Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Belief, or Lack Thereof

In the past, I have shared with you all some of my religious experiences and participated in several "Mormon Writer Blogfest" events. So, because I value honesty and try to live with integrity, I want to share that I am no longer Mormon. I don't anticipate talking much about this in later posts, and I am only talking about our journey and linking to articles that explain my issues, not getting into details of why I left. Anyway, this blog is still focused on writing and books, just not this post.

This has been the hardest year of my life. The only year that has been close to touching this was back in 2006-07 when my husband's employer went out of business, we were falling further into debt every month, had a new baby, I went back to work, and my husband had the beginnings of a faith crisis. That faith crisis was put on hold when I begged him to stop reading about the historical issues and just live our faith. Just give it a year, and see how you feel, I asked him. He agreed, and we carefully, carefully moved on with our lives. We moved, he found a new job. I started writing in earnest. I finished a novel, and made some great friends that helped me stay sane as a stay at home mom.

His unresolved concerns have been hanging over us ever since then. Like a rotting body in the basement, the problem was still there, and every once in a while I thought I could smell it in the air. But we paid our tithing. We held callings. My husband was the 16-17 year old Sunday School teacher for 6 years, I think that's right, and was the cub scout master in addition at the end. I was a nursery leader, a YW advisor, a cub scout den leader, and then the YW president for two years, and then the Gospel Doctrine teacher.

We attended church EVERY Sunday, only missing a few times each year as we were usually driving back home from visiting family on Sundays. I felt bad about the times we got fast food on those trips. We didn't let our 11 year old daughter wear sleeveless shirts or dresses or short shorts, because we wanted her to know her value as a daughter of God. We didn't swim on Sundays, even with my nonmember family, even though I felt it was pretty likely that if the church had relocated to the muggy South instead of the arid West after getting booted out of Nauvoo, swimming on Sundays wouldn't be taboo. We were obedient.

We went to the temple. Not as often as we would have liked to, since we still felt guilty that we weren't going every month, but we enjoyed it. I especially liked getting baptized for my dead relatives, then eventually sealing them together. I loved searching my heart for a sign that they were there in the temple and had accepted the gospel, and often felt that confirmation. We did family file names almost every time. When my son was able to do baptisms for the dead, I made sure that he had family file names so that he could be baptized in behalf of beloved granduncles and 3rd cousins and could feel that connection.

But...all this time, my husband's previous issues with the history were stinking up the place. If we missed family home evening, I felt guilty, like I wasn't doing all I should to have the spirit in our home. Same thing with scripture study, although we were much better at family scripture study than FHE. I worried that every little thing I wasn't doing exactly right was going to be the thing that prevented Heavenly Father from blessing our home and protecting us. That one day my husband would tell me he didn't believe anymore.

I tried to come to terms with this fear. I told myself that I had made my covenants with God, and that I could not force my husband to believe. He was an active, believing member at this time, too. I just knew he had some things he couldn't look at too closely. I had those things, too. As a young women's president, I felt love and concern from our bishop, but some of the decisions from the stake stung.

I couldn't see the fairness when our girls camp was always at the local boy scout camp instead of getting to go to the mountains and exciting like the Young Men's high adventure camp. They got a week at scout camp and a week of high adventure. YW couldn't go 100 miles outside of our stake boundaries without a special permission from the stake president, and we were encouraged to find a location that was closer. So we took our girls for a camp out at Table Rock and had a great time. I let it go. But still...why did the boys get to do all kinds of repelling, cliff jumping, white water rafting, hiking and mountain biking and we couldn't? We got to do a couple of those things. We took the girls to a climbing gym once, and we got to do a ropes course and archery and rifling at the boy scout camp. I'm not saying we didn't have fun. But the resources available to us weren't even close to what the boys had available.

In Oct. 2013, Dieter Uchdorf spoke about the maturity that members can develop when they face their questions and allow their faith to grow. He said it was okay to have doubts and that not all events in the history of the church were faith promoting. My husband felt that this talk was meant for him. It was okay that he had doubts. It was okay that some things in the history bothered him. He could study it out and emerge stronger, or at least get some things resolved. So he started to read about the translation of the Book of Abraham, and within an hour, he knew it wasn't true. We can translate hieroglyphics now, and it's very clear, especially in the facsimiles, that Joseph Smith did not get any of it right. Nathan was too scared to tell me for about 2 months.

When he finally told me, the demons I had worked so hard to bury were loosed from their pit. I had gone back to get a Masters in  behavior analysis, and I was really confused about how conditioning could work within a religious framework. Was love real, or was it a biological tool that increased our chances of survival? I was stressed out and teetering on the brink of atheism, and I had been hanging on so tightly to the spiritual experiences I'd had for the sake of our eternal family. Surely the spirit I'd felt when my husband and I were sealed in the temple was real. And here was my husband saying that he would have felt that joy regardless of where we got married because we loved each other. It wasn't the spirit, he said. It was our love. I was not able to deal with it.

We couldn't talk about it without me dissolving into hysterical crying, and suicidal thoughts were scattered throughout those weeks. Both of us found this alarming, so I found an LDS therapist to help me with this transition. I was going to stay in the church, as I knew that the church was true and that my children had the best shot at happiness being raised in the church. The first time I met with my therapist, she recommended that I talk to my family practice doctor and get on an antidepressant.

I was listening to the Book of Mormon in the car on my way to work every day. I was trying to find time to read with the kids before Nathan came home, trying to spare his feelings but still make sure the kids were getting spiritually fed. We would all go to church and week after week I would start crying during sacrament meeting and have to leave, hide in the mother's lounge or the bathroom or with some friend in an unused classroom. I had to ask people to teach the gospel doctrine class for me right before class started many times, and felt horrible about it. Church was a minefield, and both Nathan and I were stepping gingerly.

A week or two of Zoloft peeled me off the floor, and I was able to deal with life a little more. It had been about 3 months since Nathan had told me of his unbelief, and I accepted it. He wasn't coming back.

So we needed to set some ground rules, so that we could move forward, and the hardest part of this was what to do about the kids. One Saturday in February, I told Nathan how it was going to be. He was not to talk to the kids about religious topics anymore. Maybe when they were older, it would be okay to answer questions that they directly asked him, but I was in charge of their spiritual life from now on. And while I was on a roll, I suggested that he talk to a friend he'd grown up with that had also left the church. It wasn't that I didn't want to be there for him, it was just too painful to fail to understand each others' perspective over and over.

Then he did something that surprised me.

He said no.

He didn't want to talk to anybody else about the reasons for his unbelief. He valued our relationship too much to put anyone else in my place as confidant and trusted friend. And he asked me to listen to just one thing. I honestly don't remember what it was, probably BOA stuff. But I listened and gave rebuttals based off of what I could recall from my readings on FAIR LDS, and then he had to go to work.

Then I did something that surprised him.

I looked for myself.

I had read "Rough Stone Rolling" by LDS historian Richard Bushman twice. I wanted to know more about Joseph Smith's Polygamous wives. So I found wivesofjosephsmith.org, a website with no commentary, only facts and documented writings from and about the women Joesph Smith married.

And I read. (password is "MormonPriestess") And read.

When Nathan came home from work about 4 hours later, I told him that I wasn't going to be able to teach tomorrow, and I wasn't going to church, and could he call the bishop and schedule an appointment to resign.

So that's what we did, once he could reattach his jaw (it unfortunately shattered when it hit the floor, ha!). We'd met with the bishop a few times before this, so he knew that Nathan was struggling. We told our dear bishop that we were leaving, and gave him our resignation letter and our temple recommends back. It was incredibly sad, and I knew that we were losing our community.

It's been hard. I've had multiple friends not return phone calls or texts, and when we've finally talked, they've said that it's just too painful to talk to me. They feel like I've died. Well, for my part, I feel like all of my Mormon friends have died. Except they're still alive and just not calling me back. It's heartbreaking. 

But I'm making new friends and trying to salvage friendships. I wish I could share what I've learned with my friends and spare them some of the pain we've gone through. I wish they could listen, but I understand why they can't. I couldn't listen either, not even to my husband, not without feeling that it would be better for us to die than to fall away. I literally wanted to die rather than face the truth, but luckily, wishing to disappear or die doesn't make it so, and I was able to accept what my heart had been trying to tell me for a long time. I feel free in my head now, and I can think about anything I want and draw my own conclusions, and there is no more judgement of others for not keeping commandments how we felt they should be. I feel at peace and happy.

I look back at my writing and I see how I was trying to make sense of the way I felt trapped in a belief system that, for me, required me to let go of my own thoughts and obey no matter what. The project I've been working on in the last year is all about how to make sense of how other people and cultures have been able to do so many obviously wrong things in the name of religion, and feel they were doing right. I have been consumed with the question of if ancient Aztecs and Greeks and Egyptians really believed in their gods or was it just a show for them. Did they believe how I believed?

My answer is yes. 

7 comments:

  1. I'm am so, so sorry to read of everything you've gone through and all your suffering.

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  2. Hey Connie, you're sweet! I think I'm really doing pretty well. I wan't able to talk about any of this so publicly when things were really hard. And I've gained some perspective from meeting lots of people who are in a similar situation. It seems that everyone has some similar stories: it's gut-wrenchingly difficult, but then things get better. Most days I feel like we're on the upward swing, and Nathan and I are more at peace than we've been in a long time. I also want to clarify that I've hurt some feelings, too. I've posted the link about about the temple on facebook, which cuts deep for Mormons, and an article on ordain women, and I am not entirely patient with people who won't even listen (though I try). I think most of my friends, Mormon or not, would agree that I care deeply about kindness and go out of my way to avoid hurting people.

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    1. I'm glad to hear you and your husband are both doing better!

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  3. What a horrible experience. My heart goes out to you. I'm still a practicing Mormon but i think it's really sad that your friends couldn't accept your decision and still love you as a person.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. RC- Thanks! I am sure my friends still love me, and I still love them, it just can't be the same and it's painful for all concerned. We're all just trying to survive...I appreciate the support! The kindness and basic goodness of most of the people I have ever met (online included) is a huge source of strength to me.

    And by way of public announcement, all scientology-troll posts demonizing psychiatry will be deleted.

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  6. Hi, Kelly - I just read this email tonight. Now that I've had time to think about your situation, the shock has worn off. I feel sad that you had such a difficult year! If we lived closer to you, we would still be friends, (at least I hope).

    While I sometimes wish this was just a crazy bad dream, I'm glad that you are at peace now, especially with Nathan. We must stay true to ourselves, which will sometimes be quite difficult. It's sort of like our characters - we can't force them to make choices that they would never make based on their values/personalities. I think Nathan is a good husband with the way he allowed you to reach your own conclusion without brow-beating you.
    I hope we will remain friends...

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