I had done it again, and somehow she knew.  Call it mother’s intuition, inspiration, or just luck, but here she was, knocking on my door, four hours in to one of the most depressing moments of my life.

“Jefferson?  Are you there?”

There was no way of hiding it, no way of concealing the tears, not in my voice if I spoke or on my face if I let her in, and I didn’t have the willpower to lie convincingly anyway.  There was only one thing I could do so I answered and she came in and sat next to me and told me she had felt she should come talk to me.

From the second floor to the basement, where she rarely came, she had come out of concern for me, not knowing why.

I didn’t want to talk to her about it – looking at pictures of naked women and getting off to them isn’t exactly on the list of “comfortable mother-son conversations” for any teenage kid.  All I knew is that I felt as dark and low as I ever had before and she was here because she felt like she should be.  Maybe God had sent her to help me through this.

I told her and she hugged me and said words I’m sure were wise but which I don’t remember and I knew she loved me and cared for me and didn’t judge me.

I said I had been trying to stop for so long and I knew it was wrong but I kept doing it anyway and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stop.  And then I said the series of words that ripped through her, words that would define the next decade of my life, words which, I didn’t know at the time, had defined much of hers as well.

“I just didn’t want to feel so bad about myself anymore.”

For all the darkest things of this world, guilt is there to add fuel to the fire of our own self-destruction.

In the LDS Church especially.

The Greatest Guilt-Inducing Doctrines in The World

I’d like for us to do an experiment together, you and I, one entirely accomplished in our imaginations.  I’d like you to imagine a boy (preferably a nephew, son, or grandson – someone you love) – he will be our test subject.  Together, we’re going to place him in a controlled environment where we can manipulate the thoughts, ideals, and dogmas of all the people around him – a Truman Show setting, but for social science instead of entertainment.  Look around the earth for potential dogmas to give to the child–there are so many to choose from.

As the boy grows up, tell him he’s extremely special and important: of all the creatures on earth he’s part of the only species with a soul–he’s a human, a child of God–but that his uniqueness and specialness goes far beyond that common human trait; that of all the people who have ever been born, lived, and loved, he was held back to be born at this particular period of time, exactly when he was, so that he could have the truth and take it to others, and so he could help prepare the way for God to come to earth again.

Tell him he is part of a “chosen generation,” chosen because of how valiant and faithful he was eons ago, before God had even created the world.  This idea will appeal to any child, given our natural desire to hear good things about ourselves, but we’ll want to confirm it with countless speeches, sacred texts, and emotion-filled statements by those he trusts.  Have the adults, those who are in the usual place of respect in any society, tell the boy that he and his peers are better than they were as kids, that this is evidence that God is coming soon and that they’re so proud and excited to see the things he does.  When those ideas give him that familiar warm feeling of righteous pride, tell him God is speaking to him, confirming the truth of what he heard.

Let’s not stop there.  It’s important that this child really believes what we’ve told him about who he is – the rest of his life hinges on it.  Have an elder in his society give him a special blessing, and tell the boy that the words the man says come directly from God.  Use this moment of trust and openness to tell our boy that he will be a leader, that he will represent God in everything he does, that he will bring many people to baptism and that those people will be grateful forever for what he did, that he will personally participate in the second coming of Jesus Christ and that he must prepare for that event by walking uprightly before the Lord every day of his life . . . .

Evey day of his life.

Teach this boy he can be forgiven when he messes up.  Tell him he can become perfect, but not in this life.  Also tell him his spiritual power depends on his good choices.  Tell him that if he’s slothful in his duties, he will be held accountable for those he might have saved, had he done his duty.

Tell him that miracles are possible, that he can move mountains, baptize many, heal the sick, and whatever else God wills, and that the main thing that holds him back is a lack of faith, righteousness, and from not following the promptings of the spirit.

Give this child people he loves who he especially needs to save – his father, sister, and a few friends will do nicely.  Watch how this affects how hard he pushes himself.

Do this and you will have created me.

19 and ready to save the world!
19 and ready to save the world!

This is about me

You, dear reader, are already having one of many possible reactions to this article.  Some of you are looking for weaknesses, for ways to point out where I’m wrong, and you’ve no doubt already found some.  Since you’re also the only people who can do anything about the reasons I felt unworthy, I need to ask you to stop viewing me as an enemy.  I come to this article with one intention – to portray what became the largest trial of my young-adult life – an unquenchable feeling of unworthiness in spite of my best efforts.  Your experience of LDS doctrine may be different.  This was mine.

Five People

It would have been a strange scene for others to walk in on – me in a dark basement, alone, pedaling on a stationary bike while watching a movie and crying.  I was at the end of Schindler’s List and what I had just seen filled me with fear.

The Alliance had beaten the Nazis and were going to soon arrive in the area where Schindler’s factory was located.  Throughout the war, Schindler had, through flattery and bribes to some of the worst people history has known, purchased a Jewish work-force of over 1100 people, saving them from concentration camps and putting them to work creating pots, pans, and faulty ammunition.  Now his workers were hours away from being fully liberated, but Schindler himself had to flee or face the risk of being charged as a war criminal.

He’s outside the factory, preparing to get into his car, and his workers have gathered around.  One of them, a close friend, brings him a gold ring some of the workers had made for him.  On it was inscribed a message from the Talmud: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

This message, at this moment, overwhelms Oskar Schindler.  He leans towards his friend and whispers the words that are burning his conscience, “I could have got more out . . . I could have got more.”  He begins sputtering about the things he could have done differently–he could have made more money or wasted less of it–and his friend tries to console him without effect. He looks around him at the things he still has–his car, his suit, his Nazi pin–and tallies up what he could have done if he would have sold them.  “This car.  Why did I keep this car?  Ten people right there!  Ten people.”  He looks at the pin on his lapel and says, “Two people, two people right here.”

Pedaling in my basement, his intense guilt fueled my imagination.  What will it be like, I thought, after this life, when all the people I could have helped see me and know I could have helped them – that for one uncomfortable moment I could have given them the greatest truth this world had, but that I balked, and they had suffered? 

A Cycle of Guilt

I often wonder how our stories affect us.  Our best movies and books usually place extraordinary adventure on ordinary people, showing how the weak overcome the strong, and how the good always win in the end.  I wonder if that fuels some of the dissatisfaction we have with our own lives – whether we’d be more content if all our heroes were more normal. 

And if regular stories, which we know are fictional, affect us, how much more do stories we believe are true affect how we deal with life?  If a boy is reading a story about a righteous man who really believed in God, sacrificed everything for him, and was able to perform miracles, what will the boy think when he is unable to do the same?

A cycle of guilt begins, one which I experienced hundreds of times in the two short years of my mission:

  1. I believed all things were possible, through faith.  God had prepared people to accept His gospel, and he promised that amazing miracles could happen if we exercised faith – we were the only ones stopping miracles from happening!
  2. I prayed and set goals based on faith, rather than past accomplishments.  I was great at setting goals and planning–a gift from my mother–but these plans relied on a loving God to make up the difference between what I could do and the goals I set.  When my companion and I set goals at the beginning of a six-week transfer, we believed that the goals we set were inspired by God.  “Eight baptisms, even when we don’t have anyone remotely close right now?  Hey, it’s possible.”  We didn’t stop there – we’d set smart action plans, things we could do to be in the right place at the right time, to come in contact with a lot of people, to be prepared to be led to the right people, and to more fully “consecrate” ourselves to the work.
  3. I’d work my ass off.  At the peak of my mission we bought black running shoes so we could “turbo tract” for an hour every day (something my brother had done – running from door to door instead of walking); one day a week we would leave the apartment in the morning and not come back until night, packing a lunch and walking or biking everywhere so we could meet a lot of people; we’d invite a member to every single appointment; we’d do “inspired tracting;” we’d study specific topics; we’d role-play to practice our teaching skills; we’d wake up on time and do our exercise and eat better and not come in until 9:00 even if it meant tracting in the dark and we wouldn’t think about home and we wouldn’t allow contention and we would make p-day a little short because that was the only time that one person could meet but maybe they were prepared.
  4. Eight baptisms wouldn’t come.  Hell, one baptism wouldn’t come.
  5. Then I’d do what every good planner does – analyze the results, learn from my mistakes, and set new goals.

The problem with this cycle is that one key competent was missing – God.  The success of all of these plans was based on the existence and intervention of a loving and all-powerful God, the God who had sent me to earth at this specific time for this specific reason, the God who had guided Ammon, who had guided the Nephite missionaries and converted entire cities of Lamanites, the God who could do anything and wanted to save as many people as possible, the one I read about three times a day in the scriptures.

He clearly wasn’t the problem here.  He could do it.  And that meant the finger could point in only one direction – toward me and my companion.

And there was always something we did in a six-week transfer that we could blame for our failure to accomplish our goals. I never swore, I never masturbated, I never looked at pictures of naked women, I never allowed myself to become really homesick, I never woke up late or came home early or snuck out at night or swam in a pool or anything like that.

Like Schindler, I stood looking at the fruits of my efforts, thinking of the car I could have sold but that I didn’t.

So I’d get up earlier, pray more fervently, knock on more doors, turbo-tract more often, try to burn away feelings of laziness by working harder, harder, harder.

And I never felt like it was enough.  I was never enough.

“The Best . . . “

And that’s why I didn’t know what to think when he said it.  I hoped it was true, to be sure, but I didn’t see how.  Sitting in the chapel at the transfer meeting, looking around at all the other missionaries who were moving to different areas in Illinois, I sized myself up, but I just didn’t see it.

Yeah, I thought, clearly I work harder than him.  Him, yeah.  That Elder is just really awkward, not that that’s any fault of his own, and I’m glad God has given me the talents I have – it’s Him, not me. 

And the next thoughts were never uttered, not even to myself, but were felt nearly every time I was in a meeting with other missionaries.  That Elder is a lot better than me. 

“You are unworthy.”  “You are not good enough.”  “You’re not working hard enough.”  “You aren’t taking every opportunity you can.”  “You don’t have enough urgency.”

“You fall short.”

Those were the fears that punctuated my mission.

They were the obvious conclusions to the results I had been achieving, results that caused my mission president to say the words I didn’t believe on a phone call before transfers, words which didn’t comfort me, but gave me guilt for the temporary pride they gave me, words which made me kick myself for wondering whether he was about to make me an Assistant and then wonder about my motivation and then ask God to not let it happen because I obviously wasn’t ready for it.  Words which didn’t stop me from feeling what I always felt, eventually.

Why I Left the Church

If you were to ask me why I left my religion, I would probably say it was the doctrine, and that would be true.  I can point out all the logical inconsistencies that slowly frustrated my mind, the moments of feeling betrayed and lied to, and the ways the Church asked me to perpetuate their own half-truths or misrepresentations.  But how much do I really understand about the decisions I make each day?  I’ve seen so many people do things and then later think of the reason they did it, and I’ve done so myself, so I don’t fully trust the objectivity of our reflections about ourselves – they seem highly prone to change based on our current world view, self-image, and so on.

Of the six or seven people who have listened to all the doctrinal reasons I left the Church, some were affected, and others didn’t seem bothered at all – subjects which tore at my conscience for months were met with flippant shrugs of shoulders as if they weren’t important.  I left for doctrinal reasons, but I really have no idea why those doctrines troubled me and don’t trouble others.  There was obviously something that prepared me to interact with those doctrines in a different way than I had before – some life experience that made me open.

I think I left the Church to survive.  I think the unworthiness I felt in the Church was too much to handle, and my brain, in an effort of self-preservation, started looking for something that worked.

To put it simply – I left the Church because the Church didn’t work for me.  In fact, the Church was destroying me.

I mean that quite sincerely.

Becoming Evangelical

Slowly, the words of the mid-westerners around me on my mission started to seem more and more right.  I started seeing the beauty of their raw acceptance of grace without any caveats.  Doctrines I had heard mocked since childhood, without understanding what they meant, now started to become clear as I grappled with defeat and guilt.  I saw that when others said, “I am saved and nothing can change that!” they didn’t want an excuse to sin – they were fully admitting that they were always going to fall short of perfection and that there was nothing they could do to change that.

And so I started reading Mormon authors who seemed on the brink of becoming Evangelicals themselves–Robert Millet, Stephen Robinson, and others–and I loved it, for awhile.  But eventually, all the unfortunate doctrines of the Church became a burden to keep reinterpreting.  I couldn’t go through the temple anymore and believe all the things done inside had to be done for every single person before they could enter the highest degree of heaven–all these rites and ordinances and things we had to do in order to have the full saving grace of God in our lives, and then hundreds of things afterwards to live righteously.  The LDS Church just didn’t work within my new worldview of grace.

I became an Evangelical for many other reasons as well, but this was among the most important, and perhaps the fuel for all the others: I connected with their portrayal of Christ as my savior in ways I hadn’t with Mormonism.  Theirs was a Savior without caveat, without a footnote of “Do all you can do,” without the “You will be held accountable for those you might have saved,” without the “You’re the only thing holding back miracles from your life.”  Their’s was one that accepted that life is difficult and at times unbearable, that we will never be able to be everything we want to be, and that God not only knows it, but that he expects it, and that he loves us and accepts us anyway and gives us good things in spite of our failings.

Of course, I’m now an atheist.  I now find my grace and hope in literature, in other human beings, in the knowledge that I’m one of billions who experience many of the same things in this crazy and complex thing we call life, from the first humans to those who will live thousands of years from now, and I feel united by this, and accepted by the common humanity I share.

I still feel guilt and shame.  I still feel like I’m not enough, sometimes.  Two weeks ago I wrote in my journal about how I’m afraid I’m not going to become what I want to become in life.  Sometimes life sucks.  That’s just the way it is.  Now I feel more human, more connected with others, and more humble when I feel that way.  And even though it’s hard, I love it.

Interesting tidbits

  • Schindler’s List closing scene on Youtube: 
  • It’s risky to say “The real reason I left was ___,” because many LDS people often say that about those of us who leave instead of listening to us tell our own stories.  If you’re thinking that, here’s a good article.
  • If you’d like an excellent, balanced (and somewhat liberal-Mormon) explanation of the grace/works debate between Mormons and Evangelicals, I strongly suggest How Wide the Divide.  There are about 45 excellent pages dedicated to it.

34 thoughts on “Unworthy

  1. Great Article. Looking back on my teenage years it amazes me how many of my peers were going through the exact same guilt cycle I was, but I always thought I was the only one. We were all just so ashamed of ourselves to ever talk about it.

    Up until I was about 25 I thought nothing in life could make sense outside of an LDS context. As I have distanced myself from the church over the past 3 years it has amazed me how wrong I was. Life makes so much more sense when I don’t try to conform everything to an LDS worldview. People are so diverse and interesting in their views on life it was a shame I went so long thinking I had all the answers.

  2. I have way too much to say about this. Thank you, Jeff, for putting this together and sharing it. What you do impacts many people in positive ways. I need to go write in my journal now . . .

  3. First, i realize now that i really need to watch Schindler’s List again! Just reading the ending scene gave me goosebumps.
    Second, I think you are a brave, extraordinary human being. I hope you no longer doubt how amazing you are!
    Third, my experience with the Mormon church was SO different from yours, as far as you were truly devout and you studied and prayed. I didnt do those things. Our common thread, of course, is the extreme, spirit crushing guilt that we dealt with. It took me many, many years to get beyond it. Life was so much more peaceful after i no longer felt weighed down and confined by the expectations of the church. I have many positive memories of the church and i know it fulfills many people. But when i think back to my teens-early 20s, i can actually feel the guilt that suffocated me every day. I went through mine mostly on my own. I had friends to talk to, but i mostly kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. i truly hope i can keep my kids from feeling how i felt during that time of vital development. I think that believing humans are in this together, for now, for the future, is a nice way of viewing things. We need to take care of the world, its people, its animals, now. Oh, and we justneed to be good people. We all screw up. We’re all a little screwy. And it’s okay. 🙂

    1. 1) Yeah, Britney hadn’t actually seen it until a few weeks ago. I think it’s a good one to watch every few years to keep the memory fresh 🙂
      2) Thanks. Sometimes I do! But most of the time I remember how bamf I am, haha. I read something in “Tiny Beautiful Things,” that book I was telling you about, that applies pretty well. A budding writer wrote in for advice on how to deal with some of her feelings of failure at not having written anything long or great yet. Part of Sugar’s response: “Humility. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in. The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you SHOULD be successful at twenty-six, when it takes most writers so much longer to get there.” I think that applies pretty well to me – I’ve had some pretty grandiose ideas (both ones that were given to me and ones that I grabbed myself) about the things I’m going to accomplish. Finding myself not even CLOSE to fulfilling them sometimes gets me down. And that’s good, because sometimes when that happens I change the daily things I do and start making progress. Other times I think I just need to admit my humanity and enjoy the ride.
      3) Beautifully said. I’d love to hear some more about your own experiences, if you want to share some. Maybe you could write something up and we could put it here? Or we’ll just talk over some beers next time I’m up.

      1. Schindler’s list is an excellent film for sure… I remember it being a really emotionally rough film, so I watched it again recently… it is quite tragic, although a few days before watching it I saw “The Pianist”, which honestly is much more difficult to watch at times… I recommend it as a good telling of a horrific story of the holocaust.

  4. Jefferson, I have cried while reading this… happy to have been there for you with a mother’s unconditional love at a time when you needed that. Ever in awe of the deep connection that has enriched both our lives. Sad to realize that, even as I meant to protect you and your siblings from what I had experienced as a young person in the church, in many ways I perpetuated that same hell for you. Furious that a person so good, kind, thoughtful, and hopeful as you were and are should have nearly been destroyed by the belief system that surrounded us… partly by my choice. The church didn’t work for me any better than for you, but I kept that hidden from all of you for EXACTLY the reasons you are describing here. I was so guilt-ridden that I felt myself BEYOND REDEMPTION, and I truly, truly believed that my only meaningful success in life would be to guide my children to a happy and fulfilling Mormon life with all the perks of… near-perfection.

    You are so brave. This is the most heart-wrenchingly honest piece you’ve written. As a Mormon mother, I always believed you had so much to offer the world. I still do, and always will.

    Do you feel that this closing scene in Schindler’s List has any meaning for your life now? It does for me. It always will. But that has nothing to do with “saving” people in a religious sense.

    1. We’ve already talked on the phone about a lot of this, but we didn’t talk much about the last thing you asked. I think that scene SHOULD affect the way we live. I don’t know that it does, right now, for me. We live such sheltered lives from those in our community and abroad that are actually literally suffering and dying and could benefit so much by our assistance, but most of us don’t do very much. I think part of that is because we just don’t see it. Anyway, I’d like to do more to help others than I feel I’m doing right now.

      Love you so much. So glad for our talks.

  5. We talked about this today at “work,” but I wanted to reiterate how firmly I believe what you’re doing, and the things you’re sharing, impacts others. You were one of many catalysts in the great leap towards happiness I took when I left the church and religion. The things you shared with me as you were leaving (at my request) immediately impacted me and resonated with me. What’s so crazy and sad about the societal pressure you feel as a Mormon (or any other works-based religion) is that connection with and understanding of an individual close to you is drowned out by the overwhelming need to fit in with the majority, to tread the path defined by people you’ve never met and will likely never meet.

    When your little brother comes to you for support in a time of deep guilt and depression and says he’s doubting the church because of A, B and C…your mind skips past the fact that you can actually relate to what he’s saying and instead you go to work proving him wrong. Focusing on the fact that he’s HURTING and admitting that you’ve struggled with the same things and felt the same doubts is the hard, uncomfortable, and vulnerable route.
    So you pretend to have a strength that he doesn’t, an understanding that he lacks…even a closeness to God that he hasn’t experienced yet. You throw as much subjective bull shit his way as you can because it holds real weight in the Mormon culture (“I prayed about so-and-so and I know that this is what WE should do”). You tell him everything he’s heard a hundred times and when the dishonesty of it all finally gets to you you either come clean and let him know that he’s justified in his doubts…or you avoid the conversations with him altogether. You sit down and you shut up.

    The latter is, unfortunately, the route most people take; It’s certainly the route I took after realizing that I couldn’t prove your doubts wrong. That was pretty shitty of me.

    Few people will admit to wondering about the things you doubted. Even fewer will admit to feeling guilty because they commit the same “sins” you did as a Mormon (the day that all your active LDS readers – male and female – admit to engaging in and enjoying masturbation is the day I rejoin the church). I just hope you never let that slow your progress as a person who has a massive impact on those around him. You’re changing lives whether you ever know it or not. It took me 4 years to admit to myself that your example was one I should follow.

    As Philip Marlowe would say: “[You’re] a stand-up guy in a sit-down, shut-up world,” and I’m proud of you.

    1. Thanks, broski 🙂 Since you know that on a “post day” I’m pretty much checking my notifications every five minutes, I don’t have to pretend that I didn’t read your comment the second you posted it. Again, thanks.

      I think it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the things we do. When I told you “no one seemed affected by the things that affected me,” you quickly corrected me. For some reason because everyone I knew didn’t empathize with my thoughts I downplayed their significance.

      My experience of our interaction after we talked about my doubts was that we BOTH became quiet. First of all, before we became quiet, I didn’t experience you as trying to prove me wrong. I felt you were trying to understand. You also asked me to promise that if I didn’t find anything better, I would consider coming back to the Church. I saw that as doing what you should have done as a brother – you believed that I was doing something that was going to hurt me, and were trying to salvage it. But you did so with understanding and love.

      On your end of it, though, yeah. I think anyone who has had doubts before and then squashed them down or pretended they didn’t so they could win an argument should know exactly what you’re talking about. In the LDS church especially, we HID anything that wasn’t confident, righteous, faithful, and good from other people. Doubts were a weakness, probably caused by not being diligent in keeping the commandments, or not studying, or just not praying enough. It’s hard to talk about honestly when you’re in a framework like that. But MAN if people did . . . how different would Utah be?

      1. As Rin has said, Nathan, you have always been an excellent big brother. You did your best in a very tough situation, and in the end it was honesty that won out. Anyone who knows you well would trust you to find that path. Thank you for the strength you are to me IN that honesty. Love, Your Mom

    2. Aw, Nade, you are, and always have been, such a good big bro to your little bro. You did what you thought was best and you were trying to protect him from the struggles you had. That shows lot of love.

  6. Hey Jeff,

    I realize why I’ve been avoidant of talking much about the church anymore, or wanting to even read much about my own families exit stories – because I’ve been through the anger, and now I’m in a bit of denial because I want to not remember the feelings of being unworthy even as they still stare me straight in the eye. I can’t hardly stand to leave a typo on a document at work, and if I think I’ve found a better way of doing something, sometimes I contemplate fixing projects that I had done differently before: already submitted, and already accepted. I know that this being a part of my life for so long is the main reason I set myself for failure now. There is no middle ground, or at least there wasn’t. All or nothing… That’s the cycle I’ve been on because I don’t know anything else. Until recently I haven’t learned anything else. In a way, leaving the church becomes a birthing process – two lives in one. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for helping me pinpoint what is still haunting me. Love you.

    1. Case in point: I made a few grammatical errors in my first comment and I’m really tempted to edit, but it’s not gonna happen. Just FYI!

      1. By the way I love and miss you, and think you’re a huge inspiration to so many people in so many ways. Oh, and I’m sorry for pulling your hair that one time…

        1. Oh Em! You mean the time when you and Jeff were rolling around on the floor with your hands in each other’s hair, each yelling, “YOU let go first!” That one time when Nathan videotaped it and then gleefully met me at the door saying, “Mom! I have something to show you?!” Hahahahahahahahahaha!

        2. Hey, Lord of the Flies happens. I’m surprised more ghost buster vans didn’t dent more faces, more compulsory dress-up sessions weren’t inflicted on Nate, and more hair follicles weren’t prematurely disconnected from our pretty little heads.

    2. Much love back at ya, Em. I’m about to post some painfully vulnerable stuff in a couple of days . . . and if you feel like taking out those unworthy feelings with me and displaying their beautifully honest glory to the world, you’re welcome to do so 🙂 Or just keep callin’ me whenevs and we’ll hash ’em out together and rage against the machine.

  7. I’m so glad there are people like you, who can express in writing how it felt for so many of us to grow up in the Church – I wasted so much of my life feeling “unworthy”, and have seen the toll it takes on other family members & friends, trapped in an almost inescapable culture that teaches them to judge themselves so harshly. It has taken many years to free myself of those deep thought patterns, but the scars will be with me always. Hearing stories like yours gives me confidence, that despite the loss of my own LDS social fabric (friends, relatives, community), my own children will be happier for not being trapped & burdened like I was. Thank You!

    1. Thank YOU, John! It’s a beautiful world out there, but we’ll probably always be affected by the way we were brought up. Now, as adults, we have a little more control over the things that influence us, but some things we’ll have to work on for the rest of our lives. I’m not sure, still, if my continued feelings of dissatisfaction or discontent are the results of the thought patterns engrained in me from my youth, or whether they would be there anyway. I’m just trying to move forward, be more happy, and love myself and others more, and I think I’m making some progress. Best wishes on your own journey!

      For some reason I feel like typing a lot right now . . . and want to share this awesome quote from Leaves of Grass with you:

      “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

      “Dismiss whatever insults your own soul . . . ” That’s what we’re doing. And I think your kids will be much better off for it.

  8. Jefferson that was really beautiful. I think it is an amazing moment for any LDS person to finally realize that they are ok just as they are. For me, I didn’t necessarily feel like I wasn’t good enough, I was just in a constant state of fear that if I didn’t do the things outlined for me to do, then I would not be protected, not be blessed, and bad things would surely happen. I was so sure that if I let a day pass without reading the scriptures, I was opening the door to Satan and letting him get his foot in. Remember that analogy from church and seminary lessons? Skip a day of scripture study- open the door to the adversary. Skip a day of prayer- he puts a toe in the door. Don’t pay a full and honest tithe- he has his arm in the door now. Swear, watch a rated R movie, wear immodest clothing, etc. Each little thing lets him in even more. I seriously did many of the things I did out of fear. Scriptures to me were so dry and hard to read for the most part. I got to the point I would just read the ones I highlighted because I couldn’t handle reading another “begat” or “and it came to pass”. I was still afraid that if I didn’t read at least a verse or two every day then I was welcoming evil to my door. Letting go of that fear has been so liberating. Thank you for sharing. I have been so blessed by being able to get to know you and your family. Thanks (was it you or Nathan- I forget) for setting my brother up with your mom. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jennie. It’s so interesting the way lessons or teachings can stick with someone, and affect each person differently. Even a one-time lesson can influence the way someone lives their religion and how they deal with life. Thanks for reading, and for being you.

      It was Nate 🙂

  9. I…never realized other people felt like this growing up. I thought it was some crazy quirk of mine. Your post really resonated with me because I went through (and still do to some extent) the crippling guilt. Recently my faith has sort of collapsed around me. I’m going on autopilot, trying to figure things out. Any book recommendations welcomed! I’m adding your blog to my rss reader.

    1. Thanks for reading, Anth. I’ve been amazed by how many people have written comments or emails about the similar experiences they’ve been through. Many, many, many of us went through these things and never talked about it while we were in it, only opening up after we had left and had some space to come to grips with our thoughts. That’s the shitty thing about shame and feeling unworthy – you feel like “I’m not as good as everyone else,” “I’m alone,” “If I let others see who I am they would lose respect for me.” Really, it seems to be the exact opposite. It’s been really freeing (more than I thought it would be) to write my story and have others say they identify with it. I feel, in many ways, accepted. Part of something common.

      Best of luck on your journey, friend! I could definitely suggest some reading, but it would depend on where you’re at right now, I think. When my faith collapsed I pretty much disappeared into the world of fantasy for a couple of years and gave myself space, which was good for me, and really necessary. If it’s fresh for you, I’d say just live your life, find things you enjoy, and find yourself.

      I’ll go take a look at my books and write out a list of my favorites for ya 🙂

    2. Three book recommendations:

      1) The Portable Atheist, by Christopher Hitchens. This is a treasure trove of writings by atheists from all time, dating back thousands of years. There is some REALLY profound stuff in here, and beautiful as well.

      2) How to Stay Sane, by Phillipa Perry. Not a book on religion . . . just a book that may help you be a better and more healthy you, which is probably the most important thing after a faith-crisis.

      3) Pretty much anything by Sam Harris.

      These are just blanket suggestions, so give me some more info and I might have some different ideas for you. Best wishes.

  10. I love reading your stuff! As a non Mormon who didn’t grow up in Utah I am continually baffled by the hold the church holds. Your articles are a great place for me to understand in a positive way. So much of what I have found regarding the Church is so negative I can’t bring myself to believe what that person has to say because it comes from a place of hate. I think you should understand that your writing is probably helping people more than you know. I know that you struggle with this and you should know that sharing this very personal piece of your life is a voice for so many that struggle with their own issues.

  11. Hello sir! Sorry to hear that you never felt good enough. I would assume you grew up in Utah though I don’t know. I find that culturally we place a lot more undue stress on ourselves even though doctrinally there is a lot that can bring us the rest you need/needed. Sometimes we focus only on the areas we feel we are doing poorly and it can hurt. I too like the evangelical definition of grace and I don’t find our definition to contrast to highly when you dig deep into both definitions.

    My question to you is this. What miracles did you see on your mission and where did you absolutely feel the hand if God? I know we can each pick on one or two experiences where we thought we were following a promoting but the outcome didn’t have our desired effect. My question is without changing it to fit your current world view. When was a time that you felt there was no other explanation but the hand of God guiding you or making something happen on or before your mission.

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