I’m sorry, I got nothing.
No, I owe you more than that. I owe my YW more than that. I don’t know if it’d be ok to share everything I want to share with my YW this Sunday, so I’ll post it here and the tech-savvy ones can read it. I owe the girls a scavenger hunt on the temple grounds where we go to church. Maybe we’ll do that. I don’t know.
There was only one other girl my age at church when I was a teenager. There was a group of girls a couple of years older than me and a group a couple of years younger than me. The other girl was my best friend at church. The very first Sunday I met her, I was 9 years old; I learned we were born just days apart and my middle name was her first name. In the course of our growing up years, our ward boundaries changed and our ward was split and then brought together again a few years later. We were lucky to stay with each other the whole time. I went to her homecoming dance when were were sophomores. We hung out at mutual and in Sunday School and YW.
By the time we were seniors in high school, though, I knew she was doing things that didn’t align with the standards set by the Church and she eventually stopped coming. When I turned 18, I was still in high school (my birthday is in December), but I had no friends in YW, so I moved up to Relief Society. I didn’t know why my friend stopped coming; I never asked. I do remember judgmentally remarking to my mom that my friend was doing things she should see the bishop about. That was the first time a friend of mine went “inactive.”
There was a time in my senior year when my mom stopped coming to church. She had anxiety attacks at church around certain people. At the time, I was very judgmental of my mom for not coming to church like you’re “supposed to.” She comes to church now that they’ve moved far away from that ward, but that was the first time someone in my family had to take a break from church for their health.
Also in my senior year in Relief Society, I was assigned one of my seminary teachers as my visiting teaching companion, and together, we were supposed to visit teach another of my seminary teachers. Quickly, my VTing companion told me that the seminary teacher we were supposed to teach didn’t like visiting teaching and she’d go have lunch with her and count that. That was the first time someone I saw as a spiritual example choose not to participate in a church program.
My freshman year at BYU, I was in a meeting with my bishop and when I shared a piece of personal revelation with him, he told me straight up that the thing I had shared with him was false and God would never tell me that. That was the first time I decided to ignore a priesthood leader because I knew myself and my own testimony.
This month, the theme for the lessons is “Spiritual and Temporal Self-Reliance.” Last year, I gave a lesson on having your own testimonies and not depending on others for your truth. That is important. You need to find God for yourself, find where you feel the Spirit the most, find where you feel most alive, most in touch with your purpose, individual worth, and divine nature.
But I also want to talk about leaving the Church. Last month in Relief Society, we had a lesson on “Feed My Sheep” and the instructor asked us to answer “What are some of the emotions you feel around friends and family members who ‘live apart from the Church and the influence of the gospel?'” Some women in the ward expressed sadness over people leaving. A couple of women shared that when someone they knew and loved left, that person became a happier person and maybe leaving was the right choice for them.
In 2013 in General Conference, President Uchtdorf stated,
The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved.
One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”
Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.
Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.
Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.
And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
I know lots of people who have left the church. I know lots of people who are considering leaving. Some people take breaks and come back. Some people take breaks and don’t come back. When someone leaves, it’s a hard choice and they’ve thought a lot about it, I assure you. I don’t believe God is going to punish people for trying to find peace in their lives. Especially, we should not punish people for leaving. By that I mean, we shouldn’t end friendships because of our pride and judgment about them. I don’t want you to make the mistakes I did when talking about my friend and mom. I should have shown more respect for them and actually asked if they wanted to talk about it or share why they needed a break. I should not have made assumptions.
Our ward is trying to better the visiting teaching program by encouraging sisters to do “non-lesson-y” visiting teaching. They are trying to encourage more natural friendships than going to someone’s house and giving a lesson. No one wants to feel like a number or a project. No one likes to feel lectured to. As people around you change their relationships with the church, remember that (and yes, I do take note that I’m lecturing here).
I know this lesson is supposed to be about self-reliance, but I can’t teach your how to handle every instance of someone leaving the church- that takes practice. And the honest truth is, you’re going to get that practice. Chances are you’ll have friends or family who decide the Church isn’t for them. It’s possible you might be making that decision for yourself someday.
There will be a huge spectrum: you might find that someone just can’t get a testimony of something you really really love and you want to share with them. You might find that someone else has a strong testimony of something that is hard for you to make sense of. In both situations, you can try to be patient and learn from the other person.
In honesty, it’s hard for me to come to Church sometimes. I love teaching you all and I love serving our ward community, but sometimes the stuff the comes out of Salt Lake hurts my soul and makes me feel like I need a break. Being a Mormon is hard, and it’s not because of social pressure from the “world” to drink or smoke. Some of the hard Mormon things come from Mormonism itself.
As you girls get older and become adults, I want you to know that I will support you in whatever decisions you make about your faith life. I’m sure the other YW leaders in the ward feel similarly. And you might be surprised at how supportive you find your family will be. You have the Gift of the Holy Ghost there to guide you in your lives. That’s where your self-reliance must come from.
Life is hard on its own. Let’s not make it harder for each other. Lucy Mack Smith, mother of Joseph Smith said, “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together.”
I don’t know what the afterlife will be like, but I suspect we will all be pleasantly surprised. And one thing we can do is try to build that heaven and Zion here, by mourning with those that mourn and comforting those that stand in need of comfort. By doing those things, we can be sure “we are standing as witnesses of God.”