My parents did not choose to repeat many religious rituals in our family, consisting of me and my three older brothers. By cultural tradition, as infants, my siblings and I were all blessed and given names by my maternal grandfather. My two oldest brothers were baptized after they turned eight years-old, but this was most likely due again to cultural pressure from sources outside our immediate family and less because my brothers actually knew what they were doing and understood the meaning behind the ordinance.
My next brother, who is three years older than me, has never been baptized, and I was sixteen years-old before I made the decision to join the LDS Church of my own choice. I remember full-time Mormon missionaries coming to our door often when I was a child. I mostly remember them visiting around the time I turned eight myself, and I assume that well-meaning neighbors had encouraged local leadership to groom me for baptism as one of the inactive/non-religious families in the ward (local congregation).
My mother usually politely refused the missionaries’ message; but I became curious about these young men wearing suits in 90-degree weather, and asked my mother if I could invite them in. She didn’t understand my desire, but she did not object. I remember the first time I read from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ with these young men. The missionaries handed me the volume with a highlighted verse on one page and asked me to read it aloud. I remember being confused about the pronunciation of ‘ye’ and ‘yea’ and was corrected when I said them wrong.
Missionary companionships would come and go over my growing up years, and they always tried to befriend me. One Elder offered me a tasseled bookmark that I had admired in his scripture case if I promised to read from the Book of Mormon and say my prayers. I never did, to my recollection; but he gave me the bookmark anyway. Another Elder taught me how to pray to a God whom I had never known in the name of a Man whom I only knew from Christmas songs and my mother’s ceramic Nativity set that went up during the holidays.
Once, one of these Elders taught me about the origin of the Book of Mormon and asked me to go into my room and pray to know if the volume of scripture was true—right then and there. I went into my room and kneeled at my unmade bed, as I was instructed, but I don’t remember if I really prayed or not. I wasn’t sincere about it, at any rate, and knowing myself, I was probably too embarrassed to refuse the request. Nevertheless, I returned to the living room to declare that I hadn’t received any answer, to the chagrin of the zealous Elders. It would not be until adulthood when I would feel that I had received an answer from heaven that told me that I believed in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Once, after the missionaries had left our home, I sat down to draw a picture of this Man that the Elders called Jesus Christ, the Son of God; I loved drawing and doodling as a boy. I drew the Man in long, flowing white robes, standing upon a cloud, His arms outstretched as He appeared in all the pictures I had been shown of Him by the missionaries. I carefully drew tiny dots in the palms of the Man’s hands, and upon His feet. Apparently He had died long ago—and for me, I was told—but now He was alive again and living in heaven.
I was proud of the drawing; I had worked so hard on it. Later that night, after I put the finishing touches on the sketch, I showed it to my mother, who was busy cooking dinner. She made a face and scoffed a little, insisting that I didn’t even know who that Man was. She expressed her dissatisfaction at what the young missionaries had been teaching me, I think because she felt I was being coerced into believing something that I didn’t truly understand—but she was right, I didn’t.
I received a Book of Mormon reader around age eight, from the ward missionaries, one of whom happened to be the son of our kind neighbor, who was also my mom’s dedicated and humble visiting teacher up until my parents’ divorce. The book contained small picture boxes, six to a page, with short captions underneath each of them, condensing and simplifying the stories from the Book of Mormon. I read it diligently many times, cover to cover, with genuine interest, but never knowing that the stories were supposed to be based on real events. My love of ancient worlds and history was probably what enthralled me most, as I realized that the events were set in a time long past.
My interest in religion waned as I got older. We had a complete Book of Mormon in the house collecting dust on a shelf; it was a gift to one of my older brothers when he was baptized. I opened it periodically, mostly to look at the few full-page pictures inside by the iconic LDS artist Arnold Freiberg. A couple times I remember lying on the couch trying to read from the book, but the language was entirely foreign to me. My mom saw me trying to read it once and again scoffed that my efforts were fruitless because I couldn’t possibly understand the text. I wanted to, though, and I persisted trying to read the book for a week or so, but eventually gave up.
In my sophomore year of high school I had started to get myself into some trouble with the slight social awkwardness that comes with having Tourettes disorder and OCD. Deeply in the closet at the time as well, and not really understanding my sexuality in its fullness, other boys made games of trying to get me to flirt with them, and feeling that I was welcome to show them my affection, I took things too far. Nobody knew I was gay then, not even my family; and I couldn’t tell anyone that my sexual attractions to other boys my age was a large part of what the school administrators labeled sexually deviant behavior. (You can read more about this time of my life in my past posts, “Dear Andy”—June 2013, “Walk Like a Man”—February 2013, and “When a Man Loves a Woman”—February 2014).
After forcing my mother to send me to a psychiatrist who worked with sex offenders to assess my potential threat to other students (the results of which came back with no indication that I was a sexual predator), the school district forced me into a trailer on the out skirts of the high school campus to receive a poor excuse for an education among young men who had juvenile criminal records. Shockingly to them, I’m sure, I was on good behavior among boys who had blown up mail boxes with homemade pipe bombs and possibly raped young women; I was even attacked after “class” one day by several of the boys who simply couldn’t stand my tics and my gentle personality.
The “warden” (I dare say he was not an adequate teacher by any means) had talked to administrators to figure out a way for me to be on campus during school hours but not in the trailer with the other boys as often. I was not, though, under any circumstances allowed into the main school buildings without a chaperone. I suggested the LDS Seminary program, which was just yards away from my prison classroom, and a welcome place of refuge from a place where I knew I just didn’t belong. All agreed, and I was enrolled in the Seminary program for the remainder of the 2001-2002 school year.
I went home and told my mother that I needed a set of LDS scriptures for my new class; I don’t remember her protesting. She kindly bought them for me—a deep red, leather-bound “quad” containing the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—the four books of canonized Mormon scripture. I still own this set of scriptures today, though you wouldn’t be able to tell I’ve had them so long; at the time, I was so obsessive about ruining the thin, wispy pages that I rarely opened the volume outside of class, afraid that a sudden violent, jerky arm or hand tic would rip out clumps of pages.
My first few seminary teachers didn’t “get” me. If it weren’t for a few kind students that I knew there, I’m not sure I would’ve initially fit in at this building either. One early teacher would frequently stop mid-lesson to tell me to be quiet. My tics then involved a lot of random shouting of words and unintelligible sounds at a boisterous volume. Perhaps because I was the curious non-member boy, he supposed that he didn’t have to try as hard to be nice to me—I really can’t say, though. Later, during my senior year in seminary, one female teacher hated me so much that if I had even one tic in her classroom, she would send me to sit outside the closed door. I still have a hard time thinking kindly of her.
I don’t remember exactly how I ended up in Brother Yorgason’s class, but there I finally found my place among the Mormons during parts of my sophomore and junior years. Affectionately called Brother Yorgi by his students, this man was a jovial, upbeat, high-energy man whose love for the gospel of Jesus Christ shone through his bright eyes. He was always excited to be at the head of the class; always happy to see all of his students, including me.
Looking back on seminary I learned virtually nothing about the scriptures and barely perused the depths of Mormon doctrine, but I felt welcome. I learned the basics about our shared history as Mormons, from Joseph Smith’s First Vision to the current prophet on the earth, then Gordon B. Hinckley. It was enough to intrigue me and I was putty in this humble seminary teacher’s hands.
Still with a laugh, I think back on how much false doctrine I learned in that class. Call it an overzealous teacher—much like those dedicated missionaries from my youth—or just rampant Mormon culture, if you like; but I was told many things that I later learned to be speculative Mormon myth and folklore, like faith-building stories based on slightly outrageous (but still compelling) personal claims. Brother Yorgi told me in 2003 that he believed the Second Coming of Christ would happen in the next decade—we all know now that that didn’t happen. I heard about meetings with the mysterious Three Nephites from many points in Mormon and non-Mormon history; tales about angels guarding the gates of LDS Temples from sinful nonbelievers; and wonderment surrounding prophetic revelations that predated the coming of things like motor vehicles, electricity, elevators, airplanes, and the internet.
Nevertheless, I was awestruck with the knowledge I was taking in. I wanted more than ever to be a part of this unique world that had surrounded me all my life growing up in a predominantly Mormon state, in an even more densely-Mormon town. And, more than ever, I had the knowledge to understand the basics of the religion that I was so intrigued by to know what the proper steps were in joining such a miraculous and amazing organization. I wanted to be baptized.
I had no idea to whom I ought to speak about my desire to be baptized, so I went to the first good and true source of observable faithfulness I could think of—my mom’s devoted visiting teacher, Ruth Ann. I knocked on her door one day in the early fall of 2003, jubilantly declaring to her that I wanted to be baptized, and asking where I should go to get the ball rolling. She gave me the information of our local ward leader, Bishop Sabey. I later phoned the bishop and set up an appointment with him.
Meeting with the bishop later on, I learned that I needed to proceed officially with a few of the basic lessons taught to investigators by the missionaries before I could be baptized. Those lessons began right away in the same living room where I had met with other companionships as a child. We watched videos on the life of Jesus Christ—videos that I would love for years to come, and watch many more times by my own choice. I don’t really know how many lessons were intended to be taught to new investigators in those days—having never served a mission myself—but it seemed to get through rather quickly.
The Bishop also wanted me to begin attending Sunday church meetings each week, in that same building where he and I met, just a few blocks from my house. I remember the first time I showed up to a sacrament meeting there, feeling out of place, and especially embarrassed because I didn’t know how to tie the necktie I had inherited from my late-grandfather on my dad’s side. My white shirt was open at the neck as I wandered into the meeting, the necktie stuffed into my pocket, and not knowing where to sit because I didn’t know anybody.
But then I was surprised and relieved to see a familiar face—a girl that I went to school with, sitting on the edge of a pew with space next to her. We made eye contact, and I gestured my request to sit next to her, to which see obliged politely. I remember picking up my first hymnbook and trying to sing with the congregation. I had been singing all my life and was familiar with sheet music, but I didn’t understand how the verses were arranged, and tried to follow the lyrics straight down the page instead of skipping to the next bar of music.
I had a second meeting with Bishop Sabey, called the baptismal interview, which was a chance to answer some predetermined questions and address any past sins. I was sixteen at this time, and it was around the time earlier that spring when I started taking seminary that I had finally concluded that I was gay. It was an inconvenience to learn that my innate attractions to males were a “sin” for which men, women, and whole cities had been destroyed by the wrath of God in ancient times. But it would not deter me from my decision to be baptized.
When Bishop Sabey and I talked about my sins, I was terrified to tell him that I thought I might very well be gay. I was afraid they wouldn’t let me be baptized if I confessed such a thing. Recently having researched LDS policy as it was at that time, the chance was very possible I would’ve been denied. I had had sexual experiences with other boys my age all growing up, though not presently or recently, and that was one criterion for denial. Not wanting to lie to a man of God, I tried to explain my “experimentations” with other boys, being careful not to indicate that I had initiated many of them and that I enjoyed them quite a lot.
The bishop gave me an example of a child is his neighborhood who used the sidewalk as a bathroom one day because she did not know any better; he insisted that children cannot sin, and therefore I, too, was not at fault—it was all part of growing up. I could see a large difference between a three year-old and a teenager like me making such decisions; so his answer was not quite the relief I thought it would be. I felt like I knew all along what I was doing all those times with the other boys; I understood my actions, just not the attractions. However, I didn’t press the matter, feeling satisfied with my attempt at confession, and my baptism was set for the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with my confirmation being the next day in my new home ward.
I was thrilled. I typed up a few sheets of small, business-card-like invitations giving the date, time, and place of my baptism, and cut them apart and handed them out in the hallways at school (I had redeemed myself with good behavior to the point that I was allowed on the campus my junior year). My parents had separated in October that year, and the hardest thing to do was probably trying to get my dad to come to my special day, which was important to me, though I knew my parents didn’t necessarily want to see each other. I think he was there; honestly, though, I don’t remember for sure.
My maternal Grandparents, Bud and Dorothy, came into town from southern Utah to attend my baptism. For my special day, I had hoped that my grandfather—the same man who blessed me as an infant—could baptize me as well. But my grandpa was almost seventy at the time and had been battling lymphoma cancer for a few years and was a bit frail. I was tall and stocky as a teen, and my grandpa had concerns about being able to physically perform the ordinance. I was asked to choose two people to share thoughts on the baptism and the Holy Ghost at my service, and I chose my grandpa as one, so he could be involved, and Ruth Ann, my neighbor and family friend, as the other.
I believe my grandparents came into town the day before my baptism, and they stopped by our house before going to my aunt’s house to stay the night. For reasons I don’t remember, my mom and grandma had to go out (shopping, I suppose), and so I stayed at home to keep my grandpa company. He sat in a large recliner in our living room and we started chatting. I honestly wish I could remember everything we talked about, but in reality I remember virtually nothing of the details of our conversation.
I do remember, though, that we talked about things that my grandpa had always been interested in, like the energy of the earth and the universe, and how the Holy Ghost was a part of those manifestations of power. He talked about the vibration of the earth and how we can measure them, and discussed evidence that experts have obtained that the earth’s vibration began to speed up around the early 1800’s, near the time that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a wooded grove in upstate New York. My grandpa suggested that with the Restoration of the Church approaching at that time, the Spirit of God had more fully entered the world, paving the way for the gospel to fill the earth in the latter days, and causing the energy of the earth to be affected.
What I remember most was being simply flabbergasted by these theories, and marveling at my grandfather’s intelligence. He gave me a new outlook on faith and religion that had more physical, almost tangible evidences, and that fascinated me. Having grown up with old National Geographic’s in our house and a passion for archaeology and ancient history, I had badly wanted evidence for the stories of faith I had learned of in seminary—proof of the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea; proof that America was populated by the Nephites and Lamanites spoken of in the Book of Mormon; proof that miracles had not ceased and that God still performed His wonders in the world of men. It was the most time I had ever spent talking with my grandpa in my entire life, and it was a thrilling and wonderful experience. I felt like I knew him better and was closer to him after an hour of conversation than I had been in the previous sixteen years before that day.
My memories aren’t very clear all these years later (though it seems such a short time in so many ways!), so the details of my baptismal service are foggy. I remember going to the Stake Center a few blocks from my house and being led to a closet filled with white jumpsuits, where a stranger helped me find one in my size. I changed into it, and waited for guests to arrive. I felt silly in the jumpsuit when people began trickling in, but I greeted my supporters happily. Because of his influential role in my developing testimony, I asked Brother Yorgason, my seminary teacher, if he would perform the baptism, to which he gratefully agreed. I greeted him with a hug when he arrived, and he went and changed into a white jumpsuit he had brought himself.
Two girls in my ward tag-teamed the piano to play the interlude music and the hymns that I had chosen; one of them was the girl I had sat next to on my first day of Church, and the other was the daughter of the Bishop, and we all attended school together. After the opening hymn, Bishop Sabey opened the meeting with a prayer, and asked me to come to the front of the group; I sat on a small table next to a portable pulpit and couldn’t stop smiling. Next, Ruth Ann gave her remarks on baptism; she encouraged me to keep a journal from that day on, which I have tried my best to do since then.
The time came for me to enter the baptismal font adjacent to the small meeting room. During my baptismal interview, I had asked Bishop Sabey hopefully if we had to go to an LDS temple to perform the baptism, but I was slightly let down when he said there was a font in the Stake Center. I had very much wanted to see the inside of a temple; I had only ever been to one temple open house—the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple—prior to its dedication, but I was only ten at the time and couldn’t recall much of it.
I remember the water was warm when I stepped into the font. The jumpsuit I wore clung tightly to my legs and body as I proceeded down the steps to the bottom of the font. Brother Yorgason arranged my hands—one gripping his left forearm and the other one palm-up and held by his right hand. He whispered in my ear to remember to plug my nose, and squat low while leaning back. I wasn’t scared; mostly just afraid that I would mess things up somehow. He raised his right hand, calling me by name, and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Upon his ‘amen’ and the collective repetition by the audience, I went under the water, and was up again before I could count to three. I looked at the smiling audience with a cheesy grin on my face, mostly just feeling silly that I was soaking wet in front of a group of people, and we proceeded up the steps into our changing rooms.
I dressed quickly in a shirt and tie, and lamented that my heavily-styled hair was ruined, and stepped back out into the meeting room. Again, I sat on the table next to the pulpit. My grandpa stood, put his hands into his pockets, and began speaking on the Holy Ghost, without any notes or prompts. He outlined the same things he and I had talked about the day before, about how the Holy Ghost is a presence in the world that can be measured and not just felt. His remarks were so unique compared to anything I had ever heard in an LDS meeting, that I couldn’t help but beam in knowing that I was the grandson of such a brilliant man. When he concluded his remarks, I proudly said, “That was my grandpa.”
My Bishop and Young Men’s leader spoke next, and I don’t remember what they had to say, but it was brief. We sang another hymn, and upon its end my next-door neighbor, our family home teacher—the man who first taught me how to tie a necktie—concluded the meeting with a prayer. Guests were invited back to our home for refreshments; a few people from school were at the service and my home, and I have never forgotten how special they made me feel by taking time to attend.
The next day I attended my home ward sacrament meeting where I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Bishop Sabey, who would become a lifelong friend and a great influence in my life—a father figure that I always wanted. He, along with other important men in my life at the time, joined in a circle around me as I sat on a folding chair at the front of the chapel, and each man lay one hand on my head to pronounce the confirmation and a blessing as well. I remember the warmth of their hands and the gentle weight that made me feel secure and comforted. I stood at the end and gave hugs and handshakes all around.
After the sacrament meeting, I went to the Bishop’s office to be ordained to the Priesthood in my new faith. Young men ages 16 to17 are given the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, and are given the title of Priests; it is the last stage in this lesser Priesthood before young men are ordained to the higher standing of Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, usually before going on a proselytizing mission or getting married. As Priests, young men are allowed to prepare, break, bless, and consecrate the bread and water used in the ordinance of the sacrament which is administered every Sunday.
I asked a missionary to ordain me, an Elder Oliveros, who had taught me the missionary lessons leading up to my baptism, and who had been there with me every step of the way. It was a wonderful experience, though I didn’t understand well at the time what it meant to have the Priesthood of God. After Church that day, though, I had my first opportunity to use my newly-gained Priesthood power. Young Priests and their leaders often go at least once a month to homes in the ward boundaries to bless and administer the sacramental bread and water to members, usually the elderly, who cannot otherwise attend church meetings and receive the ordinance there.
We went to a few homes that day, but I remember one woman in particular who left a lasting impression on me. When we entered her home I was overcome with the familiar, delightful smell of brewed coffee. In my childhood home, coffee was a morning staple for my parents, and a frequent indulgence for me because I loved drinking coffee with lots of sugar and creamer. It wasn’t odd to me to smell that rich aroma; but in the LDS Church, coffee is to be abstained from, according to latter-day revelation and scripture, and so most active members do not drink it.
Drawing on the my limited experience as Mormon thus far, I could assume that, culturally, this women was known as “inactive,” in that she didn’t attend Church regularly, hold a temple recommend, or obey certain commandments (like abstaining from coffee). But there was no judgment or exhortation that day, as we were there just to serve her; we were welcomed into her living room and I was humbled by her reception.
As customary, we shared with the sweet woman some thoughts and remarks on topics of faith. I was chosen to give the thoughts, and I chose to recite a new favorite poem that had been printed on my paternal grandfather’s funeral program just a month before. The rhyming verses told of waking up to a beautiful day and thanking God for all we’ve been given, and expressed confidence that God hears all of our prayers. I noticed then that the elderly woman was in tears; they slipped down from her eyes, stopping briefly on the bone of her rosy cheek, and then slid further down her face before dripping onto the shag carpet.
I don’t recall her exact words; but she was touched, and so was I. She thanked me for sharing that poem—I don’t know why that’s what came to my mind to offer her—and expressed solemnly that she needed its message in her solitude and loneliness. We may have hugged briefly; I don’t recall. Seeing her overcome that way was both heartbreaking and inspiring to me as young man who had dedicated his life to God only a day before.
When the time came, I pulled a single slice of bread from the bag, and broke it into a few pieces—enough for all present—and placed them on a metal, handled tray. Then, with permission, I went to the woman’s kitchen sink and filled the same number of tiny plastic cups—held also in a drip-proof metal tray fitted for the cups—with tap water. Then I returned to an ottoman where I sat for a moment before getting on my knees. My leader handed me a laminated card with the ordinance blessings on it, which must be read verbatim. I read each of the blessings aloud in turn with my head bowed, and was happy that I didn’t make any mistakes. Then after each ‘amen’ another young man passed the trays to all present, and we partook of the bread and drank the water.
I left the woman’s house feeling something I had not felt so strongly before, not even at my baptism. It was the Holy Ghost—so I assumed, and had been told. But it wasn’t a burning of my bosom, as a common scriptural cliché tells; it was simply a warmth in my soul, gratitude in my heart, and a compassionate loving feeling for the woman whom I had had the privilege of meeting that day. I never saw her again, to my recollection; I’ve wondered about her a lot. But I am happy I was able to bring some sunshine into her dimly-lit home that day as I learned the meaning of service in the name of faith, as brothers and sisters, and children of a divine Heavenly Father.
On the Sunday following my baptism and confirmation, I received my patriarchal blessing—a sort of spiritual rite of passage for faithful Latter-day Saints. By laying his hands upon my head, and elderly Patriarch of the Church pronounced blessings upon my head, along with revelation for the trajectory of my life if I continued a diligent life of faith. My mother was with my in this Patriarch’s wood-paneled office during the blessing. I had hoped as I anticipated this event that I would receive miraculous counsel from God on what I was to do about being gay—what the reason for my homosexuality was, what I was to learn from it, and if I would be okay. There was nothing that specific in my blessing. In fact, my blessing talks a great deal about me marrying a female, my “sweetheart,” and raising a “noble posterity.”
I continued with seminary until I graduated high school, and received a two-year graduation certificate of completion from the seminary program as well. For the first year of my life as a convert-Mormon, I was everything a Mormon boy should be—I attended Church, used my Priesthood to serve, participated in Boy Scouts, Young Men’s group, and Mutual activities with the young women. We went on campouts and held firesides and devotionals. I even visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City for the first time in my life, and marveled at the granite temple there that took forty years to build.
As frequent readers will know, I struggle a great deal in attempting to reconcile my faith and sexuality. I was secretly meeting men through gay social chat lines, and lost my virginity to a man when I was just seventeen. I don’t suppose I ever stopped believing in the LDS Church; I just think exploring my attractions to men was more important at that time than following God’s commandments. In time I came back to the Church, after much promiscuity and one failed relationship with the only boyfriend I ever had. I became an Elder and entered the House of the Lord to receive my temple ordinances with a promise to God that I would never look back—that I would never go back to the “gay lifestyle” that had not brought me the fulfillment I sought.
Now, fifteen years after my baptism, and almost a decade since I made unbreakable covenants with God, I am coming to a crossroads that I thought I would never set foot on again. I am wondering how much longer I can keep up this life of faith, which is feeling more and more like a charade than something genuine from my heart. I read my patriarchal blessing as it promised me a wife and kids and glory in the Celestial Kingdom of God if I remain faithful—and I can’t help but wonder if I am just not cut out to live up to that promise anymore.
I don’t know if those blessings will ever be realized, at least in this life. I wonder sometimes if this foretelling is only meant to mock me and the life I wish I could have with a partner and children. As Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven.” But his assurance is that they come eventually for all who follow the gospel of Jesus Christ (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘An High Priest of Good Things to Come,’” Ensign, Nov. 1999).
I used to be quite content to wait it out, dying eventually if I was called to do so, and progressing eternally toward having a family on the other side of the veil, long after my judgment and resurrection. Now, a door that was once closed and dead-bolted shut—the door out of the Mormonism and back to living openly as a gay man—is no longer barred in my heart and mind, but stands unlocked and ready to be opened.
Each day is different in how I feel about that door. Sometimes, when I am depressed an anxious about my present (or future), I approach the door and place my hand on the knob, longing to open it. There have been times that I feel like I’ve even cracked the door open and peered inside, but cannot see clearly into what lies beyond it. When I am feeling okay, saying my prayers, and trying to stay close to God, I don’t notice that the door is there much—but it doesn’t go away, and I have not yet put the chains back on it.
Leaving the Church to find more happiness that I think might be out there is more of an option that I ever thought it would be. I haven’t felt this close to straddling the fence of activity and non-activity in over ten years. Truthfully, it’s terrifying. I never wanted to arrive at this place again. I can’t decide if my fears are the same as they’ve always been but just in a different time of my life, or if these are new fears about my resolve to stay an active Mormon that I’ve never faced before.
For now, I stay; I want to stay. But my religious practices are suffering. I don’t pray as often as I used to; I have a hard time reading the Church’s Ensign magazine without rolling my eyes, scoffing, or getting upset at the content; I haven’t been to Church in months. I’m finding it easier, almost, to live without God in my life. I find that I am not as worried about my private habits and behaviors, though I still have high morals and values. I don’t feel as inadequate and unworthy of divine love or heavenly help; and I don’t berate myself as often because of my mistakes or things that I feel I could be doing better.
Yet I feel like God doesn’t expect me to be perfect at everything like I assume I have to be. I feel like He understands me and doesn’t hold grudges. I feel He is merciful and compassionate and that He will love me no matter what—even if my sins became graver. This might sound joyous to some; but to a Mormon, it is dangerous territory. My culture tells me that I should never assume that I have a free pass to do whatever I want. All my behavior must be kept within the bounds the Lord has set. And yet, those parameters are no longer fulfilling to maintain. I want more; I want something different, and that scares me. I shouldn’t want more than what God already offers me; I should be satisfied with serving Him faithfully until the day I die. But the thought of more years in spiritual and emotional limbo on earth sucks all the hope out of my days.
I don’t think God will abandon me; in fact, I know He won’t. Even if I abandon my faith, I cannot postulate that I will ever stop believing in God, or the Savior Jesus Christ. If I leave it will be because I have lost my eternal perspective on God’s great Plan of Happiness. It will be because I am unwilling to experience more pain and loneliness for my remaining decades of life. It will be because I have decided that living a truly happy life means more to me that living a perfect and exalted eternity.
Though I often ponder my place and status in heaven after I die (because I believe Hell is a rare destination for most people after this life), I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of facing God and Christ to be judged knowing that I did my best considering my circumstances. And if, in that final end, it is still not enough to gain the highest kingdom of glory God has to offer, I think I will nevertheless be content with the character of my spirit and the integrity of my life—whether living or dead.
This post has taken a quick turn, I know. But this is something I wanted to share because it has been on my mind as the anniversary of my baptism has been approaching. I couldn’t help but find this milestone to be bittersweet and confusing. I’m not saying I’m leaving; but I’m not saying that I’m staying indefinitely either. I am doing my best to stay sane every day in the face of depression and debilitating anxiety that comes and goes. And with the flowing tide of these mental health issues are the entrances and exits of my desire to remain a Mormon.
In the end I will do what I feel is best for me, knowing that my Church will accept me back with open arms if I discover (for the second time) that my truest joy really is being a Latter-day Saint. Living presently with this uncertainty, though, is taking its toll on me.