Nov 2, 2008

Why Are You Still Here?

This week I had a bit of a spiritual meltdown. Sometimes the things about the Church that trouble me get to be so overwhelming that it feels like a spiritual panic attack: like the walls are closing in and you just can't take it anymore and need to get out.

So after I let out my frustrations, which I need to do periodically whenever they build up, I started thinking about why I'm still here.

I came to a conclusion: it all boils down to Jesus.

Life in the Church is a constant struggle for me because my spirituality is like a roller coaster ride that I can't get off. Roller coasters can be scary and yet most people love them. Even if they vomit afterwards, the ride itself was fun enough that chances are they will want another ride someday. Right now, I'm in the vomiting period, for lack of a better analogy. But I'm not getting off the roller coaster because even though I have no guarantee, I'm hoping that Jesus will be waiting for me when the ride is over.

I'd like to say that I will be able to just tune out all the painful aspects of Mormonism whenever I hear or read them. I'd like to say that I'll be strong enough to not let them get me down or make me angry. I'd like to say that I will able to focus only on the things that make me happy about life as a Mormon, and not the things that make me sad. I'd like to say that whenever I question or disagree with something in the Church, that I will be able to keep it entirely to myself and never voice my opinion. But I know I'll never be able to do any of these things entirely. Still, though, it somehow doesn't matter so much to me as long as I focus solely on Christ and my personal belief -- not in the Church, but in Him.

Today in church I had an opportunity to get back to basics. For the first time ever in my branch (at least for the past 6 six years I've attended it), we held Young Women's. An inactive sister has recently decided to come back and has been bringing along her 2 daughters, aged 11 ad 13. Another young sister who was visiting our branch decided to hold YW and asked me to come along for class. The two girls seem very sweet, innocent, and genuinely interested in the Church. They seemed to enjoy the class and the opportunity to have their own class with teachers who are not senior citizens, like most of the rest of the branch. So we had a nice, simple lesson about how we can be a positive influence on others. We touched on topics such as bullying at school and standing up for what is right. As I sat there and looked at these girls, I thought about how they were at such a vulnerable age and how most kids would never have this unique opportunity to sit down and talk about morals and values. I thought to myself that this is good; this is what I love about the Church. This is how I grew up, it's what I was taught, and it's what shaped me into the person I am today. With all my faults, I am adamant about the need for more compassion and mercy in this world. I'm fiercely opposed to racism, bigotry, and injustice. Although I'm far from perfect, I try to avoid hypocrisy like the plague and I'm afraid of being corrupted by my personal pride. All of these things I learned from my parents and from the Church. I think that is what Jesus would want. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

I know that some of you out there are going through the same sort of struggles as I am. Perhaps you're tired of having to constantly defend your personal political convictions to other Mormons. Perhaps you've had it up to here with the whole Prop 8 issue. Perhaps you are tired of trying to convince fellow Mormons that Barack Obama is not the Antichrist. Perhaps you are feeling really disillusioned by the hypocrisy of Mormons. Perhaps you are gay. Perhaps you are married to a non-member. Or perhaps you are a Mormon misfit, for whatever reason, and feel like the Church doesn't have a place for someone like you. And yet, if you're reading this right now, there is a reason why you've decided to stick around. For me, it's all about Jesus; the simplicity and the purity of His message. And while it's not my place to demand change from the Church in the areas that I would perhaps like to see it, I take comfort in the following quote, which was provided by a great friend of mine:

"I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually." -Brigham Young

I think that we sometimes make the mistake of believing that this is an "all or nothing" church. Either you believe it all, or you believe nothing. But I no longer think it has to be this way.

So, I ask all of you who struggle to stay active in this church or have considered leaving to take a step back, breathe, put things into perspective, and think. Why are you still here?

28 comments:

Day said...

I just discovered your site. I have been a faithful LDS all my life. I love the "simple gospel" of Jesus Christ as it has been taught to me. I have read the Book of Mormon many times and have strong belief in it's authenticity. However, over the last two years I have become troubled over many things. Like you I am not attracted to anything else. I would just like to understand some things better and I have nagging doubts and concerns about history, doctrine and Church actions. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts with others.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Day,

Thanks so much for your comments. I totally sympathize with your struggles and doubts because they are my own. It can be a long, hard road, and sometimes the only solace is that "simple gospel" of Jesus Christ. Hopefully it will always be enough for us.

the narrator said...

i brought eugene england with me too church today and was reading his 'letter to a college student' which you may find a worthwhile read.

you can find it here http://tinyurl.com/69y3bv beginning on page 178

Rick said...

Hey, FD - thanks for that - I just sent an email to all the other Politicalds adminstrators saying that I need to take a break from that site for a while - not that I am quitting, but I'm going to take a few to several months off - to clear my head, to clear my emotion, and to get over my disillusionment. You are a great person. I appreciate you. As I'm on this roller coster, it is nice to have people who have similar experiences or feelings as I do. Thanks for being that.

I do ask myself "why am I still here" frequently - sometimes I don't know - sometimes it seems others are all but saying, "and by the way, man - YOU AREN'T WELCOME HERE." but you are right - we do need to step back and look at it objectively.

Seth R. said...

I stay because I think that, as far as pivotal thought movements in human history go, the LDS Church is where the action is right now.

Think about this -

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, Judaism was a lot of things - some good, some bad. Throughout the New Testament, we get a LOT of the bad. Pharisees, robbing widows, supplanting the pure religion of Moses with overhyped Jewish nationalistic notions. Ugly persecution of Samaritans and other social undesirables. Horrible legalism.

But wait a moment. If you were to pick one spot on earth to be born about a year after Christ. One spot on the globe. Where?

For me, no contest. Israel - as a Jew. Hands down.

Because whether you think Judaism was good or bad or ugly at the time, it was unquestionably the place to be if you wanted to get in on the ground level of a bold new thought movement that would change the entire course of human history.

For all its faults Judaism was where it was at.

Likewise with Mormonism.

We may be petty, we may be unfair and cruel. We may be out in left field. We may be wrong.

But this Church represents probably the biggest potential paradigm shift in how humanity views God, the cosmos, and the human experience since Jesus.

This is big, whether lay Mormons "get it" or not. In fact, I don't think most Mormons understand the strength of what Joseph unleashed.

This is the next big world paradigm shift. And I have an opportunity to get in on it from the ground level. To shape it, to be a part of it.

I mean, what a head rush!

Who wouldn't want in on that?

velska said...

I have been LDS for 29 years and counting. For me, discovering the restored gospel was also discovering Jesus. The Book of Mormon was to me a witness of his divinity in a real sense.

I am not blind to mine or anyone else's shortcomings. Still, I have strong faith that there is no better way for me to learn what I need to learn.

BTW, thanks for the Bro. Brigham quote. I borrowed it in my discussion about following fallible prophets.

And I second Seth R. in that there is no group I identify more with. Before my conversion I had given up on organized religion, and I still have some misgivings about it, but I see the good it is doing to the people who let it. Here the Church is a tiny minority, so the kids grow up getting used to being different, so the "conformism" problem that exists in the Mormon corridor doesn't exist here.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Rick, I can understand the need to take a breather. I remember the frustration back a few months ago on politicalds when we were being portrayed as communists. I got over it and life goes on, but it can get to be a bit draining, you know? (And with the latest comment on my previous socialism post on this blog, it appears that communism never ceases to rear its ugly head! :)

Seth, that is a very neat perspective, and one that most of us have probably never thought of. Thanks for sharing. Being a Mormon can definitely give you a "head rush," for better or for worse. :)

Velska, I'm glad you liked the Brigham quote. Great post, by the way.

I want to thank The Narrator for sharing that link. I encourage everyone to read it. I want to quote a couple of things from it that stood out for me:

{"The special problem in the Church is that our high level of general satisfaction with the Gospel lifestyle and our genuine spiritual experiences and resulting strong commitments tend to make us willing to let sincerity be enough, without requiring of ourselves what missionaries are always requiring of other people whose beliefs they are challenging -- that one must be (as completely as possible) RIGHT as well as SINCERE. If we take the whole Gospel seriously it challenges us to be thoughtful, to test, to be sensitive, to be balanced in our use of faith and reason, of experiential evidence and the witness of the Spirit. If more Church members did things most of the excesses that bother you so much wouldn't happen -- but none of us does so very consistently, and that includes you and me."}

I think that being SINCERE is hugely important. We have to practice what we preach and avoid being hypocritical. However, I want to say that being RIGHT is of supreme importance. Not that I myself claim to always be right, I just mean being right in general. Because you can be 100% sincere and still be wrong. What do you all think?

{"I continue to believe that the burden of change is on the persons, like yourself and me, who see the problems, who are pained by the failings of the Church. Since we are the only ones who see what we think is "wrong," we are the ones who must do something constructive about it, because the people who are committing the errors can't see them. What we can do about these problems is not leave, desert, turn the Church over to those who may be perverting it, nor is it to remain within but to withdraw spiritually through our own self-righteousness; we must reach out in love, trying to help -- and also trying to learn, through out cooperation and common service, from the perspective and commitments of other people, learn to see our own faults -- lack of courage, perhaps, lack of whole-souled commitment, failings which may be in the long run, more destructive than the ones we are condemning."}

I like this quote. I think it's important to not leave. I haven't left, but I am guilty of the spiritual withdraw he speaks of. I still go to church, but I have withdrawn in some ways, such as callings and activities. I don't quite feel ready to come back in full force, I guess I'm taking one of those "vacations" he spoke of earlier in that article. Like him, I think that it can be a healthy thing as long as we don't let it go too far.

G said...

this is timely for me, because I have just embarked on a 'break' from the church. (I may return, but then again, I may not, I'm leaving my options open.)
And a large part of it was Jesus Christ. I no longer believed the church's teachings regarding Christ and the atonement. That was one of the things which had held me on for so long after so much else had dissipated: when that dissolved too... well, church became a really numbing venture that I still persisted in for quite a while. till I finally decided it was pointless to continue.

I'm still working out what to be now, trying to rebuild a demolished belief system and not really sure where it will take me.

I"m glad there are people like you working with the young women of the church. Personally, I would no longer raise a girl in the church (finding that there are plenty of other places that children can learn to not be bigots/ racists/ hypocrites/etc outside of the LDS church) but knowing that you are there, IN the church, gives me hope for the institution and the people in it.
Hang in there (if that is not too hypocritical of me to say)

The Faithful Dissident said...

G,

Thanks for your comments and sharing your experiences. I can certainly sympathize with what you must be going through.

If you don't mind my asking, how did your views of Jesus and the Atonement change for you? Do you feel a stronger connection to any other Christian denominations due to their teachings about Christ?

G said...

no problem! yes, I find myself very compelled by the Christian teachings in other denominations and have had a few very strong experiences with the sacramental rituals at a few of them.

I don't know if you could call me Christian anymore: I really don't believe in the literally defined, precisely explained, throughly cross-referenced version of the life and Gospel of Christ. (the way it is typically taught in sunday school)

Yet I still find myself riveted by the story of Jesus, this social agitator who pissed off religious leaders and shared meals with sinners and women.

so... there you go. that's where I am at the moment regarding Christ and Christian denominations. :)

Dan and Wendy said...

TFD,

Interesting post. A few years back, probably about 3 years back, my bishop challenged me to write my own commentary on the Book of Mormon. I'd read a few verses and then wrote whatever those verses made me think about at that moment in time.

I'm finally writing on Moroni 10. It has taken me several years to complete, but I should be there before the end of this week.

The experience has changed my life. I always had the aqbility to quote scriptures from the top of my head on any number of topics, but until I did this, I think that the words found in the Book of Mormon were only written in my head. Through this process I thik that they are being written on my heart. I see so much more clearly now the Lord's tender mercies to all of us.

I think that it's okay if we disagree on politics etc. At the end of the day, I believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love all of their children, regardless of what they think or do.

I also think that He's trying to save me just as fast as I let Him.

Rick said...

G, your situation is one that I have found myself in - that is my understanding of Christ and the Atonement has changed, and it doesn't always seem to line up with the Church as it used to - Don't want to go into to much more, because my account is an open account, but I understand where you are coming from precicely.

G said...

thanks rick.

heheh, FD, I just remembered this piece I did when I was starting to process my thoughts on Christianity. Just thought I'd share. :)

Gay LDS Actor said...

FD, excellent post.

I've always maintained on my blog that I will stay as long as being in the church works for me. Thus far, it does. In spite of its flaws, I believe the LDS Church to be Christ's church on earth, and like you say, it all comes down to Jesus. Because I was raised LDS and because I haven't found a better way to "come unto Christ" I stay.

There also is a cultural element. I know that as much as there are things about the Mormon culture that annoy me, I would also miss a lot of things if I left.

Bottom line, I guess, is that in spite of the difficulties, I really do love the religion I belong to and how it makes me feel and many of the things I learn from it. It, frankly, is as much a part of me as my sexuality is and has formed me and my values as much as my sexuality has. I'll stay with it as long as I feel I am gleaning positive things from it. Thus far, that proves to be the case.

The Faithful Dissident said...

G, thanks for sharing. You're an impressive artist and you have quite the imagination! I've always been hopeless with that kind of art because I have so little imagination. I seem to only be able to draw or paint reality.

Actor, you make a good point about LDS culture. I know that I usually complain about it a lot, but it certainly has its positive side. We Mormons have our quirks and some of them are actually good, I think. :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Dan and Wendy, thanks for sharing your experience. Wow, you must have the patience of Job to write your own commentary on the Book of Mormon. I think that's great and I thank you for your encouraging words.

Rick said...

Holy Crap, G....Literally - I've been making a study of Jungian Archetypes, and your fish pic is astounding in that light. It's the Archetypical night of darkness - that is the feeling of aloneness and depression and seperateness that comes before the dawn of understanding and eventual wholeness - I think she's going to be reborn - like Jonah or Jesus in the Tomb. Like Monkey buried under the 5 elements mountian - that is beautiful - thank you for sharing.

FD - I hope that wasn't a thread hijack, but that link is a year old, so I didn't want to share my reaction there - seriously cool.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Wow, you guys are so deep. :) And I thought I was artsy. Well, sort of. :)

G said...

hahaha!
thanks FD :) and you too rick.
(I vote rick as the deep one, Jungian Archetypes and all that jazz. awesome.)

Stewart Van Buskirk said...

OK, first time comment here. I love the quote from Brigham Young. Anyone know the source?

Seth R. said...

Journal of Discourses 9:150

You might also check out this article on the subject:

http://www.lds-mormon.com/mothink.shtml

adorned with life said...

I am so sympathetic.

My patriarchal blessing says that I need to understand the philosophies of the world because they will tend to lead me away from Christ. I think it's something to which I'm vulnerable.

I recommend watching this testimony video about why I'm another one of those "crazy Mormons". I think that some things I say there will resonate with you, in particular. I could be wrong but I don't think so. Plus, you get to look at my pretty Pottery Barn bed quilt. So, it's like a pretty video, too. Martha would totally be all over that.

You aren't alone in your struggles and philosophies.

I know a woman in her 80's who comes to church regularly even though she is a staunch feminist who joined the church only recently. None of her family are members. She struggles with a lot of things about the church. And yet she keeps coming. Why? There are no superficial reasons that would make her want to come-- none. She actively belonged to another church her whole life. She keeps coming because there's power in the gospel. She feels that our church is different.

Sometimes it feels like we're surrounded by Molly Mormons. But really, there are a lot of different people who make up the church membership. The holy ghost touches us in different ways.

You and I are a lot alike, I think, as far as Mormons go. You're not alone. Watch the video. ;-)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Adorned, I would love to see that video! I think you forgot to post the link, though. :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

By the way, I read your profile and thought it was great. :)

And it's about time I see another Canadian here! :)

DeweyOlsen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brenna said...

This post is rather old, but I just happened upon it earlier today. I guess I really just wanted to say thanks for having this post and thank you to many of the people who have commented, it has given me insight and a sort of slap in the face to keep going to church with an open mind.

In response to the my reasoning for staying active:
One testimony meeting, I was sitting there thinking how could anyone know anything and how was it fair that everyone seemed to be on this big secret and somehow, magically knew, that God exists and has a huge plan in store for them and their lives would be all right. (blah,blah,blah skipping ahead because my story skills are not that wonderful)During the meeting I decided that if there was one thing that I could know to be true, what would it be? And I thought: I wish I knew God exists and loves me and listens to me. And maybe, I still don't *know* that, but I believe it. Anyway... so then I figured that if there was a God then that divine power would have to love me, and could never take my family away from me. Not after I've moved and lost so many friends. And not after so many of the people I loved have died. So, at the moment I vowed to be the best Mormon church goer, duty fulfiller, good person because if anything was true; families can last forever. This has become my mantra in everything I do and in every moment of hesitation and disbelief.
:)

Walt said...

I'm hoping someone can veryify whether Benson made a quote or not. Did Benson ever say that a member of the Democratic Party had no chance of entering the Celestial Kingdom? If it is true, could someone help me with a source for the quote? Thanks very much.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Walt, I don't remember such a quote by ETB, but I know he did say to a reporter that it would be very difficult to be a Democrat and a good Mormon. You can read more about it here.