Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Long Way Around

One of my favorite quotes is from J.R.R. Tolkien: "Not all those who wander are lost."

I remember a friend of mine who came out of the closet before I did had the quote on a bumper sticker on the back of his car. At the time I was still a member of the church, and he had recently chosen to leave the MTC while preparing to go on his mission because he no longer wanted to live a lie. He was coming out and seemed very happy in doing so. I remember being jealous because I wished I could do the same thing. At the same time, I also felt concerned for his spiritual well-being because I felt at the time that he was giving up and giving in to things that would take him away from Eternal Life. When I read the quote at the time, it made me think, but I wasn't sure I believed it was true.

Now that I'm on the other side of things, I very much believe it. It's interesting being an outsider looking in (I mean as far as Mormonism goes). I'm still active (as active as a non-member can be) and attend church as often as I'm able. Although I miss some things about being a member, in some ways I actually enjoy church more because there's not as much pressure. Not only that, it's interesting to see Mormonism from a different set of eyes than when I was entrenched in it.

Today in Sacrament Meeting, this lady gave a talk on adversity. The talk itself was fine, but what struck me is that she was talking about how her son had not been able to serve a mission for whatever reason, and he was losing his testimony, and she was talking about how for a great deal of her life, her goals and dreams included her son serving a mission, and when that didn't happen and when his faith was shaken, it shook her own world and caused her feelings of anger, unhappiness, and confusion.

Now, I don't know the circumstances of her situation, and the main point of her talk was that she finally found a place of peace after this adversity, but it got me to thinking about the expectations people have as members of the LDS Church and what happens to them when those expectations are not met. So many people feel that if they just keep all the commandments and do everything church leaders tell them to do, all will be well. People expect to serve missions, fall in love with a member of the opposite sex, get married in the temple, have a family, have those kids go on to live as honorable members of the church, and then eventually die and go on to eternal salvation.

But what happens when you're faced with a time when you're not sure you have a testimony anymore? What happens when you realize you can't be perfect? What happens when you find out you're gay or that you're unable to serve a mission? What happens when you can't find someone to share your life with and you find you're alone or when you do meet someone who won't join the church? What happens when your temple marriage falls apart? What happens when your spouse cheats on you or abandons you for whatever reason? What happens when your kids get involved in drugs or premarital sex or have a baby out of wedlock? What happens when your child doesn't believe the things you do and wants to leave the church? What happens when your spouse is suddenly struck with a terrible disease and you have to take care of them? Or what happens when your spouse is in a car accident or has a sudden heart attack, and you're suddenly left alone? What happens when you or your spouse lose your job and are left with huge bills that can't be paid?

Sometimes people have this false idea that if they are faithful members of the church, they will be free of adversity. Or sometimes when loved ones make choices they disagree with, they think all is lost and their world is shattered.

What really intrigued me was the Sunday School lesson. The instructor piggy-backed off the woman's talk and brought up some of these very points I was thinking of. An illustration he gave was that most of the pioneers crossed the plains to get to Salt Lake City, but he talked of one group who left from New York, sailed all the way around South America, landed in California (where some chose to stay) about six months after they left, and eventually made it to Salt Lake. They went the long way, and some people probably thought they were crazy and wrong to do so, but that didn't make it the wrong way. Many of them still got where they were supposed to end up. And even those who didn't end up in Salt Lake, who's to say that California wasn't where they would be happiest?

Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own situation. There is still no doubt in my mind that I am happier and more at peace than I was when I was trying to be a "good" member of the church. I have not made the wrong decision. Maybe I'm just taking the "long way around." Fortunately, I am very sure God knows exactly where I am in my journey, and I feel (and have felt) His assurance that all is well, and that's the only person's opinion that matters regarding my choices.

Recently, a general authority spoke at an Evergreen Conference. You can read his whole talk here. I suppose I understand his position as a general authority speaking before a body of people who are wanting to change their sexuality from gay to straight, but I fear the expectations that are put before so many people who struggle with feelings of homosexuality are unreasonable, and what will (and does) it do these people when those expectations are unable to be met? Especially when these expectations are being presented by people who have no idea what it's like to be in a gay person's shoes.

And that's what I'm talking about. When we're given expectations of what a "perfect Mormon life" is supposed to be, and those expectations are unable to be met through no fault of our own, how will we respond? Will we lose our testimony? Will we beat ourselves up and self-flagellate? Will we become estranged from our loved ones or embrace them in spite of choices we may not agree with? Will we be strong enough to endure whatever we've been asked to? Will we decide we have to do what is best for our personal peace and happiness even if it goes against the grain of what is expected? Will we leave the church or become excommunicated? Will we maintain our testimony and stay faithful no matter what? These are all choices or conditions personal to each and every one of us. As for me, I know what I had to do. It has not shaken my testimony of the LDS Church, but at the same time I'm able to live my life as I feel I need to, and I am happier for it.

1 comment:

Bravone said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sometimes I gauge my life by how many times I cross the path and not by how far along it I am. I appreciate your perspective.