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.
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.