Judy’s Story (Unworthy Series)

When I was in my early teens I decided it was time for me to gain my own testimony. I buckled down and started reading my scriptures daily, praying fervently, and making an effort to be more kind, reverent, patient, meek, etc. When I got to the end of the BoM, and knelt down to fulfill my part in Moroni’s Promise, the response I got was…. nothing. Not a single thing. I still couldn’t look myself in the mirror and say, “I know the church is true.” I had a hard time even saying I believed in God, because I just didn’t know.

Over the next decade or so I fell into a cycle. I would make an effort to finally gain the testimony I so desperately wanted, lunging fully into all-out Molly Mormon mode (starting each cycle with an act designed to get me focused on the gospel, as benign as covering an entire bedroom wall with scriptures and quotes from prophets/apostles I liked, or as insane as transferring across the country to attend a church school). After months of reading my scriptures for hours a day and praying long into the night, I would come away with that big pile of nothing. I would then become severely depressed, because I knew I was doing all the things I was supposed to do, and God still wasn’t answering my prayers. I thought that must mean that I wasn’t being what I was supposed to be, that I was so inherently flawed that the Holy Ghost had abandoned me long ago. Between the ages of 14-20 I attempted suicide three times because I felt so absolutely worthless that I thought if I could just die and go to the Telestial Kingdom then at least the self-loathing and guilt would go away.

Here’s the thing – during this decade of vicious self-hatred and guilt I never once broke the Word of Wisdom. I never even got so far as a french kiss with a boy. I always dressed modestly. I didn’t swear. I paid my tithing. I went years at a time without missing a single day reading my scriptures. I was president of all of my YW groups, president of my seminary class, and on the Institute council. I went to church every week, and to all my activities. I wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong, even by Mormon standards.

But every time I told someone – a family member, a friend, a church leader – that I was feeling depressed, they told me it was because I wasn’t close enough to God. They told me that if I just put a little more effort in to Choosing The Right then I would feel the comfort of the Savior. Their first question when I said how I felt was always, “Well, are you reading your scriptures? Are you saying your prayers?” It was reinforced again and again that the fault was my own. However hard I thought I was working, I should be working harder. “Jesus is knocking on a door without a handle,” they’d remind me. “It’s up to you to let him in.”

Finally one Sunday afternoon, in my mid-20s, I was sitting on my bed looking over all the notes I had taken in Sacrament meeting and Sunday School that day (as I did every week), writing into my journal yet another idea about how I could finally gain a testimony this time. A thought popped into my head. I don’t know how it got there, exactly. It was just a simple idea – four tiny words – that changed my life forever.

“I’m a good person.”

I had never, EVER thought that about myself before. I was suddenly flooded with warmth. My breath caught in my throat. I let myself think it again. “I’m a good person.” The next thought in my head was likewise unexpected. “I bet if there’s a Heaven, I would get to go. If God is who the Mormon church says he is, I want nothing to do with him.”

I immediately grabbed my Bible. I decided right then and there that I was going to shift the direction of my spiritual studies. I was going to learn all about God – who he was, what he wanted from me, how I could know him – and I wanted to start at the beginning. I opened up Genesis, Chapter 1, and started reading.

I made it 27 verses before shutting the book and saying aloud, “This is all bullshit. I don’t believe in any of it.”

Two minutes. After more than 10 years of torturing myself trying to be better, better, better, all the time, it took less than two minutes for me to abandon religion completely. That tiny spark of self worth – “I’m a good person” – was hot enough and intense enough and bright enough to burn down my entire belief structure, and the thing that rose from the ashes like a phoenix was a new way to look at life. “I’m a good person. That’s what my religion is. To be good. To be nice. To basically not be a dick to people – and especially not to be a dick to myself. To love myself, warts and all, and know that my desire to be kind to others is worth more than any empty promise a God could give me.

(This is part of a series on shame and unworthiness.  Read more people’s experiences here)

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4 thoughts on “Judy’s Story (Unworthy Series)

  1. Thank you, Judy. There are so many of us who relate to your experience. I remember having those same words go through my mind and how it felt to BELIEVE them; it was 30 years further down the road for me. I’m so happy for you, that you got there more quickly. Enjoy this fascinating, beautiful life and being the person you want to be!

  2. Thanks for sending in your story! I used to look at the “Molly Mormons” and wonder how it was that they didn’t seem to have questions or doubts or guilt. I remember when i finally decided that i am a good person and let go of my crushing guilt. It was shocking to my guilt-ridden system. I was doing things i hadbeen taught were major, major sins, but i knew i was good and if there was a heaven, i’d get in. It was so comforting.

  3. I have suffered from debilitating depression since my teens. I am now 36 years old. I have been told time and time and time again that I just need to read my scriptures more, pray more, go to the temple more, have better family home evening. hold my callings (I was always too sick to do so), do my visiting teaching (again, too sick), etc., etc., etc. NOTHING ever worked. I was broken, I wasn’t good enough, I needed to do more. Those are the words that cycled through my mind for almost 20 years. We finally left the church over doctrinal/history issues almost 2 years ago. I read a story of an exmormon bipolar woman soon after leaving. I have also been recently diagnosed as bipolar after years and years of nothing working. She stated almost immediately that being mentally ill and mormon is a terrible mix, inevitably spiraling towards a total meltdown, madness or worse, suicide. This was so profound to me. I had lived in a suicidal haze for so many years I could honestly say I was suicidal more days than not. I have a beautiful family, an amazing husband, but still…I never could feel better. Until we left. Until I saw my mental illness as the illness it is and not unworthiness, I couldn’t get the true help I needed. As long as you’re constantly thinking you aren’t good enough, that there is a way to feel better and somehow you can reach it if you just keep trying, you can’t accept that you are truly sick and no God is going to fix that. You have to go out there and get the help you need from medical professionals. You have to give up trying to be perfect, and let yourself realize that “I am a good person just how I am right now”. Like you said, as soon as I felt that “worthiness” enter my life, I realized the debilitating, horrible, shaming world it is to live as a mormon with mental illness. I am doing so much better now! I am on the right medications, seeing a wonderful, non-mormon therapist and my world is beautiful just the way it is. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Goodness this got to me. I also remember the moment I realized that I was a good person by myself and that if I wasn’t on God’s good list…who the hell would be? I was surrounded, for the most part, by lazy, dishonest, immoral “Sunday Mormons” who looked up to me since I was 14…

    The Mormon God wasn’t going to see ANY of his children again if he wasn’t going to see me. And if I’m being really honest, in hindsight…spending eternity with the type of person capable of living the Mormon standards perfectly sounds like the worst idea of Heaven. It sounds outer darkness miserable!

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