This is the only place that I plan to be open about my transition away from Mormonism. Not quite ready to cross that road with my close friends and family.
Those who leave the church often struggle for YEARS with different policies/revelations/doctrines/histories. While engaged with the church, they place these hmmm items on a shelf in their brain and say something like, “Someday these things will make sense.” Starting as a teenage, one of the main things on my shelf was the way in-active members, women, and gay people were treated. At the time, I didn’t have many personal experiences to use as evidence. I just knew that something didn’t seem right when those topics came up in church. I remember choosing love and inclusion when my leaders and peers did not. (Remind me to tell you about the time I made a “Get High Like God” Mormon-Ad in seminary because I was so tired of our teacher picking on the less-active students.)
As I served a Mormon mission and attended BYU religion classes, I delved into the doctrine. I remember asking my mission president questions about the plan of salvation and the revelation on the priesthood. He sighed and told me that he has a hard enough time focusing on not swearing at the person who cuts him off in traffic, so like, why focus on things that don’t matter right now? That bugged me. I believed that I was part of the the one true church. The church with ALL the answers to ALL the questions. I believed that God spoke directly to his children and cared about things like helping them find their car keys and mending their hearts after a break-up. If God cared about those minor things, why wouldn’t he answer my questions about eternal doctrine especially when I was earnestly seeking to be my best self? I was so confused, but upon the shelf it went. Items just kept being added to my shelf as I met my spouse, married in the temple, became a Relief Society President, worked in the temple, and eventually worked for the Church History Department.
And then, when that shelf can no longer support the weight, it breaks. You would think this would be a euphoric letting go, but for me it was the most painful process emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. You see, I loved being a member of the Church. I loved the sense of community. I loved having a place to go that felt like home when I was spinning out emotionally. I loved having a God/Father figure in my life. I loved the trust that I felt in eternity. Most of all, I love the promise of an eternal family and the power of that connection. So when my shelf broke, I felt alone, abandoned, and lost. I still feel all those things, but I have found a new sense of community and connection with people navigating the same heartbreak.
To be honest, I don’t love the shelf analogy because I didn’t realize that I was creating a shelf until after it was gone. Mine felt more like an intricately arranged house of cards built on the foundation that the church was true. When I decided that I no longer believed the church was true, the foundation was ripped away and the cards flew in every direction – things I knew, things I believed, and things I doubted all scattered in the wind. The sense of loss that followed is impossible to explain unless you have felt it. For New Girl fans, it reminds me of when Winston finds out that Schmidt and CeCe have been secretly dating and he says, “Is that a stop sign? Maybe it’s a ghost sign? Because if somebody like you is with somebody like her then maybe the whole damn world is upside-down.” My world is upside-down. I am still terrified to attempt rebuilding a belief system for myself because nothing makes sense anymore.
I think this is one reason that people who leave the church are so annoyed with people in the church who think it is as simple as “choosing to be offended by [fill in the blank person/action]” or “looking for an excuse to [fill in the blank sin].” Sure there are probably a good number who justifiably leave because of an awful priesthood leader (that was almost me, story for later), but I don’t think that is the only reason they left. If you stop and ask with compassion and empathy you will likely hear a long list of beliefs on shelves, heart-wrenching agony, and shattered world views.