By Terina Maldonado
I am coming up on one year since I’ve left the church. After reading the Gospel Topic Essays produced by the church, my husband and I made the hardest decision of our lives. Walking away from the church after discovering so many shocking and irreconcilable truths about the church’s foundation and founder left my world shattered. The foundation I had built my whole life upon had crumbled out from under me. This left me feeling like I was free falling. Having the answers to life’s greatest questions was one of the great aspects of Mormonism. Now there is so much unknown. So many unanswered questions.
I remember when friends not of my faith would talk about their trials, their hard times, I would just wonder how can they handle this without the gospel, without the knowledge of the atonement and a relationship with the Savior? I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that! So my mind couldn’t fathom how they could. It just seemed impossible.
Now here I stand, not exactly in their shoes because I have a knowledge of a Savior, I just no longer have a belief in him. The safety net, the catch all, the cure for all of life’s wrongs and pains is no longer in my tool belt. The teachings of the church for overcoming challenges were all my tools for managing! Or were they? Yes, I always turned to prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, words of the prophet, and always turning my trouble over to Christ, but I did have more tools. I just had to remember that.
A couple months after leaving I was having a particularly hard day. The task of rebuilding the foundation for my life, my marriage, my parenting, my beliefs was overwhelming. I started to pray “Dear Heavenly Father…” I stopped. The words were caught in my throat behind a dam of tears and pain. The pain was too great and the tears broke through that dam. I sobbed. Ugly crying at its ugliest. One word kept rolling around in my brain, how, how, how? How do I do this? How do I make it through one of the hardest things of my life without the things that have gotten me through the hardest things in my life? It was an aching question that burned down into my soul. I even questioned my ability to do this. How do I survive when I don’t have a Heavenly Father to comfort me? How do I make it through without a Savior to take away this pain?
Then a thought came to me, if it isn’t true now, it wasn’t true before.
If a loving Heavenly Father doesn’t exist now, he didn’t exist then. If there is no miracle balm for my sorrows now, there wasn’t before. This means that I’ve always had the power to navigate the biggest hardest moments of life on my own. This realization was a major turning point for me as I navigate my faith transition. I started to analyze, meditate, and ponder on how. The word “how” was no longer overwhelming; it became intriguing and exciting.
I was recently reading a book about astrophysics. It was supposed to be easy to understand, but by chapter 4, I was beyond lost and gave up. Those first four chapters did teach me something, not necessarily about what astrophysics is or how it works, but about the universe we live in. There are undeniable truths in the world we live in. Gravity is always present, Einstein’s theory of relativity holds true, we can count on these things. There are things we have almost no understanding of, such as black holes and dark matter. The greatest minds of our time still don’t know. It is comforting to know that I’m not alone in my not knowing. I’ve begun to think maybe we are not meant to have those answers. Perhaps that can be part of the joy of life, the questions and learning, the hypothesis we can create. I also found comfort in being reminded there are a few truths I can count on. That was followed in the book by discussion of the fact that those things are absolute truths here, but what about all that we do not know? Maybe those truths will not hold in those unknown, undiscovered places. That was spoken about with excitement, with the possibility of what else we might discover! The unknown was presented as a potential gift.
For me, the unknown is now an opportunity to learn. I used to sit in Sunday School so thankful and relieved to have those big answers. Now I can see they were holding me back from true growth. When you have all the answers, you stop asking questions. Asking questions is the greatest way to learn! I’m relearning how to use the tools in my belt. Instead of praying to Heavenly Father, I meditate and try to connect to my higher self. (Are my higher self and God connected? Great question for me to ponder!) As I read studies, memoirs, and blog posts, I grow and learn from the experience of others. I go outdoors and connect with nature. I turn things over to the universe knowing there are things I cannot change and my energy is better spent on changes I want to make rather than worry over things that are out of my control.
Embracing the unknown has been a true exercise of faith. Yes I said faith. Despite the fact I no longer believe in organized religion, an intervening God, or Jesus as my Savior, I still feel I am a woman of great faith. I am learning that although there are now many things I don’t know, there is still much I do know. As I hold loosely onto those things (because if I’m not willing to be wrong and change my position and beliefs on things, how much have I truly grown or changed?), I am embracing the unknown with full abandon! I no longer feel less-than to say, “I don’t know,” when asked what my beliefs are on a particular topic. If I feel I have an answer that works for me, I now say, “right now I believe….” because that leaves space for growth. To all those who are still in the Mormon church, or any other religion, I am no longer afraid of your answers and my unknown. I embrace it! I am walking into the unknown with my wide heart open. Yes, it can be scary, but so was jumping out of a plane, and that is one of my favorite life experiences.