Trust

Two weeks ago, we drove to the Las Vegas airport with our 15–year old daughter. We went inside and escorted her to security. We made sure she made her way through security before leaving.

Our daughter was on her way to Dallas to visit her boyfriend.

Were we worried she’d be safe?

What if she made unwise decisions?

What if she didn’t have fun?

I thought about these and other concerns parents have about their children. My spouse and I spoke about them together and with our daughter. We confirmed the details of her trip and knew she’d be taken care of while in Dallas so we decided she was mature enough to make the trip.

Above all else, it comes down to this: We trust our daughter.

She makes wise decisions regarding her free time, her schooling, and her friends. She has a track record of making wise decisions. That could change, and I’m sure she’ll have ups and downs. But we are trying to raise our children to make most of their own decisions.

I grew up in a church where many decisions were already made for me. It’s easy to offload a good chunk of parenting to the church without giving it much thought. I believe my parents assumed the church would teach me about a number of important topics ranging from alcohol to sex.

My parents and the church were in total agreement so whatever I was told at church was an extension of their rules. My spouse and I are not raising our kids in a church which means we need to have these conversations with our kids instead of assuming it’s happening elsewhere.

I am certain that we will make mistakes. We were both raised in an orthodox religion so it’s been both a challenge and relief to learn as we go. I believe that our children will be better off in the end.

As for the trip to Dallas? Our daughter returned home safe and sound. The only problem? She’s ready to go again!

Raising Children Outside of Mormonism

One thing I’ve noticed since stepping away from religion is how many choices I allowed it to make on my behalf. One quote I heard while I was a teenager: “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” In other words, you’re free to make your own choices, but the leader of the church has already decided what you should do…so choose wisely. I didn’t need to spend a lot of time figuring things out on my own because God’s prophet had already told me what to think and how to act.

For most of my life, I believed that prophets were directly called by God. I believed they spoke with God and were given important advice for them to pass along to his followers on earth. This advice would find its way into talks given each week at church, manuals from which lessons were taught as well as magazines and videos published and produced by the church.

There are few topics which prophets and other church leaders haven’t covered such as what activities are appropriate on the Sabbath, why Coke was OK but coffee was evil, and how many earrings are appropriate for women (one pair) to wear. And as a parent, it was easy to default to church policies instead of discussing it to see if it made sense for our family. That recently changed when the topic of dating came up in our home.

Mormons are taught at an early age that 16 is the proper age at which boys and girls can begin dating. So when our oldest daughter, who is 15, mentioned that she was going to be asked to the high school prom, Kim and I had a decision to make. If we were still attending church, the debate would be over.

Instead, something really cool happened. Kim and I discussed how we felt about our daughter attending the prom. We gathered more details about her date, her transportation to the dance, and the post-dance activities. We talked openly about the evening with our daughter. In the end, we didn’t see a problem with her going to the prom before she turned 16 and gave her permission to do so.

This is just one example of how things have changed over the past couple of years. I don’t blame the church or its leaders because they are trying to be helpful and provide general guidance to their followers. I don’t plan to throw away everything I learned as a Mormon. I still feel that dating in groups at young ages is wise, even if I don’t believe there’s anything magical or sacred about the age 16.

But Kim and I know our daughter better than any prophet or church leader, and we are in the best position to advise and guide her through her teenage years. This experience has made me reconsider a number of topics on which the church takes a particularly harsh and vocal stance. One of those issues is the church’s stance on homosexuality. I was taught it was a choice and an abomination before God, and I’m happy our children won’t grow up hearing such harmful language in church.

The good news is that our nation is growing more accepting of groups who have been historically marginalized. We’ve got a long way to go, but I like what I’m seeing in our youth who hear about the church’s stance on some social issues and wonder what all the fuss is about. Of course, everyone regardless of their sexual orientation should have the same rights as everyone else. Of course, women should have as many opportunities to serve in leadership positions as men do. And no, God didn’t place a curse of black skin on a group he deemed unrighteous no matter how many prophets claim such nonsense or how many times the curse is mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

These and other social issues are non-issues to most of the kids I meet. They strive to be accepting and loving and inclusive. Maybe one day the church will be just as progressive. But it’s too little, too late for our family. We’ve found happiness working through a number of difficult and complex issues together. Topics we thought were settled by the church are back on the table and open for discussion. It’s interesting that leaving the church has brought our family closer together.

Controlling God

I used to believe that I could control God.

I know that sounds odd. It feels strange to write it out and read it, but it’s the truth.

From a young age I was taught that god was watching my every move. Not only was he watching what I did and said, but he could read my thoughts. Based on that information, god would divvy out rewards based on how closely they matched his rule book.

His rule book consisted of what I was taught at church and included a lot of “don’ts”.

Don’t date till you’re 16.

Don’t think impure thoughts.

Don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol.

Don’t have sex till you’re married.

Don’t watch rated R movies.

Don’t go shopping on Sunday.

Don’t be gay.

The list of don’ts was exhausting. But if I stayed away from these and hundreds more, I’d be blessed. Or punished if I decided to ignore them.

While serving a mission in Germany, I was transferred to a new area. We didn’t  have a single investigator to teach, so we went door-to-door eight hours a day searching for anyone who would listen to our message. When the mission president asked me how many people we were teaching I told him we were not teaching anyone. He said, “That’s because you aren’t worthy. When you’re worthy, the Lord will send you someone to teach.”

On the train ride home, I thought about what rules I could be breaking that would cause god to punish me. I eventually settled on one rule I broke a few times each week: opening mail and reading it. My mission president thought reading letters from home was a distraction so he created a  rule that stated we could only read letters on Monday, our preparation day.

What became clear to me was this: If anything good happened to me it was because god was pleased with something I did. When something bad happened to me, it was my fault. I was being punished because I broke a rule.

From Mormon scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 130: 20-21:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicate. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

Not just some blessings. No, “any” blessing.

The scripture was repeated time and time again. My takeaway: I could control god.

My senior year in high school, I hit a half-court shot to win a basketball game. For years I attributed the success of that shot to the fact I said a prayer before the game. I ignored the hours of preparation I had spent in the gym since I was a young boy. I ignore the coaching and conditioning I had received. I ignored the fact I spent many hours shooting shots from all over the court, including many from half-court. I ignored all that. Had I not said the prayer, god would nudged the ball off target.

When I hear people say that god helped them find their car keys, score a touchdown, lose weight or other trivial activity, I wonder if those same people believe god is simultaneously punishing those who forgot to pray? Why did god decide to help you locate your car keys but allowed the young girl down the street to be abused by her neighbor? This sounds like a god with screwed up priorities. And let’s be honest, it’s selfish to think god cares about every trivial part of your day.

I’m still coming to terms with what it means to live my life without the fear of a god peering over my shoulder ready to reward or punish my every move. I’m a little upset with myself that it’s taken so many years for me to figure this out, but I’m happy I did because many never do.