Welcome to Day 10 of the 12 Days of YMF-Mas! Whether you love the holidays or dread them, we’re here to bring you support and cheer. Happy reading, and happy holidays!
This time of year always makes me nostalgic. I’m the seventh of seven children, the baby of my big Mormon family. In my earliest memory, my oldest sister is visiting from BYU- these older siblings all outgrew the dearest Christmas traditions before I did. We even had some heated arguments in our family when the older siblings just didn’t feel like doing some of those Christmas rituals, and I felt completely cheated out of the tender memories I was supposed to get to create.
I won’t dramatize it by calling it stolen innocence, but I think about that feeling of being left short every year on Christmas. As an adult, I have always made sure to either personally buy or go in on a Christmas tree with roommates. I have all my kindergarten macaroni wreath ornaments, the round ball my fifth grade teacher painted my name onto, the chipped teddy bear astride a rocking horse ornament that I apparently picked out at a thrift store as a toddler. They’re all inside an old, falling-apart shoebox on which my girlhood shaky handwriting reads “HaNNah’s ordaments.” I’m still passionate about getting the tree up early and basking in the glow of its twinkling lights.
Despite my happy associations with the season, two Christmases ago was the hardest Christmas of my life to date. I’m 21, so that’s not really saying much, I know. But it was hard particularly because I was realizing how deeply ingrained my Mormonism is within myself, how intricately entwined it is in my relationships with my family, how staunchly rooted it is in my understanding of the world. At the time, I had emerged from a summer of turmoil where I had a lot of spiritual pain regarding whether God existed and what that meant for His doctrines regarding women. I was no longer in that period of anguish by Christmastime, but I no longer believed in God, and it was my first Christmas with that dramatic change in beliefs.
I found myself mourning the faith of my childhood that December in a way I had never done so poignantly in the months leading up to it. I was surrounded by the various Nativity scenes I had fiercely demanded I be the one to set up as a child, worn stockings I had lovingly hung on the staircase (in absence of a fireplace), Christmas music I had played on the grand piano in chapels for Christmas devotionals and special musical numbers. I found myself craving the clarity of purpose, self, and meaning that Christmas and Mormonism together can bring a soul; and yet, I knew I couldn’t fake a religious experience just to bring myself comfort.
So I sat in that discomfort on that particular night of the hardest Christmas of my life. I stared at the lights on the tree and willed it to give me answers about how to navigate this new life I was building, desperate for any kind of solace that might reconcile the truths, the obfuscations, the missing history, the redeeming aspects of an old life that now felt far away. Who I used to be, what I used to believe, how I used to talk, how I used to spend my time- they felt at once so intimately part of me and yet reverently distant, hovering somewhere in the chasm between my churning heart and my aching mind. I at once wanted my old self back and was also repulsed at the symbol of betrayal and spiritual pain that my old life had become.
It occurs to me that since I’m reflecting on an experience from two years, and in fact a specific moment from two years ago when I sat on my parent’s couch, the same couch from my childhood years, staring at a Christmas tree covered in ornaments I had carefully hung, alone and wishing for peace- I feel like you expect me to resolve those feelings, to tell you how I put the pieces together and came up with an answer to that anguish.
But if I’m honest, while I’m no longer amidst that misery, I still don’t have answers. I sat here for an extraordinary amount of time just trying to figure out the title of this post- how do you describing honoring, reverencing, holding onto the faith of your childhood, but at the same time walking away from it, parting with it, redefining it and acknowledging where it was flawed? The web of what I hold onto and what I reject couldn’t be more complex if I tried. So I find myself simply holding tight to what I can’t deny, even if it leaves me being not faithful enough for the Mormons but too faithful for the ex/non-Mormons.
That’s about all the answers I have. Sometimes when I find myself mulling over the confusing melee of conflicting emotions that being a Mormon feminist can bring, I do still mourn the faith of my childhood. I long for that simplicity again, the easy way it was to believe exactly what I was told and to grasp tightly to the clear calculus for eternal glory and salvation. It was unspeakably agonizing to be wrenched from the safety of that worldview and plopped in the darkness without a map or guide.
And yet learning to live without a pillar of fire guiding me through the wilderness has brought me closer to knowing my true self and closer to knowing the deity I believe in than ever before. Still no answers- still no clear way to navigate my complicated family relationships- still no blazed path before me to show how I’m supposed to reconcile my beliefs and practices with my Mormon faith. But I’m learning how to embrace what is still within me of my childhood faith, bubbling up this time of year in my glee for the season, and to still be honest about who I am.
In honor of this divine pilgrimage, I claim for myself the choice to hold my journey tightly in my hands and trust that especially this Christmas season, we will remember the unspoken struggles and deeply individual trials that lurk behind each other’s eyes. May we remember the compassion and empathy that is so necessary not only to extend to others but to extend to ourselves. And may we resolve to reach out to others along the way who may be finding themselves ripped from the faith of their childhoods, and let them know they aren’t alone.