Sunday, May 19, 2013

Keeping Up Appearances

I used the Lord's name in vain in my parents' presence.

I think it was somewhat appropriate, considering they'd just told me that a member of the ward I'd grown up in had broken his leg while working alone on his property and had to hobble all the way back to his house to get help.  "Oh, God, that's horrible!" is a completely normal, sympathetic reaction.  But immediately after I said that, I realized that I wasn't supposed to say those kinds of things around family.  I said "damn" once, too, but I was on the phone in the other room, so I'm not sure if they heard me.

It's exhausting trying to maintain an inoffensive, sanitized demeanor around my family.  I know their ears won't start bleeding if I swear, but considering how little they understand about my departure from the church, I hesitate to demonstrate any kind of behavior that will reemphasize to them how much my lifestyle differs from theirs.  I work on Sundays (almost every Sunday, actually), but I don't bring it up unless a specific day is being discussed.  I neglect to discuss the R-rated movies and more intense TV shows that I've watched.  And I still haven't told them that I've been living with my girlfriend for the last two years...although I'm pretty sure they know.

My attempts to modify my behavior in my family's company reminds me of the constant need I felt as a church member to continually force myself into the Mormon box.  Growing up, I was always aware of who and what everyone else (family, local church leaders, the Brethren, God, etc.) wanted me to be.  And I spent so much time trying to change myself to fit that mold.

You like playing computer games to relax?  Nope!  Better use your time more effectively and read your scriptures!
You're an introvert who's uncomfortable in crowds?  Nope!  Better speak regularly in front of the whole congregation while preparing yourself to spend two years talking to thousands of different strangers!
You're frustrated and need an outlet for your anger?  Nope!  Keep smiling, pray, read your scriptures, and ask God to help you let go of anger next Fast Sunday.
You like boobs?  Nope!  Train yourself to keep your eyes up because even enjoying the shapeliness of a fully-clothed female body is wrong!

It was exhausting.  I mean, I thought it was normal at the time.  I guess maybe it seemed like life was supposed to be that hard and feel that hopeless.  On some level, I think I knew that I was acting like someone that I wasn't.  But I think I was scared that it was because everybody else at church was better.  I was scared that the other kids (well, except for the ones that obviously didn't bother with the church's stringent rules) didn't need to act.  I was doing everything I could to modify my behavior to fit the church's expectations and I feared that some of my more pious comrades came upon their behaviors naturally.  I was running as fast as I possibly could just to break even.  Now, of course, I realize that my tireless work to maintain a good image made me appear to be the nearly the model of a Mormon adolescent.  But at the time, I felt like I was just barely hanging in there.

Now that I've let go of the church and its rules and expectations, I've learned to challenge myself based on my own standards and my own rules.  It's much, much better this way.  I'm much more motivated to succeed and much less hard on myself when I don't.  I want to achieve my goals because they're my goals--not the ideals imposed on me by a religion that was thrust upon me as a child.  And when I fail to achieve my goals I've only failed myself--instead of failing my parents, my bishop, my church and my deity.

But every time I go back home I feel the need to, for my family's sake, change how I act and withhold information about my life to avoid offending their sensibilities and exacerbating an already awkward relationship.  It's almost useful as a reminder of how much I've gained from leaving the church.  It reminds me how much I can be myself when I'm away from the influence of Mormonism.

But I love being as free as I am.  And I've been out of the church and out of my parents' house for so long now that I think I'm getting worse and worse at maintaining the allusion of a semblance of piety.  And one of these days, I'm going to accidentally let loose an F-Bomb...and that will be a very, very uncomfortable situation.

1 comment:

  1. One of the biggest factors that turned me off toward the church is how judgmental members are. My mother is really bad that way. I can give you example after example. Her comments always start with "I don't judge, but..."

    I could't sit down to relax and watch a football game (on Sunday after church) without her saying up something like, "if you knew as much about the scriptures as you do about football, you could be the bishop," or something like that. That was when I was reading the scriptures regularly and actually got a free triple combination from my seminary teacher for reading a chapter every day for a year. I actually memorized a couple of chapters so I could recite them if I forgot to bring my scriptures with me to camp or something. How cult-like is that?

    She chastises my wife if family home evening is 5 minutes late (apparently it's supposed to be right at 7 pm.).

    She says that if you stay up late or sleep in, it's against the Word of Wisdom.

    She gets mad at my brother's wife for drinking Diet Coke, which I heard from a reliable source is President Monson's favorite soft drink. In fact, when he goes to BYU to speak or go to a ball game, he has to have someone bring it in for him since you can't get it there. I wonder if he passes it off as root beer, which has beer is the name, so it's probably bad too.

    She was always worried about "avoiding the appearance of evil." She used guilt as a weapon to get me to comply, even though I was a really good kid. it's no wonder that it wasn't until the last couple of years, when realized that I no longer believe most of the church's teachings, that I have overcome a lifelong struggle with depression for never being good enough, totally causes by the church. I'm much happier, get more done, and my relationship with my wife and children has never been better. Life is good.