As I described in my last post, Mormons have a tendency to view the world as a very binary, black-and-white thing, and if you don’t view the world exactly as someone else (say a bishop or stake president) you must obviously oppose everything they say. You are anathema. Or worse: you are apostate.
I don’t view the world in such absolutes; it is my belief that viewing the world that way contributed to my severe depression. The inadequacy I felt whenever I made the slightest misstep—even seemingly inconsequential things like walking past a Victoria’s Secret and wanting to look a little longer than was “appropriate”—was overwhelming and eventually led to thoughts of suicide. If I didn’t exist, I thought, I couldn’t disappoint anybody.
How could trying to do what’s right lead me to feel so bad? Wasn’t the gospel about hope? About Christ’s love? What about the Atonement—shouldn’t that help me feel peace, knowing that I could overcome these egregious sins by fasting, prayer, diligent scripture study, and magnifying my callings?
But that peace never came for me, despite the fact that I did everything I was supposed to. I quit my job as a 16 year-old when my bishop told me to since they wanted me to work Sundays. I broke up relationships with girls I genuinely cared for because I wasn’t supposed to date exclusively before my mission. I even parted my hair and shaved daily before I started filling out my mission papers because my stake president told us all that we needed to get in the habit of being well-groomed, despite exacerbated acne caused by severe razor irritation. But that was what my leaders required of me.
After serving a full-time mission (wherein I served in multiple leadership capacities), I proceeded to try to find my eternal companion, and once I did we lived happily ever after, right?
Except we didn’t. Since I detailed more of my marital struggles in my last post I won’t go into as much here, but suffice it to say that despite all the efforts we made to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Family Proclamation, we were unhappy.
After a series of events majorly rattled our marriage and testimonies we decided to take a break from the Church, which brings me to the crux of what I wanted to discuss in this post.
While I felt an outpouring of love and compassion from many of my friends, I have had a lot of people—people I was once close to as well as people who don’t even know me—make judgments about me and my life decisions. What they don’t realize, however, is that my path is difficult enough to travel without their overt criticism and condemning of my life choices.
Last year, after the reality of my divorce hit me I spiraled again into suicidal depression. I felt guilty for somehow not being righteous enough so that my wife would want to stay with me (even after leaving Mormonism the guilt complex followed!). I grew up thinking that my depression would leave if I prayed hard enough or if I was righteous enough. I was a failure and had disappointed everybody. My best friend at the time, an active Mormon, spent day and night with me and essentially saved my life. During this time my mom continually encouraged me to seek a priesthood blessing; this only furthered the guilt I felt because I didn’t believe a blessing would help me even though I knew my mom believed it to be the cure-all Balm of Gilead. I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God, so why would petitioning Him for help cure me of my illness? Don’t you need faith to be healed?
Fast forward to the present. My mom has come to respect my views, albeit reluctantly. I feel more comfortable discussing my beliefs with her, even though the majority of the time she’ll respond saying that she doesn’t see things the same way. But at least she’s not trying to reconvert me anymore. At least not overtly.
My mother’s mother, on the other hand, doesn’t understand me in the same way my mom does. When I visited Utah recently, my grandmother took an opportunity to speak with me one-on-one. In that conversation, she insisted that she had never lied to me about the truth and validity of the gospel. I was respectful despite not agreeing with most of what she said.
During this conversation I explained to her my views on the Atonement—that, assuming God exists, Christ knows me and He knows the path I have traveled. He suffered not only for my sins and shortcomings, but He also understands my mental, emotional, and psychological state. He is, therefore, the only Being qualified to make any sort of judgment regarding my actions (hint, hint: STOP JUDGING ME!). I explained that I honestly and sincerely believe that since Jesus knows me perfectly, I don’t feel as if I will be judged negatively as a result of my actions. And that was essentially where the conversation ended. I thought that was that.
A week ago I received an email from this same grandmother:
As I was reading Jacob 6th chapter this morning, my mind went back to our last conversation while you were here. I’d like to ask you to read that again, concentrating on verses 3 and 5. Then please ask yourself this question: “What IF the Gospel IS true? Are you willing to take that risk?
The only way to truly KNOW is to test [my inactive, lesbian-currently-living-with-her-girlfriend younger sister]’s favorite scripture, Moroni 10:5 – and stay on your knees til you get the answer.
O be wise, what more can I say?
I love you always, and all ways, dearest Grandson.
After a few days spent pondering how to respond—because I did feel it merited a response—I detailed as to why I felt her language was manipulative and emotionally abusive. That I felt like I was being guilted into viewing the Church the same way as she does. That she makes a lot of assumptions about my motives and how I came to the conclusions I have (including years of turmoil trying to figure out what it was I actually believed). Why would I just up and leave the Church when it has formed more than the core of my identity? Why would I do such a thing and not spend time on my knees before rushing to that kind of life-altering decision? Why does she assume that since I came to a different decision than she did that I must be wrong? I was cut deeply, and she was trying to clean the wound with salt, lemon juice, and ammonia.
So what? Why go through the trouble to tell this story (and this is the abridged version!)?
Because I believe that each person’s faith journey is unique to that person. Because each path must be carved out by the one travelling it—that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life’s journey. Because it’s OK if your path is different from someone else’s. Because struggling with a crisis of faith—be it related to history, policy, feminist issues, LGBT issues, doctrine, or even a combination of these or other issues—is normal. Because using our God-given intellect is what He intended, assuming He even exists.
Though I don’t claim to have it all figured out, I would say there are times I wish I could go back to the Garden of Eden that Orthodox Mormonism is. And while it is true that since my eyes have been opened I have felt more sorrow than before, it is conversely true that my joys have been greater as well. I feel as if I have discovered a spectrum of emotions I didn’t think possible before. I feel sadness, but I also experience happiness on a level I didn’t know before I freed myself from the limitations of the Garden and found a path on which I can grow.
NJ currently lives in Florida, where he is finishing his doctorate and applying for full-time employment. In his free time he enjoys cool, unique restaurants, going to the beach, and Blue Bell ice cream (probably too much).