No Turning Back

How many time has someone told you that happiness is just a matter of being yourself?

It seems so simple. But I’m convinced we often don’t mean it. Or we mean it but only within a narrow range of behavior.

Schools, companies and churches reward compliance and attempt to categorize us based on traditional roles. Teachers reward a very narrow band of behavior. Companies reward predictable behavior. It seldom pays to rock the boat at work. Churches reward members who toe the line, and punish those who question why things are done a certain way.

I’ve spent most of my life being the person I thought my parents, teachers, friends, and church leaders wanted me to be. In high school I was rewarded by performing well in sports. I wasn’t expected to be a stand-out academic. When I was called to serve a mission, I assumed I should pack my personality because “being myself” would be the best way to meet and convert Germans to my beliefs. The first time I was dismissed in class I understood that what the church actually wanted was a doctrine spewing clone that never went off script.

Even as I write this blog, I’m aware that a few people come here expecting me to write a certain way and use language that’s not upsetting. Recently I’ve been told that I shouldn’t write about my beliefs because they are too personal and they upset others. This has never crossed my mind because I figured if what I wrote was upsetting anyone, they could stop reading what I write.

This blog is one place I can be myself. I’m OK that my children know where to find it and have enjoyed the questions they bring to me after reading it. They know I make a lot of mistakes. My son read my post about being married before and had some tough questions for me. I was caught off guard, but the result was a memorable discussion with my son who came away knowing a bit more about my life, even if it included periods for which I’m not proud.

I’m struggling to figure out what it means to be me. My entire belief system came crumbling down a year ago. It’s been challenging to pick up what pieces are left and see how they fit into my new life. My beliefs have ostracized family members and cost me a few friends which has been the worst part of it all. On the flip side, I’ve had a lot more people with similar theological struggles reach out to me and provide support. But most of them are looking for a sympathetic ear because they are in a situation where making their beliefs known could cost them their marriages.

But there’s no turning back. After nearly 5 decades of allowing people to define who I am, I’m taking a step towards being the person I want to be rather than the one others expect me to be.

3 thoughts on “No Turning Back

  1. There’s great joy in being authentic to yourself. It’s emancipating, empowering and maturing. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. You’re right about the “No Turning Back” part, once you’ve taken that red pill.

    Regarding sharing your beliefs, there’s a fine line between being open about your beliefs, and cramming them down others’ throats. I think the key is whether or not your audience is captive. In your blog, your audience can come (or not) and go as they please, and as they’re not captive you should feel free to be quite open about your beliefs. However if you’re in a situation where your audience is captive, such as at a family gathering, it can be disrespectful and hurtful to force your beliefs (unless asked) on others.

    Mormons are taught, as a commandment, to spread their gospel. This can become a strongly-ingrained behavior. When you move past Mormonism, it’s worth reconsidering this behavior. Is it really necessary for you to spread your ideology, whatever it may be at the moment? Or is it perfectly acceptable to not be a missionary of your present ideology? Moving past Mormonism is more than abandoning the flawed doctrines, it’s also about moving out of old and unhealthy behavior patterns.

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  2. It was the following statement in your blog entry that provoked my initial comment:

    “Recently I’ve been told that I shouldn’t write about my beliefs because they are too personal and they upset others.”

    I forgot to mention that one of the mistakes (or at least I feel that it was a mistake) that I made when I first resigned from the LDS church (8 years ago) was to think that it was important for me to spread my new ideology – LDS style (which means quite directly and personally, as a missionary does). I spoke bluntly with several individuals (mostly family members) about my new thoughts and after about two weeks it occurred to me to question this behavior. I dawned on me that I was simply continuing to act out on the trained behavior of being a member missionary and that I didn’t actually have to continue to maintain that behavior. I wish I had realized this beforehand, but there isn’t an obvious “How to exit your faith gracefully” handbook, or at least not one that I was aware of.

    It probably would be healthy for the Utah culture to have an open dialog about faith transitions in general, and what it’s like. Believers often have a hard time comprehending the actualities of the experience, and I think that a big part of it is that they’re trained to react in specific ways (I know I was) – to simply stamp things with pat explanations, which, in reality, are entirely off the mark. It would help a lot for them to understand how profoundly agonizing the experience is, and the trauma and emotion involved as the transitioning person experiences the cycle of grief. On the flip side, if I had been prepared in advance with an understanding of the realities of what a faith transition can be like, when I went through my own faith transition I might also have had sufficient vision to understand that I didn’t need to proselytize my new world view. But such understanding is anathema to the faith systems, as it sets up the understanding that people can abandon their current faith for very legitimate reasons. Rather, they need to maintain the narrative that there is no reasonable cause to abandon the faith (unless of course it’s one of those other faiths, because of course they’re all false…).

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    1. Nate, thank you for the reply. I view my beliefs and the church system in which I was raised as part of what makes me, me. I have friends and family who read my blog. Even my own kids read it now. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and maybe it will resonate with someone or give them a bit of courage in dealing with their own faith transition. I don’t expect anyone to make a change based on my experiences, especially one as personal as religion.

      My brother-in-law also left the LDS church a number of years ago. On his way out, he said little about his new beliefs so really anything about his experience. I respect that. But that’s not how I’ve chosen to deal with my situation. I will continue to share my journey and my ups and down with family and friends because that’s how I am. If people don’t like it, they can find another blog to read.

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