“Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith. To do anything well requires effort. Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ is no exception. Increasing your faith and trust in Him takes effort (President Nelson, 2021).”
Growing up, some of the most common words to describe me were diligent, hardworking, determined, persistent, etc. My discipleship to Christ was absolutely no exception, in fact, this was the area of my life I excelled the most at. Before I left the church, I only discussed my struggles with the church with faithful members. I did not read a single ounce of anti-mormon material. I followed all the things that promised a testimony, even up to the point of serving in the temple and doing extensive genealogy work.
When I gave my homecoming talk after my mission, my bishop praised my hard work over the pulpit. He talked about how he could tell that I genuinely gave my heart, might, mind and soul to being a missionary. My patriarchal blessing praised me over and over for being such a faithful, valiant member. When I got set apart to be a missionary I was also praised for my hard work and diligence in serving the Lord.I have received countless priesthood blessings saying the same types of things, right up until I left the church.
But somehow, as soon as I left, I was no longer any of those things. I made one decision to think critically and for myself, and all of a sudden the the things servants of God had told me became invalid. Everything I had done up to this point that was once praised was used against me. I frequently hear two types of responses from those who criticize my faith journey. That I was either too intense, too black and white, took things too seriously, etc. OR I had not been trying enough or had not actually had spiritual experiences.
“If you have doubts about God the Father and His Beloved Son or the validity of the Restoration or the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine calling as a prophet, choose to believe11 and stay faithful. Take your questions to the Lord and to other faithful sources. Study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope that you can find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet’s life or a discrepancy in the scriptures. Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters. Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery (President Nelson, 2021).”
I had multiple people within the church that I would talk to about my struggles. Most people tried to convince me that my doubts were unjustified and that I should pray about it, read my scriptures, go to the temple, etc.
Some people were more on the same page as me. We would pull a few items off of our “eternity shelf” and discuss them authentically for a little bit. When we were done, we would put everything back in a box and put it back on the shelf. The more time went on the more items started piling up and the harder it would be to fit it all back on the shelf. Everything on my shelf was things that I had thought of myself or were things that other faithful members noticed. Like I said earlier, I had not genuinely talked to any non-members/ex-members about my concerns and also had not read any anti-mormon literature before I made the decision to leave.
(For those of you who do not understand the shelf analogy, it is a common one used in the ex-mormon world. Whenever you have something that does not make sense within the church, you put it on a shelf out of sight and mind to deal with in the eternities. People will talk about what “caused their shelf to break,” meaning the thing that finally tipped the shelf over and caused it to break.)
When my shelf finally broke, I tried going to the same systems of support that I had gone to while in the church. I quickly realized the level of support does not exist when talking about a genuine existential crisis. People who I had once talked openly with about all the issues I had with the church all of a sudden were defending the same points that they brought up to me. I had finally started trusting my intuition and felt strongly that my answer to my prayers was telling me that I can choose my own path. However, people would try to interpret my answers for me and told me to be sure to not confuse the voice of the devil with the voice of god.
I felt completely and utterly alone. The people I was closest with and I started getting in constant fights. I was in so much pain from an entity that they had sworn to devote their lives to, and they had to choose between acknowledging my pain or their devotion to that entity. I had done everything I was supposed to do up to this point, and when I still struggled the blame was put on me. It is still put on me. I think I sort of have done this to myself in a way. Believe it or not, I have been toning down the way I talk about my experience leaving the church. I talk about how my mental health made it hard for me to stay in the church, which is true, but my mental health struggled largely because I was treated like I was stupid for thinking differently. I look back at all the valid logical errors I brought up while in the church and how I was treated like I was the one who was illogical and that I was not thinking clearly. I was constantly gaslit by the system that was supposed to protect me into feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me.
This is EXACTLY why the church teaches you to not look to anyone but faithful church members for help. Because if you look to “faithful” sources, you are not going to see anyone going through the same thing as you. You will feel alone, and will just convince yourself that there must just be something wrong with you because you have no evidence that anyone else has felt the same way as you. OR you will hear stories of people who went through a similar experience but were able to resolve the concerns and stay in the church.
Dr. Brene Brown says, "If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” This is exactly why those excerpts, given the last conference by the prophet, are so damaging. It is telling members to be secret and silent about their struggles and then providing judgment for those who decide to be open about what they are feeling.
There is a reason that movements come to be. It is because voices that were once silenced are finally being heard. Those leaving the church are no different. With the era of the internet, people are leaving in herds due to our struggles being normalized. People try to silence our voices because our voices normalize the struggle that many people experience within the church.
Once I started telling my story, people started reaching out to me to lend support that were going through/went through the same thing, and I was genuinely surprised by most of those who have reached out to me. If I had continued to only share my struggles with faithful members, I would still feel alone, isolated, and ashamed to this day.
When the people closest to me were not able to give me the support I needed, other people stepped in to make up the difference. This is not me getting mad or blaming anyone that I was close to at that time, but there was just no way for them to truly empathize with what was going on with me. Different people in my life can support me with my different struggles. THAT IS WHY OTHER PEOPLE WERE SO IMPORTANT TO ME because there are plenty of people who understood my struggle. I just had to look harder to find them. The more I share my story, the more I realize I am not alone. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for those who helped “douse me in empathy” so that I could start working through my shame.
I also have a lot of people who reach out to criticize my experience and defend the entity that brought me so much pain. I have a lot of people who still try to make me feel alone by making it seem as though my struggles are illogical or invalid, but it is too late. The more I go on and the more I tell my story, the more people I come in contact with people that have almost the exact same experience as me.
Some people might ask, well why do you keep talking about the church? Why can't you just move on? Well, it was because the church's teachings made me feel alone for my entire life and I want to do what I can to make sure others do not feel the same way.
If the church is so fragile that people openly sharing their personal experiences and talking about its flaws causes people’s testimonies to crumble, maybe something is not wrong with those leaving but something wrong with the church itself.