Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Losing Faith


Everyone knows how difficult my past year has been as I made the impossible decision to get divorced. But there has been an even bigger source of pain in my life that I kept carefully hidden away. Today I am ready to share it with the world.

For many years, I have struggled with what I believe. Doubts constantly crept in and I spent hours on my knees in heartfelt prayer asking God what I was doing wrong. Why couldn't I get the testimony that I wanted? I was living my life exactly as I was supposed to, but the promised blessings didn't come. I searched my soul to understand what sin was causing me not to believe. The guilt was tremendous.

Then came the fears. What if it all really wasn't true? What if there was nothing after death? What if this is the only life I will really ever get? To someone who has always lived with the promise that this life really isn't important in the eternal scheme, losing the comfort of an afterlife was terrifying. I had a lot of anxiety attacks where I was afraid to fall asleep at night because I didn't know if I would ever wake up.

I struggled and prayed and felt terrible until I had given 1000% to the effort. Last year, crying on my knees, I finally realized how empty I felt. I had nothing more to give. So I looked at the situation practically. If God exists, He wants me to live the best life I can in whatever form I can and he KNOWS I have given 1000% to try. If I go to hell, there is nothing more I can do to stop that. But my religion also teaches that even sinners will go to heaven--just a lower form of heaven. I'll tell you something: if I die and find out there is life after death, I will be so thrilled to EXIST that I won't care what form of heaven I go to. That's the bottom line.

I handed my temple recommend to my Bishop about a year ago and have been gradually trying to live with the pain and uncertainty that comes with my lack of faith. I feel like I have lost everything. I lost all my comfort, my world view, my self identity, the socialization of my amazing neighbors, and soon I will have to tell my children. I am devastated to think of how their opinion of me will change.

I remember how I viewed "apostates" as a child. They were some kind of other species--one that couldn't be trusted or understood. They were the worst people in the world to my young mind. I'm scared my children will reject me, even though I'm exactly the same person I was before. I'm just more honest and more  true to myself. I feel like, if anything, I am a better person now that I am not living a lie.

Sometimes I feel very close to God. And sometimes I think that is just my normal psychological reaction to the world around me. But I can say that those times when I feel close to God, I feel he is prouder of me now than ever before. I know that if God exists, He is proud of me for the life I am living. It is harder to live a good life without the promised blessings of a religion, but I am doing it. I think that counts for more. I'm not obeying laws just for the sake of a reward--I am living a good life because I actually believe that's the right way to live. When I told a Stake President about my doubts a few years ago, he looked at me with clear admiration and said, "I don't know if I could keep living that kind of life without a testimony." The validation I felt buoyed me up for a long time.

Still, this has been the most devastating thing in my life. Losing my religion and my marriage in the same year has crushed me. And no, they were not related at all. My husband knew of my religious concerns for years and was completely supportive of me in my search for truth. It was never an issue in our relationship then, and it is not now.

I find myself too stressed out to live a normal life right now. I feel like I've lost more than any person should have to lose in a single year. Losing religion is not like losing a house or a car--it's like realizing one day that you live in a world that makes no sense anymore. And people around you look at you distrustfully, as though you chose this path. It wasn't my choice. If I could force myself to believe, I would do it. In an instant. I want that comfort in my life. And that's why I want my children to be raised religiously. But I also want them to know that I will support them and not judge them whatever their beliefs--Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Baha'i.

I hope that some of the people who read this post will do the same for me--love me and support me through this painful time of my life without trying to quote scriptures, convince me of my mistakes, or judge me.

34 comments:

  1. Judge, schmudge. Love you, Fred.

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    1. Love you, too, Fred! Best Freds forever. :)

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    2. Juliana,
      Thanks for your honesty. I have not made any major declaration in leaving "the church", I just stopped going about 6 years ago. I have never been to the temple. And I married a "non-member." I had many reasons why I stopped. The main one is that I never understood that if Jesus was my savior then why did we have to do all the extra work for people who have already died? Why would we have to do extra stuff if he had already saved them? Wouldn't that mean his death and resurrection didn't really mean anything? How is it that the guy next door or my parents could get all dressed in white and do something for a dead person more important then what Jesus had already done? Also, I believe in eternity but not as a destination but a place we are in right now! Why suffer and strive for our afterlife when we are right in the middle of infinity?
      I am proud of you writing your experiences. Also I find it noble that you were the first to state it on the class of '96 facebook page. There are a lot of us. with love, Shawnee Loris Sawyer

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  2. I'll just hug you. How's that?

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    1. Hugs are almost always welcome!

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  3. Juliana, you have to only start your mustard seed of "faith" by wanting to believe. You don't have to "KNOW" everything! You only have to "want to believe in God" to start to feel better. If you don't want to believe, you don't have to, but I'm telling you that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives you hope, purpose and answers questions to life that great philosophers and theorists can't. Also, there is no other method of cleansing what you consider "sin" without an atoning power, like Christ's sacrifice. Stop whipping yourself and start living life! Don't be afraid of giving your best to others and your children and if you want to, believe - not know - but believe in Christ. Good luck! Abrazos!

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    1. I'm curious to know what are these answers to life that can be answered that cannot be answered by philosophers and theorists.

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    2. Thank you for your well intentions, Nicolas. Trust me, I'm not whipping myself and I don't feel guilty for sins right now. I am confident in myself and my choices, but it has been a difficult path to get here and the ramifications are sometimes painful.

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  4. Thank you so much for having the courage to write this. As a single mother in the middle of my own struggle with the fact that I feel like I have been living a lie as well, I seriously felt like I was reading my own thoughts. Know that there are others who know exactly what you are going through and applaud your courage to publish your feelings. Thank you again.

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    1. So good to know a kindred spirit! Best of luck to you in your own path, whatever it may be.

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  5. I do not know you personally but have been where you are. I struggled with my doubts of the church for years and years. Finally, a year and a half ago I broke free. There are many of us out there! There are many support groups for specifically ex-LDS members. You are not alone!!!! If ever you need a sympathetic ear, I would be happy to listen!!! (terryrye@yahoo.com)

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    1. Thanks, Ryann! I've already found some great friends with a similar background to my own. It's interesting to share perspectives and see how we are all the same and all different in so many ways.

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  6. Hi Juliana. I suspect there may be many more persons at church like you than you've realized. Be that as it may, so far as I'm concerned, this blog post is an expression of faith. Maybe you haven't lost your religion. Maybe you're transitioning to a better understanding of your religion.

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    2. Thanks, neighbor! I don't know where I will land in the end, but I am, at the least, at peace with myself and the journey I am on.

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  7. I have a few thoughts that come to mind whenever I see someone publicly share their testimony on what they do know and don't know regarding the LDS church, its history, its teachings, and its promises. I generally agree with the idea of having a mustard seed of "faith" in wanting to believe in whatever the truth may be. It's impossible for any of us mortals to know 100% of all things and thus we have to make decisions based on leaps of faith all the time. What separates the proud/haughty ones from those who are humble truthseekers is that the humble ones don't start off with preconceived notions of what the truth may be. Instead what the humble person does is read and learn all they can, ponder it all in their hearts and minds, and then seek honest divine guidance with a leap of faith. Now there will always be frauds out there who will tell us to try to believe some particular way, regardless of whether or not such a way is true or fiction. Such individuals may want us to only look at part of the facts as they prefer to ignore any inconvenient facts. To them I say "get thee hence" unless they will truly approach ALL issues and questions with a completely open mind and willingness to study EVERYTHING in order to find out what the truth really is. Personally I find LDS history to be a fascinating realm of study. Whether its the history on the nature of God, rules and practices on marriage, ancient records like the papyri Abraham wrote, the Jaredites' barge adventure after the Great Flood followed by their extinction and preservation of this Continent exclusively for Hebrews until Columbus's day, the omniscient resurrected prophet-historian-General-Angel-Nephite Moroni which is where Mormons assume Joseph Smith and others got their ideas on the Hebrew origins of the Native Americans, the strong pro-marriage philosophies of Joseph Smith & Brigham Young, and a whole host of other teachings & history. Thus people in many parts of the world do read, ponder, and pray to know whether or not the LDS church is indeed the most truthful, honest, and transparent church on the face of the earth, or whether its something else. But it all starts with the faith of a mustard seed to search for the truth in full humility to accept whatever the real truth may be.

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    1. Thanks, Alex. You always have such interesting insights.

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  8. Are you going to rename your blog? :)

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    1. Literally laughing out loud. Thanks, Mike.

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    2. Of course I am! I just haven't decided what to name it yet... Hmmm...

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  9. Hi Juliana, I don't know you and happened to stumble across your blog. I just want you to know that you are absolutely not alone. There is a mass exodus of the church due to all of the information we now have at our fingertips. There are MANY support groups throughout the US to help those of us with the courage to take that first terrifying step into the unknown. I applaud your courage to share this publicly and just want you to know that it gets better. You will feel joy like you've never felt, you will have the freedom to chose your own moral code, and if you search out those support groups (PostMormon.org has a bunch) you will meet some of the most amazing people Utah has to offer. Good luck in your life and keep moving, the view from this side of the fence is amazing!

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    1. I appreciate you taking time to reply to this, Janea! As painful as it is to leave behind all the societal boundaries that made me feel safe, it's a fascinating process to explore a wider possibility of social and moral ideas.

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  10. Hi. There is something very fascinating in what you write. You say that you didn't choose: "If I could force myself to believe, I would do it." I believe you. But I also assume that neither did you choose to believe in the first place. What you say about raising children religiously, so that they could have access to what you now feel is out of reach, I think there's something really important right there. It seems to me that you're setting it up as a progression: you had religion, then you lost it and now you miss it (and perhaps feel like you're not entirely "whole"?). But people who have never been religious don't miss it. They don't experience what you experience. Do you see what I mean? I don't want to prohibit my child from being religious, but neither do I want to set it up as if being religious is the only way to be happy. This is really tricky, but it has something to do with choice - giving children the choice that you bemoan the lack of. I was raised religiously and personally I think that what my parents did was wrong. It's fine that they were religious and it would have been fine for them to talk of their beliefs - I'm not saying that they should have hidden religion from me - but it was not fine to impose it on me and then leave me to deal with the consequences. As a child I had no idea what I was getting into. Being religious - whatever that means - can certainly be very rewarding in many ways, but I think that we need to think deeply about why exactly religion can also be so harmful. And I think a good place to start is to think about if we are taking seriously enough the plight that you are now in: if and since there are so many of us who have come to reject religion in later life, and this process seems to be inevitably rather painful, should we not take this risk into consideration when considering whether or not we should impose religion on the life of others (and particularly children, who have not had enough experience to be able to make out what the decisions are about in the long run)? In a way the question is also: what does it mean to 'impose' as opposed to 'allow' religion?

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    1. It is a complex and difficult thing regarding children. Part of my decision is based on the fact that my children are already integrated into the church and believe it's true. I'll encourage them to find peace in whatever way they desire. Unlike many who have left religion, I never felt constricted or abused by what I was taught. I assume good intentions.

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    2. Yeah, I understand. I agree that it's important to respect that they are already integrated.

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  11. Juliana, I came across your blog from a Facebook post that a friend of mine commented on. My experience is in no way as intense and dramatic as yours...I can't even imagine going through a divorce at the same time as you make significant realizations/changes in your religious beliefs. It must take a strong character and a lot of courage.
    I won't get into the details of my own experience (a much longer story, and not that interesting), but I can tell you that you will find others with whom you can share your thoughts openly and they will accept you unconditionally. Whether it's in the form of new friends, or current friends and family who just need some time to absorb, you will find community.
    It's a process, but for me it was a necessary and very rewarding process. Now, when I visit my hometown, I can visit those people from my past whom I went to church with and have a delightful time. I can hear about their spiritual experiences that mean so much to them and be happy for them because that brings them comfort and happiness, and they can listing to the things which bring me comfort and happiness too. Sure, there are some who don't understand me and perhaps don't accept me, and that's okay.
    It was helpful for me to focus only on the things I could control. I can't control how others treated me, but I can definitely control how I treated others, and how I lived my life.
    I wish you the best of luck in making the most of your life.

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    1. It sounds like you came through your experience in a very healthy and positive way! My experience has also been relatively good so far, and I hope it continues to be rewarding in whatever ways it can.

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  12. Juliana, like others, I stumbled upon your blog from a friend liking it on Facebook. I enjoyed reading your post. I tried to walk a mile with you in your shoes. I admire your courage to take a stand for who you are. I am a member of the LDS faith. Have been all of my life. I have grown to accept many facets of the religion as a comfort blanket. Trying to find peace, serenity, and purpose in this life. Yet at the same time I find I am missing out on things I perceive make me happy. In missing those things I have broken some of my covenants. In a way I have not been honest with myself or those closest to me. I'll go more into this via email if you would be interested in discussing it. I justify my actions by saying I am looking for happiness. But I still attempt to cling to the blanket of comfort, which I learned growing up, comes from faith and religion. Anyway, I just wanted to say, how I admire you that you have reconciled with your feelings and are able to stand true to yourself.

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  13. I've known before this admission that you were feeling this way, so it was no surprise to me. But I just wanted to offer my support and understanding. Sometimes individual pathways take unexpected twists and turns in life. You seem to have held onto a personal relationship with God in some form and that's probably the most vital part of anything. It does not matter to me that you need to live true to yourself right now and that you may believe differently than I do - you are still the intelligent and caring woman I have known slightly for years now. Not everyone will turn away from you.. and really they shouldn't. I know I have no qualms with what others feel they need to do in life, and it takes courage to choose what is best for you instead of what everyone else may want you to do. Friendship build only upon common religious ground is not much of a friendship at all. I support you regardless. :)
    (LadyArwen)

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  14. Hi, Juliana. A friend of mine commented on your post on FB, and I thought I'd share a bit of my story.

    I was raised Catholic, and early on began to question it. I eventually turned to Wicca, as a very free-form and open faith, but eventually decided that no religious beliefs seemed to work for me. I became an agnostic. Both of these alterations in faith (or, I suppose, doubt) were difficult to acknowledge to myself, and nearly as difficult to discuss with my heavily religious family - but in the end I have become much happier with myself for having done these things.

    You'll likely find that many of your relationships will change due to making this declaration - not because people want to see you differently, but because part of religion is about community, and in that sense you aren't amongst the same community anymore in the same way that (but more pervasively than), for instance, a former avid long distance runner wouldn't quite fit in with other long distance runners after switching to rowing. But the people who love and care for you will likely continue to do so, as mine have for me.

    I'd recommend trying to find as many secular friends as you can, to offset the potential lost sense of community you might find, and otherwise just give people the time to settle in to their new understanding of your beliefs. That'll also give you time to settle into being out about your beliefs too, which in my experience can take some time to get used to.

    Good luck to you, and welcome to secularism!

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  15. You know me as BalanceUT. I've been atheist for over 20 years. Your doubts are normal. People will tell you that you can't be ethical or moral without a god-thingy in your life. A Christian woman I dated for years told me once that I was the most Christian man she had ever known, she being fully aware that I'm an atheist. Trust that your search for truth is valid, honorable and good for your long term mental health. I wish you well. --Paul

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  16. Juliana - I've been following your blog here and there for years, and was very sad to see your post today. I am sad for you that you have not been able to see the love of the Savior in your life. Heavenly Father knows that you and I have forgotten - that there is a veil drawn and He knows we don't remember. As you have chosen this way to learn the lessons you need to, even though it's a really tough way, He will lead you home, and your will be safe in His arms one day.

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  17. i support u juliana and love u so much i believe in you and im sure you will find the comfort very soon ...... hugs:)

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  18. I am 17 years I grow up in a place in the Caribbean where 50 per cent don't know what The Church of Jesus Christ of The latter-Day Saints is or if they do they think ill of it. I Dont think I know. You or ever met you and I may not be in your pressence but sister Juliana am holding your hand believe me. Each day, with each word and action I am defending and fighting for my faith. In this fight I choose to be kind And loving and forgiving and helpful and to love without a grudge. I have been taunted and teased by people who seek to trample my faith and all that I am but with these people I smile not to be a hypocrite not out of a hope that God would visit them in His wrath but out of pure Christlike love. I am far from perfect and if people could read minds they would see my flaws because the most grave flaws are my thoughts. But I find comfort in never giving up the fight. In one of the most recent general Confrences one apostle said "doubt your doubt before you doubt your faith"
    Now I don't claim to have a perfect knowledge of things because I don't and to take a stock of all that I really don't know is potentially depressing but i am not because I have hope and hope is the fuel to the fire of wanting to press on. Trusting that even if we were to find out that the Gospel is not true (which I doubt will happen) I will take solace in the fact that a loving and merciful Father will still love me after I had done all I can do. I see no aspect of the Gospel where in our Father in Heaven may be displeased but we do become down trodden sometimes and that's reasonable because we all didn't have the opportunity to know for a fact like Joseph Smith but there is one thing I know for a fact is we should not give up on ourselves our families and not even on our faith in the Father. Faith proceeds the miracle. I am Jerri-Ann I am Lds I am Your Sister and I love you you will be ok

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