Many people leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over spiritual, philosophical and psychological dilemmas that on this blog I will call “problems.” It seems that many of these people are eager to tell their story to the world. Many express feelings of liberation, a new appreciation for themselves as individuals, and a feeling of relief that they no longer are compelled to believe that they have “all the answers.” These stories, which most of the time I respect very deeply, got me thinking: what is my story?
I stayed in the church despite encountering many of the problems former members cite.”Staying” isn’t a dramatic, newsworthy action in the eyes of most. But shouldn’t it be?
The one thing that ex-Mormon and anti-Mormon voices make clear is that there are many obstacles in the path of those who stay. There are historical dilemmas, crises of identity and conformity vs. individuality, and even issues of mental illness occasioned by a high-stress culture laden with expectations. The list could go on. All of these have touched my life in various ways. And yet I am here, and so are many others.
For me, it hasn’t always been easy. No, I didn’t go through periods of inactivity or get involved in serious sin. That isn’t my story, although it is the story of some very good people I know. For some reason I don’t fully comprehend, however, nearly every one of the mental, intellectual and spiritual dilemmas that people who have left the church bring up in their “leaving” narratives has been a huge force in my life. These have been things that have kept me up at night, afflicted me all day long (in a way that perhaps only obsessive personality types can understand), and caused me emotional pain that was some of the most intense I have ever felt.
My purpose here is not to prove the church is true, but rather to try to show how I navigated each of these “problems” and how working through them helped me to be a much happier person today than I was years ago. I hope these observations help someone who wants to stay in the church, but feels burdened by some psychological weight they can’t explain. Even if my thoughts don’t help anyone, my story is just as valid as any of the others that are out there. I intend to join the chorus of voices on this topic.
I think one reason why the stories of those who stay in the church don’t get told as often in the public media as the stories of those who leave is that few people know how to tell them. I hope I can buck that trend. It is not a straightforward thing to explain the inner workings of the spirit/mind/body as it sorts through paradoxes and unsettling feelings of spiritual discontent. For example, it is much easier to say “I left the church because I didn’t fit in,” than to explain how your perspective on fitting in itself changed and allowed you to feel at home. It is easier to say that the expectations of the church weren’t “healthy” for you than to explain that some seasons of difficulty, even non-health, can be worth the sacrifice in order to learn deep things of the soul. I will do my best to take on these difficult issues with honesty and insight. Trying to put words to ideas and experiences like these is something I enjoy. So here goes.
P.S. Some of my thoughts in these posts might be offensive to those who have left the church and feel good about that decision, because they may feel like I am minimizing/simplifying/mischaracterizing the problems that they themselves experienced. First, I want to say that this blog is mostly directed at fellow church members, rather than at you. I hope my thoughts can help someone within the church who is struggling. Second, I’m simply telling my story. I tend to write as if my story could apply to others, just in case some of it can. If you want to tell me how your story differs, feel free to comment. The same goes for people within the church who have a different view on the “problems” I write about.