After My Faith Shattered
If I had to choose a single day that was most jarring for my faith journey, it would be going through the temple for the first time at age twenty. So many ideas that I had about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders, and its doctrines fell and shattered on the floor that day. But I was getting married a few days later and felt I had no choice but to sweep up the shards of my faith, put them back up on the shelf, and hope no one would notice.
For years, I tried to rebuild my faith as it had been. Just-Try-Harder-Glue didn’t work. Look-And-Talk-Like-A-Perfect-Mormon tape couldn’t fix anything. Internalized-Shame-And-Judgement tacks both hurt and failed. It became clear that I couldn’t go back, but I was afraid of moving forward. I knew there would be costs to openly acknowledging my shift in belief and in living and speaking according to my values. I feared a loss of belonging and community. I feared the loss of my marriage and extended family relationships. It was an intensely lonely time.
It is easy to find messages within the Church that shame people for having doubts or questions. I deeply internalized a sense of needing to be a good member missionary—that I was responsible for how other people felt about the Church and therefore, in some way, for their eternal salvation. It was a heavy burden. But one of the early messages that made me think that maybe I was not inherently broken was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s essay “Lusterware.” I first heard about it from a good friend who was willing to sit and talk with me during my faith crisis, and then I read the version included in Mormon Feminism.
Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and co-founder of Exponent II, writes about how at a time when silver dishware was common, so was lusterware, a ceramic ware painted with a gold or platinum film. Lusterware was shiny, but unlike real silver, it was also fragile and could easily shatter if dropped. Only someone very inexperienced would examine lusterware and confuse it for the real thing, but on the shelves of our minds, it can be harder to identify falsehoods until they are tested. “All of us have lusterware as well as silver on that shelf we keep at the top of our minds. . . A lusterware image fulfills our need for an ideal without demanding a great deal from us. There are lusterware missions and marriages, lusterware friendships, lusterware histories, and yes, lusterware visions of ourselves. Most of these will be tested at some point on the stones at the bottom of our minds.”
Ulrich’s essay made me think that not only was it normal and natural to have parts of my faith shatter, but that it was essential for my growth. Identifying lusterware can be helpful in distinguishing it from the silver, which is more valuable and durable and worth polishing with care.
But even with a growing confidence that I was not broken even if my trust in the Church had broken, I was not wrong about the loss of belonging and community that accompanied being more outspoken about my beliefs and values. It was a painful time that often felt like a spiritual wilderness. However, those years in the wilderness were also transformative. Over time, I wasn’t merely constantly stepping over broken shards, but my spirit was delighting in both new ideas and old ideas made new.
In this wilderness, I turned again and again to the voice of Rachel Held Evans. I first read her book Searching For Sunday, where I saw so many of my own questions, fears, and doubts reflected in her story of leaving her Evangelical faith and exploring new paths of Christianity (on the days that she believes, that is). In her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, I met a God who wanted me to wrestle with scripture and faith. One who did not insist that “obedience with exactness” was the only way to God’s power and love. Rachel introduced me to a Jesus who invited all of the misfits to the table and offered sustenance and rest, not shame. She helped me see a God who was bigger than any single tradition.
Rachel Held Evans died on May 4, 2019, after a brief and sudden illness. I, like so many who loved her words, was devastated. It was with both gratitude and sadness that I recently listened to Wholehearted Faith, the book she was working on before she died that her friend Jeff Chu completed. On the days that I believe, I often think of Rachel’s words: “I am a Christian because the story of Jesus is the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” The story of Jesus is one that still leads me towards love, so even in my imperfect and often heretical faith, the story of Jesus still feels like home.
This is not to say that I don’t spend time in the mud fighting out differences in belief or practice with friends, family, or strangers on the internet. My path has not been without significant trauma, and that trauma absolutely shows up in my relationships. I have lost friends and some community along the way, but not in all the ways that I feared. My marriage has held. Some friendships have ended, but others have become deeper. I’m still figuring out how to engage with my neighbors and acquaintances as my authentic self, but some of that is also due to having moved shortly before the start of the pandemic. Whether related to issues of faith, politics, or any number of other reasons, I know I’m not alone in figuring out how to rebuild community after 2020.
After years of deconstructing my faith—examining my assumptions and seeking new understanding—reconstructing my faith has been slow and eclectic. But it has been empowering to believe I can be intentional about my own spiritual formation. I get to learn new ways of seeking and understanding Jesus, new ways of seeking the feminine divine, and have an open curiosity about traditions beyond the one to which I was born. If an idea or practice helps me better love myself and my fellow humans, that’s the stuff that I want to polish, hold on to, and pass on to my children.
I would love to hear your story of rebuilding faith after a crisis of faith or certainty. Please consider submitting a post to our new blog series, Reconstructing Faith.