The following is the first in a two-part guest post by a private blogger who wishes to remain anonymous. In it she discusses her life-long search for faith and the realities of living in and raising children in what she likes to call a “bi-cultural” family.
I was raised in the southwest, to parents who were and are faithful members of the church. We were orthodox in every way; scripture study every morning, FHE every week, strict Sabbath obedience, etc. My dad was one of two bishops in the town I spent my adolescence. He was known as the ‘mean bishop’ because he followed rules to the letter. We lived in the Bible belt, so everyone went to some kind of church. The morals of the community were conservative. I was one of three LDS kids in my high school.
My parents had both come from lukewarm LDS families. When my parents married, they were determined to raise faithful children, and they did all the right things. I want to make that clear because I think it is easy to cast blame on the parents when a child goes ‘astray.’ The choices I made in my life, I made knowing full well what everyone was thinking and feeling relative to those choices.
For whatever reason, I have always been a skeptic. I have a very vivid memory of being 5 years old, and really wondering whether or not there was a God. Let’s just say childlike faith has never been one of my gifts. My parents were understandably distraught by this and instead of giving room for thoughtful inquiry, tended toward ‘if we don’t talk about it maybe it will go away’.
I was a good child. Being the firstborn, I had that drive to please adults. If I’d been born second, I might have gotten myself into more trouble. I had good friends, was active in my YW group, and graduated from early morning seminary. There were times I thought I had a testimony, but those nagging doubts always crept in.
It is so hard to separate what is your culture and what you really, truly believe. At least it always has been for me. As a teenager, I just figured I would work it out sooner or later, and chose the path of least resistance, going along with it until I was ‘born again’. I went to BYU and that is when I fell apart.
BYU was total culture shock for me. I had the freedom, I suppose, to question things more actively than I had done at home. It is difficult, even now, with many years to analyze it, to describe what was going on. It was a combination of my kicking against the pricks, having a goofy/inept bishop, and going through genuine spiritual searching and questioning, guilt, and a hundred other things.
I remember as a junior thinking I ought to leave BYU because there were more faithful kids throughout the world who deserved my place more than I did. But at the same time I knew if I left, I might leave the church altogether and I wasn’t ready to do that, either. The biggest problems for me were less about ‘is this the true church’ and more about ‘is there a God at all?’ And if there were, was this church His only version of how things were going to be?
One year during my time at BYU, I was called to teach gospel doctrine in my student ward. I remember laughing out loud when the counselor asked me. How could that possibly be an inspired deal? God knew I wasn’t so sure what I believed, and I was going to teach gospel doctrine? Only now can I see that keeping me connected was the best thing for me. This would be a theme throughout my adult life.
At some point, I think during my senior year, I hit a cracking point. I decided if I were going to leave the church I would never feel comfortable because I would always second guess myself. “This is the true church, and just because you don’t believe it doesn’t make it not so” would have plagued me my entire life. So, I decided I could be either be crazy outside the church, or crazy inside it. I chose the “fake it til you make it” route. This is a church of works, and I would try to work myself to eventual faith. (If only I had read Believing Christ at 20 something years old, instead of nigh unto 40….)
After I graduated from BYU, I worked for a company in Provo. I was in singles wards until I went to graduate school at age 25.
When I went away to graduate school, I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to start over. I was going to New Mexico, to my home stake. I hoped I would really know these people and finally have a group of people I could count on for support. Instead, the worst thing happened. I started attending the student ward, and found I was the oldest person in it. I had been previously been friends with these kids’ older siblings. So I went to church and sat by myself, week after week after week. I’d try to engage other people, since I was older and wiser, but I just got tired of feeling lonely.
Essentially all the doubts and fears, feelings of unworthiness and unresolved questions and issues about myself and about the church I had over the years culminated into my becoming less active. My situation was complicated by my social life. I didn’t feel worthy to date LDS men who were firm in their testimonies and, because I was more comfortable, I had more serious relationships with men from other faiths.
During that time, I met up with a friend of a friend who had become an apostate. Having been there himself, he tried to help me work things out because he certainly understood where I was coming from. He even went with me to check out some family wards to see if I could find a place to fit in. But I never did. And so I just stopped attending church. I sort of gave up.
An important part of the story to me is how a person can be raised in an absolutely loving, spiritual home, and sometimes it still isn’t enough for some of us. Sometimes we just have to find our own way. I really think that even if I would have settled down and married one of the missionaries I had dated and was writing and just went down that path after he came home I would have still struggled with my faith. Or if I’d married some other nice RM when I was 21ish. But it would have been even trickier because then I would have already been to the temple, made the covenants, and felt even less free to question. Less able to come to true answers because I’d already committed to living it.
Shortly after I arrived at graduate school, a friend there said, “I know this guy back home. He’s a total freak and you two would hit it off.” I didn’t really think about it in any other terms than as a distraction. David was really witty and was fun to talk to.
We’d been emailing back and forth not too long when he said, “So, you were living in Utah. That must have been total culture shock being around all those Mormons.” My friend hadn’t told him I was LDS (even though I was the first one she’d ever met!). And I wrote him back saying that it was indeed culture shock, that I’d never been in contact with so many LDS people in my life. This was absolutely true.
Eventually I told him I was LDS, but I wanted to give him time to hang himself—to see if he would say something snotty. But he never did. Our friendship grew. We didn’t talk much of faith. He was a lapsed Episcopalian. His grandfather was a minister and his mother had spent several years in Nigeria as a missionary’s daughter. Although he’d previously been an alter boy and played the organ for church, etc., when he was about 14 years old, they moved to a new town, and his mom never felt at home at the new congregation, and the kids didn’t really want to go, so they stopped going.
Much of the time we were “dating,” I was in grad school and he was in another city. It wasn’t until I graduated that he came to visit, and that was the first time we met face to face. It was odd, but we recovered well enough. Between May and the next spring, we traveled back and forth to visit one another. We talked about marriage, and I said to him that I would do it, but only if I could raise Mormon babies. He promised that I could. But I don’t know if he really thought much about it because I was pretty inactive at the time.
Eventually we became engaged. It did not go over well with my parents. My mom flipped out, in her most understated way. I think this was the first time they really understood the magnitude of my spiritual confusion. But, my mom would never do anything to alienate her children, so she tolerated it as best she could. If you compare pictures from my brother’s temple wedding to mine, I can still see the anxiety/grief on their faces.
After we got back from our honeymoon, I went back to Utah because the company I worked for had helped pay for graduate school. I worked there a couple more months before moving to Portland to be with David. I don’t think I went to church at all during those two months. But the first Sunday I was in Portland, I started going. I’ve been active ever since. David went with me that first Sunday and I can remember thinking, “Oh maybe I’ll just drag him with me every week.” But that was not to be.
I don’t know what happened. I guess it was just that I was married now and I needed to go to church because that is what grownups do. I still had the same doubts and struggles I’d always had, but I just felt that if I was going to be serious about being and LDS mom I’d better get used to going on my own. And I tried to put my past behind me. Because we’d never lived in the same city, when I started going to back church it wasn’t noticeable to David, because he’d never seen me go or not go.
During the years before we had children, I taught Relief Society for at least two years. Then I was asked to be the education counselor in the Relief Society presidency. At any point, I could have told the bishop, “You’ve got the wrong lady for the job” but I just couldn’t do it. I decided that if the call wasn’t inspired, it didn’t make any difference, and if it were, God knew me and where I stood, and He wanted me for the job anyway. I have spent most of my active years teaching Relief Society, except for that year teaching Gospel Doctrine. During those years in the presidency, I tried to be faithful. I tried to reconcile things. Once, my bishop asked me why I didn’t take out my endowments, and I brushed him aside with a line about “well, tithing is kind of a tricky thing”, never getting up the nerve to tell him all the doubts that were still in my heart.
I’ve always had this superstitious idea that bishops (stake presidents, etc.) have ESP or some spiritual equivalent. I know it isn’t true, that it is magical thinking, but I feel it is true. And I always waited for someone to ask me what was really going on. No one ever did.
To be continued on Tuesday, June 3