Updated: Jun 12, 2021
I took a multicultural communications class my sophomore year of college. On one of the first days, my professor had us all write down the three biggest pieces of our identity. He passed the papers out and I quickly wrote down “LDS” on the first line. After that, I blanked. I looked around the room and noticed everyone writing down multiple things pretty easily. I remember being proud of myself that the biggest piece of my identity was being LDS and that it didn’t matter if I wrote anything else down.
Fast forward 18 months to when I was at the darkest point in my life. My will to live was so thin that I had come up with a detailed suicide plan for “when I finally decided I could not take it anymore.” I knew that if I wanted to be alive and healthy that something needed to change. I desperately tried looking everywhere except for the church as potential causes of unhappiness and my unauthentic self but eventually was forced to face my personal existential crisis. I had realized that the teachings of the church instill a huge source of shame and that if I wanted to live a full life, I had to step away.
People who leave the church are usually painted a certain way. They were on a slippery slope, they were lazy, they loved the way of the world more, they were exposed to anti-mormon material, they loved sinning, they cared too much about what others thought, etc. When in reality, leaving my one and only piece of my identity was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
I knew that there would be some major repercussions, the major one being an outcast in my predominantly LDS family. I believed I would no longer be able to attend my younger siblings' weddings, be left out of the majority of the conversations, and have fundamentally different views than the rest of my family. My initial thought when I finally decided to leave the church was to just change my name, move across the country, and never talk to anyone again.
When I say the first year after I left the church was hard, I mean it was hard. It was painful. It was dark. It was scary. I had to completely rebuild my view of the world, myself, and others. I had to decide what things truly made me who I was. I had to decide what my values are and what I stood for. I had to decide what my view of the world, spirituality, and the afterlife were. There were many emotionally charged conversations with my parents. It was a hard time for both my parents and me, we were both mourning the loss of the way we thought life would be.
I am sure that many people in my extended family and home ward have looked to my parents to see how they would deal with a daughter who is so openly out of the church. My biggest fear was that they would disown me, so I pushed them away before they could do the same to me. There was a time where I told my parents I would not be coming over anymore. I had felt that too many offensive/triggering things were being said at every family occasion and I just could not do it anymore. This was a little premature, I had not clearly set boundaries for what could and could not be said at this point. I assumed it was implied and was hurting too deeply to properly voice my needs at the time.
That was such a devastating time for both my parents and me. It was a time of deep self-reflection of all those involved, and I was terrified that my parents would decide they would rather just not have me come to family functions in order to keep the peace.
Well, I was very wrong. My mom bought a book about those who struggle with mental illness in the church. She took me out to lunch after she finished it, and made a commitment to understanding what I was struggling with and being there for me through the entire process. My dad took me on a drive and we set very clear boundaries of things that could and could not be talked about. He apologized for the things that he said that were offensive to me.
My entire family felt the strain of me leaving the church. Our conversations at family dinners had to change. My parents' idea of what their family would be like in this life and the eternities had to shift to fit me into that.
When children of active members leave the church, I feel there are really only two options. The family can make the person who left feel like an outcast, or they can use this as an opportunity to grow closer. My family chose the latter, and so would Christ.
My parents do not own me, they are not responsible for me, and I am my own person. They could have done nothing differently to make me stay in the church, it would have happened either way. They cannot stop me from being open about my experience in the church and leaving the church. The more people try to control me, the more I do exactly what they are trying to stop me from doing (I think this comes from feeling so controlled and suppressed my whole life). The deepest values of mine do not align with the church, it is as simple as that. The more my parents would have forced it on me, the more they would have pushed me away. I have made it very clear that there will be no talk of trying to get me coming back to church or trying to get me to participate in church activities. Luckily, my parents understand the importance of the family unit in the church. They have chosen to respect my decision and my boundaries and keep me as an active part of the family.
Not too long ago, my mom met with one of our therapists and they had asked her if we know she will love us no matter what. She told him that of course, she would love us no matter what and that we know it too. It had seemed obvious to her since there has never even seemed like a decision to her to keep loving us regardless of our life choices. He asked again, “but do your children really know it?” After this conversation with the therapist, my mother came to me and told me that she assumed it was implied that her love covered us in all circumstances, but that she wanted to make it clear. She told me that regardless of my sexuality, religious beliefs, etc. she would love me just the same. Those things would make no difference in her ability to love me or any of my siblings.
Looking back I have realized that she has done nothing but shown her love for me. There have been plenty of difficult conversations, but none of that ever even implied that she did not love me unconditionally. My mother is a human, and I hate to admit that when I first left the church I took her flaws as a sign that she did not love me. I did the same thing with my father (and basically everyone else I know who is still in the church). I started noticing all his flaws and using them as evidence that he did not love me anymore. Like I said earlier, my deepest fear was that I would lose the love of the most important people in my life. I subconsciously was trying to find evidence that I was not loved to prepare myself for the off chance it did end up being true.
My heart hurts for those who are still too afraid to be open to their parents about their standing in the church or their sexuality. Since being more open, I have been surprised at those who have disclosed to me that they feel the same way but are too afraid to tell anyone. I am part of a couple of different communities which make up about 7,000+ women who are on a similar journey as me, and many of them are constantly sharing the struggles they have with their family member's inability to accept them. If you are one of those parents, shame on you. The gospel is literally founded on the principles of family, and choosing to divide your family based on a difference in religious beliefs directly goes against that. It should never even be a choice you have to make. You can love god AND still love your children who do not believe in god. Check out DBT skills classes/workbooks if you have a hard time with believing both things can be true at the same time.
For those who do not feel they have anyone to turn to, I am always here and beyond happy to help. Even if you just need someone to listen to your struggles. Trust me, I know how painful and lonely it is to have a major faith transition. I will forever be grateful to those who were able to give me support during some of the hardest moments of my life.
This topic of accepting children is especially touchy during pride month. I went to a drag show not too long ago and cried actual tears anytime one of the performers gave a shoutout to their mothers in the audience. I know a lot of people do not have supportive parents or parents who cannot bring themselves to accept the way their children choose to live authentically, especially parents of LGBTQI+ individuals. First, let me say again, shame on you. That is not what Christ taught and you need to rethink your identity as a Christian if you are going to be bigots to your own children. Second, come talk to my parents or talk to other parents. Read articles about parents who have learned to accept their children regardless of anything else. Join a DBT skills group. DO ANYTHING to find a way to love AND accept your children. Because just saying you love your child and then openly "opposing their lifestyle" is not actually unconditional love.
I understand that I have a lot of privilege, and having supportive parents is another aspect that adds to my privilege. My hope in sharing this is that other parents can see an example of loving, Christian parents. I also want to reiterate my desire to support and be there for those who need it. Because I know how lonely this process can be.