When I was coming back into the church, I was shepherded by an amazing Bishop who loved me and showed me that I was wanted and accepted. I wanted to become a valuable member of my church community, and I began to learn more and more about the church, things I had never cared about before. I wanted to be able to defend the church against accusations. I wanted to be able to eloquently show others how they were wrong and prove that I was “all in”.
Belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became one of my primary identities. If I’m honest, not just one of, but my main identity. My relationships with my husband and children were defined by church doctrines. My relationship to my country and its laws was defined by the words of the prophets. My value was derived by how much I sacrificed in service to the church. After all, the church had saved my life. It had accepted me and loved me and taught me that I am not my sins. I was completely devoted and always would be.
But then, the weight of having to defend all of the church’s policies and the hurtful things said by the leaders became too much. I was getting older and having more and more of my own experiences. It wasn’t just what other people were going through anymore, it became what I was going through. And while I was still able to say that I believe that the church’s leaders are not maliciously motivated, I was no longer able to say that I believe they only ever speak the mind and will of the Lord. It was time to reconsider my self-imposed identities.
After spending so much time and energy deconstructing my beliefs and rediscovering my faith, I’m now staring squarely into this identity of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In small ways, I’ve known for a while that this strong loyalty was beginning to wane. My prayers changed from asking for missionary experiences to praying to be present to who needs love. I stopped saying, “I’m a Mormon,” and not because I started saying, “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” as our Prophet has asked, but because “I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ,” feels way more authentic to me.
Recently I had a moment. I said, out loud, “I do not belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I love my 5th Ward church family so much!” It kind of came out of no where. And I felt this huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. My mind freaked out a little and started asking questions that I needed to answer to put it at ease. No, I’m not going to have my name removed from the records. No, I’m not going to start denouncing the church. I’m not rejecting the church, I’m just disassociating with it as my primary identity.
This is not something that everyone needs to do. But I did. I had created an unhealthy relationship with the church going way back to when I first came back into it when I was 20. I gave the church credit for Bishop’s love, and set up this unhelpful loyalty that has caused me deep pain. The church didn’t do this to me. I did.
The truth is, most of the loving action Bishop took during my period of return was either against church policy or in a gray area. His love was coming from him and him only, and not from the handbook. In fact, it was contrary to the handbook many times. He, and his counselors, chose to act as the Savior on my behalf, and they did that without the permission of the church. Yet, in my effort to repay the kindness, I gave the church all of the credit. To be fair, it surely deserves some of the credit for speaking and teaching of Christ at all, but the policies by themselves were distinctly unchristian, and I’ll be forever grateful that my bishopric chose Christ.
What a relief to be able to let all of that go! I feel freer to serve in an authentically loving way at all levels of my church experience without having to struggle with my identity to it. When a leader says something I disagree with it no longer feels like cognitive dissonance because I don’t have to hold it as being my own thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to defend it or sugar-coat it. And I also don’t have to be overly critical as if it’s my job to root out all of the errors.
It’s my job to see and root out the error in myself, and the church is not myself. Phew! God can take care of his own, and I can help in so far as what I’m doing or saying is helpful, and that’s all the responsibility I have for that. Hallelujah!
Sometimes I catch myself acting like a lost little girl that needs and wants to be protected from the evils of the world. I can get defensive and frustrated and angry, my ego in full riot gear. It can feel so unsafe out there. I need to have more control over how fast I go, when I get to stop, and what direction I’m going in.
I’m so distracted by the pain and my unconscious response to my fear that I forget that I really do believe in a benevolent universe and a loving God. If I’m not fighting off the danger, then I’m trading the riot gear for a K-9 Unit and going deep into the woods to search for and rescue some small-t truth that will satisfy my need for safety. What a tiring state of mind!
Yet, there is a sense that deep underneath it all the world is a safe place. I don’t need to be afraid. Love is always already present for me, waiting for me to remember and lay back into it. And my loving God will help me remember.
Yesterday, I went for a walk and listened to Thomas McConkie’s Mindfulness Plus episode on Duende. It’s a good one. He read a short poem by Antonio Machado that really broke me open.
Mankind owns four things
That are no good at sea:
Rudder, anchor, oars,
And the fear of going down.
As he read the poem, my first thoughts were about how obvious it seemed that one would need a rudder, an anchor, and oars when at sea. It just wouldn’t be safe otherwise. Then that last line. “And the fear of going down.” I let out a deep sigh and admitted to myself that the fear of being unsafe and something bad happening is never helpful, and that perhaps the rudder, anchor, and oars can be part of that same fear. I remembered my own need to feel in control of my direction, my ability to stop, and my forward momentum, and realized those needs as responses to my fear of being unsafe. I shouted, “But my agency!” more because I was afraid than because I was brave.
A rudder, an anchor, and oars can be helpful, but when they aren’t, they really aren’t. And mine were keeping me from the safety of fully surrendering to the wind. Keeping me from fully trusting a beautiful loving existence in a universe which has always already been nothing but love. It really is hard to kick against the pricks (Acts 26:14). What I thought was safety was the exact opposite.
I kept thinking about all of these things while the podcast kept playing in the background. I thought about my lost little girl and my unconscious responses to that unconscious feeling. I thought about my riot gear. I thought about my K-9 Search and Rescue Unit scouring the woods for something, anything, that would make me feel safe. Then my mind cut back to Thomas’ voice just in time to hear him say,
You don’t even have to do anything.
The search is called off.
My eyes naturally closed as I felt my entire body sink into a grounding of Self that felt safer than I’ve ever felt before. When they opened again, I smiled at the world around me. I belong here. The search is called off. And now I’m going to show up as my Self. I’m going to love as if it’s the only thing that has ever always existed. I’m going to steady the sails and trust the wind.