Hard questions…

Most often, when I blog here on Shrinking Shay, I forget others read my musings. This is a journal more or less, one that I keep not only for posterity, to memorialize moments in my life, but one I use to sort out my thoughts and feelings. I generally write out what’s on my heart and then mic drop and walk away. Writing frees space in my mind so I can process better. It’s my way of making room for new thoughts on a tired subject or for the Holy Spirit to come on in and show me what I’m missing.

Mid-morning yesterday I received a text from a close friend who read my words and then came the hard questions.

Does Mel read your blog?

Great question — no. Mel does not read blogs in general. I started blogging in 2005 (on another platform) and I can honestly say, Mel has never read my musings unless I have specifically asked her to, or I post a link back to a particular entry on Facebook, which I don’t do often, and even then it’s a dice roll to see if she’ll follow the link. In many ways I find it amusing that she doesn’t read and sometimes when we talk I start the conversation forgetting she’s not up to speed with what I’m sharing because she doesn’t follow along.

That’s not to say it’s 100% fool proof. I know there is always a risk when I’m as fully honest as I was yesterday that someone who does read will clue her in and encourage her to visit. I never post something raw that I’m not willing to confront head on if need be. I try to share my feelings in an honest and loving way so that if Mel, or anyone I’m sharing my heart about, were to read they would hopefully hear my heart first and not take offense. And Mel of all people understands that this is a living journal. It’s hard to be wholly angry at someone for what they write in their diary.

Did you mourn the loss when you first left the Mormon church?

I mourned alright. I was devastated for a time, actually. I joined the Mormons in 1998 and was devout from day one. I spent 17 years with them from start to finish until I walked away entirely. My entire 30’s and half my 40’s were spent blindly following what I had been taught. I even felt sorry for those around me who weren’t Mormon, even those that were Christian, because I truly believed that I held more truth than they did and they just didn’t know what they didn’t know. Talk about condescending?!

But therein was the turning point. It was because I knew people who were Christ followers. These were good people who seemed happy and fulfilled in their beliefs. It caused me to stop for a moment and think on what I was being told. When I began to question some of what I was hearing and then followed that up with a little digging into Mormon history, it all came tumbling down. The sense of loss, of disappointment, of feeling the fool was overwhelming at times. I’m a smart, thinking person. How could I have been so duped?

I shared this grief-graph that I found on the Mormon Stories Instagram post one day:

If you thought going through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief was trying — leave a cult. It took years to unfurl the damage that was done; in my thinking, my processing, my life choices. I nearly started all things over. I lost friends and my sense of community. I had to take each decision I made a step at a time — when I was a member I had a checklist to compare things to. Simple things — even what I wore. There were modesty “standards” for Mormons. It was clear when the shirt I wore was too revealing (tank tops for instance show shoulders — that would be a big no-no). Now I had to determine for myself what modesty looked like. Did I was to drink coffee? Was that a sin? Because it is in Mormon-ease. And those are the benign decisions. Delving in to more difficult topics like, “Does God exist? And if so who is He? Is He the God of the Book of Mormon? Or does the Bible define Him differently? And what do I believe? Do I believe at all?” It was a lonely, scary walk there for a while. And by a while, I mean for several years.

Do you think if Christians had done a better job of showing you love you would have become Mormon?

I don’t think it was a matter of lack of love or attention. I just didn’t have a solid foundation in who Jesus was. As a child we attended church, one hour each Sunday, dressed in our Sunday best, sitting in the third row from the pulpit. When the service was over, we got back in the car, went home, put away our clothes and returned to “normal” life. We didn’t discuss what we had heard that Sunday and we certainly didn’t read the bible together.

Now, that’s not a slam on my parents. That is how they were raised as well. My mom at least. My dad didn’t have much exposure to religion in his childhood at all. I credit them for bringing me to church in the first place. Because it at least exposed me to Jesus and that exposure was enough for me to want to search for Him throughout my life.

It’s why when I first talked to my friend, Laurie, a practicing Mormon at the time, I was so hungry for what she had to share. I loved going to her house. She always had her scriptures on the coffee table. They were warn and tattered. Her family came together to read what was in them. They attended church for three hours on Sunday, had a family night (encouraged by the church) and attended youth and adult meeting during the week. She prayed and talked about it comfortably. I wanted faith like that.

Soon after our discussions she introduced me to the Mormon missionaries (the 19 year old boys in white shirts with name tags riding bikes around town — I’m sure you’re familiar). And these boys encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon. Not the Bible. So, that’s where I started. The BOM. And having no real knowledge of the Jesus of the Bible, this felt amazing. I was so hungry to have Him in my life I accepted what I read, even though I questioned some of it because it was different from what little I remembered of my youth. I was placated with words I would hear from that point forward, “Line upon line. Precept upon precept. You will understand more when the time is right, when you have the foundation.” I figured I just didn’t know enough to understand and so I didn’t question. I figured they’d teach me and it would all make better sense down the line. Hook, line and sinker. I was in.

And here’s a question my friend didn’t ask, but I’ve been asked many, many times since leaving the organization:

Do you regret your time with the Mormons?

I don’t.

What’s the point? I can’t go back. I can’t erase the time I spent, so I look for the good in the experience. I look for the lessons learned.

First, I can absolutely make the distinction between Mormon people and the Mormon organization. Mormons are some of the kindest, most well-intentioned people I have had the pleasure of knowing. Not one who is a true follower is practicing maliciously, not one of them thinks, “this is great! I love deceiving people about who Jesus is.” They all truly believe what they believe, and in all honesty, they don’t know what they don’t know.

No one was ever mean to me, no one wronged me. Even when I left, at worst they stopped talking to me, or didn’t reach out to learn why I hadn’t been going to church at first. Some eventually did reach out and try to understand.

Second, because of my association, I learned some things that have been useful in this part of my journey. For the most part, Mormonism is a walk in discipline. I became disciplined in reading scripture — since leaving I’ve moved my studies to the Bible, of course, but the practice of daily reading stuck with me. They also believe in service. Generally speaking, they are “assigned” to “minister” to certain people within their congregation and most of the service comes from the needs they may learn of for those people — but what it taught me was to be of service to others. Now I listen, look and pray for others and when I get an inkling that there is a need, I try to fill it. Through service I understand I am part of the church at large, the hands and feet of God here on earth. I try to do my part.

By the same token, I shed some thing once I recognized they weren’t true. I shed the list of “have to’s” to be considered worthy of exaltation. There is no such thing in the Bible about there being a highest level of heaven where only the most choice of us will reside after death. The end. Salvation was assured when Jesus died on the Cross for those that profess belief in Him. The end. Now, because of this gift, because of my gratitude in it, I try to live a life that follows Jesus’ teachings. I try to serve my fellow man, I read the bible, I pray. But I don’t do these things to earn “points” in heaven. I recognize that the “ordinances” Joseph Smith made up are just that, man-made. Not of God. And not required for any imagined elevation.

So, do I regret my time? Like I said, I don’t. God uses all things to His good. Leaving Mormonism I became a seeker of Christ like never before and I came to understand the only way to know Him is through His words (the Bible) and through developing an intimate relationship with Him (through prayer and the Holy Spirit). I don’t take what I’m told about Jesus, His teachings, or religion generally at face value. I question everything and search the answers out for myself. I use the gifts I’ve been given — such as discernment — to know what’s true for me. And I’ve learned not to judge others for what they understand and believe. I used to be so judgy.

I am thankful for the friendships I have. Especially the ones who are close enough, and care enough, to ask the tough questions. It keeps me from getting to complacent in what I believe. Questions like these keep me digging, searching, and defining what is true for me. So thank you for being brave enough to press me with these thoughts yesterday.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28 (NLT)

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of His call. May He give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

2Thes 1:11 (NLT)

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Gal 3:23 (NLT)

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