A Spiritual Hiatus

“Will you be moving your records into the branch?”

“….Maybe.”

The YSA Branch Relief Society President was happy and cheerful enough–– not yet jaded by New York City (for now). With a pleasant grin on her face and sincerity in her voice, she asked if I would be joining their motley YSA crew here in New York. I told her an honest “maybe”. I attended my local Young Single Adult branch this past Sunday, made new friends, and felt pretty much at home. It didn’t hurt that the Relief Society lesson was not from the Ezra Taft Benson manual, but instead, on supporting and encouraging ourselves and other women. I also took comfort in the fact that the aforementioned Relief Society President said things like, “Welcome to Brooklyn! Where you can wear pants to church and no one will blog about it!” and then cursed in her lesson–– without the sister missionaries, senior sister missionary, or branch president’s wife blinking an eye. It was the most subversive and uplifting church experience I’ve ever had in recent memory. It felt so good being in church that day.

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Despite all this, I can’t bring myself to be a contributing active member. To be blunt, I don’t want to give any of my time or talents to the LDS Church. I was baptized as a convert in April of 2010. Almost five-years later, however, I have taken off my rose-colored glasses. Not all is well in Zion. And nothing will get better in Zion when we decide to build malls instead of clean water wells or fight against marriage equality instead of income equality. I kind of get it, though. We have rules–– according to the Church, doctrinally, same-sex couples can’t get married. But to know that a member of the First Presidency will give a talk in front of the Pope supporting traditional marriage, but at the same time won’t join the Pope at a conference fighting human trafficking (which I am pretty sure is also doctrinally against our rules) is troubling and disturbing. Not all is well in Zion, indeed.

Still, I love the Gospel. There is a difference between the Church as an institution and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though I feel that our current leaders are lacking genuine inspiration, I know they’re still our leaders. And I’m hoping with all my might that things will get back on track and they’ll actually do the work that Jesus wants to be done (say, donating more to charity than buying land reserves in Florida). I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and in spite of his severe weaknesses, he was key in bringing back to earth the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe in the Plan of Salvation. Even though I have gone back to drinking coffee and alcohol and–– some would say–– have broken covenants, I still believe in the power of the temple. I believe in the Book of Mormon. I believe in the Gospel. The God I believe in will always fall within the confines of Mormon theology. I just don’t believe in the Church right now. The priorities are so far off, in my opinion, that I must withdraw my support and belief. We persecute those asking honest, genuine questions within the bounds of the faith, but we say nothing about members who engage in wartime torture. We speak out about a television reality show, but we say nothing of the current racial strife that affects this nation. It’s too hard to reconcile with my personal convictions of “what would Jesus do?”

I look at my break from the church as a temporary hiatus. It’s happened before. In fact, my sophomore year of college, after taking a brief break from church during the summer, I had my first meeting with my bishop at the beginning of the semester where I handed him back my temple recommend and told him, “I can’t do this anymore.” Things have changed since then and they will continue to change. It’s part of being a learning, active human being. For now I hope things will change again. I know things will change. They have in the past. But no matter how much you love your childhood home, as long as it’s dilapidated and in disrepair, you can’t live in it. I am waiting for my home–– my church–– to be safe and be repaired so I can return and serve wholeheartedly with a good conscience.

But like anything that is meaningful in one’s life, there are certain things you just can’t shake. From the metaphorical childhood home, you still may have an old toy or pictures that you keep with you. For me, it’s garments. I still wear them. I see them as the traditional cross jewelry that our Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations wear. All sorts of Christians wear the cross. Heck, even gangsters and mobsters wear them. To me, the wearing of the cross is not an indication of worthiness or righteousness, but a reflection of personal belief. No matter what we do–– good or bad, as we are all still imperfect–– we can still love the Savior and one day benefit from His mercy. And that cross necklace can reflect that. That’s how I feel about my garments. They are my cross necklaces. I wear them not as a reflection of who I currently am as an LDS member, but as a reflection of what I ultimately believe and as a reminder who I eventually may become (at least that’s how I make garments work for me, combined with my lingering testimony of temple ordinances).

I ultimately decided to transfer my records into the YSA branch. Like I said, I know this distance from the Church is temporary (temporary being flexible–– this break could last months or years, who knows?) and I want to align myself with a church family that I feel comfortable with for when I do make the occasional appearance once a month or so. I plan on turning down callings and talks, and I don’t plan on renewing my temple recommend when it expires in April. I am lucky enough as a single convert where such actions don’t have immediate or familial repercussions for family members or myself. I can take this hiatus without judgment or grief from those closest to me. But no matter how long the distance, I am still a Mormon. There are some things I just can’t shake (garments, being kind to everyone, love of community). I plan on attending my local Episcopalian Church for spiritual edification, but my core beliefs about God and Christ and the world will still be compatible with Mormon viewpoints. It’s just who I am. I am only a convert of less than five years, but being Mormon is who I am. It is my long-lost childhood home. I am a Mormon and nothing will change that. I know there is room for me in this church, despite what anyone says, and when the time comes, I will come and take my place. And I know that no matter where this journey will take me, this hymnal verse is more applicable in my life now more than ever: Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous… omnipotent hand.

For those who are still active,  how do you make the LDS Church work for you? 

For those who are less- or- inactive (or have even resigned), what are some Mormon things that have still stuck with you?

What spiritual journeys have you taken? Where has it taken you?

East River Lady

24 years old. LDS Convert. New York Native. Mormon Feminist.

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18 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    This is beautiful, ERL. I wish we could preach the distinction between the gospel and the institutional church from the rooftops.

    Sometimes I like to imagine Jesus coming down, giving us all hugs, and then shaking us all by the shoulders to wake up and realize what’s most important (and I recognize that he would shake mine, too). And then I’d like to think that he would attend that conference on human trafficking, or at least speak out about it, and about systemic inequality, and about missing the mark all over the place.

    • East River Lady says:

      I like what you said about Jesus shaking you by the shoulder too–– reminds me that I am also imperfect and that there are so many times that I miss the mark.

      As the Church attempts to better itself, I need to better myself as well and ask how I can make the system/church/world a better, more Christlike place.

  2. Suzette Smith says:

    I’m active! All the way in – with too much money, time, and commitment. Fool that I am.

    All is not well in Zion, indeed. Or anywhere else.

    And because it’s not well anywhere, I choose to stay with my people, and do what I can.

    There are lots of things to love (as you suggest)
    The radical Joseph Smith
    The Book of Mormon
    The hymns
    The Youth and the Primary
    The testimonies
    The people who really try – and their faith
    The meals that show up on my doorstep with I’m sick
    The Relief Society

    I believe the doctrines of Mormonism support the things I love – including women’s priesthood and gay marriage.

    And we have an open canon – best of all!

    And for the stuff that’s annoying … and is not right …. I just hope on! I push conversations. I live out what I believe in feminine power. And I love.

  3. Naismith says:

    It sounds like perhaps you are taking a church hiatus, not a spiritual hiatus. Religiosity and Spirituality are not the same. The church and the gospel are not the same. When we confuse such things, it causes trouble.

    Good luck on your path, which is different for every one of us.

  4. Em says:

    In some ways I had a similar experience. I just felt sick at heart about the Church as a corporation. But I didn’t want to leave, either. For me, right now, I am choosing invisibility. I asked for and was extended a calling that minimizes my need to interact with the church as a corporation while still allowing me to serve my ward in ways that feel meaningful (primary pianist). I don’t have to choose between teaching things I don’t believe and being berated for my refusal. I just sit there and play piano. Sometimes I eat snacks. Sometimes I sit through sharing time, other days I go and sit in the foyer and write in my diary until it is my turn to play again.

    I don’t know if it has helped me grow spiritually, but it has put a stop to my feeling the need to flee and reject. And maybe that is okay for now. Sometimes just not walking away is progress enough.

    • East River Lady says:

      Primary pianist is probably one of the best callings. My friend is the Primary Chorister right now in the family ward, and I always offer to come down and play (which has only happened once, but when I do go to church, I still like hanging out in Primary with her. It’s safe there). It’s the only time/place in Church that I don’t have any qualms about. Like you said, it’s a low interaction calling and you just help to teach the basics. Primary is my happy place. And it seems like it is for you, too. Whatever helps you to stay and make it work is a good thing! And I love what you said about not walking away is progress enough. How true for so many people.

  5. EJM says:

    I was born into the church in 1948 and I won’t leave it because I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. However, the church and some of it’s people, and mostly leaders leave me cold. There’s no way I will allow other people and their silliness to make me feel I should leave. That’s why I had myself released from my callings – so I don’t have to deal with them anymore, instead I’m planning on doing a Family History mission – I would do that work from home, which means I don’t have to deal with my ward or stake people.

  6. Laura says:

    Beautiful post, ERL! I understand this completely. I decided last year to take a break from activity. It was really hard at first–I’d be a weekly attender for all of my 35 years at that point–but it was the right thing for me. I don’t know if I’ll go back or not–there’s a lot that’s undecided. But what feels really great is that I felt like I was able to take ownership over my own religious experience, and decide for myself whether regular church attendance was something that was helping me spiritually or not, and proceed accordingly. It seems so obvious now that I say it that of course this should be my decision, but for a long time it didn’t feel like something I was allowed to choose. If that makes sense.

    Best wishes for the next phase of your spiritual journey!

    • East River Lady says:

      Thank you for sharing, Laura! Like you, I’m not sure if I’ll go back or not. I mean, I know I will at some point, but I don’t know when, so my timeline is completely abstract. It’s just so much easier to say “I don’t know” when asked if I’ll go back. A lot of people don’t get it when I say that I’ll only fully commit myself when I can reconcile church activity/teachings with my conscience/Spirit. What’s important is that we do what we believe is right.

      On that note, I am glad that you were able to take charge of your own religiosity and spirituality after so long. And I think so many people resonate with what you said about how things like this seem like it’s not really their decision. There are those out there that go to church but get nothing from it spiritually but feel they have to attend for whatever reason. Or those who feel like they have to be a certain kind of Mormon or have to do certain things in a certain way in order to belong or be considered part of the tribe. So kudos to you for being in control of your own spiritual journey!

  7. rocket says:

    There is a persistent, awful myth within our relreligion. It is difficult to define because it is inextricably linked to all of our Church duties. It seems to betray our sense of Christianity at the very moment we complete an assigned task.

    I applaud you for rejecting this myth. It is so apparent that it has nothing to do with Jesus. It is simply a false program, and you are not a computer. You are not a cog in an inhuman”machine for God”.

    That distasteful myth, which seems much more akin to the guilt-ridden and compulsory signature of the adversary, need not be draped around anyone who loves Christ. You covenanted to help build Zion, but it was not you who built a mall instead. It was them.

    So let them. Let them hold to that impish myth that has co-opted the Gospel, and piggy-backed on truth. Let them spiral mechanically into the abyss.

    You have all the power you need to shine a light for Christ in this world. You can do unto others. You can give your tithes and offerings directly to the poor. You can keep your covenant to establish Zion, even if it is just within the sphere of your life and your heart.

    No one can stop you.

  8. Ziff says:

    I share many of your concerns with the Church, ERL. I’m active, but I’m not sure at all if anything I’m doing is generalizable. Mostly I guess I’ve been lucky to live in some wards with lots of people I’ve liked.

    Good luck with your hiatus. I hope it goes well, and that at some point your journey will lead you back to activity again. But if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. Everyone’s path is different.

    • East River Lady says:

      I am glad you have been in wards where you get along with fellow ward members! I believe that helps A LOT in church attendance and seeing the gospel in action. And I want to be fully active again, I’m just waiting for my conscience to tell me it’s okay. Time will tell! But like I said, my heart is still fully Mormon.

      Thank you for the well wishes!

  9. Caroline says:

    ERL, thanks for sharing your story here. Like Ziff, I really sympathize with your issues with the church. They are my issues as well, for sure. I manage to stay active by radically lowering my expectations. If there are moments of transcendence and inspiration that hit our leaders (and regular members), then I am pleasantly surprised. I take the same approach to our scriptures. Of course Paul and other prophets were sexist. How could they not be, given their time and place. And when there are moments of expansive love and inclusivity buried within all the other things that are so human and so not-godly, I embrace those things. I also stay by giving myself spiritual boosts by attending a UCC church. Love their music, love their messages. Best of luck to you in your journey, ERL. I hope for the church’s sake, and for the sake of the members that you will come in contact with, that your road will take you back to activity. But I firmly believe there are many paths to God. I know you’ll find the right one for you.

    • East River Lady says:

      Maybe I will try lowering expectations. I just expect more from the Church of Jesus Christ, you know? I also like that you supplement your LDS spirituality with services from other denominations–– other religions have so much good to share. And maybe sometime down the line I’ll be able to do that: go to the LDS Church, but also go to the Episcopal church for real and consistent spiritual nourishment when needed.

      Thank you for sharing, Caroline. And for the good thoughts.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    So much in this post resonates with me, ERL. I agree with Naismith…it sounds like you’re taking a break from the institution, but your spirituality (and integrity) sound vibrant, thoughtful and compelling. Thank you for sharing your journey here. It has helped me.

  11. Emily U says:

    I’ve been thinking of this post since it went up and just now am getting to sit and comment. I love what you said about the church being your long-lost childhood home. It reminds me of what Emma Lou Thayne wrote about the church, that she’d be cosmically orphaned without it. But the Church is not living up to its potential, in so many ways, and that hurts. Blessings on you as you step away from that, and hopefully some time the Church will be blessed again with your presence. If not, it’s like Ziff said, that’s OK. Sometimes I think the Church doesn’t deserve it’s truth-tellers, since it seems so doggedly committed to ignoring many of them.

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