I’ve spent the past several years in a crisis of faith. These days it’s common for me to say “I’m in limbo” when referring to my faith and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It’s still weird for me.
Since I was 13 and started going back to church (can you really be inactive as a child since your parents determine whether you go or not?), I have been a staunch believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church. My testimony was firm and unshakable, even amongst the well-meaning Bible-belters in high school who informed me I was going to hell.
Making the “right” choices was easy. I knew what I believed, I knew the standards I was asked to keep, and I had big boobs (random, I know, but when you have big boobs tank tops are just not going to work AND be modest).
My first date was my senior prom…and I asked him. I took a guy from church who lived in another ward and city an hour away.
I was 24 when I had my first kiss. And my first real boyfriend. I don’t really count the guy in 8th grade that I “dated” for a week and then broke up with because I wasn’t supposed to date until I was 16 and didn’t want my mom to find out.
Yeah, I was that kid. The dream child. The child who regulated herself based on the expectations of others. The child you didn’t have to worry about because she was too afraid to mess up because she didn’t want to disappoint anyone.
Going to Brigham Young University (BYU) was an easy decision. And it’s one I don’t regret. I met my best friends there. I figured out who I was there. I grew my faith there.
I survived graduate school and cancer with my faith in tact. I thrived in New York City with my faith in tact.
And then I moved back to Utah.
Part of me likes to blame Utah, but really, it’s not the state’s fault. I just don’t mesh well with the culture. BYU was its own little bubble and living in the real world of Utah is a different experience. It’s different from all of my other experiences.
I miss intelligent conversations.
Don’t get offended. That’s not to say that intelligent conversations or intelligent people don’t exist in Utah, or even in my neighborhood/ward/work/etc. That’s not what I mean.
I miss discussions of theology with my Mormon and non-Mormon friends. Discussions where hard questions are asked and the answers are thought out and honest, even when it’s scary. Discussions with people who get it…and get me. Discussions about therapy and psychology. Discussions about people…not gossip, but people in general. Discussions about life. Discussions that are free of judgment.
I am part of the problem. I know that. Truly, I do.
In Utah, your ward is made up of your neighbors. You can’t help but interact with them. When we moved into our current ward/neighborhood/house, we met a lot of lovely people. People who appeared to be traditional Utah Mormons (and maybe they are/were). We were a new family, a blended family, trying to figure out how to be a family. Making friends with our neighbors was not our priority.
Our kids were older. Our family was different. I wasn’t pregnant, or getting pregnant soon. I worked full-time.
By the time we were ready for that friendship, it felt too late. And honestly, we never found our people.
I have my people. They are scattered throughout the U.S. But they’re not here (except for my family, which I am super grateful for).
It can be a lonely place to be.
Then my husband stopped going to church. He stopped believing. And my anxiety got worse. Go by myself? Get asked questions about where he was? Where our boys were? No thank you.
Then it felt like I had to choose…Church or my family.
It was tough. It’s still tough.
The longer I was away, the more I struggled. It was no longer possible to ignore the problems I saw in the Church, especially with my husband pointing them out. Cultural problems, historical problems, and potential doctrinal problems.
Through it all, I never lost faith in my Heavenly Father or in Jesus Christ. I never stopped believing that I was a daughter of God. I never stopped believing that He knew who I was or that He answered prayers. I have had too many confirmations of those things in my life, things that I can’t explain away.
My husband took his name off of the Church records (a personal excommunication of sorts). He was officially no longer a member. My boys don’t believe in religion, and may not even believe in God. It was just me.
I felt pulled in different directions. My husband and boys vs my extended and still very active family. Rationality vs faith.
And still, I was in limbo.
How do you choose? And do you have to?
My husband continued to point things out to me. Most of it I could explain away. There are parts of history that I don’t have problems with. I knew those things, so they weren’t surprising. I didn’t feel lied to. But he did. And so did many others.
Some stuff is harder to explain away. I had to decide (and really, I still have to decide on some things) whether it mattered where my faith was concerned. After all, the gospel is perfect even if the Church isn’t.
I watched my friends on social media. Was that a drink in their hand? Are they still wearing their garments? Do they still believe? Have they left? Why did they leave? Should I take their choices into consideration when making mine? After all, I have tremendous respect for them and the way they view the world. Does their leaving make it okay for me to leave? Does their staying mean I should stay?
In reality, their choices are none of my business.
Then my husband found his people. A whole group of them. They’re kind, and funny, and generous. They’ve left the church, or never been in. He fits there.
I don’t. Not fully. Just like I don’t fully fit at church here.
Limbo is a lonely place.
I got to see my best friend a few weeks ago. She was passing through town with her husband and kids. We met for breakfast, and it was wonderful. I’ve missed her. She is very active, but she gets it. She gets the limbo. And she gets me.
It wasn’t long enough. And she lives too far away.
My husband doesn’t fully get it. My parents don’t fully get it.
And both sides have their own agenda. My parents want me fully in. And though he won’t say it, my husband wants me fully out.
I have become a fence sitter.
It’s funny sometimes to realize that my spiritual imbalance has affected other areas of my life. I’ve put on 75 pounds since I got married. Some of that is just happiness and cheese. A lot of it is stress. Our finances are in shambles. I’ve been struggling for years to feel fulfilled professionally. Emotionally, I’ve been all over the place.
I’ve asked myself repeatedly what has been keeping me from losing weight—I mean, I have a free gym at work. I know how to exercise and eat well. What’s holding me back? What am I afraid of?
If I’m being honest, it’s because if I lose weight, I’ll have to decide whether I’m fully in or fully out.
I know you’re wondering how those two things are possibly connected, but trust me, they are.
When I lose weight, the kinds of clothing I can comfortably (emotionally and physically) wear will be endless. Unless I’m fully in. If I’m fully in, then I’ll wear my garments and adhere to the Church’s standard of modesty, instead of my own standard, which if I’m fully out, will include sleeveless shirts/dresses and shorts/skirts/dresses that might be shorter than garments allow.
I have always been drawn to fashionable clothing. I have always been drawn to short shorts and sleeveless shirts. My body didn’t always allow for that in high school, and then in college I chose to dress modestly, and continued to do so. And then before I got married, I took out my endowment in the Provo Temple, which meant I started wearing garments. I had to get rid of half of my modest clothing because they didn’t work with the garments. But I did it.
And then life got turned upside down and I gained weight, and eventually stopped going to church, etc…my garments no longer fit. And I haven’t bought any replacements because my temple recommend is no longer valid. And it’s no longer valid because I can’t say I sustain the prophet while vehemently disagreeing with the November policy (which keeps children of gay couples from being baptized until they are 18 and requires them to disavow gay marriage completely). I’m sure that I can still buy garments with an expired recommend. I’m still endowed after all. And if push came to shove, I could have my mom pick some up for me. But by the time I completely outgrew them, I was in such a state of limbo, that I haven’t been able to buy them, but I continue to dress as if I do. Because I don’t know where I stand.
But when the weight is gone, I’ll have no more excuses.
And I’m not ready to decide.
I’ve realized that limbo=fear. I’m afraid of making a decision. I’m afraid of disappointing people. My husband. My parents. My extended family. My friends. Maybe even myself somehow.
When I was first dating my husband, I didn’t tell a lot of people. I didn’t talk about it. Because I wasn’t sure how I felt. It wasn’t until I realized that I loved him that I told people about him. I didn’t hide him. I talked about him, and mentioned dates, but I didn’t go into detail and I didn’t want to go into detail until I knew.
It’s kind of the same here. Part of living in limbo is not wanting to disappoint anyone, but part of it is that I’m honestly not sure who I am anymore or where I fit in terms of religion and spirituality. The Church has been such a huge part of who I am. Can I really just walk away from it? I’d have to know without a shadow of a doubt that it’s not true for me to do that. Just like I’d have to reconcile all of my concerns and once again know without a shadow of a doubt that it’s true for me to be fully in.
I’ve looked at other faiths. Non-denominational Christianity has its draws. But I can’t reconcile my beliefs…I don’t believe in the Trinity. I believe in a Godhead of three separate beings, not one person with three separate entities. It may seem like a simple thing to get hung up on, but it’s a fundamental belief. Just like I’m not fully in with the Church, I couldn’t fully be in with a traditional Christian church.
So, once again…limbo.
Oh! Another fear of leaving? I don’t want anyone to blame my husband. And they will. Even if they say they don’t. But any choice I make is MY choice.
I need to figure out who I am and what I believe.
I will always want to be the girl who drinks coffee and wine, wears cute shorts and dresses that are modest but not modest enough, and loves God. You know, the quintessential white girl.
I have always been that girl. The difference is that as an active LDS girl, I chose not to drink coffee and wine, and I chose not wear those cute but immodest (by LDS standards) clothes. Because I believed in the Church (not just the gospel) and what it asked of me.
If I don’t believe, though, then there is no reason to not be that girl I always wanted to be.
Let me be clear. This decision is not about sinning (which is what it would be in the LDS Church). I made certain promises to God, and if I know that continuing in that path is the absolute right thing to do, then I will have no trouble keeping those promises. But if it’s not true? Then those things aren’t sins and I’d be just another girl who drinks coffee all day, has a glass of wine at dinner, shows off her legs and shoulders, loves Jesus, and cusses a little.
In some ways, the fact that I’m even thinking about this makes me think I have made a decision but I just don’t want to accept it. Maybe I’m ready to walk away without a firm knowledge of one thing or the other…maybe I just need to figure out who I am now and what I like without judging myself.
Because I do judge myself. I judge myself every time I do something on Sunday with my family that isn’t church, especially if it involves spending money. I judge myself every time I question the Church. I judge myself every time I look at clothes at Draper James and think about myself wearing them when I’m skinny. I judge myself when I think about drinking coffee instead of Diet Coke to fuel my caffeine addiction. I judge myself when I want a glass of wine. I judge myself because I know these things will make my mama cry. They’ll make my grandma worry. They’ll give my father a reason to lecture me. Hell, they’ll give my father a reason to never view me as a potential caregiver for my siblings should something tragic happen to him and his wife. And all of those things make me sad.
But my life is full of incongruence. And I need congruence. We all do.
Have I been lying to myself this entire time? Has my stage of limbo simply been a denial of the changes that deep down I might want, simply because I don’t want to hurt anyone else?