A couple of years ago, there was a blog entry that made the rounds called "Being a Mormon Misfit." I loved the message of hope and belonging that it provided. I also appreciated this friend's response, reminding readers that many of the Mormons we think of as "mainstream" probably have a lot more going on under the surface than we think.
I think the Mormon Misfit does exist, if it only means someone who just feels like they don't fit in. They could in actuality fit in, but just not feel like they do.
Because God knows I've been one of those people--someone who feels like they don't fit in. Modesty makes me grumpy, I have a second piercing in my right ear, I am pro-gay marriage, and you guys, I have a tattoo designed that I want so so so badly. But I've also felt a confirmation of many of the truths of the Gospel. And sometimes that puts me in a contradictory place.
So over the years, I've found a way to carve out my own space in the Church. It's an ongoing process, but I thought I'd share some of my tools--a practical guide to how to carve out your own space of belonging. Some of these tools may work for you, some of them may not. Spirituality is so so personal. But if you sometimes sit in sacrament meeting and wonder what the hell you're doing there, know that I've been there, and sometimes I'm still there, but remembering the following things help me to keep perspective.
6 Things To Remember When You're Tired of Mormons
1. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of you--just what you think of you, and what God thinks of you.
This is probably the biggest guiding principle in my life. And it's completely impossible to truly remember and live by all the time. But it's really what everything else in this list comes down to, and when you can remember it, it's empowering. So what if the Relief Society President thinks you're immodest? She's not in charge of your eternal salvation. And even if she or other leaders have a hand in your eternal judgement, God's judgement will override any of that.
2. Personal revelation is more important than anything else. [I think I was unclear in this section, so I've added a few additional clarifications in orange, as of 11:00 pm Monday, May 18th. I apologize if that makes anything in the comments make less sense...I couldn't think of a better way to address these things!]
In our Church, we speak often about the importance of obedience, of faith in the Church, of following the counsel of leaders even when we don't understand it. And there is value in those things...we can grow and learn from doing those things. But there may be times that your own conscience may dictate otherwise. Those are painful moments, and it can be really really difficult to trust that you're doing the right thing in following your own heart. And maybe sometimes it's NOT the right thing [to follow your own heart]. But your responsibility as a human being is to take everything you are told to the Lord. And if your own personal revelation says something contrary to [what leaders of] the Church [may say], trust it. [I'm not talking about things like commandments. Personal revelation will not be contrary to the COMMANDMENTS. I'm talking about things like leader's opinions on the Big Bang, or the best way to be a parent, or what legislation should be passed. I honor and sustain the men and women called to lead this Church, but recognize that it is not meet that we are commanded in all things, and that sometimes something that seems like revelation for the entire Church may not be when you seek confirmation of it.] Others may judge you for [your interpretation of statements by leaders], but those who pass judgment are not in charge of your eternal salvation, so it doesn't matter what they think.
3. You have permission to leave if your pain exceeds your nourishment.
I mean this on a short-term basis, although I think it can apply long-term. But since the point of this post is to help people stay active if they want to, I'm mostly focusing on short-term. It's inevitable that someone will say something in one of your meetings someday that rubs you the wrong way. You may never have a day when you go to Church and 100% agree with everyone around you. Most of the time, you can just shift your focus, listen to the Spirit, dig into your scriptures on your own, find some way to help you stay grounded. But sometimes the sheer effort of doing that distracts from the actual nourishment you could be receiving. So if you need to step out for a few minutes, for the rest of the meeting, or for the rest of the day, give yourself permission to do that. Take your worship into your own hands. It's almost always best to stay. But if you're not getting anything out of Church, put yourself in a situation where you ARE being spiritually nourished.
4. God's children are flawed, imperfect, fallible, messy, emotional wrecks.
- The elderly man who takes his sacrament talk as an opportunity to share his personal opinions on abortion and gay marriage
- The bishop, Relief Society president, the Elder's Quorum president, and any other leaders
- The lady in Sunday school who says the only sex ed children need is the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife
- The Stake President's wife, who tells everyone from the pulpit that you will feel the Spirit more if you shower every day
- The guy in your ward who says he gets to tell you that your stick-on tattoo is against the Honor Code because "he has the Priesthood and you don't"
- The Sunday School teacher who dismisses the comments a woman makes about the lesson, and then welcomes the EXACT SAME COMMENT when it's made by a man
(Also note, you are a flawed, imperfect, fallible, messy, emotional wreck.)
The other part of this truth is this: In the words of an old friend, "If somebody seems perfect, then either #1, they're Jesus, or #2, they have something to hide. Probably #2 though." This is where Val's point about the Mormon misfit being a myth fits in. Many of the people you see at Church may seem "orthodox" and "perfect," but are likely carrying things the rest of us can only dream of. Don't fail to imagine others complexly.
5. The purpose of Church is to nourish everyone, including those who are just beginning.
For those who have been members for many years, or for the intellectual types, Church can sometimes just plain get boring. There is so much insanely interesting stuff in the scriptures and in Church history...complicated details that deserve our time and attention. And 99% of the time, that's NOT the stuff we talk about in Sunday School. But that's because everyone is at a different place in their progression and testimony. What if someone is returning to Church after a long hiatus? Or what if someone just got baptized? Or what if they're just investigating? Discussing the connections between LDS temple ceremonies and Masonic ritual is NOT going to bring them closer to Christ--it will probably overwhelm them. I'm not saying that studying those things is bad. In fact, I think it's really really good and really really important. But that's what personal study is for, or discussions with friends and family. This is totally the "Gospel According to Liz," but to me it makes sense to say that while there is overlap, Church is primarily the time for nourishment, and personal study is primarily the time for learning.
6. For most of us, life is better with the Church than without it.
This is the ultimate truth that keeps me in the pews. Because I haven't always had the Church in my life. And there have been times when I've had the Church, but not as fully. And here's what I think. Life can be painful and complicated and overwhelming. And that's true whether you're in the Church or not. So if it's true, you might as well continue to receive nourishment where you can. I know I can use all the help I can get when it comes to life, and the Gospel is the best source of help I've found.
The Rock Wall
Here's my final thought. An institute teacher shared this with me years ago, and it's a FANTASTIC analogy. Your testimony is like a rock wall. (Don't worry about the purpose of the wall--the analogy doesn't stretch that far.) Everyone is constantly building to their walls, stone by stone. And every now and then, you may stumble upon a stone and not see exactly where it fits. It may be labeled "gay marriage" or "visiting teaching" or "hymns are boring" or "why do we have so many freaking meetings and why are they so freaking long." But that doesn't mean you abandon the wall. It means you set the stone aside and keep building with what you DO know. And as you build, you may suddenly see where that stone fits. Some people have likened this process to a jigsaw puzzle, but that implies that everyone's testimony looks the same eventually. I like the stone wall better because everyone's will look completely different, and have different foundations, but all of them are still valid. It can be frustrating to feel sometimes like you're surrounded by stones you don't understand. But hang in there. You'll find their place eventually. And as you do, you'll find your OWN place, too.