Buddy’s Story (Cousin, Brother, and Son to Leavers Like Me)

I remember several years ago when, for the first time, one of my handholds gave way completely. It was when my cousin Jefferson notified me, on a hot summer drive, only days after returning honorably from a full-time mission, that he didn’t believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anymore.

I hope to offer in this little excerpt a bit of what it feels like for a faithful Latter-day-Saint to watch painfully as long-looked-up-to cousins, an aunt, then a beloved brother and mother decide to leave the Church and pursue other paths.

Ready go.

The first time it happened, the hot summer drive, was really the only sudden one. The others (my bro and mama) were more gradual realizations than one-time slaps in the face. I always felt, however, like I was always the last one to “officially” be told, and usually at my specific asking. What my experience with each of them shares in common, though, is the pain. The lost example, the failed expectations, the apparent dramatic reduction in common ground. The confusion. I’m not sure exactly what causes the pain, but it sure does suck.

At first, it was much more difficult to talk with them because anything too deep or religious was suddenly unfamiliar territory and, therefore, uncomfortable. Even daily interactions became harder because of what I thought to be the elephant in the room: “You drink. You have extramarital sex. You have tattoos and pierced ears.” The awkwardness and difficulty have lessened over the years, but not quickly nor completely.

I know the above “elephant” choices aren’t the most important aspects of life, not by a long shot, but they’re extremely difficult to ignore because they are such a central part of the culture I grew up in. Typical Mormon labeling. I do, however, strongly believe the reasoning behind the related standards to be a central part of creating a happy life. I want my family to be happy. I’m a young whippersnapper, yet I’ve already seen a lot of sadness, regret, and pain come directly from ignoring the Prophets. This is partly why is makes me so depressed to see my loved ones make those choices.

I don’t want to be biased, I don’t want relationships to be strained, and I don’t want to blow things out of proportion—but It’s hard to make sudden paradigm shifts. I wish there was a “Judgment Switch” I could just turn off to make things easier. There’s not. The stoic truth is that it’s hard to cope with drastic changes in the lives of those I love. They may not consider the changes drastic, but I do.

Drastic enough to create distance, anyway. I don’t know whose fault it is, if anyone’s, but I feel less close to those of my family who have left the Church than I otherwise would. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and brotherhood that comes from sharing mutual beliefs about life and God, and when that feeling is torn away, it leaves a very hollow space. I seem to feel that tearing afresh every time I see or read or hear of something a loved one does that is very contrary to what I believe, what he/she used to believe.

And it’s very real to me, because the consequences are real and lasting.

Another source of angst forms when I think of how these dissonant choices might affect my son, who is now only a baby. How will I foster his having close relationships with my most loved family members while keeping him appropriately sheltered until he’s older? Most times there won’t be any reason for difficulty in this regard, but when there is I have no idea how I’ll handle it. Hopefully it will be a great opportunity to learn.

A lot of learning has already taken place on the part of everyone involved. I’ve learned that the Church isn’t everything, but God is. I’ve learned that there is still more than enough to look up to in those cousins of mine. And I’ve learned that everyone remains the same person no matter what they choose. Unconditional love is the best kind, indeed the only kind, and it’s been great to see it in action. I know God still loves us all unconditionally.

What I hope for my family is what I hope for myself—that they focus on what is most important. Love, family, service, and other patterns of fulfilling happiness. I hope they come back to the Church, as it is a divinely appointed tool in helping us focus on those things.

Most importantly, I hope they never stop seeking Truth. They’ll find it, and so will I.

Eventually.
********

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9 thoughts on “Buddy’s Story (Cousin, Brother, and Son to Leavers Like Me)

  1. Appreciated reading this Bud. I know exactly how this all feels from both sides, and I can honestly say neither is an easy process. I remember the exact moment Jeff told me he was done with the church for good, the temperature in my parked Jetta, and the tears that ran freely as I walked into sacrament meeting minutes later and bore my testimony, telling my congregation that I knew God would help me get my family back.
    I loved your comments, but I really struggle with the idea that any of your family members (the ones we’re talking about) would cause you to worry about sheltering your son. You can’t shelter him from those things any more than you can keep his eyes closed until he’s an adult, and I don’t see any reason he should be “protected” from your own family when he’s going to see complete strangers with tattoos, piercings and alcohol in hand at a very young age.
    Shoot, the thought of my children living a religious lifestyle is TERRIFYING, but if my children have to associate with religious individuals (which obviously they will) it may as well be a learning experience with the best religious people I know. I think the same could be said for your non-Mormon/religious family members.
    The word “sheltering” when used in a conversation about family members like the ones you have got to me I guess.

    • Its a valid comment nathan, but I think Buddy has a valid point with the sheltering. With religious friends, your child may be exposed to the occasional group prayer around the dinner table, or even some family religious tradition like family prayer and scripture study if he stayed the night, but thats about it. religion and social interaction are in a large part segregated in modern society. Its legally inappropriate in many educational settings, and socially taboo in others to focus on or share ones religious beliefs publicly. You really neednt worry about religious indocrination, from your sons perspective he would simply be mingling with people of unusual beliefs.
      For buddy’s situation on the other hand, atheistic or agnostic beleifs and behaviors will be quite visible, and prolific. seeing these embraced by those he is close to, along with society, would have a big impact. for instance, Your child would note with passing curiosity that buddy’s family doesnt drink. If he confronts you about it, he might be informed that some religions have outdated traditions, and will then look around him and see a world that believes the same. Buddy’s child however, would notice with alarm that his family participates in behaviors he has been taught are harmful. If he confronts his dad about it, it will be a good teaching opportunity, sure, But then that tradition has to be held up, not to reason, but to a culture that is very different from what he has been taught.
      for you, there’s little risk. the most thats on the line is that your son decides drinking really isnt a good idea, for buddy’s son, family that embraces behaviors that society accepts will have a bigger impact. What buddy’s son sees his family do can put his entire belief system in question, perhaps earlier than he has knowledge to handle it. Your son would simply have to wonder “hmmm… maybe drinking isnt such a great idea.” your son would see a lesson in temperance, buddy’s son’s experience would be quite different.
      Having written this, it seems a bit silly. It doesnt communicate my thinking very clearly, but i hope it at least works a little. Exposure to something accepted to society but not to ones belief system is a far cry from exposure to something unpopular that is new to you. The lds culture is counterculture in many respects, and unless a child has time to learn and experience it in depth he is much less likely to hang on to it. Buddy wants to raise a son strong enough to be counter-culture, and that very well might require some foresight.

    • Thanks, Nate. By the the term “shelter” I meant no offense.

      You’re right, Revin will hear swear words, he will see people drink, and he will view pornography–all, I’m sure, at a much younger age than I would like. Heck, now that I think about it, he’s already heard/seen all of that.

      My concerns focus around how learns to feel about those behaviors. I want him to feel that they are on the negative side of wisdom.

      Some people will be able to affect his perception more than others. The words and actions of Rachel and I, for example, probably have the biggest impact. The words and actions of strangers will also have an impact, but not as much.

      Harsh weather makes a good tree stronger, it is true–but that same weather can so easily damage or even kill a sapling.

      I want him to look up to you, and I’m sure he will. You can be sure that Revin will know there is so much to look up to in you, Jefferson, Colten, etc. Thus, your words and actions will have a MUCH bigger impact than those of strangers.

      The conflict in my heart comes from me not knowing when his understanding will be sufficient to handle those very few (but potent) negative portions of your influence.

      This is all I meant by “sheltering” Revin–attempting to control the potency of the storm (the negative influences of those I want him to look up to) so that he grows stronger without being permanently injured.

    • I agree with Nathan that the word “shelter” seems harsh if I feel that I’m the one perceived as a threat… and yet, it’s the right and responsibility of all parents to shelter their children, according to their own understanding. Your last paragraph, Nathan, speaks to the reality that your cousinly relationships can provide each of you, as parents, the opportunity to safely expose your children to people who do not believe exactly as you do. Because you all respect each other and are open to learning from each other, your children will come to more clearly “see” others with whom they will interact, and will able to succeed in a diverse world with greater confidence, and greater love.

      Kids learn by watching their parents. Through your interactions with people who believe as differently as you cousins do at this moment, your children will learn about your love for THEM… they will know that you will grant them the greatest gift a parent can give… freedom to think, and to choose, for themselves… and that you will always love and be loyal to them, no matter what. How you engage in your relationships now will, really, really, really, have serious impact on the future of your children.

      Motherly/auntly comments: done!

  2. I felt what Nade felt about the sheltering part, but it was then tempered by your next paragraph:
    “A lot of learning has already taken place on the part of everyone involved. I’ve learned that the Church isn’t everything, but God is. I’ve learned that there is still more than enough to look up to in those cousins of mine. And I’ve learned that everyone remains the same person no matter what they choose. Unconditional love is the best kind, indeed the only kind, and it’s been great to see it in action.”
    As a parent, you are concerned about every influence on your child. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that with the family members you speak of, if they cuss normally, they will be respectful enough to not do it in front of children. If they drink or smoke, it is not as though they will always be walking around with a beer and a smoke! They won’t sit in front of your family and makeout with some girl. This all comes from the upbringing of the people you spoke of. They know how to behave, basically! Since they know you and your standards, they will be respectful of your feelings in your own home. It’s all about what you said, the people are still the same, they just have some different beliefs now. Your kids won’t even be aware of that stuff (the differences in beliefs) until, well, until they aren’t kids anymore! Plus, everything is a teaching opportunity with kids. I don’t like when I hear kids say, “Oh my God.” I was taught that was bad and I just don’t like it. My kids hear friends at school saying it or other adults, I can’t keep them away from that, but they know, without a doubt, that they are not allowed to repeat it!
    I’m sure it is hard to see loved ones leave, and perhaps it is hard to find that common ground again, but I know that you are an amazing person, so open and curious and loving, and I know that you won’t allow these changes in beliefs to separate you from those you have always loved. I wish more people were like you, Buddy, on both sides, because that would make the world a better place!!!
    Love, Rin

  3. Oh, Buddy, I love you so. To hear of your pain just makes me hurt, and is a little surprising, because you are still, always, the same whenever we meet, filled with enthusiasm for life and filled with love. Your attitude: that this is an opportunity to learn, for everyone, and that things will be alright, eventually… is fantastic. I can see through your eyes, Buddy. I have, in a very real sense, “worn” your eyes. It is difficult — though I know you try, out of love — for you to see through mine. From my perspective, I am now free to conduct myself with full integrity, accepting only those things that my seeking heart has been able to fully BELIEVE or even KNOW over the course of my life thusfar. I now have zero investment in being “right,” and I get that you are the same. You are an awesome human being, and an awesome example of living a balanced and joyful religious life.

  4. Pingback: Buddy’s Story (Cousin, Brother, and Son to Leavers Like Me) « The Accidental Atheist – Story Series

  5. Bud – Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I must admit, when I read the portion that was indirectly referring to me, I was a bit surprised by your feelings! Though I’m glad I know of them. I’d like to pitch in my two cents on the “sheltering” topic, and hopefully ease some of your fears in the process.

    As you stated, you and Rachel are the ones that will obviously have the biggest impact on his upbringing. I liked what Aunt Jo noted, that he’ll be able to see the way his parents treat those that they love and care about dearly, who may live a different lifestyle than he’s been raised is custom. One thing I want to bring to the light for you is the direction I’m planning on going with this. Let me start with a short story:

    As I was preparing to make the 3-hour drive to pick up CJ from Houston, I realized that I was more than likely going to meet Andy and Tara’s kids in their curious, innocent, talkative state of life! I thought about how I must look to them, pierced ears, drawings on my arms, etc. As I contemplated, I quickly found there were two directions I could potentially take any confrontations I may encounter from their curious minds! I could take the direction where I blatantly tell them my beliefs differ from theirs, letting them know that I like the way they look and that I don’t feel like they’re bad things to have! They could then turn to their parents and ask why. Let the awkwardness begin.

    The second direction was the one I had prepared to take, given the opportunity. I was going to level myself to their curious minds, and respond as if to rub it off as a nonchalant thing! Here is what I had planned to say:

    Innocent Kid A – “Why do you have earrings?!? Those are for girls!”
    Me – “Do you not like my earrings?”
    Innocent Kid A – “No, they look funny!”
    Me – “Well then I guess you better not get any, huh? You don’t wanna look like funny Uncle Colt, do ya?!?”

    Innocent Kid B – “Why do you have a flower on your arm?”
    Me – “Do you like to draw?”
    Innocent Kid B – “No.”
    Me – “You should try drawing a flower on a piece of paper! I bet you’d like it!”

    Something to that effect.

    Moral of the story is this – I’m not going to push my beliefs on my nephew in an impressionable age. I’ll not even discuss things in depth with him until you and I have had the discussion that it’s alright. He’ll obviously come to an age where he’s investigating some things – and if you’re not ok with my input in that vulnerable time, I’ll simply direct any inquiries that are sent my way, towards you or your wife.

    One more thing I wanted to mention – I feel Revin is extremely blessed to have close family members that have differing beliefs than how he’s going to be brought up. Not only will he naturally judge strangers and those he associates with through out his life who differ from him much less, but he’ll also have the privilege of multiple perspectives at his fingertips when the time is right to call on them.

    I love you very much Bud! I haven’t ever felt that my relationship with you has changed, and I in fact very much ENJOY discussing spiritual things with you. I always have, and always will look up to your wisdom and character. You will always be one of my greatest (if not THE greatest) role models.

    Loving you unconditionally,

    – Colt

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