I often feel like I don’t fit in. The path I’m on now, inspired by my life’s experiences, has led me to really get outside of the narrow box of traditional church doctrine and take a look at things from other angles. This path is still a covenant path, but it can feel unconventional, and even isolating when juxtaposed to the most common understandings of doctrine recited at church.
“Is there a place for me in the church? When it seems we disagree about almost everything, even seeing God differently? When I don’t fit in, and it seems it would be easier for everyone if I didn’t try to fit in? Is there really room for me in this church?”
Sometimes the swirling questions and doubt of my belonging can be overbearing. I recently decided that instead of trying to list all of the pros and cons, and weighing the church against myself, or myself against the church, I would take one Sabbath to completely open my mind and heart and let the Lord answer my questions. I started by telling the Lord that I have a desire to have a place in the church, but am unsure if I have one. Then I asked him to just let me see things in a new way, and that I wouldn’t fight against or try to reason away what I saw.
As I attended my meetings, including Ward Council, Sacrament Meeting, Young Women’s Class, and Ward Youth Council, I was profoundly aware of the various colors of the Lord’s sheep. You see, I had been looking at the church as all these white sheep, and myself as a black one, out on the fringes. What I was present to as I floated between the various contexts of church service was that I wasn’t black, but rather a shade of gray, or maybe even a darker shade of blue-green, because I like that color.
I was aware to the fact that there isn’t a single member of the church that doesn’t question something in some way or another. And maybe not all the time, but there are certainly experiences which lend themselves to introspection. This doesn’t always show up as doubt, or verbal questioning, or deep doctrinal study, but there are definitely shades to the sheep. The church is not monochromatic. We are God’s rainbow, and he loves the color.
This was reasonably helpful in answering my question, but I felt there was more. I continued to remain open. As usual, the Lord reminded me that sometimes I need to flip things upside down and find a completely new way to see things. My mind was opened to yet another perspective. This time, I was standing with the Lord, looking down on all of creation.
“As I look down upon creation, if I ask if there is room for me the answer would appear to be no. But I am God. And I have room for them. I am the Room.”
I’d been asking the wrong question. The question isn’t if there is room for someone like me in the church. The question is, “Do I have room for the church? Do I have room for the different views, for the varying opinions, for the multiple developmental stages, for the experiences, biases, perspectives, and resulting applications of the members, including the members who serve at the very top? Do I have room to see the good, promote the praiseworthy, and absorb the ridiculousness of the slow or seemingly damaging? God has room. Do I?”
But what about the contradicting truth claims? What about the hard lines and church “discipline” run amok? What about the rough and often hurtful history? What about the things that feel manipulative or even like gaslighting? Why don’t we talk about Christ and his teachings more? There are so many issues with the vessel of the Lord’s church, how can it be led by Christ himself and still look like this?
I have heard all of these questions, and more, from dear friends. And I have deeply felt those same frustrations at times, too. I’ve traveled a bit of an unconventional path these last 20 years. I’ve experienced the struggle of finding reasons to stay. I have many moments of seeming crisis, and have learned that this is just the way God teaches me. I feel profoundly troubled by something, and then I settle on wanting to believe that God, or whatever word feels most comfortable in that moment to describe the subtle sense of something bigger and more powerful than myself, is real. What follows is some much broader way of viewing whatever I was looking at.
This has led me to learn from some of the greatest thought leaders in all religions. What I’ve learned in my exploration of various faiths is a beautiful contemplative acceptance of all worldviews. I have no need to declare absolutes or reject subjectivity. No need to take sides. There is value in sitting with all of it.
What this has given me, as I’ve circled back around to the faith traditions of my youth, is an ability to include all of Mormonism, the good, the bad, and the ugly, while also transcending the need for truth claims that don’t settle well. I don’t just accept the good and leave the bad, I accept it all as what the experience is. I try to be big enough to do that. And then, simultaneously, I make sure there is a kind and loving voice for change and growth wherever and whenever I can. Things will never progress if the members don’t stand as a witness of Christ and, with loving persuasion, seek for something better.
The troubling aspects of an earthly organization will always be there. The Mormon church struggles profoundly at times with their attempts to always get things right and a general unwillingness to say we don’t know. But I feel mostly compassion now, when I’m at my best, as I’ve learned to have compassion for my younger self, and the things I believed which I eventually learned and grew from. I can see God looking back on these years and very much seeing the church as a baby still, developing slowly, but surely.
As a mother, I understand that slow growth is troubling and difficult to watch, but necessary. After all, God is working for our glory, developed through years of tribulation and autonomous decision-making. If it were just about what he can do he’d have fixed it all already. But he sees the bigger picture. This is about us. Frustrating as it is, since I often find myself feeling hurt and wanting to kick and scream about what my brothers and sisters are doing, he’s being a rather good father through all of this.
I can take a deep breath, glory in the good things, and find grace for the rest. And stay watchful and ever present. As much as I abhor the idea of any parent kicking out a child for disbelief, I also cannot settle on kicking a community out of my life because of their beliefs. There has to be room for all of it. Christ had room. And he is my exemplar. I’m settling more and more on this idea that if being a Christian means inclusion, then it also means including Christianity. He turns no one away. I want to learn that.
Father has room for all of this beautiful creation. And he has room for all of our mess, too. His peace, his joy, is being completely willing and able to be present to all of it, to both include it and transcend it. We need not fear the varying opinions, personally troubling perspectives, or seemingly slow progress. God has room for all of it and he’s guiding all of creation towards exaltation. We can trust in his timing, and let the raging storms of frustration and pain be calmed by our Savior.
Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered.
They that remain, and are pure in heart, shall return, and come to their inheritances, they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy, to build up the waste places of Zion.
Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.