Dear Mormon Girl:
I am only 12 years old, but have recently been learning some of the truths about the church. I’ve been raised all my life as a member, so it’s somewhat part of me, but I am starting to “lose faith.” My parents both have learned the truth but stayed as active members, but somehow I just don’t think I can bear it any longer! I am sick of having to pretend that I believe everything my sunday school teachers are telling me, and I have always had to keep my mouth shut when my LDS friends are talking about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I like some aspects of the church, but I feel as if I’m living a lie. Sometimes I wonder if there’s anything worthwhile I’m being taught. I wish I could talk about my feelings with someone my age, but my sisters don’t want to hear about it. I’m still really curious about more real church history, so is there a website or something that could help me read more on it? Is there a way that I can be Mormon without driving myself crazy?
Thanks for writing! I love your intelligence and your courage! You sound like an incredible young woman! I am so glad to hear you are taking your mind, your feelings, and your beliefs very seriously: that is an important form of integrity you’re cultivating, and I’m proud of you for it. You are also very observant of and respectful towards the beliefs, needs, and feelings of those around you: your parents, your siblings, and your friends at church. That self-discipline and empathy are also important spiritual capacities that will serve you well over the long haul of your spiritual life.
I can’t think of anything more normal than for an intelligent, independent twelve year old to chafe a bit against the pressure of going to church every Sunday and the incredible demands of piety and orthodoxy LDS life places on young people. It also sounds like you are experiencing what some of us describe as a “faith transition”: a movement from more literal, total, and absolute forms of Mormon belief (the kind of belief mainstream orthodox LDS mean when they say “I know the Church is true”) to a mix of curiosity, critical thinking, contemplation, doubt, and hope in our Mormon tradition in all of its richness and complexity.
What’s so interesting about your case is that most of us who talk about our own “faith transitions” tended to experience them later in life: in our 20s, 30s, or later. But here you are at 12, knowing that Mormonism is a very big part of who you are, but also feeling like the unorthodox form of Mormon belief you’re growing into deserves some space, oxygen, support, and acknowledgement. I agree completely.
But I don’t think the answer lies in a deeper study of Church history. I think the answer is to study your own heart and feelings as you experience all the good that Mormonism has to offer. Figuring out whether or not something is “true” is only a small part of what we actually do at church and in our religious lives. The rest of it has to do with creating and belonging to a community, even when there are differences in that community. Building relationships, serving others, being served, and developing leadership are all vital parts of what we learn in our Mormon communities. Girls Camp, YW activities, and some innocent troublemaking with my Mormon friends helped form who I am and gave me great memories; I hope you will continue to enjoy them too. Even if you don’t share their orthodox approach to the gospel, enjoy your LDS friends in all their strengths and weaknesses; you will feel a strong kinship to Mormon people for the rest of your life. If you can’t find at least one or two LDS friends in your ward or stake or school with whom you can be honest about your feelings, do find some non-LDS friends you can confide in. Choose wisely: look for people who are fun, kind, and good hearted, and who know how to look after and protect one another.
A few other bits of advice while you process your faith transition: Whether you hang with LDS or non-LDS friends, I’d encourage you to stick with clean LDS living. Spare yourself as much as possible unnecessary drama, whether it be on-line, real-time, chemical, or sexual. And I say this not because I believe that you will be forever ruined, but drama can be a tremendous waste of time and divert your energy and your mind from your major job right now: having as much fun and developing as much mental and spiritual power as possible. Believe me: women like you, women who grow up Mormon and still treasure their power and independence turn out to be pretty formidable women with full and exciting lives.
Continue to feed your mind and religious knowledge. When I was your age, I read a great book by Carol Lynn Pearson called Daughters of Light. Try that one for starters. Pay attention as much as possible in Church and take mental notes on what you hear and how you react. If you find yourself resisting certain aspects of what you hear at church or experience in Mormon culture, write about it in your journal: ask yourself why, and seek to go deeper into your thoughts and feelings. There’s even a website called Beginnings New that presents a more progressive take on the YW program. Check it out, and ask your parents if they might share the website with your YW leaders.
Lovely MD, Joseph Smith, the founder of our faith, was just about your age when he had questions about faith and religion. He took himself seriously enough to seek answers by going to a quiet place—a grove of trees—kneeling down and asking God directly. Lots of mainstream Mormons don’t like to ask hard questions about our faith, just as lots of people don’t like to ask hard questions, period. But not you. Claim the Joseph Smith legacy (including the prayer part—prayer has always worked for me); continue to take yourself seriously, enjoy the incredible resources our Mormon tradition offers, pray for direction, and see what paths open before you.
Now, readers, it’s your turn. What parental prognostications would you like to offer MD on how to stay Mormon and not “go crazy”? Do you know any good resources for young women like her? Do Mormon teens have a bloggernacle of their own? Do they need one?
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