Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Story

Okay, so how did I get here? How did a nice Mormon girl like me turn to the dark side of agnosticism? Conversely, how did a nice agnostic girl like me get so hopelessly tangled up in Mormonism?

I was born into the church. Mine wasn't exactly a "typical" Mormon family--my parents were divorced and I was raised by a mostly single mom. But I went to church every Sunday of my entire childhood. That was no question. My mom was, and is, super duper devout. I mean, you should see that woman's food storage.

I was baptized at eight, earned my Gospel In Action award, earned my Young Womanhood award, voluntarily went to the temple by myself as a teen to do baptisms for the dead.

I graduated from seminary. Oh boy, did I ever graduate from seminary! You guys, seminary made me into a bit of a religious zealout. I was obsessed with the gospel as a teenager. I was so righteous. You wouldn't believe my teenage righteousness.  I didn't watch PG-13 movies. I read Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS, if you ever get your hands on my high school scriptures and see the references all over the place), cover to cover. Twice! For real. Super righteous straight arrow over here.

Luckily for everyone who ever did or ever would know me, I then went to BYU and that toned it down a little. Go figure.

I served a mission. Then I came home from my mission and promptly married the stake president's hot son...IN the temple.

So, do you believe me? I was as Mormon as they come.

So was my husband. Did I mention he was the stake president's son? His family was a "typical" Mormon family--eight kids, perfect mom (she really is fantastic), do I really need to keep going?

We were pretty righteous newly weds. We went to church every Sunday, we read our scriptures, we prayed together.

Okay, now I have to get kind of serious, because this is when things changed. Long story short, my father-in-law (to whom I had been very close all my life) died suddenly and unexpectedly while serving as a mission president. Three months later, we had a little preemie. His name was Simon. He lived for five days before we made the choice to release him from this life.

This rocked my world.

I know a lot of people experience similar things--even worse things--and it strengthens their faith. And you know what? At first I thought it strenthened mine, too. We made our decision very prayerfully. I actually felt peace as I held my baby and his heart slowly stopped beating.

But after the first few weeks, things started to change. I had a lot of questions. I knew the Mormon answers to those questions--I had been giving them all my life. It was like one side of my brain would ask a question and the other side immediately, before side one even finished, spit an answer back at it.

Contrary to the most popular assumptions, I wasn't angry at God. I really wasn't. I never believed in a God who would intentionally rip his child's heart out. I was taught to believe in a loving Father, and in my world, loving parents just don't do that. They may allow their children to suffer through hard things in order to learn or grow, but they don't inflict suffering on their children. And certainly not as some sort of sick test of their faithfulness. Ick. That's not the God I believed in. I believed that if anything, God was sad for me, the way a loving parent aches when their child is hurt.

So it wasn't about bitterness. It wasn't that God didn't heal my father-in-law or my baby (despite a priesthood blessing from an Apostle commanding my father-in-law's body to be healed.) But those things made me wonder about prayer and about ordinances and about the priesthood. And let's face it, in Mormonism, once you start questioning the legitimacy of the priesthood, it's pretty much downhill from there.

My brain began to ask questions at an alarming rate, and gradually, the Mormon answers just weren't cutting it for me anymore. When thoughts of my eternal happiness became more real to me and rested on the truthfulness or untruthfulness of the things I had always said that I "knew", I realized that I didn't know anything at all.

I continued to read my scriptures daily and pray morning and night, assuming that I was just going through a "spiritual low" and that I would eventually come out of it. But instead, it got worse and worse, to the point that nothing at church felt real to me anymore. I felt like I was faking it. I felt like a liar. Eventually, I realized that I was only wearing my garments because I didn't own any other underwear. Out of respect for the people who view them as sacred, I stopped wearing them. Not long after that, I stopped attending church. (My husband was relieved. Turns out he never really believed any of this stuff and was just waiting for someone to give him "permission" to stop pretending. Poor guy.)

I was initially really traumatized by my decision, but only because it was so surprising to me. Me? Not going to church? What??? I literally lost my religion, R.E.M.! But once I recovered from that shock, I was actually quite comfortable with my choices.  I felt like I was the same person with the same values, the same lifestyle. I was comfortable with my agnostic acceptance that I didn't know the answers to life's big questions, and I didn't believe anyone else knew either. I actually found a lot of peace in some of those things.

But after awhile, I began to miss the community. It got especially bad when we left Utah and moved to the East Coast. Oh, was I lonely! I tried several times to go back to church, but it never felt like it was working. For one thing, I don't know if you guys realize this, but Mormon church is LONG! Three hours?!? And frankly, it's kind of boring. But the worst part was that I just didn't believe it. I couldn't sing the hymns (and I used to love singing the hymns.) Everything that was said just rubbed me the wrong way. I even tried attending some other churches for the community, but they just didn't compare for me. They weren't what I was used to and comfortable with.

At one point, I decided I was just going to fake it until it all came back to me. That didn't work. I'm not a good faker. Then I decided I was just going to attend for social reasons and ignore all the rest of it. That didn't work either. It's kind of a big investment of time for the social return. And then there's the problem of my kids being indoctrinated while I'm socializing. Uh uh. Didn't work.

Then, after six years of this madness, I discovered my hope testimony. And here I am, coping with a new kind of madness.

About This Blog

I am a born-and-raised Mormon girl who is, technically speaking, agnostic. This blog is about reconciling my actual religious beliefs with the church that I was raised in, that is a part of me, and that I love. It's what the subtitle says it is--it's about coping. I wish that I had a simple faith life. I wish that I could just believe in this thing and throw myself into it. I don't have that in me. But I love the LDS church and I want to be a part of it.

I have a lot of weaknesses--a lot, a lot--but my one true strength is that I am honest. Almost to a fault. Okay, definitely to a fault. Seriously, my honesty is what got me into this mess in the first place. It's what made it impossible for me to continue doing what I was doing. But I am figuring out how to participate in the church, and teach my children the gospel, while still being honest with myself.

And that's what this blog is about.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Hope Testimony

 Mormons place a high value on "testimony". They really like being able to say, "I know the Church is true. I know God lives. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet." You know how it goes.  And you also know that the defining quality of agnosticism is the idea that I can't ever actually know these things. This puts me in a bit of a pickle, you see?

Obviously I can't say any of those things. I said them for many, many years, and I said them sincerely (and oh my gosh, I said them to strangers for 18 months, trying to convince them to say the same things!) But I don't say them anymore. Not surprisingly, this has been my biggest roadblock to activity in the Church. As many of you know, Mormons tend to have kind of an "all or nothing" attitude about...well, everything. I really felt for many years that if I didn't have a "testimony" of the basic tenets of Mormonism, then I couldn't honestly participate in the Church. After all, I felt dishonest and insincere singing hymns, reading scriptures, praying. It felt like a strange use of time and energy to invest in this thing if I didn't even believe it.

Well, I've figured out a way around knowing. So brace yourselves for the worst testimony ever. Here goes.

I don't know this church is true. I don't even believe that it is. In fact, I think there's a very strong possibility that it is NOT true.

But I hope it's true. Because who wouldn't? I hope there is a God who knows and loves me. That idea is reassuring and really nice. I hope that He hears my prayers. I hope He has a plan for me. I hope that Jesus Christ lived, that he was the son of God, and that he died to atone for my sins. Goodness knows I am falling short in every area of my life and I make mistakes all day long. Please let there be a plan to make all of that right. Please let there be something to fill in the gaps of my imperfect mothering. Please let there be something to heal my marriage after every squabble. Please let there be a resurrection and a life after this one where I will be with my little son and my dad again. I hope that the plan of salvation is real. I hope that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that he was telling the truth, because I love this church that he started and I would love for it to be founded upon a true story. I really, really would. I hope that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet. I would love it if God were communicating directly with someone on the earth today.

What I do know is that participating in the church makes me happy. It makes me a better person, it enriches my life, and it strengthens my family. If, in the end of all this, it turns out not to be "true" (and I suspect it is not), then I don't care. It will have blessed me and my family, and that matters more to me than being "right."

I call this my "hope testimony," and it's all I've got. But it is enough to allow me to participate in the Church while still being honest with myself. I can sing hymns if I'm hoping that the words are true. I can pray if I'm hoping that God is listening. I can even teach my kids the gospel if I'm hoping that it's true.

And this, my friends, has been the key to my new Mormonism.