i am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. this past weekend was general conference. i love general conference. i hear many things each time that make me want to be a better person.
this time, i find myself wanting to be more loving. more understanding. more supportive.
many people in my life – friends and family – have questions and doubts about their faith. people for whom i care deeply. and i want them to know i love them and support them and am willing to sit with them in their doubts and questions. i do not want to be a reason they feel judged or pushed aside. i want to be a reason they feel loved and welcomed.
i was particularly touched by the conference message of rosemary m. wixom who spoke on sunday morning. she reminded me that jesus “does not leave [us] when [we] have questions.” i likewise do not want those who have questions to feel left alone. i do not want them to leave.
sister wixom spoke of a young mother who had grown up her whole life in the Church but who found herself doubting and not being sure of what she believed. she even stopped going to church for a time. but this young mother said that the people in her congregation were welcoming and loving and willing to let her be where she was on her journey to figure out what she believed.
as i listened, i cheered for the people in that congregation. good for them. good for them for not judging her. for not telling her she was wrong to question or to doubt. i want to be like them. or more like them. (i don’t know exactly where i am on the “being loving and supportive of those who are struggling” continuum, but i want to do better.) i feel exactly like sister wixom when she said, “and oh, how i want to be like those who surrounded this young mother, loving and supporting her.”
doubts are powerful. doubts are real. doubts come to all of us, no matter how “converted” we are to our religions, our causes, our goals.
here’s an example.
one summer i was an intern at ford motor company. i lived with some other interns in an apartment in ann arbor. none of them were mormon. (that detail doesn’t really matter to the story, but i note it anyway.)
i started dating a guy. he was not mormon either. and to put it bluntly, he really really really wanted me to have sex with him. i was so desirable. so physically appealing to him.
it was a new experience for me. i had never been so desirable. i had hardly dated in all of high school. almost never dated in college. the only guy i had dated in graduate school so far had explicitly told me i wasn’t the most attractive girl he’d ever dated. that i needed to lose weight. i had felt decidedly undesirable for pretty much my entire teen and adult life.
but mark wanted me. all of me. he told me so often.
i have to tell you that i started to wonder if maybe i should let him have me. i doubted my commitment to saving sexual relationships for marriage.
what if this was my one chance? i did not have a promising track record when it came to men and things. and let’s not pretend that i didn’t have hormones and drives and desires of my own.
i doubted real good. for some weeks. all the while spending more and more time with this guy who wanted to get more and more physically intimate every time we were together.
one night near the end of the summer and at the height of my doubting, i called my brother. he had stopped going to church years previously. i think he was living with his girlfriend at the time. i assumed (although i admit i don’t actually know) that he had been where i was thinking about going.
i told him that i was thinking seriously about having sex with mark. that i was wondering if i should stay true to my values or forget them. at least for a while.
what a thing to say to someone, to a brother. to admit that you are thinking of going against something you have believed so deeply for so long. that you are wondering if it’s all worth it or not.
my brother didn’t judge me. he didn’t condemn me because of my weakness. he offered love and support. he wanted me to be happy. wanted the best for me. expressed a willingness to listen if i needed to talk.
he also told me not to do it. or recommended against it. i don’t know the exact words he said.
my doubts did not vanish as soon as i hung up the phone. but my brother’s reaction to me impacted the decision i ultimately made. (which was to not have sex with mark.)
here’s what i know from my experience.
1. it is really hard to admit to someone that you are struggling with your beliefs. you are admitting weakness where you’ve told yourself you shouldn’t have any. you face rejection. judgment.
2. how that person reacts to you could alter your course of action.
3. i’ve had doubts. i’ve been tempted. i’ve questioned and wondered. it’s normal. others might have different doubts or questions, but they’re normal, too. so are their specific doubts.
4. i am really hating the number of times i’ve used the word “doubt.”
5. believing is hard. (but that’s another blog post.)
i’m sure i know other things, too, but let’s stop there.
knowing what i know means that i can and need to have compassion and empathy for others who might be struggling to know what they believe or to live according to their beliefs.
i’ve got some work to do.
so that’s what i’m thinking about these days.
and also this.