Guest post by Damascene.
I left the church just over a year ago.
That simple sentence holds so much pain, sorrow, thought, and prayer in it. It was not a decision that was made lightly or easily. It is still a sentence that I have to look at a couple times to process in an attempt to internalize my new reality.
Part of the fallout of that decision has been the need to find a new social group. Friends from work are heavy drinkers, and I wasn’t ready to hang out with them socially. My friends from the ward disappeared when I quit attending. Why? That will have to wait for a different essay. The site Mormon Spectrum had popped up on a FB feed a month earlier, so I decided to check that. That site led me to a group in my area that was having a Sunday afternoon Cinnamon Roll party in just a few days. I left my devout husband and daughter home, and I went.
The thought of an ex-Mormon group sounded so ominous. Taking my last child still home into such an unknown environment was not an option. My husband is kind and very devout, I didn’t expect him to be a good fit. I went alone.
Arriving, I was floored at the sheer number of toddler push toys in front of this host’s suburban home. They were legion. The sign on the door told me to walk in. The toddlers seemed to outnumber the adults by a 6:1 factor, and I realized that I was old enough to look like grandma to this entire group. It looked like such a typical group of young LDS families, I was having a tough time wrapping my head around the fact that they had all left the church. Just like me. They were kind. They were welcoming.
A month later, we went on a 2-day camping trip with this group. 18 families camping in a local state park. My husband and daughter came with me. It was an amazing weekend. There were no planned events, just a quiet weekend to hang out and get to know one another. Watching the kids go through our camp site, I gained a new appreciation of the term, Thundering Herd. My teen had a 3-year-old plastered to her back, and every child was part of that crew.
Talking to the other members of this ex-LDS group, I found a pattern. It wasn’t the pattern that I had expected to find. One couple had fertility issues and both partners had significant health conditions. They had adopted multiple children with neurological and mental health histories. They are amazing people doing work few people would sign up for. Another couple talked of their children who both have terminal diagnoses. Their children look healthy now, but there is a genetic cliff ahead.
These parents know that they will outlive their children. There will be no grandchildren. A third couple talked about dealing with one partner’s cancer and a child’s significant long term health issues. A fourth family dealt with autism and Tourette’s. Another family had many of their children die. As we made the rounds, we started to realize that every single family had something huge that they had dealt with and were still dealing with on a daily basis.
As we drove home, my devout husband and I discussed the weekend and the group. We both came to same conclusion. These families had each suffered in serious ways. Each family was still dealing with real issues that were outside of the norm for a young family. Each family was dealing with inordinate challenges.
Two weeks ago, I attended sacrament meeting with my husband. A young missionary gave a talk. She talked about God being a Gum Ball Machine. She promised that if we worked hard and lived the gospel and did everything the church asked us to do, it was like filling up a Gum Ball Machine, and blessings would come pouring out into our hands. She bluntly stated that works and obedience to the gospel, according to the LDS church, are the currency with which God works.
Since that sacrament meeting, I keep thinking about that very young missionary without much life experience. I contrast her with those families. Some of those wives are not much older. That lesson of works and obedience leading to guaranteed blessings would have been hard for those families to hear.
Last night, I went to another ex-Mormon social event. There was a new couple there. I asked about their children. They glowingly talked about having three. As the conversation progressed, they tentatively mentioned that one child has Down’s Syndrome. The conversation became more focused and real. She mentioned that an older child has an autism diagnosis. The woman on their other side leaned in. I knew that they had found the right ward. This was a place where they would fit right in.
Damascene is a sometimes lost, sometimes found professional woman who was LDS all of her life. She is still trying to learn and understand.
Questions for our readers:
- What kinds of social organizations do you want/attend to compensate for the loss of the LDS support system? What could the LDS Church do to better support those who feel excluded?
- If you or your spouse has transitioned from Mormonism, what advice do you have to keep faithful/doubtful spouses together and to avoid having one or the other feel beat up or judged by the other’s positions or friends?
- What do you think the average member of the church’s perception is of those who leave and what is the reality of those you know?
- Do you have other thoughts or input from reading this essay?