a girl and her boy

. daily life : wool obsession : bibliomania : living on purpose .

Changes

One of the great things about running is that there is so much time to reflect. And the great thing about running with a partner is that you can share the thoughts with someone in the same state of mind. Amy and I had a conversation that led to a breakthrough in personal development with me.

The last few years have been a spiritual, or lack there of, struggle for me. I grew up Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and never felt like I fit in there. I was always the square peg in the round hole and for so many years I tried shoving myself into the hole. During childhood, I was the model child – I was a master scriptorian by the time I was fourteen (meaning I memorized over one-hundred important scripture passages, some of them several verses long) and I was the leader of all the groups and classes. Looking at me you would never know that I had serious misgivings about my childhood religion.

I remember when I was in fifth grade I was playing over at a friend’s house a few blocks away. I suddenly remembered that I never turned off the oven after I made cookies. The instant the realization hit, I ran home to turn it off. Instead of owning up to the mistake and saying that I suddenly remembered, I decided to use this as a prime time to say that the Spirit had spoken to me and warned me of the danger. I grew up with numerous stories like this.

Mormons believe in smiling even when you don’t feel like it, even when your emotional state is anything but conducive to an upward turn of the mouth: “No one likes a frowning face, change it for a smile, make the world a better place by smiling all the while.” That was one of the hymns the chorister would pick if people were forgetting this particular point of Mormon culture. I was one of the best fakers. I was raped. I was beaten. I was abused. No one had a clue because I was so good at the fake smile. I was so good at covering up the hurt, the pain, the distress, and discomfort; I buried it deep.

As a matter of fact, I was so good at it that when I finally had the conversation with my bishop about some of the things going on at home, he didn’t believe me.

But this is a small part of the spiritual journey I’m trying to pin down for the first time.

When I went to college, I was finally in a position where I could start freeing myself of the fetters of my childhood religion. I stopped going to church and had what is known as “Mormon guilt“. People refer to Catholic guilt, but let me tell you, Catholic guilt has NOTHING on Mormon guilt. I’ll touch on it some here, but I’ll save most of that for another post on another day. You see, Mormon’s believe strongly in the afterlife; so strongly that some believe it is better to be miserable here in this life than to potentially screw up any potential afterlife happiness. When I was in the process of leaving my childhood religion, it was this guilt, not any lingering feelings that it could be true that brought me back, but the fear that even if I don’t buy into it, even if there is no such thing as a God, just in case the Mormons are right, I better get back to it. It’s better to be miserable here and have a chance in the afterlife than walk away and have them be right. If any of you are familiar with Pascal’s wager, I developed the theory for myself before I read any French philosophy.

After I left the church (no, I haven’t submitted a resignation letter, I’m not ready for that step yet) and got together with Allan, the man I’m about to marry this summer, and became happier than I had ever been before in my life, I started having these terrible dreams. I would dream about the afterlife and how I threw eternal happiness away for temporary happiness and, in the dream, I would leave Allan and live out my days alone, miserable, and a husk of a person but with the knowledge, again in the dream, that I was going to do what God wanted me to do. I would wake from these dreams shaking and crying. I had them often for a while.

One time, after being together for about 3 years, I had even packed my bags and was standing in front of the door to my apartment ready to leave behind everything.

But I never did. And I’m glad.

For a long time, from about 2005 on until recently, I thought I was Atheist. Many ex-Mormons make the swing from uber-spirituality to Atheism. Mormonism is such an all or nothing religion that it’s natural to swing the other way, and fast. For a long time any form of spirituality, or connection to something larger outside of myself was too close to the religion I grew up with and so I ran from it.

Recently though, and this came partly from my conversation with Amy tonight, I realized that I’m starting to take a more moderate approach. I’m realizing that I am spiritual, but not in the way I grew up. And not with a theological base of any kind, especially not a Christian-based religion. I have no idea what form this will develop into as the transition is just starting to take shape, but it definitely has an old-world meditative feel to it. I’ve always been an independent soul.

When I was attending church, I always felt more spiritual outside on the grass in the sun (during summer) than inside the church building listening to talks or lessons. I never felt a deep connection to the religion of my childhood, it just never made much sense.

And now, I find myself on the threshold of a new phase of my spiritual journey. It has the feel of old earth-centered Druidic practices, of Zen Buddhism, of Hinduism, of Taoism. It’s a connection with a life-force, an energy that encompasses me and all other things. For me, this connection doesn’t bear the face of a god, but of a connection of the world as a whole. It has the feel of merging myself with the rhythms of the natural world.

Where it goes from here is hard to tell. All I know is that my personal history is ready to come spilling out. It’s been a long time coming

I welcome you, my dear readers, on this journey with me. We’ll go to some dark places to find the light, but it will be worth it.

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6 responses to “Changes

  1. Amy June 17, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Jen, I love you!
    I think you’re wonderful, and it’s awesome to watch you heal from old wounds and bloom into such an independent spirit.
    You probably don’t realize how much I love being your friend.

  2. Heather June 17, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I am so sorry you had to go through such hardships in your past, and that you were forced to cover it all up with a smile and a feeling of guilt. I am of the opinion that religion is such an individual thing, that it is only “right” when it is what truly resonates within the individual, no matter what their upbringing, or their culture.

    Good luck on your journey. Let me know if you need anything. I have gone through alot of faith searching myself and am currently identifying with earth-centered beliefs.

  3. Michelle Glauser June 17, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    I found your post very insightful. I’m Mormon and I love it; it works for me. The thing about forcing smiles was interesting, because yes, I smile when I’m stressed, but I find it helps me not be so stressed. I find there’s always a reason to smile, even if it’s because the sun might shine tomorrow or next week. Sometimes I smile because of stress. I smile because of how ridiculous my schedule or problems are. So I wouldn’t exactly call it fake-smiling (in my case anyway), I really do feel like smiling, like laughing sometimes, because life is so ridiculously/amusingly funny.

  4. Laurie June 17, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    You know, I read your post earlier this morning and it has stayed with me through the whole day.
    I was going to try and write something regarding your experience, but really I just want to say how unexpected this post was to come across (as someone who does not know you but through the blog).
    ***
    Unexpected but genuine, resonant, and ringing with that glimpse of freedom that comes from having an insight. I too have tried to examine my childhood religious experience from outside of it and found Buddhism a great aid in centering my deepest senses. Thank you for your honesty.

  5. LittleWit June 18, 2008 at 7:28 am

    All I can do is send you big hugs and well wishes for your journey.

    I s’pose I can be thankful all I have to deal with is Catholic guilt 😉

  6. Toad4Mimi June 19, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Wow. . . You and I have much in common regarding organized religion. Although, I am considerably older than you and was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist home! My parents sent my sisters and I to the school associated with our Church, and I was always overwhelmed at what you had to do to “look” and “act” the part of a (Baptist) Christian. I found the hypocrisy overwhelming. The older I got, and once away at college to make decisions on my own, I found that it wasn’t “belief in God” with which I had issues. It was all of the hoops that religion makes you jump through to “show” your faith.

    My husband and I have similar thoughts on this (thank goodness!) and have never become members of church together. We have two sons, and talk to them a lot about God, His blessings, His love for us, and being kind and loving people. I have taught them to pray, although I haven’t forced it on them as a nightly ritual. Prayer to them is a simple conversation with God. Kind of like calling home every couple of days: No pressure, but it sure is nice to hear from you! I so agree with your comment about feeling closer to God outside in the grass than anywhere else.

    I read Bible stories to my kids, and they love them. No, they can’t recite a single Bible verse; no, they don’t stoll along singing any sacred hymns. But they are very good boys with kind hearts and an amazing capacity to love. What I tell them most of all is that God wants us to love and the ability to love is His greatest gift to us. Anything and everything: each other, the earth, our pets and animals, strangers. I’m good with that and the kids are good with it, too. I think our world would be a better place if more people subscribed to that belief!

    Oh my, did I ramble on here or what! So sorry. Anyway, you’ll find your way through this. No matter what you finally land on, just be sure you have followed your own heart to get there.

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