A Faith Journey in Idioms
Feeling a little silly today, I decided to try to give a summary of my faith journey with all the idioms I could muster. It might be a little over the top.
Growing up in the church, I put all my eggs in one basket. I believed wholeheartedly, striving to check all the boxes. I was all in. Beginning at my mothers’ knee, from Primary, through YW and seminary, accepting all callings I was given, I was convinced the church was true and I was struggling to measure up. I felt like for the most part I could see eye to eye with church leaders. I followed my parents’ plan to attend BYU and was hitched with a bun in the oven by graduation. My husband was called to a bishopric when I had my third babe in arms. I was in it to win it, through thick and thin, prepared to weather the storm in the gospel boat. Come rain or shine, I planned to endure to the end. For the most part, ignorance was bliss.
I remember one RS birthday celebration where a friend spilled the beans to us that RS sisters used to give blessings. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It went on my shelf with some of the troubling things I learned about as a teenager, like polygamy and the priesthood and temple ban. For years I was willing to hang on, ignoring the things that bothered me.
Once in a blue moon you may completely change your worldview during your adult life, as happened to me in regard to the church. I’d heard through the grapevine about some things that were very distressing to me, church history was a hot potato. I was caught between two stools for some time, wanting to dig deeper and uncover the truth, but fearful for what I would find. I didn’t want to cry over spilled milk, knowing about history, can’t change it. The church said ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew, curiosity killed the cat’. Joseph Smith somehow became a sacred cow. A few years back, I got wind of the new church essays that let the cat out of the bag, but they essentially just said ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. I tried to do this for a time, but I was learning more and more things that had a snowball effect. After the exclusion policy I gave up on submitting to the church. I was deeply hurt and disappointed in church leaders. Actions speak louder than words. I decided to throw caution to the wind and go the whole nine yards.
I would leave no stone unturned. I read extensively about church history. And since I wanted it straight from the horse’s mouth, I read a lot from the Joseph Smith papers. The history I learned was a far cry from what I had been taught, it had more holes than Swiss cheese. It was out of the frying pan into the fire. I’m not saying he didn’t have a spark of decency, just that we have to take church history with a grain of salt because Joseph Smith was not the best thing since sliced bread. I was deeply disturbed by what I learned about the way polygamy was practiced, especially the abuse of power I saw inherent in church leaders coercing young girls as secret polygamous wives (In Sacred Loneliness). I was heartbroken over the stories of many of the early mormon women (Mormon Enigma). I was sick reading about how race issues really played out in the church (as in Religion of a Different Color). When it rains it pours. I was disturbed by Brigham Young’s power plays, racism, and misogyny. I was so disappointed by so many of the early church prophets. The devil is in the details. It made me feel a bit under the weather, but I tried to give the church the benefit of the doubt about the version of history I was taught. After all, I didn’t know whether they intentionally tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Your guess is as good as mine. I was trying not to beat a dead horse and did my utmost to cut Joseph and Brigham some slack.
For quite a while I was sitting on the fence. I continued to burn the midnight oil pleading in prayer for confirmation that the church was true, I told God “the ball is in your court”. Night after night I hit the sack exhausted and searching. But I was barking up the wrong tree. I was striving to keep my fears at bay by ploughing forward with church service, weekly temple attendance, family home evening, fasting and prayer, and daily scripture study. I was on the ball with what I saw as my spiritual duties. I wanted all my ducks in a row. I know it may seem a strange thing to do when your faith is slipping away, but there was a method to my madness. Drastic times call for drastic measures. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. I was demonstrating my faithfulness to God and the church while also striving to be worthy of a very important personal revelation. But I felt an immense weight as I continued to wrestle. It’s always darkest before the dawn.
But my testimony really bit the dust. What was the last straw? Eventually I realized my prayer had to change. I could see which way the wind was blowing. I could not let the church off the hook for all the things I was learning, not only the coercion and bad leadership I saw in its past, but also current sins like covering up abuse and hoarding wealth. I remembered all the times I was taught that I wasn’t measuring up and realized the church was the pot calling the kettle black. Those that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Leaders have whitewashed history to promote the narrative they wanted. I realize they started to let the cat out of the bag with the Essays to change their tune, but for me it was too little too late. I felt like the values of the church no longer aligned with my own. My prayer changed to “Is it okay to leave?” and peace came. To make a long story short, I ended up realizing that, to preserve my mental health, I could no longer go to the church I had dedicated my life to.
Leaving the church while living in Utah county is no piece of cake. Its hard to give it up cold turkey. It takes some time to pull yourself together. To make matters worse, the church is everywhere you turn. Birds of a feather flock together, leaving out the black sheep. Most people will beat around the bush and keep their interactions with me to small talk rather than ask about my spiritual journey, others just give me the cold shoulder. Some people have accused me of not playing with a full deck or being off my rocker. Some think I have missed the boat as concerning salvation or are worried about my leaving the boat. Some see me as jumping on the bandwagon of sin. Some are just plain glad to see the back of any doubters in their midst. It is a hard thing. But every cloud has a silver lining.
This seeming crisis of faith turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes I feel like it cost me an arm and a leg, but I have grown so much. I’ve really accepted that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and begun work to purge myself of my mormon arrogance. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I realize there are a lot of great things about the church. Maybe we don’t see eye to eye on the reasons, but many of our values are still the same. I appreciate the good things I learned while letting go of those things that no longer serve me.
If you are a fervent believer, you may see people like me as a devil’s advocate. Please trust me when I tell you the church was toxic and harmful for me and any attempts you make to bring me back will send you back to the drawing board. I may not offer a penny for your thoughts, because I feel like I am already familiar with your position. Don’t add insult to injury by telling me I am lost and deceived. I promise I am not just trying to get the best of both worlds by finding a way to sin. It seems to be a common belief that ex-mormons are like a kid in a candy store, trying all things forbidden. Yes, I used to think I wouldn’t be caught dead breaking the mormon taboos I grew up with, but I went on to break some at the drop of a hat. Yes, some of my positions and choices changed, but the deepest values did not. If your view of God turns out to be right, I am prepared to cross that bridge when I come to it.
My newer view of god is one of a forgiving and expansive god that will understand my decision and my pain. I grew up handing over my personal sovereignty to the church and its leaders, but my experience taught me that it takes two to tango. If I simply stop doing some things, I reclaim my power. I choose my own underwear. I choose what beverages to try. I choose how to spend my Sunday for my spiritual replenishment. Eventually I found that the church was stealing my thunder, I did not owe all my moral choices to the church. I was as capable as my nonmormon friends of hitting the nail on the head with my daily choices between right and wrong. I learned to see and respect a lot more shades of gray. In the heat of the moment, I sometimes lose my cool, but I feel like overall I am much more at peace with myself and let go of much of the toxic perfectionism that I had internalized. I’ve had a taste of my own medicine- where I used to not even notice myself judging others, I have come to notice what I used to judge about others and now see myself being judged as a person in the out group. I feel like my journey is helping me become a better person and bringing me more peace.
If you are a doubter in the midst of the wrestle, I see you. Hang in there. Many will avoid the elephant in the room, but find your people who won’t get bent out of shape by your questions. Easy does it. If you choose to leave, it is a delicate balance to maintain relationships and not burn bridges while you differentiate from loved ones. If you choose to stay, break a leg. May you find loving support while you work to have your cake and eat it too. No pain, no gain. I have great respect for your fight and will root you on. I did not walk away hoping to see the church go down in flames. I was worn out with my disappointment and heartbreak. I hope to see you on cloud nine, as the church changes for the better.
I promise I won’t give up my day job to write more idiom stories. For now, I’ll call it a day.