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Zenaida Viperidae

For the last two years, I have been struggling with my own “crisis of faith.” I am still wading through the morass of doubt and fear that accompanies such a struggle, but have found comfort in attempting to gain knowledge. I have encountered information that has thrown me into the rapids of frustration and anger, that has lifted me to the summits of enlightenment, and that left me in the haze of confusion. In my floundering efforts to deal with all of this information, I have sometimes felt the need to vent, as we all do. However, I have been sensitive to the need for discretion.

I remember distinctly the conversation that perhaps sent me on this rollercoaster ride, which was prefaced by the words, “I don’t want to infect anyone else.” In my youthful arrogance, I decided there was nothing that could be said that I couldn’t find a way to deal with, and so pressed onward. Two years later, I have been through disbelief, doubt, and denial, and finally come to a place where I am ready to face the difficult task of plowing through “truth” while honing my skills of discernment.

In one of my more agitated moments in this journey, I started spouting venom at an innocent victim, and afterwards felt very guilty for it. Shortly after, I came across the New Testament scripture Matt. 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. I was struck by the implication of those words and especially the timing wherein I encountered them.

So, I’ve been more aware of filters and how we decide what information to share or not share. The same story might be told three different ways with varying degrees of detail depending on the audience. How do we internally designate appropriate information to be disseminated?

I am finding that I am more aware of the compartmentalizing of my life more than I was before. I’ve been able to be more open and honest with myself, but I am less open with family and friends. There are parts of my life that I do not share with those that are close to me because I don’t want to damage their worldview. Do I protect the ones I love from potentially damaging information, even if it is true information, or do I share my newfound knowledge because I love them?

Zenaida is the genus of the mourning dove, and Viperidae is the family of venomous snakes known as vipers. So in taking this name, I hope to remind myself of the power of knowledge and its wise use.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Welcome to Exponentblog, Zenaida!

    I think those are great questions. I too often wonder how to balance authenticity with discretion.

    It’s a difficult equilibrium to find, and I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet for myself.

    One general rule I follow is to be relatively discreet in Church meetings. I do make comments, but I try to keep them uplifting and thoughtful, even if they aren’t standard Mormon fare. And I never profess to believe things that I don’t.

    However, in personal groups or in one on one conversations, I am much more open about my struggles with current Church policy, my disbelief in polygamy, etc. If anyone asks me a direct question about my beliefs, I try to be entirely truthful.

    I’m sure I’ve freaked people out in the past in ways that weren’t productive. I’m trying to go forward more compassionately and carefully.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Oh man! The computer just ate my comment!
    First, I remember the conversation that put me into my crisis of faith.
    It was realizing that my husband didn’t admire any women in the church, not having someone express their doubts to me. So, maybe I’m not as careful as I could be when I express my doubts to others because I didn’t have that experience.
    This post if very timely because I just awoke from a dream where I was a teacher in Primary (am in real life) and the Bishop asked me, on the spot, to testify about some principle I can’t remember. In my dream I stood up and said, “I don’t believe that. I believe in Agency (somehow related) but I don’t believe in that concept.”
    It was very freeing, in my dream, but definitely something I wouldn’t act out in real life.
    I find myself willing to talk about my struggles with some people, but I find many of these people not willing to listen. It’s too uncomfortable. I even gently broached this topic with my mother (who doesn’t seem to have a strong testimony, but just goes with the flow) and she was too uncomfortable to talk about it.
    There’s a lot of inertia to keep things how they are and not scrutinize church doctrines or practices, or our commitment to them.
    Thanks for this post. I look forward to following the thread.

  3. AMY S. says:

    For me, it’s not so much new knowledge I want to be able to share with close friends and family, as it is a whole different stance when approaching questions of truth and “knowing.” My stance, these days, is more flexible, more humble, and more encompassing of multiple, sometimes contradictory truths. I “reframe” many of the questions and don’t see very many issues as either/or. I’ll often add things, (silently in my mind), so that concepts are broad and open enough for me to accept. For example: we believe the church is true…(true, as far as human run institutions go, and one true church among many true churches…)

  4. Southern girl says:

    I as said before, I just discovered Exponent, and just love to read everything is being said here.
    I want to introduce myself, a little bit scared of it…I wonder if I’m the first “latina” in joining Exponent.Am I? Scared because of my weekness in the language, neather I am a poet or a writer,but my heart wants/needs to connect with my sisters.
    Jessawhy, I love your dream, it was really freeing.
    I never liked history, may be because in my country that assignature is repetitive and boring in the way it’s taught. When I entered in the church I didn’t really care about church history. But, after a crisis, when I discovered the hardships of motherhood, the pressure of sociaty inside church,( where I had to smile no matter that my physical and mental health was so affected for the bearing of a child), I started to have questions.
    For many years I was content, or try to be. I had to survive. Then I learned English, then I started to navigate the internet, then I read some church history, the real one as I call it. I was shocked, really shocked. I’ve being faithful as much as I could but at this point all started to make sense and not to make sense at the same time and I almost leave the church. I got many questions for my sisters in the relief sociaty, but I can’t ask, I already noticed that. I need to be careful, and curiusly when my big questions started I felt that the Holly Ghost itself was telling me that,be careful.

  5. Chelle says:

    This post is very timely for me! I have been similar to Zenaida, struggling with my faith for the last couple of years, and in that time have been very careful about who I share information with. There are a few close people I can talk to, so being understood is not my main concern. But how to explain the changes in my life to family and friends, why I am no longer as active in church as I once was, why there are certain standards of behavior that I once kept so easily and now find myself free to make my own decisions-the root cause is my own “crisis of faith” and information I have learned. I could go on and say I just couldn’t handle the standards of the church-but that would be a lie. But yet, like the author of the post I don’t want to potentially damage them, but I feel like they deserve some sort of explanation. Hmmm.

    I like Amy S’s reframing idea. That could be helpful.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Southern Girl,
    Welcome to Exponent II! We are glad you have found a place where you can ask your questions and express your doubts without feeling judged.
    I think many of us have gone through, or are going through similar struggles, and hope that we can share them and learn from each other.
    There are also other sites that deal with these issues. Some of them have links on the sidebar. Feminist Mormon Housewives can be a good site, although it’s become soo big and busy, there isn’t as much of a personal connection. Also, Zelophehad’s Daughters is a good one, but they are so smart over there that I have to read the posts twice to understand what they’re talking about!
    best of luck to you in your journey and in your faith.
    God bless.

  7. D'Arcy says:

    I love coming to this site. Just reading about the struggles that have made each of you your person helps. It also helps to know, that little by little, we are hopefully breaking down this age old tradition of women putting on a plastic smile and pretending that everything is perfect in their lives. I have tried to stop doing this. I remember the first time, it was after returning to a BYU ward I had only attended once in 4 months. I had just gotten off my mission where I experienced what I call a spiritual carwreck. So, at church, happy little girls came up to greet me. What was my name, where was I from, how come they hadn’t seen me before. I decided to be honest. I responded, “I am less active, and I am unsure about coming to church right now.” Instead of receiving some acknowledgement or acceptance I got crazy looks and stuttering remarks and no one talking to me again. It was all very odd. And, needless to say, I didn’t go back to church for another six months. But, that’s a bit of a tangent, sorry. I have always thought that people in the church need to learn how to relate to people who struggle with the church, without thinking that they might be infected or “led astray!”

    Southern girl, welcome! I am very impressed with your English. I lived in France and communicated in French as a little primary and even the kids laughed at my words and accent, so well done. I am glad you have found this site. I am pretty new too.

    Chelle–I have been thinking about this place in your life a lot lately. I don’t know if I have vocalized (shocking, I know) how proud of you I am. I really feel that you are living the way that you should be, to be true to who you are and what you believe. My admiration of you has increased drastically, because I know what you face, and I know it would be easier in your case to just live the faux-lds life in front of your family, and the fact that you are leaning towards not doing that is a big step.

    Jessawhy! I am living your dream. I have asked to be released from my calling as Gospel Doctrine teacher twice now because I am struggling so much with where I belong in the church right now. I feel that there are a lot of things I can’t testify to right now, some that I can, and others I am unsure of. I also, like Caroline, don’t want to profess to believe things that I don’t.

    So, in the irony that is life, I keep getting the lessons that give me the hardest time. The one I am to teach on Sunday is “Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal life or Captivity and Death through the Devil.” It’s all about following the church at all costs to receive your eternal reward in heaven. I am having a lot of issues with just how to follow God that is right for me.

    Sigh, this post is already too long, but It’s good to come here and see that I am not the only one that questions and struggles.

  8. D'Arcy says:

    And Amy S., I have to silently rephrase often. I am glad to know others do it to.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    D’Arcy,
    About that lesson on agency, you should read this thread at ZD.
    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2008/02/01/are-children-products/
    At one point, they talk about the notion that righteous parents can save wayward children, and does that contradict our notion of agency.
    Am I free to be damned, or not? is the question. You might enjoy the other bits as well, as it references what parents feel if their children (aka ‘products’) don’t turn out as expected.
    PS, if anyone knows how to put the link in as a hyperlink, please clue me in. thanks

  10. AmyB says:

    I just want to say that I’m very excited about Zenaida and Jessawhy joining Exponent. What fabulous new voices!

    I’m loving all of the comments and thoughts. Southern Girl, welcome and please please stick around!

  11. JohnR says:

    There are parts of my life that I do not share with those that are close to me because I don’t want to damage their worldview. Do I protect the ones I love from potentially damaging information, even if it is true information, or do I share my newfound knowledge because I love them?

    Great questions, Z. It’s one we had to seriously consider as parents. Ultimately, we decided that it was more damaging to raise our children in ways that seemed false to us (and which they weren’t too keen on, either).

    Although we do influence others’ beliefs, I think that those are less at stake than relationships. As I gradually opened up over the years, some communities and individuals opened up to me and took me in as one of their own even as others shunned or marginalized me.

    When I was a doubting Mormon, I found that my openness comforted closet doubters who felt isolated and bizarre in their apparent uniqueness. Some of those could be members of your family.

    To return to your haze metaphor, it is like many of us are wandering silently in the fog, cold, bewildered, alone. By making the decision to call out, we can find each other–we may still wander in the mists, but we are no longer alone.

  12. Janna says:

    What often strikes me in conversations about “doubting” and “wandering away” is that idea that we are the ones moving away from truth, when we may be the ones drawing closer to it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I recently shared some of my concerns–regarding several issues including polygamy, Joseph Smith, etc. with my Bishop. The next week he called and asked me to speak in Sacrament meeting about Joseph Smith. At first I said “No,” but then agreed. I gave a talk about my journey. I talked about my unquestioning belief as a girl, my experiences learning more about the history and realities (including Joseph marrying very young girls and already married women)–and how that concerned me. I quoted from a Teryl Givens’ BYU forum about faith being a choice. I said I have chosen to believe and closed by talking about the blessings of choosing to believe the gospel in my life. I felt like I had given an honest and genuine talk on an issue that was very difficult for me. I had several people tell me that they appreciated knowing that others have doubted too. Then this week (two months after the talk)I got a call from a woman in the ward that I barely know who wanted to give me some “faith filled” answers to my concerns. While I feel defensive and attacked, I don’t regret what I said in my talk. I must choose to be true to myself.

  14. Zenaida says:

    Thank you for the warm welcome to Exponentblog! I am thrilled to join this community!

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that I actually REALLY don’t want to share anything with my family because of the pain it caused me. I’ve seen how my sister’s fall from grace disappointed and upset my parents, and I also know what their world looks like from the inside. But I’ve wondered if I NEED to tell them because I am feeling increasingly distant from the person that I was.

    johnr, I agree with you that it’s the relationship that I’m more concerned with, however, I recall a comment by one of my friends in the ward regarding Richard Bushman’s Stake Priesthood training meeting. “[Our Bishop] has read the book, and [Dr. Bushman] better not say whatever he wants about Joseph Smith.” This kind of thing only feeds my anxiety over sharing “too much.”

    Also, I think the dynamic is somewhat different when the relationship is child to parent. I appreciate the reference to ZD’s post on children as products. As their child, I want to please them and make them proud, but I also want their understanding. Perhaps I am not respecting my parents’ ability to BE loving parents, while at the same time not respecting my own agency (although according to Elder Bednar, once you make temple covenants, you no longer have agency)

  15. Zenaida says:

    Also, Caroline, thank you for your example of being true to yourself. I have this need to understand and be understood, (which I’m sure just makes me a human being). I don’t want to go on a crusade to spread “truth abroad,” but I am not as brave as anonymous either to feel that I could freely stand up in a sacrament meeting and declare those feelings you expressed.

    Amy S., I am still having a hard time reframing. My instinct is to avoid the conversation altogether rather than try to mentally categorize my feelings. How did you get to this place?

  16. EmilyCC says:

    So happy to have you on board, Zenaida! And, you start right off with deep and tricky questions… I think I tend to let the people I get close to know about my struggles with the Church, but once I sense their discomfort, I back off (which is probably 9 times out of 10).

    Anon, how brave to give a talk like that in sacrament meeting! It sounds like it was a worthwhile endeavor, but I am sad that you had to endure someone “helping” you with your questions. Sigh…

    Janna, I think your comment is incredibly profound…

    What often strikes me in conversations about “doubting” and “wandering away” is that idea that we are the ones moving away from truth, when we may be the ones drawing closer to it.

  17. Heather Mommy says:

    I think that if you have doubts it is okay to talk about them with close friends and family, especially if they are wondering about them. But at the same time I think we need to be careful about presenting some of the infromation that we have found as truth, because can we be sure that it is? What’s the source, etc. I think it is better to talk about it in the way of your own experiences and opinions then to say “Hey, guess what new truth I’ve found.”

    I try to be careful about things I share with people because I really think it would be wrong to damage someone else’s testimony, especially if they are new in the gospel.

  18. Southern girl says:

    What a delightful chain of comments! I enjoy viewing the diversity of opinions, what I never could see at church before and made me think I was kind of an alien from Mars. Well, I could intuit some diversity of thinking between the congregation, but, everything that could turn into debate was followed by silence and a tense atmosphere.
    Anonymous,
    I appreciate you are sharing those experiences with the blog, I would like to know what your bishop told you if you would. I wasn’t brave eonough to talk to my bishop about my doubts, not becasue of what he would think but because of what he would say.I have to many wounds in my soul for now.

    I being a member of the church for about 20 years and if it wasn’t for my own research I wouldn’t know about many details that have been “forgotten” in what is taught about church history and doctrine. I understand I have to forgive the church/ church leaders/ o whoever is its fault that I wasn’t told the whole thing.
    Please let me ask here:
    if you are born in a lds family with 15 generations of lds behind, and you are born in Utah, do your parents teach you the true about church history and doctrine?. Well, seams that the doctrine has being changing with the time, so, forgive me if I insist in asking questions, I was told that God is ever the same , that He doesn’t change, so , I’m a little confused you know…
    My DH was born in the gospel but his parents didn’t know about some details, I’m the pioneer in discover them, so, I don’t want to hurt his feelings but I do ask questions to him that he usually answers -I don’t know (he is very humble) and I just let himn think by himself. That’s my aproach, I’m not telling him that I have doubts.
    But, he knows me, and we have talked about everything already.

  19. Caroline says:

    Southern Girl,
    You are definitely not alone.

    I would say that most old stock Mormon parents don’t teach their kids much about the difficult or puzzling bits of Church history, mainly because they don’t know about them themselves.

    I think this lack of knowledge is a shame. It makes people feel betrayed and lied to when they get on the internet and read some of the history. We’d all be much better served if we learned about some of the darker parts of Mormon history from trusted parents or teachers.

  20. woundedhart says:

    I appreciate this post, and the comment thread. I think if I hadn’t found others who had been through a crisis, I would have left the church when my crisis hit.

    Like anonymous, I was asked to give a talk recently, on receiving answer to prayer. I wanted to say no, but in the end, I just did the talk. I used other talks and scriptures as references, but I also made sure to emphasize that I don’t “know” any of the usual items, but I do “hope” that there’s a God, that my family can be together forever, etc. I think it’s pretty important for the members of the church to know that there are different levels of faith, and “knowing” everything isn’t expected. (Or even possible!)

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