I am a 26 year old California-grown Mormon girl. I struggled with personal anxiety and depression issues throughout my young womanhood which caused me to stray from the church and live a much more “worldly” existence. I left the church completely after I graduated from BYUI in 2009, and never really anticipated returning.
I went from a social drinker, to a binge drinker, to the beginning stages of an alcoholic, which led me to AA, (in which there was NO getting around this God character whatsoever). I put my heart into the program because I really wanted this disease that was plaguing me to be gone and I knew I couldn’t use my own strong self-control to fight this demon. I tried for years. Going to AA actually led me back to reading the scriptures and praying and eventually to church. I have found this peace that I have sought everywhere in the world for and could never find. I have been so excited to actually want to attend the temple and possibly get married there.
I met for the first time with my bishop last Sunday and after I felt like absolute crap. The spiritual high I have been riding was cut off as he alluded to the fact that I need to come clean for every single sin that has not been forgiven. I had years and years of living in the world and don’t even remember so many terrible things I have done. When he told me this I broke down. I feel like he is wanting me to go backwards and delve into a past I have left in the past and have tried to move on from. I feel like it would be necessary for me to go that route had I been attending church or taking the sacrament when I shouldn’t have been. I am so torn about this and I really do not feel it is necessary for me to reveal all that I did in my time of apostasy to be forgiven and prepare for the temple.
I don’t feel a sense of guilt for a majority of the things I have done because they led me to where I am today.
Do you have any advice?
Welcome back, brave soul. Welcome back with open arms. And congratulations on your sobriety.
Every week I get l mail from people who are either too terrified or too scarred from negative experiences to go see their own bishops. To each one, I say: I am not a bishop. I can’t speak for your bishop. I can’t discourage you from going to see your bishop. I’m reiterating the same here.
What I can do is say what I would say if I were your visiting teacher: I am so sorry your first meeting with your bishop left you feeling so desolate. You have already done an enormous amount of work to come back. If you’ve been working your AA steps, you have already made the searching inventory of your mistakes, confessed them to someone else, and tried to make amends. I can totally understand your desire not to revisit the painful past.
You say that your bishop “alluded to the fact that [you] need to come clean for every single sin that has not been forgiven.” What I’m not clear on is what the bishop is really asking of you. Could you get him to clarify? Is he really asking you to give the play-by-play on the most transgressive moments of your past? Is he aware that you’ve already done this kind of soul-searching? Would it suffice to give him a general overview of what’s happened and how long it has been since it happened last? For example, could you go in and say, “Yes, I lived a pretty worldly life for about five years, I slept with many partners—at least a dozen—some of whom I don’t remember due to inebriation. But I have been sober for two years and completely lived the law of chastity for the last twelve months.” Would that be enough for him?
If it’s too painful even to think about saying things out loud, perhaps you could write the bishop a letter. Let him know that the thought of having to review past transgressions one by one is so discouraging to you it makes you want to give up. Ask him if he could be a bit more clear on what kind of confession he thinks is necessary. Make an appointment and hand him the letter. Let him read it. Let him answer. Take your time in figuring out how to respond.
You might also go talk to your Relief Society President. To tell the truth, I know a thousand women who would much rather confess to the Relief Society President and not have to talk about personal matters with the bishop. That’s not the way things work, of course, but the Relief Society President can probably be an excellent ally and support for you. Perhaps she can even give you a bit of insight into how this particular bishop works.
Finally, don’t forget prayer. Tell God exactly how impossible this feels and how much you need help.
Now, I’m going to turn you over to my AMG readers. I’m suspecting there may be a bishop (or former bishop) or two out there. They might have additional insights to share. I’d love to hear them. Readers?
Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.