I have debated writing about my relationship with religion because it is confusing and most of the people I know feel strongly about Mormonism and get sad when someone doesn't want to be apart of it. But, Mormonism is how I was raised, my culture, a constant topic in my family, where I met most of my friends, intertwined with my education at BYU, and will always be a huge part of who I am--so it seems like a topic I have to address. I also have felt very adamant that I talk about my views on how people on opposite sides of Mormonism can better respect each other.
Almost exactly a year ago I walked into church, like every other week of my entire life, but left in a much different manner. Up until this point I had literally never skipped church without a justifiable reason (traveling, sick etc). I had always been on the more liberal side of how I viewed and followed church policy/guidelines/cultural norms but I had always stuck it out and because I am freakishly dependable and was almost always in charge of something in my ward. I also had this view that I could help others that didn't fit the mold, that I could be the breath of fresh air. I think deep down I knew I didn't want this to be my life forever but I am not the type to quit something and I literally did not know how that transition happens. So it took a major wakeup call to force me to walk away. I walked into church like every other Sunday but ran out hyperventilating; I was having my first and only panic/anxiety attack.
Since I had never experienced something like this before I of course googled it. It mentioned how things will flash thru your mind from the past and all compound on top of each other, it leaves you gasping for air, ugly crying, and contemplating your sanity (at least that is what I experienced). So what triggered me? A very nice woman giving a talk about how much she had been blessed and everything in her life had worked out because God answered all her prayers. Sounds like a great talk, right? And it was, except for when things from my past started flying through my mind. Things from my childhood, guys I have dated, unanswered prayers and the most recent issue of my last boyfriend telling me that God had told him to break up with me while all I had ever prayed for was for a decent guy, like him, to be with me.
I know all the things active members are thinking at this point. You shouldn't let trials destroy your faith and things are not always rosy so grow up. Here's the thing, I also realized around the same point that I don't have faith in this plan. I realized that one of the reasons I didn't really want to get married all these years is because I knew in Mormonism that meant praying with my spouse and I HATE praying with other people and of course the temple--the temple freaks me out. I realized I had a fear of having children because I didn't want to teach them about church. I realized that there are some policies that will never work with my views on a loving God. I realized that I had been pushing things I should want away because I didn't want to do them in Mormonism. And I realized the most important thing; I know absolutely nothing to be true.
Church was always something my family did but didn't really talk about. We weren't the best at Family Home Evening, I can't think of ever doing a family temple trip, we sometimes did family prayer, and we rarely discussed church topics in a frank way. It was expected but not really explained. But somehow this worked, it at least worked in the sense that for the most part we all went as kids without complaining much, we ALL went to BYU (though some of us should not have, ask BYU housing which they wished hadn't attended hahahaha) and the majority of my family married in the temple, are super active and are doing fantastic jobs teaching their kids in open ways about Mormonism. Though you can look at my life and see COMPLETE activity in every way, I never understood everything. If you listened to my talks and lessons in church they were always on being kind and never really focused on gospel principles...
It took me until my late twenties to realize that I am not a spiritual person. I don't feel things in church or when I pray or when other people are. The only time I feel something is when music is involved and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the pioneer hymns of Mormonism. When you are not a spiritual person and frankly most religious things make you incredibly uncomfortable, it is virtually impossible to try and gain faith in things you feel nothing for and are super confused by. I deal primarily in logic and not feelings; religion is not logical. When I told my bishop that I was not a spiritual person he tried to assure me that isn't true and of course I am; I do not see this as a fault but just how I was made.
I don't want to turn this post into things I don't agree with in the church. Everyone has heard them over and over and it is not my intention to try and sway people to "my side." I will say, though my main reason for not attending church is because I don't feel anything when I am there (other than stress) and don't have faith in it, there are major policy, culture, and history fallacies that I cannot support. But that being said, every active member has things they don't agree with or understand and the difference is that they see value in the whole.
Here is what I do know about Mormonism, it has produced some pretty amazing people. I look at my family and friends and see smart people, I don't think they are "dooped" or or being forced. I see them standing up for their beliefs even when its hard and unpopular. I see their kindness and happy dispositions. I think Mormonism gets somethings right and if I was going to be raised in some "crazy"--non mainstream--religion, I think I would still pick this one. (and if anyone knows how I can have a one on one chat with Elder Utchdorf, let me know! He will always be my favorite apostle; I have appreciated so many of conference talks--he always makes me feel like I am not crazy)
And here is what I know about being on both sides of the fence: we need to talk more, judge less and love unconditionally on BOTH sides. Active members tend to not mention when people leave, I think because they don't want to make the individual feel like they are prying and they don't want to make things awkward. But we WANT to be asked! We want to be acknowledged and have frank discussions. And on the flip side, people who leave need to be able to speak about it calmly and without calling it a sham and the believers mindless cult members (think of it as a different religion, if you wouldn't say it about Judaism to a Jew then don't say it about Mormonism to a Mormon. Sometimes people feel like they get to say whatever they want because they were on the inside and "know." Don't do that, it makes you look like a heartless ass who can't let things go and move on). We both need to stay a part of each others lives. Active members need to invite exs to things. Are you giving a talk? Are you blessing a baby? Having a baptism? Putting on the Christmas program? Great! Let us know! And exs need to go to these things! Treat them like a family get together and not a religious event. Go because it is your family (or friends) and you love them and want to support them. Go because you should. And both parties need to treat these encounters like the family events they are not as a missionary opportunity. Don't invite them to try and bring them back, let the exs feel at ease. And lastly, don't judge each other. See the people for who they really are and not what you assume. If they go to church don't assume they aren't thinking for themselves or that they are always looking at you sideways. And if they don't go don't assume it is because they have a drinking problem or want to have sex (and if it is, who cares!) Strip away the labels and see the people for who they are and have always been.
And if you go to church, please don't tell me how sad you are for me. If you TRULY believe in agency then you have to let people go. You can't invite someone to read the Book of Mormon and to "pray about it to see if it is true" and reject their truth if it is no. If the church really is true, I am sure this will all be worked out in the after life. The plan I was always taught doesn't make much sense if everyone would feel the same about everything and join the church. Sure we want people to join but we have always known that there are two answers people can get when they ask. Also, I was always been taught that the lowest kingdom is more amazing than earth, so if that is true don't be sad for me, also you can come visit all you want! See? God is kind and thought about those like me!
And where does this leave me?
That is the age old question. I have no idea. I just hit the year mark of living in Salt Lake City and have made half of one friend (we are only friends at work so once I convince him to hangout off the property then he can be promoted to one whole friend). I have been thinking about my lack of a social life a lot lately and I think it is because I don't know where Mormonism left me. I used to make friends at church and school and without either I am hopeless. I am not like everyone else outside of Mormonism (or so I perceive) so I am having a hard time even figuring out how to begin to make friends "on the outside." I have never tried alcohol. I am a virgin with zero dating game. A risqué outfit to me is a sleeveless knee length dress. And I have no idea what my beliefs are in God let alone everything in the universe. I don't feel like I fit in anywhere and it is confusing and hard, but a year without any social responsibility (or church callings!) has also been healing. I have lost a significant amount of weight, I enjoy my work, I do things because I want to, and I am overall the happiest I have been in a long time. But now I have the hardest assignment to do: figure out why I do and don't do things. Do I ever want to drink? What are my boundaries in dating? What are the driving forces behind my decisions and character? Where do I donate my money? (and on a side note, I should have already figured this out because tithing is not really a charitable donation...) And there is still this overwhelming fear of letting my friends and family down if I do change some of my behaviors.
My brother called me a couple months ago and mentioned something about me not attending church. He said something about how he just wanted me to be happy. I replied with, "I am happier this year than I have been in a very long time." And doing what he should, he said he was happy for me and didn't try to push me into coming back.
I like to think there is a God and his gift to me was a panic attack. He knew I was sad and lonely and that I would never be able to walk away from Mormonism without a push.
Also, it turns out that I actually do want to get married and maybe have kids one day. Now I just have to find someone who preferably used to be Mormon, but isn't bitter, and a decent guy and handsome and smart and can hold a conversation and is okay with my huge family and has a job... not a hard task at all...