This post, in one form or another, has been on my mind for a long time. My hesitation in writing it comes from my need to explain some tricky background for it to even make sense. I’m going to do my best to navigate softly while still being honest.
When I was growing up I thought I was better than other people. This may seem hard to believe after reading my posts about being painfully shy and afraid of so many people and situations, but it’s true. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and for some reason, the teachings from my church, gave me a sense of superiority. In the church I was taught that I belonged to the only true church, the church with all the answers, and the only church with the restored priesthood. I believe that the intention of these teachings was to impress upon me the gift that the church is, instead, I felt superior. I looked at other people with their religions and felt pity for them. Then I began to look at people in my own religion with the same pity because I could see all the things they weren’t doing right.
I grew up in a family where the gospel was taught constantly and consistently. We had scripture reading in the morning, shared scriptures during dinner time, went to church every Sunday, had a spiritual lesson on Monday nights, prayed as a family twice a day, and were encouraged to read the scriptures and pray on our own every day. These routines left me with a fairly good knowledge of the scriptures, not just what we call the Standard Works (Bible, Book of Mormon, and so on), but also talks from our current Prophet and his apostles. From the outside looking in, this probably seems commendable, and I would agree that gospel immersion is good, but somewhere in there, I also learned to use my knowledge as a weapon and I felt it my duty to yield it to call others to repentance.
I have tried to look back and understand where this idea came from. I think part of it stems from the black and white thinking of my past. I understood that if I wasn’t doing everything right all the time, I was completely bad. I understood that if I questioned a certain teaching and lived it differently than it had been enforced by my parents, I was completely bad. In my childhood there did not seem to be any gray areas and I carried that with me into my adult years. This concept seems hard to illustrate but I will try…
My birthday is in May which, once I started going to school, made me one of the young ones in my grade. This didn’t seem a problem until my 16th birthday approached. I had a solid group of friends that I’d had for some time, we did everything together. One of the girls from this group turned 16 one month before me and had a fantastic birthday party, with boys and girls invited and present. The party was held in a large meeting room, there were tons of yummy desserts, games to play, and plenty of adult chaperones. I was invited but told I couldn’t go because I was not yet sixteen and there would be boys there. It didn’t matter that this party was the most benign boy-girl party on the planet, seriously. NO drinking, no drugs, no real physical contact between the boys and girls. Just treats and games and laughing. I know that because I lied to my parents and went anyway.
As a teen the black and white thinking drove me crazy but as I approached adulthood and got married I gravitated more and more toward it. I made hard fast goals to read scriptures and study the words of the prophets every day (I didn’t want to be bad after all). I became even more familiar with the teachings of the church. And I openly used them to accuse others of their wrong doings. I loved being asked to speak in church because I felt it an opportunity to shame others (although I did not recognize it as that at the time). I would plan my talks in a way that I knew would openly point out all of the things I was sure everyone else wasn’t doing right. I felt that I had the calling of the prophets of old, to stand atop towers and call my fellow members to repentance. I enjoyed using the gospel as a sword to pierce those around me with the righteousness of the church and it’s leaders.
This way of life came to a peak in one of my private Facebook groups a few years ago. It is a group I set up when Donnie and I first started going to therapy. It is comprised of LDS women who have experienced similar things in their marriages. It was a place to talk, to vent, to discuss the pains and joys of our marriages, and to be open. I was just venturing out into the world of vulnerability and honesty about hard things and I wanted a safe group of women who understood my situation and the gospel. In the group a discussion started about women in hard marriages who decided that the church was no longer true. I contributed to the thread by posting quotes from prophets that I thought condemned those who stepped away from the church for any reason. I used phrases like “in the last days even the elect will be deceived”, and “there is never a reason, other than dire physical ailments, to not attend church” and many more. One of the girls in the group called me out on the post telling me that I could not know their hearts and their reasons for not going to church. She said something along the lines of “how do you know if they were prompted to spend church in the hallway reading their scriptures instead of in the classroom?” I came back at her with seemingly wise words and white answers to her black ones. I thought I was standing up for the church and the gospel, defending the truth with my God-given sword. I eventually found her so “deceived with her open mind” that I kicked her out of the group.
I think I would still be living my life that way had I not been blessed with the hell of the last few years. Last fall I made a decision to support my sister in coming forward about being sexually abused as a teen by someone close to the family. I had no idea how hard the whole situation would be. Through the process I was blamed for tearing families apart, bringing Satan into people’s lives, and digging up things that should have been left in the past. I was accused of not understanding the atonement, of holding a grudge, of having no compassion, and not praying enough. I was told that I was not only lying about the abuse that happened to my sister but that now people believe that I either made up or over exaggerated the abuse that happened to me in the past. Because of this I can’t be trusted and may report people for things they haven’t done. I was asked to stop spreading lies. I was told that what happened was none of my business.
And all of those things came from my own parents and siblings. The weapons of the atonement and prayer and the gospel were being used to stab me. And it felt awful and wrong. And for the first time in my life I started to realize what I’d been doing to those around me who I thought were less faithful. As I continued to navigate the brutal situation with my family, I persistently became more and more compassionate for those who had stepped away from the church during similar difficult times. I started to have my first real doubts about the gospel. And it was scary.
The doubts came because the family that had taught me what I’d known about the gospel, were suddenly telling me that I had it all wrong. They were now the superior ones and I was the less faithful one who knew nothing about the atonement. They were right. I was wrong. And there was nothing that could change that.
And then I knew that I could no longer believe and live the gospel the way I had been taught it or rather, the way I had learned it. That was when I began to lay down my gospel weapons, my weapons of war. There is a story in the Book of Mormon about a group of people who had once been hardened warriors, killing people and shedding blood, devoid of the love of God. When they were taught the gospel and realized how awful they’d been they bury their weapons in the ground, vowing never to unearth them, and make their way peaceably forward to live lives of love. This same people are then attacked by a group of soldeirs similar to who they had previously been and they still refuse to unbury their weapons.
These two scriptures in particular, stand out to me from Alma chapter 24:
“17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.”
I want to bury my weapons. I want to replace them with love and forgiveness, with the benefit of the doubt, with openness, less judgement, and also with boundaries. The situation with my family has not been resolved. And I don’t think that laying down my weapons means that I need to excuse the abuse that happened. To me it means that I am going to change all of the hurt and betrayal of that situation into a lesson that helped me learn a whole lot more about love. I was almost (and still sometimes feel like) someone who stopped believing in the gospel. And trying to defend my views against people with weapons did absolutely nothing to convince me that the church is true.
My continual strengthening belief in the church has come from the real blessings of the atonement. One of the biggest of which is a husband who I love and who loves me. A husband who was previously abusive and addicted is now, because of truth and openness and the grace of God, a good man with a clean conscience who is steadily progressing.
When I was growing up I’d always heard that someday I’d have to gain my own testimony and I really thought that I had sometime in my early twenties. Nope. I’ve also come to understand that this process of gaining a testimony is not a one time thing or event but a truly life long process. I thought I had to have a testimony about all the things right now, not true. For now I am going to lay down my weapons. I’m going to hope that the abuser from the above situation can some day be honest and open about what he did so he can find true recovery. I’m going to continue to love and support my sister. And I’m going to focus on the things that I do believe and stop thinking that other people, in order to be good, have to worship the way I have chosen to worship…
I believe in God. I believe in love. I believe in forgiveness. I believe that there is beauty and peace in truth. I believe that boundaries and kindness go together. I believe that good people come in every shape and size. I believe that people are doing their best. I believe that some people’s best is still something I don’t want to be part of. I believe that God loves me…and you, no matter what. I believe that being healthy emotionally can be lonely. I believe that mental illness is real. I believe that time does not heal all wounds. I believe that trust and forgiveness are two different concepts. I believe that I am a good person. I believe that my needs matter, even when others don’t believe that. I believe that I am loved. I believe that I’m important. I believe that I am surrounded by amazingly neat people who love and care for me. I believe that I am a good wife, friend, and mother. I believe that a full range of emotions is important and necessary to feel joy. I believe that I don’t have to be friends with everyone, but I do want to be kind. I believe that life is really hard. I believe that life is worth living.
I believe in burying my weapons. And I believe in love.