- Political ones
- Social ones
- Doctrinal ones
- Faith ones
- Creepy experiences with men in power ones
Long answer: I know I never had the rock-solid belief that a lot of other people in my various congregations seemed to have. I didn't know if I believed, but I knew I wanted to believe in a benevolent, all-powerful, all-loving God who wasn't sexist or racist or arbitrary or believed in certain sexualities over others. Who was there when you needed him/her. Who helped you through the tough times. I prayed and prayed for that. For God to tell me even something as simple as Yes I validate your struggle, you are known and loved. I clung to the words that other people spoke of their own experiences. Searched everything I could find. Tried to train myself, my habits to be the kind of person who believed, who was worthy of the gift of faith. Who - to use the LDS phraseology - knew.
I don't know why, but I could never feel certain. And I could certainly never justify a lot of the horrible things that have been done in the name of my religion, and the religions it was based on. Never seem to have enough faith in the other stuff to let those bad things slide, or trust that they would be explained 'in the eternities'. And I didn't want to. That felt gravely wrong, terrifying.*
But I also didn't think that I should give up on the good in it. Didn't think my voice, my experiences should be discounted, just because I didn't fit the mold. At times, I thought maybe my role would be to help pave the way for other forms of belief, of living the religion, or to work against those bad things from within, trying to fight injustice where I found it while still attempting to fit in with the greater culture, to 'live in harmony with the gospel'. But let me tell you. That's kind of exhausting. I don't actually love conflict. I struggled on for what felt like a very long time.
And I had my little seedlings of faith and hope. I stumbled upon fiercely loving friends, gentle ones who listened to my teary confessions of doubt, ones who would discuss the complexities of what I was facing, who were maybe facing similar things, or who at least didn't trivialize either side of my conflict.
I came across ideas and principles that really resonated. Little bits here and there that made me feel larger, powerful, good... and gentle too. I created simple rituals for myself (and close friends who were interested) that reflected the beauty and order - and chaos too - around us in the seasons, in darkness and light, in quiet moments and joyful ones and painful ones. Hey, I figured. Joseph Smith could start a religion, why can't I? I carry those little seedlings with me still. And now, too, I love to snatch up those little bits that make you feel like your soul and body are a part of something bigger and like that deeper, wiser part of you knew this all along. They are taking root, getting stronger and sturdier.
Somewhere in this process, my little brother decided to go on a mission for the LDS church. I think I hadn't attended a service in awhile, but then on top of that, began spending Sundays afternoons having family time, hanging out, eating delicious food. A legit 'excuse' for people from my own congregation who might be concerned for my spiritual welfare. My parents went to their congregation in the morning with my little brother and littlest sister, and I didn't want to miss the family time to go to the one near me, so I just didn't go. After he left for his missionary service, I realized, I am happier, calmer, more peaceful when I don't go to church. So I didn't go back.
I have done and tried a lot of new things these past couple years now, most of them not even directly related to things that I wasn't "supposed" to do as a practicing Mormon. I just found myself saying "yes" to new things, new experiences, trying stuff I had never even thought to try before. And it has been good. I am challenging a lot of things I didn't even realize I was holding to so closely. For example, I went to a shooting range and fired a pistol for the first time. I don't love guns, but I have at least tried that now. The world has opened up before me. I feel safer and more confident in myself. I still only think I like 30-40% believe in God, but I do feel more settled and serene.
People from church - I try to remind myself, they are coming from a place of care and concern - have tried to encourage me to go back, to attend activities or meetings, to meet with leaders. I have had to learn to politely say "no thank you," to set my boundaries, and stick to them. To respect my own ability to make choices for my life to trust my decisions and understanding of what I want, and to demand that others respect that as well. This has been a good learning experience for me too.
I don't know what the future holds. I don't know if I will get married or have kids, if my path will lead me back toward the church my parents chose as a young couple with two children, or to a different church, or to some other path I can't even imagine. Maybe I'm actually ok with not knowing.
Maybe it is enough that I can tell myself, Yes I validate your struggle, you are known and loved.
*and probably even a lot of people within the religion would agree that I shouldn't go against that, but other people might also think a person struggling with such thoughts should pray more, read her scriptures more, just trust more