Of Sundays, Scriptures, and the Sacred

june 019During these last 2 years I have had a different experience with many things that, before, were very spiritual and uplifting. But my experience with “spiritual” things has been mixed (by spiritual I mean spiritual from a typical Mormon perspective, i.e. things like reading the scriptures, going to church, praying, etc.).

As I mentioned before, the thought of going through my Sunday routine alone was really difficult at first. The first few times I sat alone at church and realized that I was always going to be alone were difficult. Usually, I left the meetings early because I just couldn’t keep it together. After a couple months though I was able to go to my meetings and not break down crying. So that was an improvement.

But the first 6 months after Ricardo left the church, church was only occasionally enjoyable–which was very frustrating. Before I had a crisis of faith Sunday was my favorite day of the week most of the time because church was always somewhere where I could go each Sunday and leave feeling uplifted, motivated to be a better person, and strengthened. And I also left always feeling like I was a part of such a marvelous work and that I was doing what God wanted me to do. Well, after I started questioning Mormonism church was just the opposite of what it had been. Each Sunday I would sit there and mentally critique everything the speakers were saying. Someone would stand up and say “I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet” and I would think, “is he? Then why wasn’t he a better person? Why wasn’t he more honest?” And then if I wasn’t frustrated about doctrinal issues I was frustrated about how my personal situation was different. I remember one speaker standing up telling some story about how if parents have family home evening and daily scripture study as a family, then even if the kids go astray then they will someday return to the gospel, and then telling the congregation that it was our duty as parents to make sure we had FHE and scripture study as a family. A nice sentiment for most the congregation, but for someone in my situation, who is never going to be able to have scripture study or family home evening,…well, it was beyond just frustrating. So, a great percentage of my Sundays the first year were spent practicing relaxation techniques and tuning the speakers out so that I wouldn’t get upset. Not exactly the peaceful, happy church days I was well acquainted with. In fact, sometimes it just seemed like a waste of time. But I kept going most of the time, despite the frustration, and despite Ricardo really wishing I would just spend the time at home with him (especially since I regularly came home from church upset).

At first I had a church calling, I was teaching primary, but after a couple months of serious inner turmoil I didn’t feel comfortable teaching the kids things I wasn’t sure about myself, so I asked to be released from my calling. The bishop was a little disappointed since he felt the calling would help me, but he was very understanding. The one thing that was a bummer was that I was team teaching with someone who I had become very good friends with and we did have a great time together with our primary class πŸ™‚ So that was hard to let go of.

Reading the scriptures, praying, and attending the temple basically followed the same pattern. After I entered my faith crisis everything spiritual was just different to me, and I was much more critical. I remember the first time I tried to read the Book of Mormon, and the whole time I was just consumed with wondering if I was reading a fairy tail. I tried to brush that aside and just read, but then I was constantly critiquing everything I was reading. It just was so frustrating because I was used to the scriptures being such a positive thing. Praying went the same way. There was just so much confusion, doubt, and anger inside of me, that praying ended up going something like this, “Heavenly Father, I really hope you are there and that someone is hearing this prayer, I don’t know anymore…” and I would continue on with whatever I was praying about, but it just wasn’t the same. I never felt peace. I never got an answer. I just got more frustrated.

Then, in October 2011 I attended my cousin’s wedding. I really wanted to be there because I was so excited for my cousin and I wanted to be a part of such a momentous day for her, but in all honesty, I probably shouldn’t have gone. I made it to the waiting room inside the temple and then all the memories of my own wedding, and the temple sealings and endowment sessions I had done with Ricardo, starting filling my head, and it was just too much. I spent the next half hour in the bathroom, bawling, as I relived some of the happiest moments of my life that I was never going to experience again. Then I pulled myself together and spent the subsequent 45 minutes staring at a picture of Christ in the hallway across from the sealing room, trying to hold it together so I wouldn’t ruin her sealing (wedding), and feeling frustrated that even the temple was no source of peace at that point in time.

So I stopped. I thought it through and I decided that I didn’t want to have negative experiences praying, reading the scriptures, and going to the temple, so I decided that I needed a break from those things. For true believing Mormons out there, that might sound like the wrong thing to do, since that goes against everything we learn in the church since primary. But at the time, it seemed like the right thing, and I think it probably was a good decision. It was doing me no good, and it was just making me bitter about those things. I decided at that point that what I wanted to do was stay involved but at a very passive level. That way, I could sit in church and try to enjoy whatever I could and give myself time to process everything I had learned and all the changes I was going through.

So for a year-and-a-half that’s what I did. I went to church pretty much every Sunday, stayed for most of the meetings, but did pretty much nothing spiritual outside of attending church. Gradually, church got easier; I came home frustrated less and enjoyed church more. I developed two really close friends in my ward, and one of them sat by me at church, which helped too.

In February 2013 we moved away from the friends we had made and away from my siblings that lived close by, to the other side of the country. The move has been a little bit difficult for me, but has also brought other positives/blessings. One of those blessings is my bishop. I liked my previous bishop since he was also very helpful and respectful during my time of crisis, but my current bishop has been great! He has met with me multiple times to talk about my concerns, and he seems more familiar with most church history issues than my previous bishops have been. Where we live is a much more politically liberal state than where we have previously lived, so he said many members of the ward, especially the youth (12-18 year olds) have been exposed to these same ideas and have already expressed similar concerns to him. So, he’s been prepped for someone like me πŸ™‚ And he has been very understanding. It seems like he is still hoping I will have a magical reconversion one of these days, but he is very understanding about my doubts about the church.

At the end of February I was visiting my sister just older than me. As I took a tour of her apartment upon arriving, I tried hard to push out the angry, jealous feelings that were creeping up in me. In every room in her house she had a picture of Christ and a picture of a temple. And it just made me mad! For a long time one thing that was difficult about church was sitting there, looking around at all the other typical, Mormon families who were there attending church together. It would just make me sad that I had lost that. But for me, the exemplary model of a perfect LDS home had always been my sister, and so, for a while, I had harbored some resentment towards her. Well, one night, my sister, some cousins, and I were having a great conversation and I finally just told her about my jealousy and resentment towards her. Her reaction surprised me–she started laughing. She told me it struck her as funny because she had been resenting me for living in a big apartment with three bedrooms when we had no kids (we didn’t have Andrew until a year after we moved in there), and yet she was stuck in a two bedroom apartment with three kids! And that was a healing moment for me, when I realized the very person I had resented most for having what I wanted, was resenting me for the same reason πŸ™‚ At that moment it really sank in that these perfect Mormon families around me, had their issues too, in fact, they might just be jealous of me in some ways. And for some reason, since that time, church has been a little easier πŸ™‚coexist

At that same time my husband started attending the Unitarian Universalist church. I was excited to attend with him when I got back from that trip. We attended together a few times and that also was a great experience for us. The thing that I like most about their service is that they have no set creed and so they talk about this universal spirituality. One talk I remember was a poem the preacher read about the different names for the divine:Β God, love, the Great One, Alpha and Omega, the Great Spirit, Jehovah, Alla, etc. The thing that impressed me was the idea that spirituality can still exist, even when people are no longer religious, per se. Another thing that has been helpful for me is realizing that there areΒ  core values, that are separate from religion, that we can all focus on, regardless of our religious affiliation/ lack there of. I think this is a POWERFUL idea that has been life changing for me. It has taken me a long time to be able to separate the idea of “values” from religion, probably because values were so intricately tied to my religious upbringing. But it has given me a tremendous amount of hope to realize that people can share values, even if they do not share beliefs. I hope to talk more about this, since I think this is a powerful idea, and I think that exploring this more would be a good thing for me.

In March one of my sisters, who had also been through a faith crisis years before, which was a difficult experience for her, sent me a paper she had been working on for a number of years which addressed some of the issues and stated her reasons for belief. I appreciated the years of reading and research she has done to compile that paper. The paper renewed my hope that I might be able to do as she has done and become more of a believer again; we will see what happens.

In April I was sitting in Sacrament meeting one day, listening to a talk, and for the first time I wanted to go back to the temple. This whole time I have vacillated between believing and doubting, always staying somewhere in the middle between the two, but for the first time I wanted to try to move towards the believing side again. I was almost surprised by my sudden desire to go back to the temple, but the feeling stuck with me for a few days. Then I found out that one of my best friends growing up was getting married at the beginning of May (this year, 2013). I really wanted to go to the wedding since I have had to miss all of my best friend’s weddings so far. I ended up finding a great deal on plane tickets and decided to go for it! Then I went in to talk to my bishop…

I was nervous about talking to my bishop about the possibility of getting a temple recommend again, since I still had so many doubts. But I had been wanting to try going back to the temple for about a month at that point and my friend’s upcoming wedding became a motivating factor. My bishop met with me a few different times. We talked about the temple recommend questions I had concerns with. My main concern was not a particular question, but rather, that I didn’t know if I should get a recommend since I just barely felt like I believed more than doubted. I told him that before I used to feel like I knew the church was true, and now I believed the church was true, and my belief wasn’t even that strong and I didn’t believe some things that I had believed before. We talked a lot about Elder Holland’s talk that conference session,Β “Lord, I believe,” (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng) and he told me that he felt like belief was all that was required. We then talked about the specific temple recommend questions that I was struggling with the most and talked through them. I even confessed how shamefully close I came to having an affair. And, in the end, I was elated that he felt I could get a recommend.

At the beginning of May I attended one of my best friend’s wedding in a temple in Utah. I was relieved that it was a much different experience from a year-and-a-half previous when I attended my cousin’s wedding. Time had healed a lot of the pain and anger I had the previous time I was in the temple, and I am happy to report that her wedding was a beautiful and peaceful experience for me (and hopefully it was much more beautiful and peaceful for her :)) For the first time in a long time, I participated a little bit more in the church, and it was a positive experience!

In June I attended a family reunion. They had a testimony meeting on the last day of our reunion. This year it was a pretty positive experience for me. I am finding that the more time goes by, the more I am able to appreciated people’s experiences, rather than just feeling critical and frustrated about whatever I doubt. I heard a lot of really sincere, heartfelt testimonies (as they call it in the church) of the LDS church and they touched me. It was really nice. I even stood up and bore my own “testimony”, though it was certainly far from a typical Mormon testimony, and I still didn’t feel right about closing “in the name of Jesus Christ”. But it felt nice to get up and tell my parents (who were in attendance) about the positive experiences I had in the church growing up and tell everyone else there how much I appreciated their experiences.

At this point in time, I attend church basically every week and I enjoy it probably a little bit more than half the time. I sit alone but it isn’t as hard as it used to be, and I’m not usually really alone since Andrew is usually with me πŸ™‚

My feelings about the Mormon church, and religion in general, are still very mixed. part of me sees so much good in the beliefs of the Mormon church. They have given me so much hope and brought me so much joy during my life. I see value in the community as well. On the other hand, I see some damage that comes from religion and the Mormon church. For me, the positive still outweighs the negative, so I keep attending, and I believe the things I can. But it is not the same experience as it used to be. I still sit there many Sundays and feel very critical about what the speaker is saying. I often enjoy church a little bit, but it is rare that I have any sort of strong positive reaction to something at church. I have met a few others that take a “cafeteria” approach to Mormonism, taking what they like and leaving the rest. Sometimes I want that for myself. But being different is hard in the Mormon church. It is much easier to attend and be a full believer than to try a middle ground approach. But ultimately, I need to figure out where I am at, what I believe. And I finally feel ready to try. For a long time I have been listening, and processing, and thinking, and believing contradicting things simultaneously…and I’m ready to try to sort that out. It is both scary and exciting to be at this point. I have so many fears. I want so badly to make people I care about happy, my husband, my parents, my grandparents, my brothers, my sisters, my cousins…and it is hard to realize that not everyone can be happy with the outcome. I guess I am finally realizing that the person I need to make happy is me. I miss the peace I used to feel. I am not as happy as I once was, on that deeper level. I miss that. And I am tired of sitting on the fence, I have been on the fence for a long time, and now I need to get off the fence, stand up, and start finding my path.

So…at this point, MyModernMormonism is going to change formats. I have told my story, up to this point, though I will continue to flesh it out as time goes on. But now, I plan to take my concerns, and related experiences, one by one and talk them out. I hope you have enjoyed reading to this point. And I hope that you will continue to read as much as you feel comfortable reading. My life is journey, my faith is a journey, and seeing your comments and support, it is just nice to know that I am not traveling alone πŸ™‚

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8 Responses to Of Sundays, Scriptures, and the Sacred

  1. Brianne says:

    Alicia, long time no talk, I know. I just want you to know that I have read every single one of your posts and have really enjoyed your story. I was raised in a very strong Christian family but three years ago began questioning most of the same things you find yourself questioning. Just know you are not the first to travel down this path, though I remember feeling very alone. I would be happy to communicate with you via Facebook if you’re interested; sometimes it’s nice to know someone in the same boat. Although my struggles were not with the LDS church, I think there are an infinite number of parallels between everyone who struggles with their faith walk. No pressure , but I’m here to talk if you’re interested!

    • crooks14 says:

      Thanks Brianne! It is so great to hear from you! I completely agree that there are many parallels between all people who struggle with their faith after growing up in a conservative religion. I would love to talk to you and hear your story! I’m sorry it has been difficult for you as well!

  2. Shana Brown says:

    Alicia,

    Just wanted you to know I’ve taken the time to read all of your posts from the end to this one. I’m going backwards….that is just kind of how I am:) sometimes. I’ve enjoyed them and feel so much love for you…mainly because I think you are so normal….even in the church. I will type more later, but I believe there isn’t a strong member of the church anywhere who hasn’t had some sort of big crisis with something that they eventually resolve….that is the amazing story of the power of the Atonement. So many of those crises are private and never shared though…unfortunately for some reasons, but very personal and understandably are kept in quiet parts of hearts. I love Jenny and I’m grateful she is so loving and helpful to you and that you have her story to help you. I’ve enjoyed reading her comments as she is one of my favorite people in the world! I’ll share more later.

    Love,
    Shana

    • crooks14 says:

      Thanks Shana! I appreciate that very much! You are very kind to take the time to read everything I have written πŸ™‚ I do agree that many people have issues and work through them. It is good to realize others out there also struggle. Lots of people do see these issues and leave the church too. And there are valid reasons to do that too I think. Hopefully I’ll figure out what is going to make the most sense to me. I certainly want to stay right now πŸ™‚

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. Though the reason for my faith crisis, pain and anger are different, I could still relate so much to what you said. It helps to know that other people feel these things too! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • crooks14 says:

      Thanks so much Leslie! I read your most recent post and I agree that it is nice to see that there is someone else out there going through a somewhat similar experience πŸ™‚

  4. Pingback: My Personal Road to Emmaus | Leslie's Illusions

  5. Pingback: Healing from sexual abuse: My Road to Emmaus | Leslie's Illusions

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