"i know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: i would thou wert cold or hot. so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, i will spue thee out of my mouth." -revelation 3:15-16
Ugh, okay. I'd initially written this anonymously, but I admire how open everyone else has been, and if you've been reading the Board closely and long enough the unnecessary length and fancy-pants words are a likely giveaway. So be kind, please.
I'd hoped this response would be succinct and clear, but I've hoped that about a lot of things.
I grew up really happy with the Church and Church activity. I prayed about the Book of Mormon as a freshman at BYU in the dark, empty, welcoming Madsen theater and I felt like I got an answer that it was true, a feeling of deepness in still waters. I added this to the general happiness I got from the Church and went on a mission. For the most part, I enjoyed my time in South America and believed thoroughly what I was teaching. I deeply enjoyed the sense of camaraderie I got from being a missionary and loved living and working in a different culture—a mix of the country and missionary culture. The last bit of my mission was rough, and was probably the first time I've experienced depression—I was trying harder than I'd ever tried at anything, but with recent mission trends pushing us as far as we could possibly go, I felt I wasn't enough. I'd break down crying outside of view and earshot of my companion, sobbing into the brown-tiled stairwell that led down to our front door.
Near the same period of time I finished rereading the Book of Mormon and prayed to know it was true.
This time, I didn't receive an answer. Not a feeling. Not a thought. Just... silence (also! a superb and highly topical Martin Scorcese film).
It wasn't a big deal, though, and I finished my mission successfully, working hard until the last moments. My parents picked me up and we toured my mission, and I found some people were doing great, and others were, well, already un-findable. Still, I'd been as obedient as I could manage, probably a bit obsessively, as I tend to get about things important to me.
Back at home, I returned to BYU and once again found a sense of camaraderie and belonging in my wards. Dating was, well, dating, and in retrospect I'm surprised I dated as often as I did. School was eviscerating at times, but I don't think this played, necessarily, into my feelings of religiosity. At the time I graduated, I attended church dutifully, if partially, and unenthusiastically at times.
Graduation was a terrible moment whereupon my social circles evaporated, and I leaned in to my new YSA ward as somewhere I could belong, commuting several hours most weeks from the place I lived and worked to attend meetings.
(Occurring in this time, but not meant to be read as a causative thing to the following statement: An intensely disheartening moment was learning during Alumni weeks that Gimgimno and Watts, among others, had left church things.)
Some time later, not really related to the previous—much has happened, yet nothing has—I find myself here... wherever this is. I've cycled through attending church and not attending church for weeks, or months at a time, but somewhere along the line it seems things have changed. I've entered and never really left The Ongoing Quarter-Life Crisis, which subsumes every aspect of my life.
Key characteristics of The Crisis include:
1) No longer being all that sure that God exists, though feeling like there's enough metaphysical room for Him to do so, because I guess that's always been the point of such a God for me
2) Testimony=> ?
3) No longer believing in an afterlife
4) A keen awareness of my own pathetic mortality
5) A disheartening and bewildering loss of purpose
6) Consequent disemboweling of long-held goals
7) Evisceration of willingness and ability to date, despite a desire to have a close, meaningful, intimate (esp. emotional) relationship with someone I trust
8) Participating in risky behaviors and activities, like binge watching seasons of The Great British Baking Show (Mary, I didn't know what a mirror glaze was, but now my continued existence is apparently predicated on replicating one perfectly..? thanks a lot)
9) Torschlusspanik, literally, "gate-close-panic," the feeling that opportunities are slipping away, especially as one gets older (I get that I'm not old, except in relation to many of the newer writers, but in regards to the hyper-specialization required by career and dating opportunities it's hard to not feel trApPed).
11) Crying profusely, intensely, briefly, intermittently
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
-"The Second Coming," W.B. Yeats
I've had conversations with my mom, who grieves that two of her other children have completely disassociated from Church things, and a third (not me) is probably there before long. More than once, she has told me that she doesn't even care if I get married—not actually true, by the way, it's ofttimes wistfully mentioned—the "most important thing to [her] is that I stay active in the Church."
This makes sense, according to the way my mom believes, because this means I can be with my family eternally. Thinking anything short of it is to risk losing me in perpetuity. So one the one hand, I get it.
On the other hand, it feels like a punch to the diaphragm. Is that really the most important? Is it enough for me to appear this way, to fake this appearance my whole life, but I end up being miserable and lonely--lonelier--because of it?
Dating, at this point for me, is an absolute mess, at least it probably would be, if I dated more consistently. I feel dating where I'm at—geographically and therefore culturally—necessitates defining yourself as "MORMON" or "NOT Mormon," and so I flounder in the gulf between. The people I'm interested in dating are typically Mormon—cool values, no drinking, smoking, drugs (nor are they 'ethically non-monogamous', get a grip, Tinder, you're a garbage fire), but having watched in a family where my parents are mismatched in their desire to do Church things and seen the frustration it causes for both of them, I don't feel like I can date someone who has different ideas about what it means to be successful, what success means. I've already had a conversation on Ye Olde Mormone Datinge Appe where someone has asked me if I was "active", and presuming it to be about Church activity, I told them I was, but that I struggled and doubted sometimes—
—they didn't respond after that.
But perhaps it's not always so polarized. In the same way that religion doesn't inherently make someone good or bad, there's probably people who have similar ideas about what they want out of life, where religion, one way or the other, isn't a deal-breaker.
Alas, this crisis of juncture may remain hypothetical: I routinely self-sabotage promising friendships and relationships, more out of self-loathing than malice—this isn't a defining feature of The Crisis as much as it is my entire life—so the likelihood of me reaching a point where this kind of conversation is important seems slim at best.
Or do I self-sabotage because I don't want to Decide?
It's nice to feel like you have all the answers, like you understand what the purpose of life is, and I'm glad that a number of the other writers feel that way, I really am.
But I don't know that, any longer, no longer sure I ever did.
While I have my political, doctrinal, and historical quibbles about the Church, same as anyone else, probably, I think more than anything else I just don't feel as interested in it. There's more than one important thing to care about, isn't there? And isn't nearly three decades of my projected seven enough? I'd probably be okay with showing up to my two hours a week, being nominally involved, but were I to get married to someone to whom the Church is v. important, and we raise children, do I just act as though I believe and then one day my kid comes to me, deeply troubled like "Hey I'm not so sure about this," do I just say "jk lol samesies... for two decades?"
(For the record, the only thing I've cared for is a lemongrass plant, which died a horrible, emaciated death after I informed it I wasn't altogether sure about the existence of Thailand).
Philosophically, I relate with the concept of absurdism, wherein we have "the Absurd: the apparent meaninglessness in a world in which humans, nevertheless, are compelled to find or create meaning" and encouragement "merely that the individual live defiantly and authentically in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd." Selectively copy-pasting obviously won't cut it, but as I now approach things:
a)they're pointless and real sad-like
b)so why not try and spend quality time with people I like
c)and try and do something that might help other people,
4)but not at the self-sacrifice of my entire life, because isn't it okay to enjoy life sometimes?
Maybe there's some hint of epicureanism, too, in my brain, but there's certainly a resigned defiance.
I'm culturally Mormon—this word deliberately chosen, I don't feel like my religious identity should randomly redefined because of someone's naming preferences—but as is probably evident I don't have a lot of religious connection right now. Even so, were someone to hand me a survey, I'd probably mark the box that says "somewhat religious." I go to church, sometimes, but overwhelmingly for the social aspect and sense of community, which I crave. When I go to the other meetings, it's not often something resonates with me. Familiar pathways of "I know because I feel" and feeling in a spiritual sense now feel hollow and empty. What do you do when you no longer feel? And what should you do when you're no longer feeling it?
I'm self-aware enough to know a number of people in my situation have ended up disassociating at least informally, and I'm aware of some others have renewed their subscription for the prospective future. I'm encouraged by past professors who study ancient scripture and continue, and by past film professors who are cool, and my friend who studies Church history for her job and believes. I'm encouraged by the dentist I met today who is Mormon but in a way that seems both confident and relaxed—not worrying too much about things—and things like Fowler's Stages of Faith, which allow for progression and nuance while simultaneously holding religious identity.
Finally, I'm encouraged by a variety of both religious and non-religious folks who appear to have lives that, while not devoid of difficulty, seem filled with ritual, meaning, enjoyment, even peace and fulfillment.
If you've noticed, I haven't said "welp I'm peaceing out of Mormon things," and it's deliberate. I'd like to retain at least the notion I can still choose the path I believe to be right, or, at the very least, acceptable. It's not really as if this is new, either, and I've been in some version of this for the past four years. I don't know where to from here, because I don't know where "here" and "there" are (but either way there had better be cookies). For now, I'm trying to not rush anything, keeping my options open, and trying to figure out how to extend myself some long-withheld self-compassion.
You've lead me into this disclosure with a question, and so I leave you with a request. If you aren't just skimming this, if you are reading it, actually reading it, I would ask you to listen to the following songs, which aren't about any specific things, except perhaps a mood, a feeling, a frustration, a hope, a fear, a wish.
Broken Bells - "After The Disco"
Broken Bells - "The High Road"
Sir Sly - "&Run"
Bob Moses- "Heaven Only Knows"
Houses - "Fast Talk"
Bob Moses- "Enough to Believe"
ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. -matthew 5:13