I am a 3 year exmormon (intellectually) and a 1 year exmormon (activity).
I was all-in in the Church. I was willing and working to go as far as I could spiritually in this life. I read my scriptures every day for 4 years straight while I was a teenager before my mission. I woke up every single day on my mission at 6:30 except for 2 times when my alarm didn’t go off. I believed in following the letter of the law, and then going beyond the letter in following the spirit of the law.
I was crushed by guilt during the decade surrounding my mission. As a teenager, I found myself unable to avoid masturbating. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my hand down my pants. My dad, and then bishop, told me, “If you have to duct tape your hands to the bedposts, do it! I’ve excommunicated people for these types of sins. If you don’t stop, you’re going to have to tell your mother.” I seriously considered cutting off my penis after reading Jesus say “if thy eye offend thee, cut it out, that it doesn’t pollute the whole body”. Luckily I didn’t, but at the time I thought that God had told me what I was supposed to do to be rid of the sin, but I was too weak and had too little faith to follow through. This made me feel more guilt.
On my mission, I strove to make my eye single to the glory of God. Every day, every minute, every thought I would check to see if what I was doing or thinking was helping to lead others to come closer to Christ. If I were ever in a situation where I couldn’t help others come unto Christ (3 other missionaries watching Resident Evil with a guy and I can’t leave because then I’d be leaving my comp), I would make sure that I was feeling guilt over breaking the rule. If I was forced to break a rule, maybe God would have mercy on me if I didn’t enjoy it.
I knew that God was perfect and that he would not abandon me if I held up my side of the bargain. When no one cared about my message, when no one felt anything special when I shared it, and when I didn’t feel any power when I shared it, I felt abandoned and could only conclude that I was not doing something good enough. I felt deep guilt at my incompetence, weakness, and unworthiness. I wanted to kill myself but I knew that that would only make me more unworthy in the afterlife, so I hated myself instead.
Guilt is probably the best word to summarize my adolescent and adult experience in the LDS Church.
Where I am now–I don’t believe in any anthropomorphic god. I stopped believing in God before I stopped believing in Mormonism (yes, that was a bit of cognitive dissonance to deal with), and it basically boiled down to 1) acknowledging that there was no way to source my spiritual experiences outside of my own head and 2) the world making more sense without an anthropomorphic god.
I’m generally pretty happy, but can face depression and anxiety. My cognitive dissonance is very much improved, but now I’m working out a new ethical structure for my life. While “don’t be a dick” and the golden rule is a great start, I’m still faced with some moral uncertainty. I used hypothetical reasoning (yes I just made that term up) to get my mind out of Mormonism, and I feel like it is probably a good tool to break through other delusions I have.
When I use it, I come to some really hard conclusions. I think I probably shouldn’t use oil, shouldn’t eat meat, shouldn’t use more than a small percentage of my income on myself.
I have a hard time coming to peace with the world. Often I think of this world as extremely hellish. This existential rant is the dark side of my thoughts.
The bright side of my thoughts is built on hope through humanity. Yes, the world is still disgusting and horrible in many ways, but it’s better for humanity in general. We’re working to give women rights, minority races rights, and gay people rights. War and disease are diminishing. It’s a slow improvement, but I hope we’ll get to a beautiful future.
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.
The day after I posted the “Unworthy” article was one of the happiest of my life. I spent all of Friday morning reading people’s comments and replying to them – everyone was saying they understood, or they had gone through the same thing, or “I didn’t know others went through this.”
As I drove into the Walmart parking lot and a driver almost cut me off, I nodded to them and thought, “We all do it.” While shopping, I whistled the entire time and genuinely enjoyed thinking about the lives of the people I passed–the little girl who let out a five-second scream as loudly as she could and the father who desperately tried to stop it–and when I drove home I got a hit of euphoria as I hit the gas peddle to get on the freeway. I was enjoying every moment.
I had been worried about posting the article, worried about how others would respond, worried because of some of my past experiences with writing online, thinking that my inner thoughts would be ridiculed or criticized. Instead, I was welcomed into the hidden world of the Unworthy and told I belonged, I was asked if others belonged there too, and I felt accepted with all the parts of me I had been afraid of expressing.
Expressing those inner thoughts was therapeutic for myself and for others.
That’s why it wouldn’t be enough for me to just post my own story and move on. Others sent me their stories in response to mine, and they were potent.
Today, I bring two stories – one from Judy and one from Tony. If you’d like to submit your own for consideration (whether you’re active LDS or not), please send me an email.
The response to yesterday’s article was . . . unexpected. I wrote the first part to this article about a month and a half ago, slowly working on the wording and the way I presented my story, with a consistent struggle to stay real and not try to be strong. I kept thinking of different ways people would be able to poke at me through my words to show how my decisions were based on a weakness or misunderstanding or something else, and I had to fight consistently to not include preemptive defenses to things people might say. I wanted to stay honest, and just express myself, and that was difficult. I’m so glad I did!
Doing so seems to have resonated with a lot of people, which makes me so sincerely happy. In spite of my fears, I have not, as of yet, received one negative comment (though I’m fully expecting it, still. I guess I’m a little jaded).
I’d like to talk about this topic a little more – shame and vulnerability. One commenter on Reddit asked if I had read any Brené Brown, who has done years of research into shame and vulnerability, and apparently has some amazing things to say about it.
Wow, I’m so glad he or she did so. Here’s a 20-minute TEDx video that you need to watch.
Early next week, I’ll be posting other people’s stories about feeling shame, guilt, and unworthiness within the LDS Church. I’m hoping for stories from both ex-Mormons and Mormons – what it was like, what led up to it, and how things got better (if they did. Maybe they didn’t, which is fine as well). I’ll also be posting something I wrote a few weeks ago, which I didn’t think I’d share for quite a long time . . . as part of an effort to become more vulnerable and genuine.
If you’d like to do share your experience, click here to send me an email. If I post your story, I can do so anonymously or with your name, whichever you’d prefer.
For nearly 50 years, I loved the LDS Church. I loved and love the friends I have gained and am gaining within the church. I found peace in certain doctrines I was sure could be found nowhere else, and which deeply resonated within me. Working with teenagers and children was sometimes drudgery, and sometimes exhilarating. As a single Mother for a few years, I always, always took my children to church, and spoke with them daily of God’s love and the perfection of what I had learned to be his plan for us as his children.
But what I did not share freely were the questions and concerns, the frustration that built within me over conflicts and decades of changes within the church. I knew there were only two reasons for a member of the church (especially one who found happiness within it) to have doubts: that person (me, in this case) was either a) unworthy (aka” sinning”, like that was such an unusual happening), or b) not studying the scriptures enough. Or not praying… paying… attending church… serving… holding family home evening… enough. Heck, this begins to sound like a works-based religion… which is exactly what was presented to me by the church itself, during my growing-up years.
I did not grow up hearing about or understanding the doctrine of atonement. Instead, I felt (because I’d been told) that I might be a board with nails in it. The nails (sins) might be removed, but the holes would still be there (probably one for each time I’d been “bad” after age 8). Or, more likely, because I’d allowed a boy to kiss me at age 13, I was a white rose that had been touched and was now wilted and brown, never to be pure again. Do you hear anything about healing, about redemption, in those little object lessons/metaphors? Neither did I.
Things change… big things… within the LDS Church. The older people (like me) can often be counted on to forget; and the younger people and new converts may never even become aware of the changes. But they are real, and they have been serious. It eventually became impossible for me to trust that the church is anything more than a corporation run by (mostly loving and well-intentioned) old men.
In addition, despite many attempts to receive a clear and undeniable answer (if not the actual “knowledge” claimed by so many), I never did. But that was just the unworthiness thing again….
I met my amazing, believing husband at church in 1998. He would be beside me throughout this journey and he would see me as I studied, prayed, and sometimes wanted to scream throughout the years. He has listened with all his might and tried to assist me in seeing through his eyes. He knows how difficult this has been, and you can find his story under “Stayers” and the name “Daddio.”
If indeed I have had issues with the church throughout my adult life, why did I stay? Here is why:
First: My very young parents joined the church in 1959, elated to have discovered what they believed to be the greatest gift possible: the Truth. God still spoke to mankind through a living prophet, his mouthpiece. We could count on being guided, spiritually, and upon knowing God’s will! This was so precious to them, and it made me really happy when they quit smoking.
Second: I did NOT, until now, have the courage which my children would display at much younger ages. I would not outwardly question the religion which my parents had taught me. Also, I loved God and could not imagine living without some sort of explanation for why we are on the planet.
When I became a mother, I determined that I would give to my children the same gift my parents had given me. They would be smarter and better than I and thus able to receive the revelation I had not. They would be capable of treasuring the gift more than I had (though not for lack of trying).
It didn’t work.
Two months after returning from a mission honorably served, Jefferson – my youngest birth child – announced that he was leaving the church. I was devastated, and yet… honestly… also amazed. My child… MY child… whom I knew to be a committed seeker of truth and to have worked diligently to gain a testimony — had found the courage to be honest about his failure to receive the sure answer I’d been seeking for decades.
Leaving cost Jefferson a lot, more than most will ever know. Over the year which followed his announcement, unexpected visits on my part often caught him with the remnants of tears on his face. He suffered, but he was determined to follow the only path that felt honest to him.
Jefferson’s courage gave me the strength to finally face my own testimony-blocking demons. I bargained with myself : I didn’t have the right to change the game in my marriage to a wonderful, believing man who, by the way, I met in church 14 years ago. So I’d stay. I would just accept the fact that I was one to whom it was not given to know, but rather to believe on the words of those who know. But finally, I saw that these solutions would require me to sacrifice integrity, and ultimately myself. There was no bargain that would make untruth, true.
My second-eldest child, Marinne, had rejected religion by 1994, at age 16. She was weary, and angry, at the constant judgment levied against “outsiders” by a few of our relatives, and by seminary and Sunday School teachers who, I felt, were too insensitive to be entrusted with young, forming minds in the first place. On top of that, she fell in love with a boy who smoked! She left the church, and then left our home. I was devastated, and I missed her very much. I understood her reasons, but I couldn’t tell her so. It was my job – I thought – to remain stalwart and stoic, to model the Believing Mormon Mother so that my daughter would one day return to the fold… both folds. To do this was unnatural to me, but openness with her would have required me to look too closely at what was right before my face, and I was not yet ready for that.
Mikelle, my eldest, left the church gradually and without fanfare. She had not expressed any depth of belief since childhood. She proved to be a changeling, mirroring whatever beliefs were prevalent in whatever company she kept. I was certain that this quality, dangerous for a teenager, would be a blessing to her later on; that her faithful siblings would be able to influence her back into the church.
I began to panic when my third child, Emily, left the church four years after being married in the temple. Emily was a spiritually-minded girl, but as a teen she began, privately, to judge herself very harshly for her imperfections as measured against the standards of the church. I did not, and do not (in looking back) know why this would be. She was beautiful and intelligent, and did not deserve to be so miserable within.
I did not support Emily in her divorce, judging (too much judging!!!) that she had not tried hard enough to make her marriage work. I, who had been her closest spiritual confidante, abandoned her when she did not conform. Years later, as I tearfully told her of the pain I felt at losing all faith in the church, Emily would look at me with sad eyes and say, “Mom, I know!!! That is exactly what I was feeling when you left me all alone.”
My daughters and I are long-reconciled and very close. I cannot understand how I thought my Mormon Mama behavior then was serving any positive end.
Jefferson left the church right after his mission, as I’ve earlier described. I would be next, though mine was a fairly secret struggle. My husband and I have always openly shared our feelings about the church and its’ doctrines; but now, in addition, we each worked to understand the other’s perspective. Though we learned so much, we each found it impossible to see through the other’s eyes. Which of us is right and which of us is wrong? Is that what matters, or is it the fact that we now love each other more than ever?
Perhaps the greatest pain I have felt in seeing my children leave the church came as Nathan, my child-soulmate and eldest birth son, began to face his own questions in 2010, as I was midway through the process of leaving. All of his siblings had already left. I couldn’t bear the thought of, in effect, abandoning the vision we’d shared, during younger years, of church activity together throughout our lives. As we danced together on the evening of his temple wedding in 2009, he leaned down to me and said, “Momma, I promise I will never give up until Jefferson and the others return to the church.” His sweetness and sincerity melted my heart, even as his words stabbed clear through it.
When, after many months, Nathan told me that he, too, was leaving, it brought me no happiness. What would he do without the framework of the gospel? It seemed so knitted into his very nature.
Truthfully, I am less than overjoyed about some of the decisions my children, religion-free, now make. It more than bothers me when they drink alcohol, or even swear, and it probably always will. But they are free agents, and I am thankful that they trust me – and you – enough to be open regarding their beliefs. I know my children. Their motives are good, and they are moral individuals who will leave the world a better place. They will find happiness… probably more quickly than has their stalwart, stoic, Formerly Believing Mormon Mother.
As for Daddio and I… what he knows, it seems that I cannot. I believe that 10 years of serious, constant effort on the heels of all the church activity and study that went before, is enough. The answer I sought is not coming… to me. But I am so happy now. In these last few, challenging years, my values – what matters most to me – have come into much greater harmony with my behavior. This is how I define integrity, and it brings me peace.
And that… is how I felt when I, as a Stayer, saw each of my children leave the church. And it is also how I became a Leaver.
My story is both long and painful in many respects. I wish that I could say that leaving was easy and a happy decision (I personally like to think of it as a “transition” rather than “decision”) but it is not my happiness that I have witnessed diminish. I would like to preface this story with the facts that: a) I do not agree with nor associate with anti-Mormon literature. b) I believe the church is a useful tool for many individuals to feel fulfilled in their lives. c) I am still very supportive of those that remain active. With that being said, here’s my story.
I remember as a child singing the song “I am a child of God” there is one verse that states:
I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will
I’ll live with him once more.
This was my first question in the church. I had been taught that we were given FREE WILL when we chose to come here to earth, this verse directly negated that teaching. I was about 9 years old when I noticed this along with many other songs, teachings, verses, etc. mirroring the same inconsistencies. As the years passed, I wanted to leave, I felt trapped. Part of it may have been teenage rebellion, or the need to not have anything controlling me. Regardless it became a spiral, by the time I was 17, I was miserable every time I stepped foot into a seminary building, temple, or church. By 18, I moved out of my parents home. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was a very broken individual. Around this time, I was introduced to a Baptist church in the area. The first time that I went, I was listening and analyzing their Worship (singing time before Word). Suddenly that “burning feeling” I had been told I should be experiencing throughout my Mormon years erupted out my ears to some of these Christian Rock songs. I had a realization that this was how I actually felt about my higher power, about my God. It was that simple, this was how I felt about God, the LDS church did not fulfill that feeling. This first time of leaving the church was ugly, painful, and hate-filled. I was basing every action and reaction upon feelings. I lashed out at my family. I lashed out at my friends. I felt attacked from every direction. To the point that I felt God hated me and I gave up on everything. Throughout all this I did have one friend that came into my life, he was a very good Mormon man that had just come back from his mission due to an injury. He wanted to go to church one Sunday and was not capable of driving himself, due to the injury, I agreed to go with him. I sobbed through the entire Sacrament Meeting.
I was more confused than ever. This loving friend tried to help me sort through my feelings, but in the “barely-off-his-mission” way that really just led me back to the church. My thought process through that journey was that it would make my family happy. I also looked at this man and thought I would never be deserving of a man like him if I didn’t go back to church. Shortly after this, I met my now ex-husband. He said all the right things, he acted the right way, he let me think I was a partner to him. We were married 11 months later in the Bountiful, UT temple. And this is the point where hindsight became 20/20. Where my feeling-based decision-making skills faulted.
My ex-husband asked me to pray about getting married to him, he then asked me for my feelings. The tricky part here was that he asked me while I was sitting on a bench in Monterrey, CA listening to the waves crash on the rocks and feeling the wind on my face. I have in later years realized that day it was not the still, small voice I was feeling, but just the comfort I always have and will feel from realizing how small I am next to the giant beautiful ocean. I told him I would marry him based on a feeling, a feeling I have every time I sit by the waves and consequently had not one thing to do with my ex-husband.
The time progressed, and my ex-husband professed to be a good returned missionary loving husband. Behind closed doors, he had multiple extra-marital affairs and was incredibly abusive, both physically and mentally. I deteriorated, the bipolar disorder swung out of control, making me look frail and frankly crazy. My ex-husband was the strong one taking care of his struggling wife. I also had not gotten married to get divorced, therefore I tried everything, including literally losing my own mind to keep my marriage together. To keep my temple covenants intact. It was not meant to be. He left me after his brother’s temple marriage, shortly after our 3 year anniversary. I dove further into my chosen religion, attending the temple weekly (a 35 mile drive from my house), going to meetings, meeting with my church leaders, and going to counseling. All that was happening was a stronger anger and hatred when I was being told to support my spouse and that my eternity was based upon my being sealed in the temple. All the while he was cheating, lying, and abusing me. Our covenants were effectively broken. What was my eternity now? A lesser degree of the Celestial kingdom because HE had screwed up?
This anger continued until one day I realized that the anger was what was driving me to awful things. I got off of all of my medications and went back to a non-denominational church where I had remembered feeling such strength in the music. Months progressed, I went to both LDS and non-denominational churches. I remained faithful to the LDS church until I saw such inconsistencies in the temple (a place I used to go running to for peace) that the red flags in my mind and heart couldn’t be hidden any longer. I slowly just retracted from everything having to do with the LDS faith.
I just kept all of these realizations to myself for a very long time, soon I was hired as a flight attendant (for an airline that is based out of St. George, I’ll let you do the math), and therefore able to just brush off the consistent questions about going to church. I had to work on Sundays, there was no way around that. Eventually I decided that I had lied as a teenager to satiate those around me and that as an adult, this wasn’t necessary. I have been very open and honest about how I do not agree with the pain I have seen caused by religion towards children and friends that have left the church. Towards my friends that I covered their homosexuality by being their “girlfriend” because they knew what would happen with their family if they came out. In recent years, my heartbreak has not come from leaving the church, that has been one of the most freeing decisions I’ve ever made, but has come from the sadness I see in my faithful LDS family and friends that truly believe that I am lost. I understand their hurt, sorrow and discomfort with me. That part of all this makes me sad.
It was not hard for me to tell the missionaries that showed up to my door the other day that I was not active and had no plans to be active in any religion in the foreseeable future. I have lost most of my hope for religion, not just the LDS religion, but all of it in general. I see much more sadness, judgement, and torment come from it than I do happiness, comfort, and the loving acceptance that Christ dutifully taught and lived. I choose to live my life based on being a good person and loving those around me because they are who they are. If I end up being wrong in my life choice, I don’t believe that I will be faulted by a higher power for treating others with love and care. I choose to be happy. I have been off of any kind of medications for bipolar disorder for over 2 years. I find balance in the things around me. I still read the Bible, Book of Mormon, Qur’an, and any other form of religious writings I come across because I know there is always space for knowledge and more truth. I am still on my journey, I wish that there was a way for it not to cause so much pain for my family that I love so dearly. It brings me to tears just writing this and knowing that it could possibly hurt them further, but I also know that there are many that were in my position. Confused, hurt, feeling trapped, unable to face their own questions regardless if that led them away from the church or helped them stay stronger within it. My hope is that we can all find our own peace. To this day I am very open and positive about the LDS faith, I answer many of my coworkers and friends questions regarding the faith. Some have actually joined the church based upon our discussions, while others have had the same views that I have upon their own further investigation.
My general belief now is that I have a severe intolerance for intolerance.
Telling the story of my departure and return to the LDS church is difficult, not because it is hard to express in plain language or it is overly complex; the difficulty lies in telling a story that is so intimately tied to the lives of so many I love and care for. It would be callous to bring up their past trespasses as they have changed or are seeking to change and improve their lives. Let me paraphrase the preface to my leaving the church: I was raised in a typical Mormon family, except I was not. We, for all outward appearances, were pious and integral members of the local ward. My parents held callings and did their duties. Internally we were rife with trouble, pain, and many of the more difficult complications that plague broken homes who are just barely keeping together. But we did keep together for better or worse, and in that I felt the touch of what Mormons call the spirit, during one of our bouts of “family scripture study” reading 3 Nephi 11 as an eleven year old. That will have to suffice as background.
I first experienced difficulties with the church in my adolescence. I would like to classify my troubles as rebellion, but they were actually more a function of depression. Around the age of sixteen or seventeen I began a personal struggle with clinical depression. That combined with the circumstances of my family made it very hard to believe in a loving God, or celestial happiness or anything of the sort. I stopped attending my meetings regularly and began having serious doubts. So much of my experience and conviction as a Mormon was based on the “still small voice” and the warm feelings of the spirit I had once felt. As I and anyone who has dealt with depression knows, in the midst of depression feelings of warmth and comfort, are the most alien of emotions. That aspect combined with a lack of example of a “forever family” aided in my exit from the Mormon faith. That being said, I didn’t really leave the church as a seventeen year old. I stopped attending for a month or so; breathed out threats of leaving or suicide or whatever irrational depressed teenage banter I could muster to my parents and then return for a week or so, and repeat. In my final return I even went as far as taking the full missionary discussions to try to figure out what the church was all about and I came back “for good”. What probably kept me from leaving the church was really, probably a cute girl or two who were Mormons. Cute girls are one of Mormonism greatest activation and conversion tools.
As time progressed I got my depression in check and prepared to serve an LDS mission. My missionary experience was not atypical other than perhaps my initial attitude going into my mission. I didn’t serve a mission believing it was going to be fun, enjoyable or “the best two years of my life.” I served a mission because I felt connected to-and some form of conviction for-a church and principle I believed to be true; that being said I fully believed a mission to be a terribly large sacrifice and didn’t expect a very pleasant time. My actual missionary service was not easy but not as bad as I expected and I’m ultimately glad I went. I will not bother with the further details as it’s an aside to an already long story.
It was when I returned home from my mission that my troubles began. I rented a small apartment with a friend of mine in Ogden Utah, and began attending the local university. From what I understood about the way God blesses returned missionaries I assumed I would come home, find a girl, get married while going to college for some reasonable career based degree, get a job, pop out a few kids and that would be that. Things did not go that way. On my mission the girl I really liked expressed she wasn’t interested in me, and the small group of women I knew who were datable I either scared off by post-mission weirdness or were also taken. I felt lonely and left to myself.
Schooling didn’t go as planned either. I quickly found I had no direction in school. College just felt like a bad fit. In the depths of my heart I was still set on forming a band and making music. I dropped out and felt a certain sense of failure at the Mormon plan for life. That being said I still attended my meetings somewhat regularly. The real schism between me and the church took place as I was making a second attempt at college. I was drawing political cartoons for the campus newspaper, my political leaning was toward the left and this was the height of the Bush years. There were a lot of easy targets and I took a few cheap shots, but nothing beyond the standard political cartoon rhetoric of the day. A few of my cartoons were quite well respected and syndicated. Anyway, my political views got me a lot of heat at the mostly conservative LDS church. Mostly just people asking why I’d criticize the president and things like that, but eventually the negativity started to weigh on me. It all came to a fountainhead when a particularly outspoken sister heard me accidentally drop a “DAMN!” at a church activity. An argument ensued that somehow led to politics and she said something to the effect of “I don’t think you belong in the church with views like that.” I decided I agreed and I quit my spotty attendance altogether.
Over the following years my anger towards the LDS church grew. Logic is also a great tool at punching holes in faith and I did my best to cast off my once held beliefs as silly and irrational. That being said, some part of me always felt like something was missing and some deep part of me always wanted someone to come and “save” me and bring me back. Once again this came in the form of a girl. I began dating a girl who was shaky in her faith, but certainly trying to be a good member. She got me attending pretty regularly, and our relationship progressed. We eventually got engaged.
This would be a perfect happy Mormon ending, but it didn’t happen that way again. In my time away from the church I had picked up and exacerbated some bad habits. The drinking went away pretty easily, but a porn addiction did not. My fiance knew about this problem and was supportive and helped me a lot in this but it still flared up from time to time. Each time I’d view porn I could see how incredibly hurt she was, I tried to stop and was marginally successful. The time of our wedding fast approached. A few weeks before my fiance expressed some doubts, really nothing more than cold feet, but it rocked my world. We worked through them one late evening after watching a movie but I was still visibly shaken. My go-to release for stress was still porn, and I expressed a fear that I would go home and indulge. She comforted me but warned me. She said she didn’t know if she could take another relapse this close to the wedding. I went home terrified. When I arrived home I tried to call her but didn’t get through. I relapsed.
The next day tears came with my confession to her. She said she didn’t know if she could trust me. She said we should take a break. I was heart broken, but talking with her and her mom, we all got the impression that we just needed to work things out and in the end it would all be okay. It wasn’t. A night or two following my confession my fiance went out with a group of friends to seek consolation. After eating dinner, she followed them back to a “friends” house. Others left except for one guy. She was raped by him.
The pain and the injustice experienced by her in this experience pushed her away from not just me, but the church as well. I was equally devastated. I began to seek out relief in any form. I began drinking again, and seriously questioned not just the church but God and his goodness in general. How could he allow things like this to happen, and was it really all my fault? After all if I hadn’t relapsed, she wouldn’t have been in that situation. Things got worse. A friend I worked with committed suicide around this time as well. I was surrounded by darkness. It was a late summer afternoon a few weeks after my friends suicide that I decided I didn’t want to live anymore either. I drove to a deserted stretch of road about a mile from my parents house where once my ex and I had made out and I took out a razor blade. I began cutting into my upper arm; a test to see if I could do it. I could. Then I remembered a promise. I had promised my fiance’s mother a few days after everything hit the fan that if I ever was in a life threatening situation I would call her. I stayed true to my word. The conversation I don’t recall very well, but I remember as I hung up the phone, the warm glow of the gloaming and a feeling that I had to survive. Not a hope, but a need for survival.
A few days passed. I was in my basement that was my music room playing guitar. Once again the gloaming light shown through the high windows. I was strumming some chords on a guitar and cooing ahs and ohs. Soon I found myself singing. The words that formed out of my mouth were these. “I promise you, Oh God I wont give up on love” I felt that comfort and warmth again, among the most real and sincere I ever had. I wept as I continued to pray and sing and repeat my promise.
After a long session of writing music that day I wrote those words down. Accompanying them I wrote down another phrase: “I will glory in the darkness and marvel in the light,” that and my promise not to give up on love have become my mantra for my life. I soon quit drinking and reactivated in church. I consider myself a recovering porn-addict, (much like recovering from alcoholism, I feel it is a process of a lifetime) and feel like I have a pretty good handle on it now.
As for doubts, of course I still have some. The logic of religion is not. Religion doesn’t seek to answer questions through reasoning but through appeals to something higher and greater than understanding. I, as a reasonable human being, am okay with that because there is so very little I understand, but I do know I have felt something bigger than me. That being said I don’t reject science. I believe in evolution and astral-physics and the like, I feel science and religion aren’t out to answer the same questions. Science answers the when, what and how, religion is out to answer the who and the why. As for incongruencies and the fantastic and bizarre I think W.B. Yeats said it best, “Let us go forth, tellers of tales, and seize whatever the heart longs for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”
By being open to possibilities beyond me, I feel I keep open to greater truth and greater gifts. That being said I don’t blindly follow my faith, I use the intellect God gave me to judge and decide. I have issues with certain things but they aren’t big enough to turn me away anymore. At the end of the day the reason I’m still a Mormon is I found reason to believe and I do.