I was recently accused of being a Deist. The nerve! Can you imagine how that felt to an agnostic-atheist/secular-humanist? However, I can see how one could arrive at that conclusion, based on past blog posts I've written. For most of my life, I believed what I'd been told about God, Elohim, Jehovah, Yahwah. My parents are fervent believers in the God of Abraham, as taught by the Mormon church. And they passed that belief on to me, with the hope that I'd cling to it as they have, living out my days on this earth as a Latter-Day-Saint, expecting to receive celestial glory as my eventual reward.
Unfortunately for my parents, I couldn't hang on to that belief for the duration of this life. Not for lack of trying, though. Because they believed, and because they so wanted it for me, I believed. The church was true; I was deeply flawed. Or so I thought.
I've had several experiences in my life that felt spiritual in nature, other-worldly in origin. And because I'd been raised to believe in God, I naturally assumed that He was the messenger, the source from which sprang assurances that He lived, that He loved me, and that He was watching over me. This gave me comfort as I struggled through various life-altering events, and an anchor I clung to when life got too stormy. As I've re-examined the stories that have made me who I am today, and written about them, I've come to conclude that what I thought was God communicating to me was actually my own voice, my own wisdom, long hidden and unrecognized as valid. And allowing myself to listen to my own voice has brought me the greatest peace I've ever known.
There was a time in my life when I would have been appalled at the arrogance in that last paragraph. But the last 3 and a half years have brought me to a place where I am able to acknowledge what I believe, both to myself and to my loved ones. As I've previously written, I no longer accept that beliefs can be chosen, simply because we want to believe. That it is a sin to reject God, or the prophets, or the church. That I have allowed myself to fall under the influence of evil. Church members are taught that there are few reasons a person would choose to leave: they are lazy, they have been offended, or they have unresolved sins. The day I realized I was not a believer, none of those applied to me. I had doubled my efforts to study the scriptures, pray multiple times daily, faithfully attend all of my Sunday meetings, attend the temple as often as I could. I was a full tithe payer, I wore the sacred garments day and night, I adhered to the word of wisdom as it had been taught to me. I had never in my life had a cup of coffee, nor had I taken a drink of alcohol since my days of youthful experimentation. I was doing everything I reasonably could in order to be worthy of God's love, and his spirit. I wanted to 'know', as my husband has always known. I wanted my lifelong doubts to be resolved. I wanted what I thought others had. I wanted a sure testimony that God lived, and that the Mormon church was the one true church. I pleaded with God, on my knees, begging for some confirmation that what I'd always been taught was true.
One of my favorite singers is Amy Grant. Her music did more to keep me faithful than any LDS artist, as I felt what I believed was the spirit in her songs. I thought I felt God's love when Amy sang. Through the last year or two of my belief in the church, her album, "Legacy, Hymns of Faith", was a favorite. I played it over and over, wanting so much to believe as she did. Wanting to feel what she felt. When she sang, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing", I sang along with her the words, "never let me wander from thee. . . here's my heart, oh take and seal it". Those words were a prayer, uttered to the God she loved, that He would still the disquiet within my heart, and make me His. Forever. That I would doubt no more, just believe. I was looking for peace, begging for relief from the questions plaguing my mind. And finding only more doubt, more misgivings, more disquiet.
One summer day, in 2008, I met a woman at a baseball game, the mother of one of the players. As we visited in the stands, she revealed that she had left the Mormon church some ten years previously. She was friendly and talkative, and very open about her life. And I experienced an unexpected reaction to her story. I was jealous. Intensely. I wanted what she had, something I had never realized about myself. I wanted out. I wanted to be done. I wanted to be an Un-Mormon. Not a Mormon anymore. I realized what a blasphemous thought this was, and I felt like I was spitting in the face of God to wish such a thing. I'd been blessed to have been born to a righteous, Latter-Day-Saint family, to have been raised with the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and I wanted to reject it. Walk away from it, as if I'd never been a part of it. I didn't want to be Mormon anymore.
The next year or so was a time of intense prayer and study, as I tried to forget my new friend's revelation and solidify my own testimony. I tried to reject my heart's desire by following what the church, and my parents, had always taught me. I gave it my all. And, in the end, it wasn't enough. I couldn't hold on to what I'd never had.
October of 2009. I can't remember the exact date, but I will always remember October, 2009. I had spent the previous summer doing as I related above, reading scriptures, praying, and attending the temple. And I was getting tired. Soul weary. Exhausted by the effort. One day, I read an article in The Deseret News about an internet site called staylds.com. It was created for people who were tired, or who had experienced some trauma in the church, and had come to the conclusion that it wasn't true. The intent of the site was to allow people a place to tell their stories, and get support as they figured out how to stay active and involved in the church, while not believing some or all of it. I thought maybe this would be a good place for me to figure out how to navigate the stormy waters of doubt. As I read other's stories, however, I realized that I didn't want to be where they were. I didn't want to continue to be an active, albeit non-believing, Mormon. This wasn't the place. But, there were links to other sites that seemed more fitting for my situation. And, as I read, I came to a startling realization. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to think the most blasphemous words I could have ever imagined. What if the church was not true? And I was okay?
In that moment, my whole being was flooded with peace, the peace I had sought for years. Blessed relief, that peace. The church was not true, and I was okay. I was okay! I was not flawed; I was enough, and I was okay. I cried as I sat at the computer that day, and I felt like I'd finally come home after a long journey. In losing a testimony, I had found myself. In a most unexpected place, assuredly, but I had indeed found myself. I was okay! And the church was not true. . .
Since that day, there have been many changes in my life. Not the least of which is that I'm no longer a card-carrying, active Latter-Day-Saint. This change has been hard on the people closest to me, those who profess a knowledge that the church is true, and that I have been deluded. I respect the opinion of those who believe in, and love, God, but I cannot bring myself to want what they have. Not anymore. I am happier than I have ever been, and more at peace in my own skin.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." The gospel according to Steve Jobs. Not a prophet, certainly, but they are still wise words. Words to live by. Words I can live by. This is my life, and I am living it authentically. And peacefully.