To Leave The Church or Not: A Defining Moment

Lately I've seen a number of articles/posts where people are telling their stories of why they left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I think of Neon Trees singer who has very publicly expressed deep anger and hurt towards the Church and renunciation of his LDS Church membership. First, I'll say I'm not criticizing anyone for the choices they feel are best for them, whether or not I agree with them. We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have and how we feel.

But I wanted to share my thoughts about my recent experience examining and questioning my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my journey in making that choice. Perhaps there are other people out there that my story could help in some way.

My story actually began back shortly after I graduated from high school. I had grown up in the church, was baptized when I was 8, attended Young Women's and even received my Young Womenhood medallion. But after graduating from high school and moving away from home, I decided that I had been to church for 18 years, heard most of the same things over and over, so what was the point. So I stopped going to church for next year and a half or so. Life wasn't easy. I was still trying to find my way, figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. And often, I felt very, very alone.

One particular day, I was feeling especially down. Life didn't feel like it was worth much, or that I was worth much to life. I went to see a movie - Moulin Rouge to be exact. It was the second time I was going to see it. I had surprisingly really enjoyed the creativeness of the movie the first time I saw it. I went by myself and was sitting there thinking. Thinking that life didn't really feel very worth living. That there really wasn't a point. Now, I always get to movies early - I don't know why but I just do. That was the case this day. After a few minutes of my inner, dark contemplation an older man sat a few seats away from me. He turned to me and started to talk to me. He asked about me and my life and told me about him and about his wife who didn't happen to be with him that day. He was very kind and genuinely interested in my and my life. He talked to me the whole time until the movie started. About 5 minutes into the movie (now if you've seen Moulin Rouge you know it is about a courtesan or a high-end prostitute basically, so some could find it questionable) the man got up and left. Nothing much of course has happened yet in the movie, so I thought it was odd when he never came back.

By the end of the movie, I again acknowledged how odd it was that the man had come to the movie, left 5 minutes in and never came back. As I thought this, suddenly another thought jumped into my head - it was like someone was talking to me. It was Heavenly Father saying to me, "He was there for you. I want you to know that I know you and I love you. That man was there for you."

Still to this day, talking or sharing that experience brings me to tears and I remember vividly that voice in my head and how I felt. I knew at that moment and in the time since so indelibly that Heavenly Father knew and knows me and He loves me more than I can ever understand. That experience was definitely one of those times in my life that can be classified as a defining moment. It began my journey of gaining a testimony of the gospel and becoming active again in the Church.

Fast forward about 13-14 years. In the years since that experience I have had a number of other very significant and defining moments about my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it's doctrines. I've felt pretty secure in my testimony and have worked to strengthen it. But as I've progressed into my 30's and haven't gotten married it has some times been difficult - not just difficult - very, very difficult. I think especially so in the last 5 months or so because I finally left the YSA Ward and joined the family ward. Ironically enough, I left the YSA Ward because the age gap was just becoming very apparent and I felt alot older than most in the ward, to join a VERY young family ward. The average age of the family ward I'm in is probably late 20's. So now I'm part of a ward where the majority are younger but they are married with kids - often several of them!

And while I really want to get married - I've acknowledged and accepted for myself the difficulty I have in connecting with men (read this post for more back story on that) which makes the concept or even prospect of marriage seem very impossible. And while I believe God is a god of miracles, I'm not sure this is one miracle I'm going to see in this life. Combined with some other very personal turmoil over the last couple of years, about a month and a half ago I just felt very frustrated.

To the point that one day I asked myself, "What if I'm wrong? What if none of this is really true? Am I missing out on a life, experiences or relationships that would really make me happy? What if I went another direction than I have been for the past 14 years?"

While some may be horrified at the thought of questioning your testimony, it didn't scare me. It was what I had done for years while getting my undergrad - having questions that made me examine and really ask myself if I believed things I said I did. I always came out stronger and with a firm understanding of what I knew and really believed. So for myself, I felt it was important to give place, time and thought to these questions.

For weeks these questions occupied my mind and I thought about them all the time. I felt alot of confusion and inner turmoil.

"What if?"

"What if?"

"What if?"

"What would bring me the most happiness?"

"What would be best for me?"

But my mind would always go back to that moment in the theater - when I felt so clearly that God was there, He knew me and loved me. I really did know that what I believed was true. I didn't know or understand everything, but I knew many, many things. And I knew those things by study, faith, prayer and many experiences that wrote them very clearly on my heart and mind.

But the question still persisted - "Would I be happy going a different direction - pursuing other relationships?" Being alone is hard - so very, very hard. And struggling to make connections with the possibility of it leading to marriage makes it even harder. So I really wondered if perhaps I should go a different direction.

It all came to a head when in my pondering I realized that if I went a different direction, my relationship with Heavenly Father would be different. He would always love me, but I would be unable to be as close to Him, because we can't expect to go against things He commands and still have the Spirit with us. And without the Spirit we cannot feel or be as close to Him. I thought about how I wouldn't be able to go to the temple anymore. Or hold a calling. Or partake of the sacrament.

And in that moment I knew without a doubt - I couldn't truly be happy without those things. Without a close, personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior, enhanced by the companionship of the Holy Ghost. How I wouldn't give up that "peace that passeth all understanding" that I've only ever felt and experienced in the temple. How I wanted the strength and help of the Savior's Atonement that is only available as we live in repentance and strive to keep Heavenly Father's commandments.

I didn't want the personal turmoil, or to feel alone and/or lonely. I didn't want to wonder at times at my place in the Church or my contribution to society. But more than anything I want to do what God asks. And He does ask us to make choices - hard choices. To give up things we want with all our heart. To choose Him above all else (God Does Tell Us Who To Love).

And I wanted to share this, though it is difficult because it is very personal, because perhaps there is someone else that is struggling. That has wondered, "What if?" or is currently wondering. That wonders what they really do know or believe. And I want to say - Don't give up. Keep doing the things that allow you to feel the Spirit and receive strength through the Atonement. Repentance. Scripture study. Temple attendance. Partaking of the sacrament. Fasting. Praying.

Do those things until you get a clear answer. It may take time - more time than you think it should take. More time than you think you can keep going. But keep going and keep doing. The answer will come.

Heavenly Father and the Savior are real. I know this even though I've never seen them. In fact, I know it more clearly and surely than so many things I have seen or heard. And I KNOW they love us. They love you and they love me. But there will be difficult times. We will be asked to make sacrifices - to choose God above all else. But one other thing I know - all will be right in the end. I don't have any idea how it will be made right - how it will all work out. But I trust God and know that He loves me more than I can ever understand, and that because of that it, however it will all work out will be more magnificent than I can ever imagine. So I trust in that and I trust in Him.
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