I have been keeping a not-so-hidden secret. I’m sure anyone who’s been paying attention to my Facebook posts the last several years won’t be surprised to learn (officially) that I no longer affiliate myself with the LDS church. This has been a long time coming (this year it’ll be three years since I stepped foot in a church on a Sunday), and I had convinced myself that a post like this wasn’t necessary, and for awhile it wasn’t. But more and more, it has become important to me that those who I call my friends know me for who I am, for the same reasons it’s important to me to know you for who you are.
While the things I believe may have changed (though in many ways they have not because doubt has been a lifetime companion of mine), integrity and empathy are just as important to me now as they have ever been. The biggest difference between my life as it is now and as it was is I am no longer willing to let my decisions be dictated by someone else’s understanding of right or wrong. Making the right decisions has weighed heavily on me for as long as I can remember—I have ever been acutely aware that I do not live in a vacuum and that the choices I make impact other people. So I hope you’ll believe me when I say that it is as important to me now as it has ever been to make decisions that serve those around me, and not just myself. I just trust more in my ability to make those decisions on my own.
In many ways, nothing about me has changed and yet everything has. The thing is, I’ve really only changed in the same way every other person reading this changes—subtly and over time. None of us are the same people we were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago; remaining unchanged in one way or another is impossible. We meet new people, we have new experiences, something sparks and suddenly—BAM! Lightning bolt; we’re forever changed. We go through these infinite, tiny changes during the course of our lives that are too subtle to be defined, and yet they define who we are in every way.
Moving away from the church the last few years has been freeing in ways that are difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t been through a paradigm shift of this kind. Going to bed with a stifling, joy-robbing kind of fear that I wasn’t measuring up in the ways I was taught were important was a regular occurrence in my life. I had to re-learn something I discovered about myself many years ago: sometimes you need to let go.
As a student at BYU–Idaho, I participated in an amazing club called Music Outlet, where musicians would perform pieces they had written. During that time in my life, I wrote and performed a song I was lucky enough to have recorded (especially since I don’t have access to a piano anymore, so I couldn’t remember how to play it now if I tried)—a song that practically wrote itself. I’ll share it now (forgive the recording quality, the budget for the project wasn’t huge; I’ve included the lyrics that may be a little difficult to understand otherwise):
Sometimes You Need to Let Go
I see in your eyes a place that I’ve been
Too many times before
Where all that you feel and all that you know
Still leaves you wanting more
More than you could ever find
More than you could ever hope
More than there exists in this world for you
And yet you cannot stop searching
You cannot stop hoping
You cannot stop wanting to be
More than you could ever be
And do more than you could ever do
With faith lost in time you drift in the dark
Yet still search for the light
A beacon of hope still glimmers for you
It breaks into the night
Still you cannot always see
All the things you’d hope you could be
All the dreams you know you will never use
And yet you cannot stop searching
You cannot stop hoping
You cannot stop wanting to be…
Sometimes you need to let go
When your heart is breaking
Your soul is aching
Don’t let your fear control what happens now
Just let it go
It’s different now, your eyes are closed
But warmth is on your face
Your heart is still, your tears have dried
You feel a saving grace
Yes, I know you’re not quite gone
I’m here to help you carry on
To see the things you never had the chance to see
And no, I will not stop searching
I will not stop hoping
I’ll never stop trying to do
All the things you could have done
And I will cherish this world for you
I don’t think I completely understood this song when I wrote it, but it has proved incredibly significant and relevant at this time in my life (I mean, did you read the lyrics?). I’ve come to learn that sometimes you do more damage by holding on to things so tightly: truly, sometimes you need to let go. And I have. In doing so, I’ve allowed myself breathing room and grace to learn who I am and what I believe. This blog is actually part of that: getting back into my writing is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve now given myself space to do it here (and the name My Story to Write seemed wholly appropriate).
Now, I was raised in the church, so I know what many of my member friends are thinking. Truth be told, while I was in the church I thought the same things about people who left. I know the knee-jerk reaction: we dismiss people as two-dementional characters with problems they could fix if they just tried. We do this for reasons of self-preservation, because if we allowed ourselves to know each others’ struggles deeper, it might change the way we see ourselves (remember that lightning bolt?), and that’s uncomfortable. (And while I won’t get into my reasons for leaving here, I will say that no, I did not leave because someone offended me. My issues are doctrine-deep, which is why you should not hold out hope for my return.)
But I hope that even if you can’t understand how I could make such a decision, that you’ll give me space for having made it for myself and for not having made it lightly. All the primary answers for what to do when your faith is waning apply. I did them, ad nauseam. Enduring to the end—at least in the way it is taught in the church—is the one thing I could not do and for that, you’ll have to excuse me. And if you can’t, you’ll have to let me go, until such a time as you can make a place for me in your life as I am. I’ve learned a thing or two about letting go, so I understand. Know that I love you and will miss you until then, but I’ll be here when you find room for me again.
For those of you who stay—and I hope you do—I’m glad to have you here for the journey.
The featured image for this post is The Yosemite Valley by Trey Ratcliff.
2 thoughts on “Sometimes You Need to Let Go”
Thank you for sharing this heartfelt and beautiful description of your faith transition. I am going through a similar transition (one that has taken place gradually, over many years, but also with a few huge sudden shifts, that got me to where I am). I can also relate to the spaciousness and grace you describe as a result of letting go of fear-based perfectionism.
I have not yet told my family, and even though I know they will love me and accept me, it will be very hard on them. I have replayed how I want the conversation to go far too many times in my head. But I am inspired by your brave post, and I think it’s finally time to come out as a transitioning ex-Mormon (why does the term ‘ex-Mormon’ still sound so scary to me?). I have a lot of affection for some aspects of the Church, and I am deeply disturbed by other aspects of the Church that have scarred me and others. The ambivalent feelings I have about the Church, though, don’t change the love that I feel for those honest-hearted members who are truly trying to be what God wants them to be.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m so glad you found my experience relevant to your situation; thank you for reading and for leaving a comment!
Oh man, the term ex-mormon packs a punch—we are taught over and over again that those crazy ex-mormons hate the church and just can’t leave it alone, right? I completely empathize with the fear of the term. I prefer using post-mormon because it’s less loaded and applies better to my situation: I didn’t break up with the church, I’ve just moved beyond it, so it’s part of my history.
I also know that gnawing in your gut that just wants to openly let the people you love know where you are so they can meet you where you’re at, but how challenging that idea can be because of the very real possibility that you will break their heart in the process. The best advice I can give is to keep the conversation honest and loving but detail-light (I will tell people that my issues are based in doctrine, but I usually don’t go into specifics). For starters, those details become areas of defense and later ammunition, which is helpful to neither of you. Most importantly, as someone who has been through a soul-wrenching faith crisis, I never wanted to put another person in that position unless they were ready to go there themselves.
I will share a link to a post from Feminist Mormon Housewives that I shared on Facebook multiple times during my transition. I’m grateful my dad was paying attention to the small changes I was making in my life, and that he read it and had the guts to ask me if I was sharing it because it was something I needed him to know about me. It opened the door to one of the most necessary and sacred conversations of our relationship (at least to me). While my story has obviously transitioned over the years and I no longer completely identify with the perspective shared in that post (because I think it places too much emphasis on making room for folks to return to the church, when I have no intent or desire to do so), it’s a good place to start with preparing loved ones in the church to have the conversation. Take what is useful and leave the rest: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2014/03/leave-the-door-to-the-gospel-wide-open-when-a-loved-one-doubts/
Good luck to you on your journey! Don’t hesitate to reach out privately via my contact page.