*warning* topics explored below may be triggering for some (crisis, trauma, faith crisis, CPTSD, etc.)
Having come through my own faith crisis over the years, I have learned one thing, not to be judgy of others.
When I’m in writing mode, I have a pretty regular morning routine. I wake, grab coffee (though that’s sorely lacking in my hotel room), spend some one-on-one time with God. Next up, I check Instagram. Mostly because there doesn’t tend to be as much drama on that social media platform. Highlight reels – yes, drama – no.
This morning I happened upon one of my ex-mormon friends, who I will call Chris. Chris posted pictures from a wedding she recently attended and she had a really nice shot of herself with a new man. I didn’t know that Chris and “Matt”, her long-time husband, had parted ways. My first thought was, “Oh, no!” Then I went into all the internal questions.
“What happened? Did leaving the church break them up? Is Chris still exploring her wild-side?” Literally, all the questions were from the angle of trying to make Chris’ decisions fit into a mold. Once upon a time that would have been the mold of Mormon expectations (“Oh my goodness…why is she wearing a sleeveless shirt?!”) today I realized though my paradigm has shifted away from Mormon culture, I still cling to what I deem to be “right” or “wrong” in how someone process, or better yet, emerges from trauma.
Being a part of a high demand religion (HDR) — and this doesn’t just go for Mormonism — any HDR causes trauma. Often in the form of guilt and shame. The messages I received along the way came in the form of checklists, of “have to’s” by which I gauged my worth and my success. And those became not only ingrained in my daily rituals, but in how I metered others’ behaviors as well.
Part of the trauma I experienced actually happened AFTER I left the church. The trauma of having to sort all those checklists out. Having to scrap what I thought to be true, to be “right” and figure out who I was all over again. What, if left to my own devices, did I evenn like?
Did I like coffee? Did I want to show my shoulders or my knees when I picked out an outfit. Did I want to use cuss words on the regular?
Some questions were bigger.
Do I want to attend any church? Do I want to read the bible? Do I even believe in God?
The weeks, months, and years it took to explore all.the.things. after leaving are precious to me now that I look back on that part of my story. I was fortunate. I had a husband next to me who was (and always is) supportive of every part of our ride together. He let me experiment with all the things I needed to try on. He gave me grace and I learned to give grace to myself when I didn’t have all the answers.
I’ve watched Chris as she has shed the HDR expectations. I’ve watched her experiment with her dress, drinking, and friendships. I don’t know what happened between she and Matt, and to be honest, it’s none of my business. But I am saddened by my reaction this morning. Rather than thinking kind thoughts, I immediately judged Chris because it appears she had moved on leaving EVERYTHING behind. And you know what? What if she has?
Listen, I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I’m thankful to have paired myself with a man who is an equal partner in my life. One who understands me through ad through, loves and supports me and embraces all the parts of who I am. But I realize that’s not true for everyone. Frank and I met and married organically. Meaning, we met before our days of HDR. We met at work, grew a friendship which turned into dating which led to love and marriage and a family.
One thing I’ve come to understand through people who were born into an HDR is that their marriage choices don’t always happen so organically. Often, they are programmed to believe that marriage is the holy grail, that it is above all things. That finding an “eternal” partner is the mark of a good follower. So there is a focus on finding that special someone. Dating in the Mormon world is more like speed dating. The average time between a first date and “I do” is about 3-6 months — six being a long stretch of time.
So, often, when people who choose a life partner under those circumstances and then later leave the religion and start asking all the questions, one of those questions invariably is, “had it not been for the teachings of the church, would I have married this person?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes when people leave and they try on all the new things they begin to discover who they are, and that’s not always compatible with who they are married to. They discover different truths each for themselves and in the end, they are no longer a good match and the relationship begins to dissolve. And sometimes one of the partners flat out goes on a wild streak when trying all the new things, and that can dissolve a marriage as well. Trauma brings out different experiences and different reactions in different people.
Whatever the reason Chris and Matt didn’t make it, my first instinct shouldn’t have been to go through all the why’s and judgments. Me, of all people, having been in similar shoes to what I have witnessed Chris walk through, should have thought with kindness, understanding, and a little empathy. No matter why things ended, it couldn’t have been easy. Transitions never are.
God asks only two things of us in the end. That we love Him fully and wholly, and that we love each other. No check lists, not have to’s, no other measuring stick. Today I fell short. I am thankful for grace and for the cross. Because of those gifts I get to do better, I get a do-over. Rather than judge I can pray for Chris, and for Matt, that they find happiness in their new lives. That they find healing from any trauma they may have experienced in making transitions, both from the church and in their lives, generally. And that their friends envelop them in love and understanding. Amen.