Weathering the Storm

I would indeed be ungrateful today if I didn’t acknowledge the blessings in my life. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it’s nonetheless true; I have been reminded again and again in this past, difficult week that I have a lot of good friends. People have reached out to me, checked up on me, reminded me that they loved me. I’ve been asked over and over, are you okay?

And the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes. I’m okay. I really am.

And quite honestly, I’m somewhat baffled by it. I’m not saying that I’m not upset or sad or angry, that I’m not deeply troubled by what’s happening. This feels in a very real way like an attack, on me and on people I care about, and worst of all, on children who shouldn’t be in the line of fire in the first place. It’s appalling. I find myself in profound disagreement with what the church is doing.

But I’m not having a breakdown. I know people who’ve been crying for days, who are struggling to function, who feel like the ground has been taken out from under them, who have been shaken to their core. That makes complete sense to me. I think that in addition to making our voices heard, we need to do all we can to be there for people who are really hurting. I’m certainly not saying that people shouldn’t be feeling that way. I’m just trying to make sense of where I am right now.

And I don’t know how to write this post, because no matter how I frame it, I worry that it’s going to sound like I’m saying I’m more virtuous than those who are struggling more. But I don’t see it that way at all; I’m not sure there’s virtue in feeling less shattered or heartbroken. It might just mean I’m not invested enough; I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s actually an issue of who’s the more virtuous; I think we all react in our own ways for complicated and legitimate reasons.

But I’ve been asked by more than one person, how do you do it? How do you stay? How are you not going completely crazy? I have no clear answers. But I do see some protective factors in my life:

—I don’t have a lot of past church trauma. This might sound odd, coming from a gay, feminist, single Mormon. I’m not saying the church hasn’t been ridiculously hard for me at times; it has. But I think some people have real trauma from their church experiences, especially on the local level, from feeling completely alone and misunderstood and rejected, from being treated horribly and told in no uncertain terms that they weren’t valued or even wanted. I’ve had a taste of that from once in a while having found myself in wards where I felt like I was labeled as a problem, and not seen as a person. It’s incredibly painful. But on the whole, it hasn’t been my experience.

—Related to that, I’ve had a lot of really good experiences with church on the local level, especially in the past decade. I’ve been in wards where I’ve felt accepted and valued, where I’ve had friends, where I haven’t felt afraid to say what I really think. Even as a teenager, I had a good peer group as I moved through Young Women’s, one that was baffled by me and my unorthodoxies, but was fondly accepting of me nonetheless. I know people with horrible scars from their experiences as a youth in the church, who didn’t have anyone who connected with them, who didn’t fit in with their peers. That’s a brutal thing to go through.

—I feel like I have a good support system now. I just moved and I’m in a new ward, so I’m still finding my place there. But I have an awesome online support system of progressive Mormons, I have the bloggernacle, I have friends and family members. It’s enough that I’ve internalized a feeling of belonging in the church—a feeling that I think some people never get.

—I’ve had some pretty stellar priesthood leaders who’ve really been there for me and have left me with no doubt that I’m wanted and valued. As myself, as I actually am. I think that’s also created a certain psychic buffer when I encounter more discouraging messages.

—I have a contrarian personality. This isn’t always a good thing. But there’s a stubborn part of me that says, oh really, you think you can get rid of me that easily. I won’t go. So there. I’m not claiming that’s a noble reason for staying, but I have to admit it’s there.

—I don’t think the church is evil or anything like that, but I don’t have great expectations for it, either. (I’m hesitant to mention this one because so often it gets used as a hammer against people who get hurt, like what’s wrong with them that they expected too much. That’s nuts, because the church itself tells you to have high expectations of it. I’m not sure why I don’t, and I’m not sure it’s even a particularly good thing. I’m lacking in a certain idealism when it comes to religion, I think, and in a way that makes me sad. But there it is.)

—I’m in a lot of therapy. My therapist is not LDS, and doesn’t push me to stay or to leave, but works with me on being healthy mentally and spiritually in whatever decisions I make. I have a place to talk things through and work them out and get support. That’s made a huge difference in my life, in matters relating to the church as well as other things.

—I’ve spent most of my life disagreeing with the church on various issues. That’s required me to construct a way of thinking about my relationship to it that allows for dissent, and that framework is something I can draw on when difficult things come up. I’m used to a lot of dissonance.

—I think the church is simply wrong about certain issues related to gender and sexuality. I’m more or less at peace about that, and I think that makes it easier to reject damaging messages. I find that I’m in more turmoil around things when they connect to my own anxieties and insecurities—of which there are plenty!—than when I feel relatively grounded about them. (If there’s any group of people who I would suspect might be better off out of the church, it’s those who are still working out that grounding and are absorbing damaging messages while they do.)

—I have a testimony. Some people might not believe that because I’m not always that traditional in my beliefs, but I do. I have a basic belief in what I see as core doctrines of the church. I have a relationship with God that’s tied up with the church. I don’t think by any means I would lose that relationship if I left; it’s not contingent on my being LDS. But the church is the framework in which that relationship has played out throughout my life, and that ties me to it. I don’t know why I have such a conviction of the divine, and others really struggle to feel anything spiritual; I can only imagine how difficult it would be to stay without that.

Again, this isn’t meant to pass judgment on anyone, or to advocate for one position over another. I can imagine someone having all of these factors and still deciding to leave, because there are good reasons for doing so. I can also imagine someone staying even though they feel more vulnerable, because there are good reasons for that, too. But I think it’s worth talking about these things, because I’d like to know what helps people weather spiritual storms.

And if there’s one thing I see again and again in my life, it’s that local people really matter. For people who are feeling marginalized and struggling, the way they get treated at church every Sunday can be a dealbreaker. I say that as a message of hope, for those of us who are wondering if we can make a difference when the institutional church seems so far away and sometimes so unwilling to listen. People might still decide to leave, and it might be the right call for them, but they can leave knowing that they’ll be missed and that they matter.

I don’t want to be overconfident; the day may come when I fall apart. From Prop 8 to Kate Kelly to this recent policy change, the last decade has been a challenging one for progressive Mormons, and I suspect we’re not at the end of that ride yet. I don’t know why I’ve had the fortunate circumstances I’ve had thus far. I have great respect for those I know who’ve opted to leave. But I hope above all that when there are spiritual storms, we can feel that we’re not alone in them.

11 comments

  1. I’m so glad you’re in such an okay place, Lynnette. I know that sounds sarcastic, but seriously, okay is so much better than it could be, as you note! I really like your list of protective factors. The ones about having good experiences at a local level really stand out to me. That’s true for me too. I would have a very difficult time at church if I didn’t know people there who I felt like accepted me. But I do. I have friends in my ward, and a surprisingly large number of people are kind to me even knowing I’m a heretic. The disconnect between them and the aggressive cluelessness sometimes displayed by the GAs is startling. And so sad. I feel like all the good I’ve experienced at the local level is being systematically destroyed by the few GAs who seem determined to turn the Church into Westboro Baptist.




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  2. Wow, really beautiful, Lynnette, thanks for sharing. It is good for me to hear the variety of individual paths. Best wishes as you continue navigating these rapids.




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  3. And Ziff, that is my experience too! My local ward has been so nourishing to me, and yet the institutional church keeps intruding on our relationship in distressing ways.




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  4. I feel the same way, Lynette, both for almost every one of your bullet points and for your overall feeling.

    For me, being as open on Facebook as possible about my opinion has helped. I think I actually felt more inner turmoil over Prop 8, strangely. I think maybe a difference is that I was less sure of following my own moral compass back then, and thought maybe I was wrong. This time I have no doubt the new policy is wrong. And having a conviction that I am completely in the right helps.




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  5. Thank you, Lynette. This helps me think over my own good reasons (and not-so-good ones) for staying.




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  6. I have a suggestion to add to the list. I think it’s possible that you’re at a higher-than-average maturity level.

    Can I be a missionary for Thomas McConkie’s new book on adult development and stages of growth and how those relate to Mormonism? It explained a lot of things I’ve seen in myself and others. At the higher stages he talks about, people have let go of dogmatism and stopped relying on other people’s opinions. They can hold opposing ideas in their heads at the same time and also start accepting other people and their cultures at whatever level they may be. It seems to me that all this would decrease the trauma of having the organization hurl stones, because you’re simply not reliant on the organization or its leaders anymore.

    Just knowing you from your writing, it seems like you fit some of these qualities. Your low expectations and knowing your relationship with God is separate from the church. Your appreciating the good while refusing to condone the bad. And that’s a wonderful thing. You’re truly a grown-up. 🙂




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  7. Lynette,
    I am glad to hear you are where you are and that you have the support you do. I can only speculate to the why as much add you do. I think it comes down to your personal relationship with God. I discovered the bloggernacle about two years ago and it has helped me formulate and process my feelings. There was an article on mormon feminist housewives (Jesus, Mediator) about theistic mediation and theistic triangulation that really helped me understand just a little bit more and may be why you are where you are?
    A friend who I hadn’t seen since we moved three years ago, told me recently I had said something in priesthood one time that really stuck with him. “The gospel is more than just church.” Church is just a tool to help me know God. Now I would add “God is not church and the church is not God”. But I think I would make heads explode if I said that inside a building. Ha
    My approach in the last 6 or so months has become how does this help me come into Christ. And while I don’t understand the why of this new approach, I wonder if it is to shake us Mormons up some more to help us look in the mirror and see for ourselves does Christ really show in my countenance?




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  8. Thanks, Ziff. I’m glad you feel accepted in your ward as well. Though I know what you mean about that feeling like a real disconnect at times when the institutional church is doing hurtful things. I know people who’ve really valued their local communities but have ended up leaving anyway, because at the end of the day, that’s not enough. And I respect that.

    Thanks, Mike. I appreciate the good wishes.

    BerkeleySatsuki, yes, the confidence that the new policy is wrong helps for me too, I think, because I’m not struggling with an internal conflict as well as an external one. There’s a certain clarity about this that has helped keep me calm, as horrified as I am by it.

    ReaderRachel, yeah—I think everyone has complicated, mixed reasons for staying or leaving.

    Th., cliché back at you.

    Anarene Holt Yim, thanks for the comment. It’s a really interesting question. One the one hand, I’d like to think I’ve hit a certain level of maturity. On the other, I have to say that I know people whom I would see as quite likely more mature than I am who are also more devastated. So I think it’s complicated. I’m actually conflicted about whether having low expectations is always a positive thing; part of me wants to be more idealistic about my own religion. I wonder if I’m too distant from it. But I do appreciate your confidence in me. 🙂

    Jason K., thanks. The support from people like you is definitely something that’s helped me.

    Tnerb, I think I’ve hit a similar place, in that I see the church as a means to an end. I find it helpful to be able to evaluate things in terms of whether they lead me to God, as opposed to whether they make me always see the church in a positive light.




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