Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Story of My Faith Transition

I wrote this to a bloggernacle friend, and have decided to put it on my blog.   I want everyone to know the story of my faith transition, especially those who are going through the same thing.

Growing up, I was the golden girl of the young women's program.  I was everything a young Mormon woman should be, I suppose.  Except that I didn't babysit and was adamant about becoming a geneticist and going on a mission, which threw some people for a loop.  (I identified as a feminist even then, but this was southern California, not Utah, so I didn't get too much flak for it.)  Well, I got married instead of going on a mission, so I guess that's another check mark on the list.  In high school, I prayed at least twice a day, studied the scriptures daily, had perfect attendance in early-morning seminary, was bright and perky and knowledgeable about sacred and secular topics, was president of the laurel class, was the pinnacle of chastity, was involved in choir and student government, etc, etc.  It's kind of nauseating to list.  But at the same time, I was happy.  The church, the gospel, school, being involved, feeling like I was doing things right, it made me happy.  I had a great group of stalwart Mormon friends, and we were always doing silly, fun things.  I also had lots of wonderful non-Mormon friends.  I got into BYU, and off I went.

I was recently reading the memoir of Mindy Kaling, one of the writers of The Office, who also plays the ditzy Kelly Kapoor.  It's a hilarious read.  Anyway, one of the chapters is called "Don't Peak in High School."  Whoops.  My mean happiness level has steadily decreased since high school.  Perhaps it's because my little religious habits have waned.  Perhaps it's because my group of friends has disbanded somewhat.  Or perhaps it's just a part of growing up.  Like I thought I was busy in high school . . . psh!

Whatever it was, my testimony did not begin to falter until more recently.  I started dating my husband (a democrat with a beard) about two years ago, and with his influence I began to see life from a new perspective.  He isn't so much about looking righteous externally as he is about being righteous internally.  I think being with him was the impetus of my faith transition.  He looks at life through an unorthodox yet faithful lens.  He acquired this lens from his parents, whom I adore.  I discuss my faith transition openly with them all the time, and they understand because they've been there.

At some point while we were dating, he confessed to me that he suffers from depression and is medicated for it.  I loved him and tried not to judge him for it, but being 100% orthodox until then, I believed the folk-doctrines and harbored some ill-feelings toward the depressed (like that it's because of sin or self-absorption).  Plus, my mom told me growing up not to marry someone with a disability, because it will make life harder (it sounds so terrible now, but it seemed practical at the time).  Things became worse after we got engaged.  His depression often messes up his sleep schedule.  He kept blowing me off for things because he was asleep.  I'd be so excited to see him, I'd wait and wait for him, but he wouldn't come.  It felt like having my bubble burst on a daily basis.  I was unsure if he actually loved me, or if he was just done being single (which he had said repeatedly), and was settling.  I was unsure if I was supposed to marry him.  I prayed and cried and prayed some more, but never got an answer.  I felt alone in my anxiety.  I felt like God wasn't listening.

Then I went to the temple.  Despite my fear about God not listening and/or not condoning my choice of mate, I was so excited.  I yearn to know the "mysteries of God", and knew that the temple would be full of them and would expand my understanding.  I had been through several rounds of temple prep, where teachers had been appropriately frank about the ceremonies.  I had read scriptures about signs and tokens.  I had also been sealed to my parents at age 20, so I knew about the garb.  I thought I was prepared.  I don't know what else I could have done, but I certainly wasn't.  I wasn't prepared for the sexism I saw there.  The temple told me that God doesn't love women as much as he loves men.  That I am somehow unworthy to minister as a priestess to God directly.  That I am doomed to forever be a servant to my husband.  That he gets the crown and I get to be veiled, hidden, and silent.  That may not be what most see, but that's what I see.  I went home, shut my bedroom door, and cried myself to sleep.  I've only been back twice, and I've cried then too.  I met with the temple president about it, but it only made things worse.  Going to the temple puts me in a funk for about a week.  I keep rehashing doctrinal inconsistencies in my mind until I just about go insane.  What about "God is no respecter of persons?"  What about "God is love?"  It appeared that exaltation would be hell for me, not heaven.  This compounded the issues I had already been having regarding God listening to me.

I talked to my wonderful mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law about it.  They all said essentially the same thing: the temple ceremony is inspired by God, but written by men.  It has changed in the past, and many women are waiting for it to change again.  That answer opened up a whole new can of worms.  Prophets are never wrong . . . right?!  But if they do make bad calls sometimes, how can I trust them?  How can I trust anything they've said?  How can I be sure that God is actually in this religion (after all, he didn't seem to want to talk to me, and the temple God was the antithesis of my God)?  And all the questions I had suppressed my whole life came bubbling back up.  Polygamy?  Heavenly Mother?  Priesthood ban?  Priesthood/motherhood dichotomy?  Gay marriage?

So for the last several months, I've been re-evaluating my beliefs.  Before the onset of my faith transition, I believe I suffered from "zeal that is not unto knowledge."  Hugh Nibley wrote a great essay about zeal without knowledge, based off of a quotation by Joseph Smith.  The gist is that if you only have zeal, when your faith is tried you will "shatter like glass."  That is exactly what happened to me.  Now I'm picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct a new, real faith.  I firmly believe in Jesus, in the atonement, in a Mother and Father God.  I believe that God loves everyone equally, and any evidence to the contrary is the byproduct of humans not loving everyone equally.  I believe that charity is the most important attribute to gain in this life.  I believe in universal salvation as exhibited in the plan of salvation (everyone is resurrected and receives glory in the end).  I want to believe in personal revelation, but I'm still working out how to receive it.  With a belief in personal revelation, it becomes much easier to navigate the prophet issue.  I can still believe in prophets as people who receive revelation sometimes, interpret revelation in funky ways sometimes, and are left to their own devices sometimes.  I must then use my own personal revelation to determine which statements fall into which category.  I'm still working out the kinks, as you can see.

This whole thing has required a lot of pondering, crying, loathing, loving, and studying.  I've read more about my religion in these past few months than I probably ever did during my orthodox days.  Feminist Mormon Housewives has been indispensable.  Husband and I clashed about it at first, but he's come to see things from my perspective and is now sympathetic and totally supportive.  In fact, I finally feel completely confident in my decision to marry him, because precious few Mormon men could handle the person I have become!  I'm the unorthodox one now!  I appreciate where my faith is at the moment: it's less about a righteousness checklist and more about loving and being genuine.  I am not as happy as I was in high school, but I feel wiser.  Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

Your turn.  Have you had a faith transition (not necessarily a Mormon one)?  What was it like?


shari berry bo-berry said...

Jenna, your honesty is truly appreciated. I can relate to many of the things you mentioned here... and I applaud you for your determination to figure things out for yourself!

Lisa and Bennett said...

Ignorance is bliss. It's frustrating because people will take this entry the wrong way - but ultimately, NEVER forget that you are the way you are because YOU, Jenna, YOU actually care about truth, honesty, and being internally "righteous." What happens when you take away the pomp and circumstance? If all you get are tears and frustration when you boil the message down - you either need to turn off your brain and numb yourself out, or listen to your feelings and deep instinct and be the BEST person you can be. Morals without magic is a good one I like to tell myself.

Wherever we both end up, I'm proud to have such an honest and courageous friend like you!

Erin said...

This is Erin from your ward (I promise I'm not stalking you). I found your blog through FMH and it is fabulous!

Thank you for this post in particular. I relate all too well to the temple being a source of confusion and pain, not one of peace. I admire you tremendously for charting your own course. That is what I am trying to do each day. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only woman who feels like this.

We should hang out sometime! Stay strong!

Linds said...

Thanks for sharing this. It helps me think I might be brave enough to start blogging about my own experience.
I have been thinking about writing about similar difficult things. Transitioning takes up so much mental real estate, and I just wasn't ready to share what was happening to me when it was happening to me. But I still have the itch to write about it.