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?
This week I received a long message from a young Mormon man in Canada. In several thick paragraphs, he poured out his story—a story of an orthodox Mormon family wrecked by illness and addiction, of divorce, poverty, and growing up on the streets, of an overworked single mother and an oldest son looking out for disabled younger siblings, while taking abuse from his addict dad, who after much struggle is trying to get his life together.
“I’ve confessed all the details to my Bishop, to my mother, and to the Lord. The whole time I’ve had these experiences I’d managed to keep an image of calm, cool, collected maturity that masked the emotional and spiritual turmoil that was occurring within me. But I feel an immense amount of sorrow and shame.
“Thus, this leads me to my question: Am I still a good person, having strayed so far from the path? Will Heavenly Father be able to forgive me for my serious transgressions? I try to live my life in the pursuit of serving others and making others happy to make up for my shortcomings, but I feel that true forgiveness from Heavenly Father will be extraordinarily difficult, no matter how much I confess or repent. I just want you to help me on this one, help me set my mind straight. I sincerely apologize for the lengthiness of this question; I started to type and kept going and going. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
And he signed it: “Ashamed.”
Before I dive into this week’s query, I want to offer a big thank you to the American Public Media show On Being hosted by the marvelous Krista Tippet who invited me on last week to share my Mormon story. If you don’t know this wonderful program, please check it out. And, now, onto our question:
I lost my faith when I was 20 years old, home on summer vacation from BYU. I quit going to church, broke my parents’ hearts, traveled a bit, transferred to another university, married a non-member, and tried to fill the Mormonism-shaped hole in my life, which wasn’t particularly large until recently.
In the past year or so, I’ve developed a desire to return to church, to don a dress every Sunday and maybe even have a calling. I miss my community. I miss my people. This is sort of baffling to me, seeing as how I was “less active” (at BYU, no less!) for a long time before losing my faith, mostly because I found church depressing and boring. It sounds funny, but I have a much greater love and appreciation for the Mormon tradition now that I’m something of an outsider than I ever did while I was in it.
I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to be an adult Mormon. I don’t know how to start in a new ward, especially since I have no inclination to apologize for or be ashamed of the past seven years of my life. I’m married to a non-member and childless– not exactly a great way to fit in. I don’t know if going back is possible. I don’t even really have any religious beliefs, beyond a vague belief in “something more” and an appreciation for the Christ-story. All I know is that I’d really like to come home.
Am I crazy? Is going back possible? How?
Outside Looking In