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Reflections on My Faith

Lake Cloud Reflection

 

by Kelly Ann

Perfectly still, I am still amazed at how the lake water reflected the trees, hills, and even the clouds (better said the fog remnants that had evaporated off the lake in the morning due to the season beginning to change).  On vacation, with countless similar beautiful views, I relaxed and enjoyed the outdoors.  As one who has been over-occupied with work, house projects, family, complicated relationships, etc. as well as a shifting faith, a real vacation last month was overdue.  I was fortunate enough to enjoy myself for three weeks visiting family, tourist destinations, and even an area of my mission.

When I returned home from my mission seven and a half years ago, I wanted to visit the people, the culture, and the environment that I had fallen in love with in the near future.  However, as life has marched on, it hasn’t been a priority.  In a way, it is easier to leave it all as part of my memory, especially at a time when my perception and feelings toward the church are drastically different.  However, given I was in the region, I felt impelled to visit a small town where I served for 6 months and had amazing experiences even if I did not have the time or the desire to visit all my areas.  Although I had lost contact with most people and did not have current phone numbers, I knew there were some people who would remember me and would enjoy a surprise visit.

Having not regularly attended church since the Sunday before the November election, my goal was not to relive my missionary experience.  Feeling assaulted by the role the church played in the Prop8 campaign, I snapped a few days after the election.  Embroiled in a mess at work regarding politics and religion, I decided I could not cross the picket lines to go to the temple or church.  I quite drastically and abruptly took off my garments, ripped my temple recommend in half, asked to be release, and switched units.  Although I sometimes have a desire to believe, occasionally go to church, and am externally processing my doubts (which encompass more than Prop8 but were previously shelved), I have definitely distanced myself from my historic faith with my actions.

As a missionary, I never thought I would be less active or even inactive.  I served with the traditional zeal and basic testimony.  I enjoyed teaching the gospel, seeing people get baptized, reactivating members, teaching members church responsibilities, and serving the community.  My faith was never perfect but my mantra was “why not.”  I believed that God had the power to appear to a young boy searching for the truth, that it only seemed fair that Christ would go to America as well, that he would have an organized system for both the living and the dead, that families could be eternal, and frankly I had my share of emotional spiritual experiences.

But as I have aged, I have started asking “why.”  My concerns include polygamy, polyandry, the role of women in the church, discrimination, imperfect members, various scandals, and complex early church history.   My frustrations did not emerge when the Prop8 votes were counted, it just made me step back and realize that I was dis-satisfied.  However, it is hard.  The church has been my life.  I have dedicated my time, my talents, and everything which the Lord has given me to live the gospel.  I have served as a temple worker and missionary, and willingly said yes to every calling and assignment given.  I have two degrees from BYU and most of my friends are LDS.  I have lived the standards meticulously and really tried to believe in the basic teachings of the church.

Therefore, with my shift in faith, I was nervous to visit the small agricultural community where I served. With only a day or two to see people, I did not want to share my frustrations with them but rather just catch up. Although I did chicken out visiting the ward on a Sunday in order not to be asked to speak, teach, or pray and so no one would notice I did not take the Sacrament.

However, unfortunately, I did not find anyone I knew home the Tuesday afternoon I arrived. After walking about three miles around town, remembering many streets and houses but sweating in the hot sun extremely frustrated with a heavy backpack, I thought I maybe made a mistake in coming and maybe it would be easier if I didn’t have to answer questions about my church activity.  But before departing, I decided to walk to the church from the plaza where I cooled off with the hope that someone might be there albeit very unlikely mid-week.  And true missionary story miracle style – there was …

With a dropped jaw, the former mission leader greeted me with a hug.  He updated me on the changes to the town (new supermarket, dairy farm, etc) and ongoings of the church.  I found out that many families I knew have moved, some have divorced, and of course all the children have grown.  He called the family I knew the best and got a kick telling them he had a surprise waiting …  So I spent two days enjoying their company, successfully passing by others, and just taking it easy.  It was great to see the people I knew even if it was weird to focus on the church connection and to remember myself as a super-ultra Mormon.

No one ever asked me about my activity (I guess it may have been assumed I was) but as the guest, the families I visited asked me to pray.  And so I did.  I don’t routinely bless my food (never have) but with them, I prayed like I would have as a missionary.  Although a bit unnerving, I have to say that it was just good to pray with them, to feel the connection of faith, no matter what it is.  That is the way I felt when I was a missionary and prayed with investigators who did not share my classic Mormon faith.  It made me realize that the one thing I really believe in right now is prayer.  And with time, if I maintain contact, I will share with them how I have changed.  For now it is just interesting to see how the seasons have changed my faith and what “fog remnants” of my faith are still reflected on my soul.

Tree Reflection So while this entry may best serve as an introduction to myself, a couple questions I have for discussion follow:

If your faith has shifted, how do you share that with those who have known you differently?

Do you think many people (active or inactive) go back and visit their mission and why or why not?

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11 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    This is a beautiful account of your faith journey, Kelly Ann. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I think your journey mirrors that of a lot of people I know. I think mine is a little different since I doubt I was ever seen as ultra-Mormon, and I certainly never served a mission or had any important callings. (The highlight of my church career was in high school when I was Laurel President.) I’ve always identified as a feminist – at least since my teens I have – so Mormons have always thought me a bit strange.

  2. Alisa says:

    I think you did a great thing by experiencing what you had in common with this family from your mission. Often when I feel different, I seek out validation by focusing on those differences. Lately I’ve learned that it can still be possible to maintain authenticity while focusing on what I share in common with others as well. It sounds like a good experience.

    And welcome, Kelly Ann!

  3. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you both. Reading and contributing to (via guest posts and comments) the Exponent blog has been a very important outlet for me in understanding my faith. I am excited to now be a regular poster as I have discovered that while I have differences, I do have a lot in common.

    Caroline, although I am definitely more liberal than I once was, I have to say that I never really fit in. My feminism (which I have always recognized in some form) just manifested itself in different ways. It propelled me into the sciences. But more interestingly, part of why I served a mission was to have the opportunity to do something usually assigned to the priesthood. Same thing about working in the temple. I just did things that could be classified as typical although they weren’t.

  4. Susan says:

    An interesting account of your personal journey of faith. It brought to mind a number of issues, perhaps not really related to your questions above – too many to go into detail here, so I’ll touch briefly on one of them.

    In response to your “But as I have aged, I have started asking why.” Early mormon history is not that different from early history of any other religion – scandal, imperfection (surprise, surprise), role of women and men, discrimination, etc. are pretty much common. After all, we are all imperfect people, so why should mormon church history be really all that different from any other church history. Agreed that doctrinally there are some (important) differences, but should we expect imperfect mormons to be any better than imperfect muslims, catholics, buddhists, etc. I don’t really think so.

    This is where one has to separate the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is perfect, from the church organization and members who are a part of that organization, who are not necessarily perfect. The last perfect person, who also happened to be a man, walked the earth about 2000 years ago. There hasn’t been another one like him since. So in whom or what does one develop faith? Jesus Christ, who is perfect, or in the imperfect organization and imperfect people (of whom I am one) who profess to be a part of it?

    If I had made the mistake of believing in the organization and its people and building my faith and testimony on those, then I would have asked to have my name removed from the church records in my early teens and ceased all association with the church.

    However, my faith is based in Jesus Christ and he does provide a means of navigating through the organization and its members to reach the truth. One of the things you learn along the way is that nobody is perfect and the only thing mormons can really claim is that they should know better than others who have not had the opportunity to hear the Saviour’s gospel.

    Faith is not static, mine is quite different now than it was say 30 years ago. However, some aspects of it have not changed. It has been tried, tested and strengthened, through difficult and at times brutal experience, but that is the nature of life. I have also learned that there is much I do not understand (yet) about the gospel and even less about many of those who profess to live it. But I have found that “peace of God” that “passeth all understanding” that it is the Saviour’s gospel, it is perfect and it is my understanding of it that is not perfect.

    Something else I have learned is to figure out which are the truly important issues to resolve and which ones are best just let go of. Don’t sweat the small stuff that is truly not important in the scheme of things. Sometmes I ask myself what my answer would be to the Saviour when he looks at my book of life and asks me why I spent so much effort on a particular issue or cause – that has often provided an invaluable resetting of perspective.

  5. G says:

    Welcome kelly ann.
    And beautiful post.
    Your account sounds a lot like my own shift in faith. I haven’t gone back to visit my mission. In fact my contact with friends and associates from back in the days (when I was a staunch true believer) is very limited. Mostly life just moved on and we lost contact. But in addition to that I have reservations about hooking up again in a manner that would reveal how much I have changed. Just some of my own insecurities.

    Thank you for sharing this account of revisiting a past filled with people who knew you “before”.

  6. laurenlou says:

    thanks for this, kelly ann. i returned from my mission exactly two years ago today, and have definitely changed a lot since then, especially in my faith. i still consider myself an “active, believing” mormon, but i struggle more and view things very differently (read: liberally) than i did then.

    i’ve been struggling with how to express that with the people i worked with, who i still have a good amount of contact with (thank you facebook), and my approach has changed a lot. i used to frequently write to converts and members who “fell away”, or investigators who are still undecided and give them counsel and advice just like i was still “their” missionary. now i’m more concerned with just maintaining personal contact and expressing my love for them as people and as friends.

    a year ago i went back to visit, and was still in the orthodox, missionary mindset. one of the highlights of my trip was meeting with an investigator i got close to and having a sort of quasi lesson with her. i went back because i loved my mission so much and loved who i was on my mission, which i think had a lot to do with my mission president. he and his wife really established a sister-friendly space.

    wow, sorry this is long and rambling…my brain’s a little fried with finals.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    So glad to have you as a permanent addition, Kelly Ann!

    While I don’t think my faith has shifted much (I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist, thanks to my upbringing from goodly parents), I do try to be more vocal about those beliefs as I get older. I figure people deserve to know the real me rather than a more acceptable facsimile.

    It sounds like you’re on a journey that takes courage; I’m glad you’re here to share it with us.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    Yes, EmilyCC, it takes courage, and sometimes I don’t know how I muster it … I am learning how to authentically be myself. And G, my greatest insecurity about revealing to others how I changed is that it reveals or concretes it to myself. That is why I maybe left this experience without “coming out” so to speak. As always, thank you for your perspective. The one thing I am trying to adopt is the acceptance that I will continually change that it is not a finite destination. I sometimes worry about what if portray one thing and then decide to turn back – what would that say about me?

    And Susan, thank you for your comments. In that one sentence, I oversimplified my frustrations with the church. It is hard to describe all the books that fell off the shelf so to speak in terms of my faith – and more specifically my faith in the church. I have always tried to cut people and the church slack. When my anti-Mormon grandfather grilled me on the Mountain Meadows Massacre before going on a mission, I accepted that people make mistakes. My faith wasn’t built on the organization. It was built on principles. But now I question those principles. Many people have told me that I should just re-shelve my issues and focus on what is important, but these things are currently important to me. And it is the only way that I can figure out what principles I believe including (but not limited to) what level of imperfection is acceptable by inspired church leadership starting from Joseph Smith going to the Prop8 fiasco. Hopefully with time I can delve into and figure out all the issues shelving or throwing away what is appropriate for me.

    And Lauren, I wish I would have conscientiously realized how I had changed two years home from my mission and how I continued to change over time. Thank you for sharing your experience. While the past six months has been the biggest shift, I recognize things now that I should have addressed before such that the shelf didn’t topple on me all at once. I was just too afraid to speak up for fear of being shut up. Not that I didn’t question or start Sunday School comments with “I disagree”, it just took me a long time to gain the confidence to maybe be considered an apostate … to speak what I considered unspeakable in terms of questioning certain doctrines in particular.

    And finally, just a note in regards to my mission in general – it was an incredibly empowering experience. I loved it. I loved being a sister missionary with other amazing sisters (1/4 of the mission). Even now, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because I also can not discount how I changed from before to after in addition to how I have come to now as a consequence. Sometimes the small steps are as equally important as the large ones.

  9. Susan says:

    To respond to your comment “And it is the only way that I can figure out what principles I believe including (but not limited to) what level of imperfection is acceptable by inspired church leadership starting from Joseph Smith going to the Prop8 fiasco.”:

    To be human is to accept the duality of our natures. What determines what we are is choice. Although we have equal ability to act in the right or wrong, choice overrides that ability. So it is with your struggle with what is an acceptable level of imperfection in inspired church leadership. Firstly, we aren’t going to have “perfect” leaders, we are told that perfection is not attainable in mortality, but striving for perfection, through choice, is. We learn as we go, and slowly at that. Some of us never learn certain lessons in life and our leaders are no exception, no disrespect intended. Secondly, what level of imperfection is acceptable in anyone, not just our leaders? We all have a level of imperfection, for example, you may as well ask yourself the question what level of imperfection was acceptable in you as a missionary, or I ask myself, what level of imperfection is acceptable in myself as a teacher. The Lord sees through our imperfections, he sees the goodness in each of us and he does give us opportunities to exercise that goodness and learn and improve as we go. He gets his work done with hugely imperfect people doing it and the miracle is that it ever gets done at all. He knows, better than we do, what our mistakes are going to be and knows that good things are done by imperfect people, just as bad things are done by those same imperfect people. Fortunately, we only have to answer for our own mistakes, not those of others.

    We are also gifted with intelligence and we are expected to use it, to study in our own minds the principles of the gospel and how to apply them to our lives. We are also expected to go to the Lord when we have questions, issues with commandments, principles, counsel from our leaders and work it through with him. He’s the only one who is not going to give us the “wrong” answer, but we can still misinterpret his answer, or not understand it at the time, and so on. He also allows us to work it out in our own way and in our own time, and here’s the important thing – the principle of agency is inviolate and the Lord will not and does not compel us, and that includes our leaders. I’ve had some inspired leaders, and some whose inspiration was, to put it generously, dubious. I have suffered as a result of some leaders dubiously inspired decisions. I expect that that will occur again. Why – because we are imperfect. What I have learned is the need to forgive, for my own benefit most of all; to seek the Lord’s counsel above that of man or womankind; to use my intelligence to determine the rightness or wrongness of issues; to speak up where appropriate and necessary, and vigorously too.

    There are no simple answers to your questions and each of us must learn them for ourselves. The journey of growth and discovery is important and I wish you well on it.

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