation: It was my desire to "have a mission," to be noble and self-sacrificing, to love people, and to help them with their problems.
Called to Serve II
As a sixteen year-old, I felt very inspired by my church leaders recounting stories of their youth as mission presidents' children. I prayed several times that God would bless me to have experiences like they did. On December 19, 1997 I learned that my parents had been called as mission presidents and would begin serving the following summer.
Initial Interpretation: I was special; I had a special mission to perform. God had inspired my prayers and then answered them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was definitely true.
Current Interpretation: I wanted to be special, to have special opportunities to be influential to others. I knew that my parents were financially stable, completely dedicated to the Church, my father was a recognized business and ecclesiastical leader, he associated with those who called mission presidents and general authorities...all prerequisites to being called to serve. Is it possible that the calling was not a confirmation that the Church was true, but rather a confirmation of my ability to read the patterns, use them to validate my sense of self-worth, and even predict the future?
Called to Serve III
When I was eighteen years-old, I was upset because of a decision made by one of my sisters. I asked my older brother to give me a blessing. At the end of the blessing, he mentioned that the Lord was preparing me for future opportunities to serve. I had the distinct impression that I would be called as the Relief Society president of my freshman ward in the fall. When the bishopbric visited me a month or so later to extend the calling, I was not in the least surprised.
Initial Interpretation: I could feel okay because I was special. I had a special mission to perform.
Current Interpretation: It made me feel better to think that even if other people didn't make "the best" choices, I still could. Subconsciously, I knew how to play the cards to become a leader and have my worth validated. This became clear to me after I was called and saw how all the other sisters had responded to the bishopbric's request for information. I was the only one who'd said I would be willing to serve in ANY capacity. I think I even chose my counselors based on how well they discounted or minimized their own personal preferences.
Looking back, none of my most spiritual experiences were witnesses of Christ. They were witnesses of my own desires, validations of my personal worth. I wanted to know that God thought I was "good enough," and I recommited myself to him when I felt he was telling me I was.
As an undergraduate, I majored in Dietetics. I hoped that through my studies I would gain the skills needed to help women feel beautiful. By the time I'd reached my senior year, I realized that nutrition was not the solution for which I had hoped. I also viewed the American Dietetics Assocation as a flawed organization motivated by a political agenda. I saw a disconnect between principles of science/psychology and supposed best practices established by the ADA. I did not see how I could maintain my integrity and support the ADA's positions. I chose not to become a Registered Dietitian, and I jokingly referred to myself as a "Dietetics Apostate" to my friends and classmates.
It wasn't that I no longer cared about nutrition. I just didn't believe in certain practices and principles promoted by the mainstream professional organization. I didn't want to be associated with the organization, or forced to conform to its agenda.
Leaving the Church
After 28 years of being very, very active in the LDS Church, I began to see positions and practices (whether officially or unofficially promoted by the Church or its mainstream members) that to me did not connect with core principles. I began to despise the people, their ideals, their words and actions. And finally, I left.
It's not that I no longer care about living a good, principled life. I just don't believe in certain practices and ideas embraced by what I now consider to be a very human organization. I no longer want to live a life that conforms to its precepts.