Dear 100 Hour Board,
Like a lot of others I have friends, family, former mission companions, Ward members, etc. who, for a variety of reasons have left the Church. I try to put on the "Mr tough guy" face inside privately and to myself but the more I try the more I want to weep for them and for whatever brought them to that choice. For many I know the reasons why and I respect their decisions but why does it bother me (sorry that's best way I can describe it other than saying my heart hurts for them). Is it the fact of knowing what they may be walking away from and the fact that I'd like everyone I know to come hang out in God's presence someday (assuming I make it myself which would be a miracle)?
I can't condemn them for their choices as they have agency just like me and I only know the little bit of the story (which sometimes even the crumbs of a story are too much)? Is it possible to ignore the pains of seeing others make those choices and still be counted worthy of being a disciple of the Savior?
The answer is yes.
Your sense of sympathy is admirable, and your desire for your friends and family to be happy is a wonderful one. But it doesn't sound like you know what they're walking away from. If they've left the Church, they're walking away from something that was making them unhappy. You may see it as turning their backs on opportunities, but they may see it as turning their backs on restrictions and heartaches and misery. That may be lamentable, but in reality that's how many people view the Church.
Being a member can make it feel like you know and understand what's best for everyone. But trust me, you don't. The silver lining, however, is that God does know. God knows exactly what each individual person is going through, and he has a plan for them. His plan for them may involve being inactive or having their names removed from Church records, because what that person may actually need could be time or perspective or freedom that they simply can't get while attending Sacrament meeting every Sunday. That plan might not make any sense to you, nor to the person actually experiencing it, because we lack eternal knowledge and perspective. But that doesn't mean it's not a part of the plan.
God's ultimate goal is for each and every person who comes to earth to have eternal happiness. However, every path will be a little bit different. I know it's an unsubstantiated quote, but have you ever heard the story from Joseph Smith about how the Telestial Kingdom is so wonderful that you would kill yourself to be there? Whether or not he ever said anything of the sort, that's the characterization of God that I believe in, an eternal being who loves us so much that he will reward us far more than we deserve, because he knows how hard we've tried to do what's right. That doesn't mean we can coast through life, nor that we should settle for the bare minimum. But your friends and loved ones aren't settling for the bare minimum. They're trying their very hardest to be good people and make good choices in a painful and overwhelming world.
Accept that you don't understand everything about their situations, and that you never will. Love them anyway, and support them in their pursuit of happiness, and you will be fulfilling the role of friend and family that God wants you to.
Even more than being worthy to be a disciple of Christ if you let go of this pain, I firmly believe that you can pray to God and ask Him to take away this pain. I don't think God intended for us to have to live through anguish due to others; one of the many reasons Christ atoned was so He could wipe away that hurt.
Your heart hurts because someone is choosing something different than you do, when you thought you believed the same thing. Religion is a very important thing to you. It's part of you. Not just something you do, but something you are. It brings you happiness and peace. You believe it will bring everyone happiness and peace. You believe it to be eternal and much bigger than anything we see here.
So when you watch someone walk away from that, it doesn't make sense. You assume they are choosing unhappiness and turmoil. Your heart hurts because you do not understand why they would make the choice, or how it could possibly bring them any measure of happiness or peace.
I get it. I was you once. In some ways, I still am.
What changed? I started listening to my friends and family that have left the church. Not talking. Not convincing. Not listening to see where I can help them understand my perspective and bring them back. I started listening to understand. That requires a lot of moments that hurt even more than you hurt now. It requires times when you don't understand at all. It requires holding your tongue. It requires true Christlike love to see someone as they are and where they are, and not self-righteous love where you assume you know better than they do. It requires many prayers to ask for patience and understanding and love.
Because here's the deal, they have reasons. Good reasons. Reasons that have caused them FAR more hurt than you have ever felt about them leaving. They feel the pain of knowing they'll hurt people they love. They feel the pain of wondering why God has left them, and was He ever there in the first place? They feel the pain of everything they have ever believed being ripped out from underneath them. They feel the pain of losing trust in leaders that they have always looked up to. Their whole world is shattered in many cases. They are mourning, too. And in many, many, many cases, the healing comes away from the Church. Their healing comes from embracing something that you don't know or understand. Their healing comes from letting go. Maybe it's temporary. Maybe it's permanent. Either way, it doesn't matter. It's their life. Not yours.
They don't need your judgment. They need your love. They need to know that you didn't love them because of their testimony. They need to know that you're not going to walk away because you're suddenly uncomfortable and don't know what to say to them. They need to know that they are valuable because they are a human being. Because they are your friend. Please don't look down on them as someone who has lost something that YOU hold dear. Love them because they are doing the best that they can, and they need love now more than ever.
~ Dragon Lady