I’m 12. Church is driving me crazy. Help?

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?


Dear MD:

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?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.


Filed under faith transition, young women

7 responses to “I’m 12. Church is driving me crazy. Help?

  1. Davey

    I agree with everything, except the advice to not necessarily spend time learning more about church history. I think it’s that ignore-it-and-it’ll-go-away attitude about our history that leads to many of these crises of faith in the first place. I’d say, learn more about church history, find good and balanced sources that look at things from different perspectives, and always do this with a balance of prayer, scripture study, church attendance, and discussion with God, yourself, and others. There should be no stigma about learning our history.

  2. Lisa Moore

    Joanna, I feel like MD deserves to know about the great tradition of Mormon feminism…..the books of Terry Tempest Williams (starting with Refuge) and the website feministmormonhousewives.org, for starters. Those have really helped Mormon college students of mine with similar questions. Not to mention the fine work of Joanna Brooks on the Religion Dispatches website.


  3. J.Ro

    In agreement with Lisa and Davey, I think it would be useful to continue to read up. My suggestion, though, is to keep a balance in your reading. Read the feminist LDS writings, and also read about the priesthood. Read the history of the early church, but don’t just read the perspective of one person. Read about different treatment on the basis of race, and try to find someone who wrote about being okay with being African-American and a member of the Church.

    Most people who write about these things are all too happy to tell you what to think. My opinion: if you want to get genuine wisdom on a subject, understand different perspectives on the matter, and then use your heart and mind to take an informed position.

  4. Nick

    Excellent response, Joanna. Several of the above commenters remarked on the church history question, and while I agree that one shouldn’t simply avoid church history in this period of exploration–I do agree with Joanna that church history alone will not provide the answers being sought here.

    I can empathize with MD when she says that it sometimes feels like she is living a lie. I spent much of my life feeling the same way (and periodically still do). That being said, I don’t think the answer is to keep one’s mouth shut about one’s feelings/beliefs. I know that my comment needs qualification, but when I’ve managed to politely and respectfully open my mouth I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how often I encounter other members of the church who share my concerns, doubts, experiences, etc. If nothing else, opening my mouth often leads to more interesting discussions. 🙂

  5. Lexie

    MD, I’m new to this blog and if you don’t mind, I’ve got a little insight, too. I’m a 24-year-old, active LDS girl working on my Ph.D. and I’ve been doing some research on the history of the LDS church in regard to its treatment of women and the history of women within the church. At school, I’ve gotten a lot of heat from non-members mocking my beliefs and failing to understand how my testimony of the gospel is strengthened by my studies of it. A study at BYU speaks to my point: A few researchers recently discovered that upon learning more about the history of women in this church (reading the women’s newspaper “The Exponent,” the Relief Society’s beginnings, and learning about how LDS men and women fought side-by-side for women to gain the right to vote, among many other rights), girls and women report having their testimonies strengthened and report greater commitment to the gospel. I love this finding and have felt this in my own life! I’d suggest reading about Emmeline Wells, the fifth president of the Relief Society, who was an AMAZING woman to look to. She was baptized as a teenager and quickly became a powerful, progressive LDS woman. Carol Cornwall Madsen has written much about her and I’d suggest looking online or on lds.org for any and all info about this inspirational woman.

    Taking time to ponder on and question the gospel is a good thing, and if you remember to balance your need for logical understanding with spiritual insight from the quiet but powerful whispering of the the Holy Ghost, you will come to know what a great religious tradition you are a part of. Be proud!

  6. reb

    I have actually had some similar discussions over the past few years with my daughter (who is 16 now). I have always told her not to fear her questions and doubts. There is no point to going through life without examining your life and your beliefs. You also have to recognize that we grow in our understanding and maturity; spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Always use doubts and questions as as spur to deep, honest examination and insight. The best part of Joanna’s answer deals with learning for *yourself* through study and prayer what is true.
    For example, I would NOT recommend the feminist mormon housewives website *at this stage of her life.* The posters there are more mature, have greater life experience and many of them are more jaded, cynical, angry, and prone to lashing out. I don’t think it’s a community that is appropriate for a 12 year old.

    I would ask MD what “truths” she believes that she has learned that is causing her to doubt? Who called it a “truth” and what made her believe that that person was credible? One of the most plastic word definitions in current usage is “truth.” Everyone proclaims it and few people actually speak it. I automatically question anyone who says they speak a “truth,” especially those who are discussing history of an organization or time period. History is one of the most manipulable topics out there. People twist and focus the past to their own point of view. Even if not misrepresenting history, people often attribute meaningless conclusions. For example – do the crusades of the middle-ages mean that Christians are inherently violent or that Christianity is not “true?” Does the Mountain Meadows Massacre mean that mormonism is false and that mormons are violent? Of course not. Both of those things are “truth,” but have no meaning in context of core doctrines of Christianity or Mormonism.

    MD has to recognize that like any other organization, there are wonderful, honest, loving, intelligent and analytical people within the church. There are also ignorant, xenophobic, hostile, and unreasonable people within the church. In many ways, I disagree with Joanna about the community and cultural aspects of the church – they are frequently a detractor from the primary point and reason of being a mormon – deepening your faith and truly identifying “truth” through deep learning and prayer. I would encourage MD to identify in church those core doctrines and study them and try to learn for herself what is true: existence of God, the atonement of Christ, covenants made between God and his people, scripture, and the role of prophets. Start there – study, learn, read, pray and ask God and listen to your heart and spirit. That is how you learn what “truth” is and what it means in your life.

  7. I would also recommend Dr. Valerie Hudson’s book “Women in Eternity, Women in Zion.” She teaches a course at BYU about women, development, religion, politics etc. that literally changed my life. This book doesn’t explain her ideas as well as I think she does in person, but it is definitely worth the read and everyone I’ve recommended it to has found it very insightful.

    Also, I would recommend to you that you ask Heavenly Father the questions that are troubling you. For years and years I experience anxiety over the role of women in the Church, and felt like Heavenly Father couldn’t possibly give me a viable explanation. But when I finally humbled myself and asked him sincerely, I found out that of course he does. Not only explanations, but that thing are different than they seem. I feel like a lot of members tense up when we ask the hard questions, saying things like “It’s not for us to know right now, it’s not relevant to our salvation.” But God has never said that to us, ever. He said “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be given unto you.” And I believe him. He doesn’t want us to be confused, to have anxiety! And if you believe him too, he will help you find the answers and the peace you are looking for.


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