motherhood, mental health & mormonism

Still Here. Again.

Apr 19, 14 • Faith2 CommentsRead More »

I was going to write kind of an advice post – “how to stay LDS” but then I realized that a lot of much wiser, more experienced, much more helpful people have already done that. Wish I’d found them earlier!

So here, I’ll just document my own survival and coping strategies I’ve used up to today, right now, when I feel like I might actually make it. I’ve only ever witnessed my own faith transitions, never anyone else’s except via internet discussion with people I’ve never met.

candle_poem-01Looking back now, I can see how this whole faith transition thing has unfolded for me, and I can predict how it will continue to unfold. I can see God’s hand in it from beginning to end, which is both frustrating and vindicating at the same time.

First, one of my favorite, “less-important” tenets of church culture – the Word of Wisdom – fell under my own personal scrutiny. I realized that it was being taught very differently from what was actually written. For the very first time, I had to separate doctrine from culture. It rattled me pretty bad that the two even needed to be separated, but with time I got more comfortable with it.

Next, I was forced to scrutinize a more-important tenet of church culture: women’s roles within the church. Luckily, I had a tenuous grasp on the separation between doctrine and culture and was able to use that to keep from giving up totally. What really wigged me out was realizing that Prophets of God contradict each other – that almost did me in entirely. I was already struggling with a serious depressive jag at the time (Depression with a capital D), so it was hard to cope. I cried a lot in public. I threw things at the TV during general conference. I caused trouble on Facebook with people who Totally Didn’t Get It, even though mere months ago I had been just like them. And then I read Life of Pi, and a feeling of total peace took the place of all my angst and confusion. It doesn’t matter if the stories are true or not. There’s no way we ever could reliably convey infinite, eternal truths in their fullness anyway. Those can only be received through personal revelation. I was ready to take personal responsibility for my own beliefs and keep attending church despite the inconsistencies.

Most recently, my doubt revolved around something actually being taught as doctrine within our temples: the inference that men can be exalted as gods, but that women cannot (as outlined in Elisothel’s Mormon Priestess a couple weeks ago). Before, it was just the “hearken” phrase that bothered me, so I was able to brush it off as a cultural distortion, but faced with a rational, scholarly discussion of ALL the differences between men’s and women’s covenants in the temple, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Sexism could no longer be forgiven as a sin of the ignorant, bigoted, and unchristlike – it thrives at the core of our deepest, most sacred doctrine and is clearly believed and supported by our most elite leaders.

This was is devastating to me. How could I possibly attend a church that teaches principles that directly oppose my own personal revelation? How could I pin all my hopes on the remote possibility of change in something so deeply rooted? How could I survive a blow to something that was so dear to me – my eternal destiny? Luckily, I wasn’t Depressed (with a capital D) when this one hit, so my depressive (lowercase d) funk only lasted a couple of weeks.

And somehow, I made it through. I’m still active. I can still feel the spirit. I know I’m still on the right track for me. And in the process, I finally noticed some patterns of transition and survival that might be helpful to you. (See below).

But seeing these patterns makes me wonder – what’s next? Obviously, things that were heartwrenchingly disturbing to me during the 2nd and 3rd waves of faith crisis don’t bother me anymore now, so what will disturb and heartwrend me next? Some possibilities I’m preparing for:

    • Personal insult or rejection from a ward member or friend. As you probably know, my self-esteem is a delicate situation. I’ve never been able to count on approval from family, so I learned at an early age to hope for it from ward members. I’m just now starting to wean myself off. It’s getting better (yay!) and I’m relying less and less on the approval of others for my own sense of worthiness, but I think I’d still have a hard time getting past a personal attack of some sort right now. I do know this will happen at some point, and hopefully I can build up my emotional armor enough to withstand it once it does happen
    • Official “thus saith the Lord”-style revelation or commandment that directly contradicts my own personal revelation (as opposed to just a GA’s personal opinion mingled with scripture). Obviously, given our church’s history of inconsistency and error, I’m going to follow my own personal promptings and experiences over an official decree I know to be wrong. The moment my doing what I can confidently feel is right puts me in contempt of church leaders’ direct instructions, I’m bound to have another doozy of a faith crisis.
    • Backward progress in the treatment of women in the church. Recently I heard about a stake president who decreed that coming to church without pantyhose on was immodest (unless you’re a man – then no pantyhose required) and that he expected all women to wear pantyhose every Sunday. Something like that on a church-wide scale would rattle me pretty bad. A lot of issues I can put on the back shelf, but as Em says, I can’t shelve my experience as a woman. I have to live as a Mormon woman every day of my life, it’s not something I can just not think about so it won’t bother me. Luckily, the trend of the moment is forward progress, so I’ll keep hoping for that.

So, for all my heavy-burdened fellow travelers, here are some understandings that helped me along the way:

My most helpful mantras:

  • Find the good.” Revelation that came to me as I caught myself listing off all the cringe-worthy things I’d heard at church one Sunday. I realized that if I focused on the helpful, uplifting things I’d heard instead, I might have a chance of staying in the church. It also helped me find the good in myself, which can be difficult to do when I know that I’m changing my definitions of what makes a good woman, a good church member, a good human being. Drops of awesome, right?
  • Do the work.” Inspiration that came to me in the celestial room one day. I knew that I’d been caught with my pants down on the second wave of faith crisis, caught in a season of ease and complacency, and I was struggling to find the motivation to increase my efforts at prayer and study in case they’d only bring me more pain. Luckily, I found alternative ways to fight to keep my spirituality alive until I was ready to return to the old search-ponder-pray routine. (See suggestions below)
  • Faith is not a wagon, it’s a path to enlightenment.” See Fowler’s faith stages. We tend to take the “iron rod” analogy to mean that anyone who’s not in physical contact with that iron rod is as good as damned if they don’t get their act together. This model of faith sets questioners and truth-seekers up for a lot of guilt and shame. Fowler’s stages show us that doubts and questions, even angst and confusion, aren’t symptoms of a hell-bent soul but of an earnest seeker pushing closer and closer to enlightenment. This was a HUGE development for me.
  • It doesn’t matter if the stories are true.” See Life of Pi. I’m a very detail-oriented person, I tend to get caught up in technicalities and minutiae. Thanks to Life of Pi, I’m learning to instead meditate the eternal principles behind the stories – not just canonized church-approved stories either, but any good spiritual stories I can get my hands on – so I can learn with my spiritual mind rather than my intellectual one.

Some more nuggets of wisdom I can share in case you might need them…

 

Things I wish I hadn’t done:

  • vented to the RS president. She was sympathetic, but still not very helpful.
  • Vented to my inlaws. They’re not TBMs, but I still should have known they wouldn’t get it
  • Beat myself up when prayer and scripture study made it worse, not better
  • Beat myself up for doubting
  • Beat myself up for being angry at God
  • Tried to distract myself from the pain with entertainment and busy-ness

 

Things I’m glad I did:

  • reached out to friends who had struggled with the gospel in the past
  • apologized to those friends for having judged and misunderstood them back then
  • included my husband in all my thought processes, not just the angry ones. I think this helped him understand that I wasn’t just trying to be rebellious or counter-culture or something. I was very open with him about my confusion and grief so he could see that I really was trying to do what was right, whatever that was.
  • turned to other sources of spiritual nourishment (see below) until I was ready for traditional ones
  • reached out to my mom and dad, both of whom are unorthodox members and have no real vested interest in my church membership. (therefore it was safe for me – approach your own parents with caution!) They aren’t really invested in my personal life, but they were still sympathetic and could relate to my feelings and experiences.
  • Took regular inventory of past spiritual experiences and gospel principles I’m certain I believe in (Atonement, baptism, repentance, charity, forgiveness, love – I can get behind those!)
  • Kept going to church even though it was hard (I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone)
  • Kept going to the temple, modified each time based on my comfort level. Did sealings or initiatories when I couldn’t stomach endowments, did baptisms when I couldn’t handle any of the above. Brought my own names to shift my focus and deepen the meaning. It was enough to remind me that I could still feel the spirit there and that the basic purpose of the temple was still something important to me.
  • Bore my testimony publicly and privately of the benefits of questions, doubt, and faith transition whenever possible. It really does strengthen whatever testimony you do still have.

 

Tender Mercies that also helped:

  • the revelation that God wasn’t angry at me for being angry at Him
  • a dream that helped me know that I was loved and that Heavenly Mother knows my pain but is joyful to see her daughters awakening to a knowledge of their true value and potential
  • A couple of friends who get it. Not everyone has this luxury. I sure didn’t for a very long time, but on the first wave of my faith crisis I fasted and prayed for friends who would understand. Then one morning I woke up with a name in my head, an acquaintance I had done business with a couple of years prior. I called her that day, took her out to dinner that week, and soon found out she was going through very similar issues. Another dear friend who had been very close during my TBM years moved back into town and actually sought me out (something that never happens in my relationships, ever – I’m usually the one pursuing people) and was having a minor faith transition of her own. These friends have meant more to me than all the spiritual experiences in the world – if you’re familiar with my self-worth problems, you know that people putting effort into being my friend and understanding me (instead of the other way around) is a huge, huge deal to me.

 

Alternative sources of spiritual nourishment:

(disclaimer: I do not suggest these as a permanent replacement for traditional LDS spiritual rituals like prayer, scripture study, FHE, etc – just a temporary or supplemental route to follow in the event of a spiritual emergency in which traditional routes no longer provide the sustenance needed to survive a faith crisis. After all, that’s when you need it most, right? My point is this: do whatever you have to in order to stay in touch with your spirit and those on the other side of the veil who love you.)

  • Music is a big one for me. Plus it helps that, as the official ward pariah, and a woman to boot, the only callings I can be trusted with are music-oriented. But that hasn’t spoiled it for me… yet. Anyway, church music isn’t the only spiritual music out there.
  • Nature helps give me new perspectives and calm my soul. Change of scenery is good for symptoms of depression and anxiety too.
  • Fasting is most effective when you are suffering in spirit along with your body. It’s worth a try!
  • Genealogy started out as a busywork distraction from my pain and confusion, but turned into a real healing balm. Most of the time I focus on finding female ancestors so they won’t be nameless and forgotten – it has actually helped a great deal, especially given that I also took up the habit of…
  • Talking to ancestors instead of God. He doesn’t mind. He told me so. I know that my angels are my ancestors, so I talk to them all the time. I learned that my angry internal dialogues make it harder to hear them though, so I’ve had to work on my sarcastic, bitter self-talk. Which has also been a healing balm.
  • Good Books always start out as distractions too, but once in a while I’ll find one that truly feeds my soul. Life of Pi was a bona-fide spiritual experience, as was The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
  • Believe it or not, Yoga has been a huge buoy to me these last months. It is meditation in motion, after all. I never realized what that meant until my faith crisis. When verbalizing prayers is painful and difficult, Yoga can be a way to worship or express spirituality with your body. Try it sometime!
  • Writing it down. This blog has been awesome in helping me put my feelings and convictions into words. Some things I write in my journal, some things go in here, but a lot of revelation happens while I write these things down.
  • Ward hopping. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s what I plan to do as soon as my faith transition goes to the next level: Personal Conflict. I’m pretty sure that nothing but contention or exclusion from my own friends and neighbors can shake me as bad as I’ve already been shaken, so when that happens, I’ll attend other wards.
  • Other churches’ worship services. I don’t do this often because none that I’ve tried have been as satisfying as my own church, but I suggest this because it might help someone else who experiences too many triggers in LDS services. And who knows, that might be me one day.

And I’m spent. But just for good measure, a list of uber-helpful references that got me through some tough spots:

Fowler’s Faith Stages

StayLDS.com: How to Stay

Uchtdorf: Come Join With Us

Faith Transitions According to Mike C

Life of Pi

2 Responses to Still Here. Again.

  1. Em says:

    I really appreciate this list of experiences and strategies. I haven’t read Life of Pi, but one of the things that helped me was separating the kinds of true. The scriptures are true, but in what sense? In the sense that they are a literal description of exactly what happened by an unbiased and perfectly informed observer? Maybe. But they’re full of contradictions. They’re true in that everything in them is intended for our edification and is beneficial? Maybe. But there are some super weird bits. To me, they are true in the sense that from them I can gain insight and knowledge about God, and I feel the Spirit which teaches me. In other senses of the word true they are sometimes yes, sometimes maybe not. It was a great balm to me when I realized that I could have a testimony of truth without having to believe things that just felt wrong. I think General Conference can be the same way. Often I feel taught by the Spirit, or hear just one or two sentences in a whole session that were exactly what I need to go forward with faith.

    • Pepper says:

      Thanks for that insight! I’ll add that to my tool kit, maybe as a mantra: “What kind of true is this?”

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