Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Miss From Mormonism

Andrew's recent post at Irresistible Disgrace got me thinking.  In his words, "What did I lose from ceasing activity with the church?"

What did I lose?  What do I miss?

1.  Family Unity
Before any of my doubts set in, my family life was fantastic.  I was the youngest of four.  My three sisters all went to BYU.  Some of them had graduated, gotten jobs, and moved across the country.  But we all kept in touch through almost-daily emails and holiday/birthday phone calls.  Those of us who were still at home had dinner together every night (assuming my dad wasn't off being the bishop or something).  We weren't perfect, but we were a good, whole, united family, and I for the most part, I felt like I belonged.

Then I left the church.

I don't feel like I belong anymore.  There are huge parts of my life (my girlfriend, my music, my religious beliefs) that I really can't talk about with my family.  They all still email each other daily, but I don't.  I don't have much to say, and anything I might want to share would have to be carefully edited and whitewashed to the point that whatever's left wouldn't really be worth saying anyway.  My interactions with almost every family member are extremely awkward.  I have one sister who's never asked me any questions about why I left the church, and actually seems to want to ignore it completely--and she's the one I feel most comfortable speaking to.

I lost that feeling of belonging in my own family.  I no longer feel like my family is awesome, and I no longer consider my family whole--because I've broken off from it in such a dramatic way.

2.  A Sense of Purpose

I grew up in the church, so I had my life planned out pretty well.  My entire life was for one goal:  reaching the celestial kingdom.  Of course, little human problems like schoolwork and friends and hobbies tended to draw my focus away from that, but I could always return to that goal when trying to re-prioritize.  The goal was broken down into various tasks:  get baptized, get the priesthood, go on a mission, get married, have kids, run the kids through the same gauntlet.  There was always something I needed to be doing to achieve that, and the church was always there to give me more ideas on how to be better and make sure I got that celestial glory that I was supposed to be working toward.

Then I left the church.

All those plans dissolved.  I wasn't serving a mission.  Did I really need to get married?  Do I even want kids?  I suddenly realized I didn't have to do all the things that I thought I'd wanted before, and I didn't know how to deal with this sudden absence of purpose.  It took me a long time to figure out that I could create my own goals for my life.  I could be the source of my own motivation, define my own parameters.  I've managed to do that, to a certain extent, but I doubt I can ever recapture the structured, everlasting supply of stuff that I need to do that the church gave me.

I lost that sense of purpose.  I regained some of it, but not in the same quantity or intensity.

3.  Self-Importance
I was good at being Mormon.  Not so much at keeping all the commandments in private, but definitely at playing the part in public.  I was the kid that could give a kickass sacrament meeting talk that would have fourth-generation members decades older than I was nodding solemnly in agreement as I shared my gospel insights.  I was the kid that Mormon mothers wished their kids were like. Seriously, my mom got a lot of compliments about me and my sisters.  I was the paragon of a young Mormon devotee--and I reveled in that.  I gained a feeling of importance from the fact that I could put off such a positive image and from all the praise that image brought me.

Then I left the church.

My self-image plummeted.  I was an outcast in my own family and I was hiding from the Mormon world I'd spent the last few decades neck-deep in.  I was deprived of the confidence of my parents and the praise of my church congregation.  I spent most of my energy in my work, which I was really good at...except that I'd recently been promoted twice, and I was now at a level I wasn't prepared for.  So I wasn't even good at my job anymore.  I've managed to improve at my job, and meeting my now-girlfriend has done wonders for my self-esteem and probably helped smooth out my post-Mormon healing process.  But I no longer feel like the paragon of anything.

I lost my sense of importance.  I've risen from the depths of a temporary period of self-loathing, but I no longer take pride in my image the way I once did.

4.  The Fallback of Faith
High school was hard for me.  Not as hard as it is for a lot of people, but I didn't have it easy.  And whenever I was facing a particularly difficult situation, it was a relief to fall back on prayer.  If I couldn't solve my problems, I could take comfort in pleading with God for help and then laying back in bed knowing that I'd done everything I possibly could.  It was actually preferable to pray and rely on divine intervention than to face my problems myself.  At least, if all else failed, I could trust in God to fix it--and if he didn't, then he had a good reason and things were meant to be how they were.

Then I left the church.

This was a hard habit to break.  It wasn't that I didn't believe in God anymore, but I was deciding to abandon the idea of religion for a while, intending to return to it later with fresh eyes for a more accurate analysis of truth.  I wasn't interested in prayer on an intellectual level, but emotionally I kept returning to it.  But my doubts made me feel silly for praying to a deity whose identity and existence were confusing to me.  When I managed to stop praying, I had to confront my problems on my own.  This was simultaneously terrifying and empowering.  And the thought occurred to me that if there was no God, then I'd overcome the ordeals in my past entirely on my own.

I lost the ability to fall back on my faith during tough times.  But I discovered that facing life without that crutch and taking on my problems without the expectation of a deus ex machina to bail me out in the end was surprisingly rewarding.

So I guess there is a lot that I've lost because I left the church.  But I regret none of it.  All of these things were put into my life by the church (The family unity is a possible exception--but I'd argue that it wouldn't have been so strong without the church) and it shouldn't be surprising that the absence of the church led to their disappearance.

What seems most important to mention, however, is that even though these were all good things to have, they were based on a lie.  The church is not true.  And I have no problem walking away from any of the benefits the church may have offered me simply on the basis that it was a lie that was fed to me for way too long.  Because the truth is what matters, and Mormonism offers a lot of untruth.

And that does not seem right to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment