[All bolded quotes are excerpts from my journal entry, dated July 20, 2014]

“I want to believe. I want to have faith. I want knowledge. I want to be with Christ. Yet when I pour out my soul in agony and distress, there is no reply. My mind is a storm, my stomach is perpetually wrenched. I cry. I promise the Lord I will make any sacrifice, give up any sin, do anything He wants if He will but impart a little light. Yet I remain in darkness, fearing that the situation of others will become mine as well. I am scared.”

It was over a year ago that I wrote those words in my journal, but I can still recall the emotion in vivid memory. I was so afraid. Afraid that all I had ever loved would be torn from me. Afraid that my life would come crashing down, never to be rebuilt. Afraid that I would end up miserable and alone. Afraid that my loved ones would abandon me. Afraid that God had already abandoned me.

I was days away from graduating college. Most college graduates are excited to begin life in the real world. I was terrified because I no longer knew what reality was or how I could possibly survive in it.

“They say the answer comes after a trial of your faith. Well how long must it be tried? Is it tried until the age of seventy when you finally decide that the answer is never going to come? They say that if you ask in faith, nothing wavering, it shall be given. Well how often must one ask? When will the Lord grow weary of my pleadings?” 

For the next year, I dedicated myself to study. I promised the Lord I would do all I could to make sense of the profound problems present in church history and doctrine. I tried to read everything written by Joseph Smith—Lectures on Faith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and The Doctrine and Covenants. I read Rough Stone Rolling and Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. I poured through FAIR Mormon and had countless discussions with faithful Latter-day Saints. I prayed more than I ever had. And I continued to study, not just read, my scriptures daily.

But it all came crashing down anyway.

“Oh God, where art thou? Where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? Why won’t you answer me? Have I not done enough? Have I not diligently sought to keep the commandments? Have I not devoted myself to study and prayer? Have I not strived to walk circumspectly before thee? Have I not sought to love others as myself? Have not my eyes grown weary with study and my knees weak in prayer? Did the sacrifice of two years of my life account for nothing? If I am unworthy, show me my unworthiness! If I am unbelieving, help thou mine unbelief!”

The week the failing embers of belief were finally extinguished was one of the hardest of my life. I had frequent panic attacks that left me sobbing on the floor. I had tried so hard. I had wanted so badly for it to be true, only to be left alone with the painful resolution that it was all in vain.

“When a child asks for bread, will his father give him a stone? I would almost rather be given the stone than to be given nothing. Is this trial of faith a stone? Is it something I must overcome? Or will I end up finding that I spent my life carrying stones that didn’t need to be carried, and that I have been deceived and built my life on a fantasy?”

Losing the church was one thing. Losing God was another. It was like losing my best friend, but worse. Because in this case, my friend was no longer real. The memories I had of him were constructs of my own mind. His love had been the most important thing in the world to me. Now his love was not only inaccessible, it was imaginary.

I was struck with an overwhelming sense of betrayal. I had been set up, made a fool. I had been bamboozled, tricked, manipulated, and ultimately left alone to mourn the death of someone who never existed.

Gone were my dreams of an eternal family. Gone was my assurance that all things would work out for my good. Gone were two years of the prime of my life. Gone was my very identity.

The hurt soon turned to anger. I was the victim and someone was responsible. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—they were the culprits! They were the ones who set me up. They were the ones who deserved to be punished for my pain—and not my pain alone, but the pain of every person who was promised the universe but found only a shattered world.

My parents’ reaction amazed me. My dad had been my Bishop in high school and was currently serving in the Stake Presidency. My mom was a seminary teacher. I knew they loved me, but I had heard so many horror stories from people whose families had rejected them. I worried about how my disaffection would affect our relationship.

After I tearfully explained my situation, the first thing my mom said was “This doesn’t change anything. We love you because you are you. In the church, out of the church, it doesn’t matter.”

The reactions from my friends were also positive. I expected them to lash out, to accuse, to marginalize—and a few did—but most were incredibly respectful and supportive. Truly, it was like a spiritual experience as I felt overwhelming gratitude and love for all the wonderful people I had met during my 25 years as a Mormon.

I felt like I was on the phone for weeks. People wanted to understand where I was coming from. Many just wanted to make sure I was okay. For the first time, I felt like I was able to vocalize my concerns.

Many of the people who reached out to me had doubts of their own. Several had already left the church. As we shared details of our journeys, we exposed the vulnerable core of our hearts. Every time I had such a conversation, I felt as if I was admiring a priceless treasure—for certainly, that is exactly what each person is.

When the frenzy that my announcement created died down, I was left to start picking up the pieces of my broken life. To an extent, I am still doing that.

There are good days—days when I feel excitement and optimism wash over me, days when learning about the world with an open mind thrills me to the core, days when I am so full of love that I could weep. And there are bad days—days when loneliness overtakes me, days that I mourn the social life I had in the church, days that I feel so empty and life seems utterly meaningless and undesirable.

The bad days are becoming more infrequent. The anger that once choked me has now subsided. My new world is starting to take shape, and it’s beautiful. It really does get better. There is light at the end of the dark rabbit hole. My fear that I would end up miserable—without morals, family or friends—was unfounded.

Sure, I can no longer look for meaning in every little thing. But now I can give my own meaning to a few important things. I am no longer comforted in smugly saying, “I know,” but now I am elated in fearlessly saying, “I am open.” I don’t have the assurance that everything will work out perfectly, but I have confidence that I can work out my own destiny. I don’t have faith that an all-powerful being unconditionally loves me, but I have the power to unconditionally love others. My eyes no longer look longingly for heaven, but my hands now work to make one here.

I used to be so afraid. Fear used to dictate what I could do, who I could associate with, who I had to obey, what I could read, and what I could believe. Now I am learning to live without fear, or in other words, I am learning how to truly live.


Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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