setting aside my seminary scriptures: making peace with my faith transition
When I was fourteen and beginning high school, I got my own set of scriptures. It was a green miniature quad with my name engraved in gold on the front. I took them everywhere– every speech competition, band trip, or family vacation– but primarily, I used these scriptures during early morning seminary. I loved my seminary class, despite it’s 6 a.m. start time and often repetitive messages. Even as my relationship to the Church has become less enthusiastic and more strained, I still find a lot of value in the way my seminary teacher taught me to acquire spiritual knowledge: through questions, study, and prayer.
A few weeks ago, I pulled out my seminary scriptures for the first time in over a year. As I flipped through the thin pages past quotes, margin notes and highlighted verses, I felt my heart sink. I knew that a faith transition left my beliefs different, but now there was measurable evidence of how much my faith has changed. Despite knowing that I believe the things I embrace with more depth and clarity than I ever believed the concepts I learned in high school, I still felt very clearly like my transition left me with a deficit. It’s frightening to realize that I may never again believe with the simple, innocent faith of my youth. Then, I believed whole-heartedly, and with little reservation. Now the simplest truths to which I once held fast are not so easy anymore.
I’m re-reading the Book of Mormon and somehow I can still see a lot of applicable truth in those words. It makes me shake with sadness when I think of the voices of women silenced, their sacred stories from which we can’t draw strength, because no one bothered to include them. But when I read the Book of Mormon today, I see faith crises and doubt just about everywhere. I see Nephi, the shining example of perfect go-and-do faith, question everything he thought he knew as the Lord commands him to chop off the head of Laban in order to obtain family records. I connect with Enos and his mighty wrestle with God. I wonder if, perhaps, our own mighty wrestles aren’t resolved over a couple nights in the wilderness, but throughout our entire lives.
The missionaries asked me to share my “personal conversion” with some investigators a couple Sundays ago. I don’t think I have ever been more afraid to speak to an audience. Very few people know this part of my story. If I ever allude to it, it is done in vague ways. In the short time I had to prepare I wrote down everything: the parts about not really believing anymore and also the parts about wanting so desperately to stay. I talked about finding God in a Kirtland sawmill and finding Christ when I stripped away everything else. These parts of my faith are all important. I didn’t use words like “feminism” or “unorthodox”, but I did use words like “doubt” and “crisis”. Sharing my conversion, which I can only describe as difficult and on-going, has helped me fear my doubts and complexities less. It has also helped me appreciate my faith community more, as missionaries, strangers and friends all responded with gratitude and so much love to my fragile testimony.
Later that evening, I received a blessing of comfort from two of the kindest, most understanding missionaries. Talking about my faith made me realize how uneasy it feels right now. I’m scared of losing the hard work I’ve done. These young men placed their hands on my head and reminded me that God loves me, that my faith is enough. It has always been enough. For the first time in forever, I believed that. Even though it sometimes still feels unfamiliar or inadequate, it is enough. The faith I have is my own. Worked out in fear and trembling over months and years. It’s bigger than the faith I had as a fully engaged, believing teenager. Then I was eager to participate in Mormonism. I craved a connection to this religious tradition. And step-by-step, I am forging that connection. Sometimes it hurts to be a Mormon with a shifting faith, but it can also be incredibly heart-softening and mind-opening too.
I often find myself wondering if, in ten years, I will still be Mormon. I don’t know, but for now I am here. I am here with my well-worn scriptures that I can’t read and with stories I am still l learning how to tell. It has never been easy, but I can’t leave my faith behind. I want to study, pray, and go to Church without feeling emptiness. I want to get something out of gospel classes, not just get through them. Maybe one day I will be able to read through my carefully marked sections of Doctrine and Covenants and remember how much they mattered to me without also grieving the testimony that is gone. For now, though, I am going to set aside those scriptures that lead me through the peculiarness of my seminary years, with all those notes scribbled in the margins like a map to a faith that once belonged to me, in exchange for something new and unmarked. For now, I will say to myself over and over and over, “my faith is enough.”
5 Responses to “setting aside my seminary scriptures: making peace with my faith transition”
Very moving introspection. You are brave to share such intimate thoughts. Thank you!
Thank you so much. It means a lot to know that my story is valuable to someone else.
[…] Young Mormon Feminists, Kathryn Shields tells the story of how she began as a true-believing teenage Mormon but went through a faith transition to emerge […]
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Thank you for sharing this. I totally relate and it’s nice knowing that I’m not alone in how I feel about the church. I realize this is a few yrs old, but I just found this site and it is very helpful on many levels.