We have been friends for a few years, maybe even a decade or more. We may have met in a church calling or through our children, depending on the friend reading this. We have shared fun times together with an unspoken understanding that we had a similar relationship with the church. In the past few years though, you may have noticed that church is not the same for me. Perhaps you noticed this through small comments or perhaps we have had some conversations about it. I have noticed sometimes that you seem confused/scared/curious about how my relationship with the church has changed. I acknowledge that it can be unsettling to see my relationship to the church change because we now no longer have the same shared understanding with this institution that brought us together. I value our friendship and so want to share some thoughts that you may find useful so that you do not have to be scared of me.
Let go of the word struggle
“Struggle” is a word commonly applied to people who no longer have the same relationship with the church as they once did. While change does sometimes require strenuous effort, typically I see the word struggle applied in a pathological way; it turns the person who is changing into a victim to be helped. If only this person would read the scriptures more/pray more/read more conference talks, etc. etc. they would be ‘cured’, stop struggling, and go back to their old ways of viewing the church. Dear friend, just like a butterfly can’t become a caterpillar again, the ‘old me’ is not coming back. Instead of struggle, try using the word change or even growth. Which leads to the stages of faith.
Become familiar with the stages of faith
In the church, we sometimes hear the phrase ‘enduring to the end.’ While enduring is commendable, what if life can also be about growth? Growing to the end. Thomas McConkie wrote about the stages of faith as applied specifically within the LDS tradition – see https://mormonstages.com/ Understanding that people can be in various stages of faith may provide reassurance that I have not caught a communicable disease that you need to be afraid of or try to cure with conference talks. We can be in different stages, not understand each other, yet still honor each other’s differences and still be friends. Along with stages of faith, another critical item to be aware of is religious trauma.
Religious trauma is real and can cause physical symptoms
A simple way to explain this is that I have been harmed by some teachings I received at church. One significant event was when I went to a bishop for help, as I was taught, when I should have gone to the police. I didn’t get the help I needed, and, after burying this for a decade and a half, along with all the seemingly small papercut types of harms adding up, I was a mess. Our spirits and bodies are connected. My body screamed at me with anxiety, depression, stomach aches, and prickly skin. I started going to therapy with a Jungian trained psychologist yet continued going to church even though it would take me days to recover from the physical reaction I had to church. It took being bluntly warned about the serious medical effects of continuing attendance, did I finally realize I needed to take a break. To let go of the need to perform exact obedience. There is much more I can say here; please know that it is not being a lazy disciple or a lax learner. To me, labels such as those are easy ways to dismiss people instead of taking the time to understand a person’s experience with the church. I say the church because the church is separate from God. I can’t say this next part enough.
My relationship with God is separate from my relationship with the church
What you see from the outside is that my relationship with the church has changed. It is easy to make assumptions that those changes are synonymous with changes to my relationship with God. They are not. One of the most beautiful aspects of separating God from church is that I now get to experience God directly – no church in between God and me. I get to contemplate the mystery that is God. I found the Divine Feminine. I still believe in Jesus – eternal gratitude to the teacher who introduced me to a feminist Jesus who values women. I am in awe that I can communicate with the Divine.
In the end, the church is an institution that I believe exists to support people in their faith journeys. We need each other; we need community. Sometimes though our individual needs mean that for a short time, a long time, or permanently, this church is not the place for us. For me, I am working on creating what Christian Kimball described in his book Living on the Inside of the Edge: A Survival Guide as an adult-to-adult relationship with the church as opposed to the child-to-adult relationship we are trained to have with the institution. So far the process has been far from simple. I am willing to talk anytime though. I value our friendship no matter what direction our faith journeys take us.
Oh, p.s., it is obvious when you garment check me. Either stop or trust our friendship enough to ask me if I wear them or not. I will tell you if I want to discuss it or not.