To anyone who is currently struggling through the soul-wrenching battle between belief and doubt, to anyone who finds themselves isolated from loved ones because of hidden skepticism and unvoiced fears, to anyone who feels beaten, betrayed, or broken by information that has rocked their spiritual world—this post is for you.
I can remember the point in my faith journey when I found myself staring down the rabbit hole wondering if I would ever see the light again. At that point, I realized I knew too much to ever be the same again, but I was unsure about moving forward. It all seemed so bleak, so dark, and so hopeless.
All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind—Is life worth continuing without the church? If I end up losing belief, will I be miserable like I have been told? I’m miserable now. Will I ever be happy again? Will my friends and family reject me? If I lose the church, what will I believe in? Will my morals fall apart? Will my life spiral out of control until I finally decide it’s not worth living anymore?
To those who are thinking similar thoughts, I’d like to offer some suggestions. These suggestions come not just with the assurance that things will eventually get better, but that they can be better now. There is not only light at the end of the tunnel; there is light IN the tunnel! There is joy not only at the end of the journey, but also strewn along the path. (Yes, that sounded very General Conference-y. Sue me.)
To restrain our search for truth is to allow fear to hold our emotions hostage. In the church we are taught to fear certain sources of information. Anything that contradicts our beliefs is hastily dismissed as “anti-Mormon” lies. Our fear of skeletons in the closet prevents us from performing a thorough investigation like we would conduct for anything else in our lives.
When we encounter information than contradicts our beliefs, we experience a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. The feeling is very uncomfortable. Many people in the church attribute the feelings of cognitive dissonance to the Holy Ghost departing. However, the phenomenon is universal and can apply in ANY situation regarding beliefs, not just LDS beliefs. It has nothing to do with the Holy Ghost.
If something contradicts your beliefs, don’t let fear take over! You are intelligent. You can track down citations, weigh evidence, judge validity of arguments, and come to informed conclusions. President J. Reuben Clark said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” Doubt is not a defect! Doubt allows you to ensure that your beliefs are sound. If you boldly follow truth, then you have no need to fear. God will not punish you for studying things out as best you can.
Remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
When you let go of fear, the learning process can be fun. As you allow truth to carve its own way uninhibited, you’ll find new delight as the world takes a sensible shape. The beliefs you form will be strong because they will be based on evidence, not blind superstition. Skepticism is a strength, not a weakness!
Perhaps the worst part of the journey is feeling alone. It may seem that nobody else is having a hard time, which may only compound the fear of being ostracized or punished for expressing concerns. The truth, however, is there are many people all around with doubts and concerns. Opening up and making yourself emotionally vulnerable at the right time and place to the right kind of person can bring a profound sense of kinship and support.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you air your concerns about polyandry in Fast and Testimony meeting. You do need to be careful in choosing confidants, and maybe your hyper-orthodox brother isn’t the best option. But it is essential to find people with whom you can express your feelings and concerns.
Lucky for you, there are many forums and Facebook groups that provide a safe place for asking questions and expressing doubts, such as the Mormon Stories Podcast Community and the ex-Mormon subreddit. The site, mormonspectrum.org, can help you find information and empathetic community tailored to your specific place on the LDS faith spectrum.
Some groups can seem very bitter when you first arrive. This may confirm in your mind that people are miserable outside the church and all they care about is tearing it down. But once you do allow yourself to be vulnerable, you can find them to be very supportive communities. As you see them making themselves vulnerable, you’ll understand why they are sometimes bitter. Together, you can help each other move through the various stages of grief.
If the Book of Mormon got anything right, it’s that there is great value in “mourning with those that mourn, and comforting those that stand in need of comfort.” By finding a community where you can be vulnerable and appreciate the vulnerability of others, you can turn some of the loneliness of the journey into fellowship and joy.
Researcher Brené Brown, in her TED talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability,” said, “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is why we’re here.”
Fear is ultimately what makes the rabbit hole so miserable. You fear what will happen to your testimony, what will happen to your relationships, what will happen to your life. The good news is: you don’t have to worry! Things WILL work out. People WILL love you. Truth WILL come out on top. And you WILL be okay.
You may have been led to believe that people are miserable without the church. This is simply not true. There is happiness, fulfillment, community, music, beauty, service, transcendance, and morality outside the church. So whether you end up staying or going, you will be alright. Be optimistic. If you worry about displeasing God, trust that he knows your heart. If you doubt God, be comforted read this thought from Thomas Jefferson: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
I wish I could speak with you one-on-one. I wish I could hug you and that you could hear the sincerity in my voice when I tell you that things really do get better, that you will find peace. I know because I’ve been where you are and I’ve seen the other side.
The first steps are always the hardest. But you can do it. And you can enjoy it. There is goodness to be found now and even more later. It will be hard. But it will be worth it. So enjoy the journey.