(Warning: This post is very Mormony. It’s a Mormony rant, and it will maybe only make sense to other Mormon people. Perhaps if it wasn’t so painful I could make it applicable to others outside of Mormondon, but right now? Right now it’s too painful.)
This weekend is the Mormon church’s general conference. Instead of going to regular meetings, we listen to our leaders via a television broadcast.
Well, I’m using the term “we” pretty loosely there. I’ve never been able to fully commit to all sessions of conference (there are at least four) like the good Mormons all do. Partly because it wasn’t a tradition for me as a kid; we didn’t have the kind of family who made sweet rolls and dedicated the weekend to listening. I’d like to think we reveled in the crowd-free spaces of a Utah county drained of most of its population, but honestly, I don’t think we even noticed it.
When my kids were growing up, I did try sometimes to have them watch at least a session or two. When the push back on that was too much, I turned it into a private thing; I’d listen to conference with my headphones on while I went on a long run or worked in my yard. Like everything in my life related to the church, my efforts were incomplete and imperfect.
Last fall, though (general conference happens in both April and October). Last fall is when I truly and freely admitted to myself that I couldn’t bear to listen to it. To the sing-song voices of the women speakers mirroring back what men had told them their whole lives. To men who know absolutely nothing about the realities of my life telling me how to be a good person in the world, what I could wear, how I should feel. How God loves me (or doesn’t, depending). (You can read more about my experience last fall in this guest post I wrote for Sister’s Quorum.)
Of course, I live in the heart of Mormon country. So even though I am actively not listening, I am still hearing. And I am filling up with sadness. I am realizing that I have never been at home in this church. I tried—to teach my children, to be an example, to learn and read and study. To listen. But I have always twisted here. I have always had to try to make it work, to make it fit, knowing that the effort was only for me because my individual voice will never matter here.
There is a litany I could build, of the way I have struggled, of the concepts that sometimes don’t make sense and sometimes just feel entirely wrong.
But they all have help me build a deep and abiding belief that I am secondary, less-than, unworthy because my efforts have been imperfect.
I don’t know how to believe that God loves me.
What I do know is that the church, which has at its core the belief that the most important thing is families—that Mormon church was a wedge in my family. It made me resent my husband when he wasn’t able to support my church efforts. It made my children resent me. It caused wounds that perhaps will never fully heal.
I tried to create the perfect Mormon family and if you asked many other Mormons, they would say I failed. My kids aren’t going to serve missions or be married in the temple or be active in the church.
And I have made peace with that. I want them to thrive and be happy and love their lives. I want them to fulfill their ambitions, to be capable adults who help the world in whatever way works with their skills and personalities. I want them to love and to be loved. They are good people and I love them, and I sorrow over my mistakes.
No—it’s not that I’ve made peace. It’s that I’ve let go of thinking that raising a perfect Mormon family is the only way to be happy. Is the only way to be good, the only way for God to love me.
Not just for my family, but for everyone. Not just for everyone, but for myself. “There’s no right way to do a wrong thing” is something someone said in this weekend’s conference, but I can’t do that anymore. I actually never did only think in black and white. Because what is a wrong thing and what is a right thing? I tried to do the right thing, or at least, what I thought was the right thing, but it turned out to be the wrong thing for my children. Is it because I didn’t do the right thing right enough? Or is it because I let the voices of old white men who know absolutely nothing about the realities of my life guide me in black and white, right and wrong?
It is both terrifying and exhilarating to be in this place I find myself in. I don’t know what my next step will be. Maybe this is yet another mistake I am making, maybe if I just tried harder to be a good Mormon everything would be repaired. But I don’t want any more magical thinking. I want to live in this world where I am, I want to love these people who I have in my life, and those who cannot love me because I’m not good enough are free to turn elsewhere for friendship. I want to define for myself what makes a good person and a good life, and that is exhilarating.
But I still find I am heartsore, with a lump in my throat.
Because, maybe, I invested so much of myself there. Because there is still that voice in my heart that tries to scare me, to make me make decisions based on fear. Because I wanted it to be true, to be as easy as “follow my voice and you will find happiness.”
Finding my voice, soothing my heart, dissolving that lump. Knowing how to proceed: this is difficult. I don’t know what my life might look like even six months from now. This isn’t a declaration, really. It is just me taking one more step into greyness without fooling myself into believing that the shadows aren’t there and that the grey is all the light there is.