My story is no different than any other. I grew up Mormon, in Utah. I was the Laurel class president (Beehive and Mia Maid too). I went to BYU. I come from pioneer stock on one side and pioneer + alcoholic stock on the other (beware, this leads to a compulsion to force feed others in a twisted combination of Christian charity, Mormon guilt, and alcoholic co dependence. Drinks anyone?). I grew up attending my meetings and fulfilling callings like any other good Mormon. I testified during meetings. I knew the church was true. And I did know. That is, until I didn’t.
As a recovering perfectionist, my natural tendency is to lean towards an extreme. So, when I’m righteous — boy howdy — watch out. I’m banging down your door to visit teach you. I’m literally praying in my heart. all. day. long. When I had my son, I did EVERYTHING one is supposed to. I read books. I made lists. I checked those lists off. I implemented strategies. And I failed. Miserably. My sons (they multiplied!) were unhappy and unhealthy. So was I.
And yes, falling off that cliff of self-assurance led to a very bloody and painful landing. When I had the strength to lift my head and take a look at the mess I had created, I mourned anyone’s ability to know, anything. I doubted myself, my God. I doubted my family, my heritage, my children, my faith.
I can’t say that I’ve been able to restore my ‘knows’ in the Gospel or in my faith or in my life since then. But I can say that more than being restored, I have been rebuilt; through perseverance and teeth-gritting transformation, I have learned that progress is more important than perfection and parenting involves so much more than lists and strategies. I have also learned that being a religious person in a modern world often requires more creativity than knowledge, and more charity than self-assurance.
My family lives in Austria now. I’m sure you know more about Austria than I did when I moved here (what bathroom am I supposed to use… ‘Damen’ or ‘Herren’?), but they speak German here. German is a little bit NOT like English. I’ve been attending church here for a whole year. At first, I understood 0% of what was said. I’ve gotten more use out of the smile and nod tactic than even Sarah Palin.
I’ve sat through many worship services where the only word I understood was ‘love.’ One day in Relief Society, I understood ‘For me…”. The next week I understood the word atonement. In a very real way, I’ve been forced to start over. I’ve had to learn about the gospel and myself and my faith from the beginning.
Making a wreck of your life can sometimes lead to the most liberating sense of freedom. Being forced to give up my ‘knows’ led to a strong and reliable set of ‘believes.’ I’ve learned how to trust in something I can’t control, to perform actions because they bear fruit and to avoid actions that hinder progress. And believing, for me, has made all the difference. Filled with belief instead of knowledge, faith instead of assurance, I go, I serve, I accept, I trust. One day, I’d like to know. But for now, I’m enjoying believing very much.
What do you know? Do you use the words ‘I know’ or ‘I believe’ when speaking of religion? Why or why not? Is there any value in ‘not knowing?’ If so, what? If not, explain?
And if you’d like to hear more from other Segullah authors, here’s a poem from Melody Newey about inspiration, the best story on mothering I’ve ever read from Arlene Ball, and an inspiring tale about giving up control by Emily Orton.