Today is the WHY, next week will be the HOW.
1) My choices are well-thought out (to exhaustion, actually!), but they're not yours. For some people, they don't even need to think about the why/how of keeping their faith; it's simple for them and they are probably alarmed by how my mind works. For others, their faith struggles are even more complicated than my own and they have made different decisions that have felt right for them. Just because I have come to my own conclusions doesn't mean I think everyone else needs to land in the same place as me, nor does it mean that I label others as being either "apostates" or, alternatively, people of "blind, ignorant faith." I can't judge the level of someone's faith--that's between them and their God. But I do hope that if others see that my choice is even an option, that they'll open that spot in their heart to consider sticking with their faith (regardless of denomination).
2) Just because I have made this choice to stay active in my faith, it doesn't mean my faith is now simple or easy. I still struggle. I still have huge doubts and frustrations. I still hope for more openness and changes in my church culture and some doctrines. I still really, really feel like the heavens are closed to me no matter what I do, which often make me feel ALL THE FEELINGS.
That being said, my ability to stick with my faith has been made much easier because I finally made a definite choice on it. I feel like there is more hope in my heart than there has been for some time, and more openness to receiving answers however big or small. Also, there is a lot less self-blame regarding my feelings and my seeming inability to get my searched-for answers.
For example: I am not ashamed of my doubts--that is a part of real faith, in my mind; I am not afraid to ask questions and seek answers--without seeking comes no progress; I am not scared of things I learn in my church's history--my church is led by mortals who have made and continue to make mistakes, and I believe God works with what He's got because he honors our agency so intently. (See more on that below.)
I'll share more about the HOW (as in what I actually do to stick with things) behind how I balance my struggles and my commitments next week or so.
If you are still with me here, I'd like to now share the big WHY's to my choice to stick with the Mormon faith. There are more reasons than those below, but these are the most prominent in my mind. And because of my lack of spiritual two-way conversations still going on here, I'd like to also state that these reasons might come across as more logical. That's because they are! I'm still working every day on keeping the pathways open for more of a metaphysical confirmation. How I square that will be talked more about in my HOW post coming up.
|Photo Cred: Baley Marie Photography|
WHY I STICK WITH MY FAITH
1) Community: I honestly don't know who I would be without the faith community I was raised in. They encouraged me to be successful, serving, and virtuous; they supported my endeavors and drove my education; they enabled me to mature at a much higher rate than those little squirrly teenagers I taught in middle school.
Without this community, I'd suffer for friends, positive influences, support for myself and my children, and much-needed service when I've required it. I wouldn't be as altruistic in my thinking and would tend to worry more about myself and my little family. Instead, I can ask anyone in my church for help at a moment's notice, and they'd help. Instead, I am placed into "callings" which require service from me, demanding that I look more outward and help others.
I have found in particular that my California ward congregations to be some of the smartest, talented, humorous, open and nonjudgmental people I have ever met. I am lucky, I know. I need this community in my life. I would be lost and heartbroken to leave it behind. I don't know how I could easily replace it.
2) Fruits: In my experience, the majority of Mormons are made up of GOOD, salt-of-the-earth people who are honestly and intently trying to do what's right in the world. Sure, there are hypocrites. Sure, there are people who propagate false doctrines and traditions that take forever to unwind. But at the heart, I believe Mormons to be loving people who make good happen in this scary, evil world. "By their fruits, ye shall know them." Mormons generally and genuinely produce remarkable fruits with their people, their service, their humanitarian efforts, their zealous educational programs and universities, and the differences they make both in their local communities and the world at large.
3) Values: I know that Mormons' values are most associated with our zeal to abstain from partaking of alcohol/tobacoo as well as premarital sex, and how we cherish marital fidelity and creating strong families.
My question about these values is this: what harm will come from living these virtues?
For me, I believe that even if this church isn't 100% true in the end, I am 100% OK in having lived a good, virtuous, and moral life and in alignment with Mormon values.
I want my kids to have these more known values apart of their makeup, in addition to other Mormon values: true goodness, constant self-improvement, CHARITY (genuine service and love for all others), strong work ethic, and building strong foundations centered in faith and family. I want them to have practice and reason to carry HOPE in a very dark world. I want them to seek outward and upward. (More about the doctrines I want them to believe in, below.)
4) Identity: I don't think I could separate "Mormon" from my identity without afflicting a sorrow akin to losing a loved one. I am Monica, and I am Mormon. My faith is the bedrock of who I am and how I perceive and interact with the world. The thought of not going to church on Sunday, not reading my scriptures, not praying to personable Heavenly Parents, not living LDS values, not wearing my garments and keeping my covenants, and not raising my kids in my faith? Well, I just can't even imaging doing so without it eliciting more harm than good for me personally and for my family. I know others have felt freed from departing from their faith and I understand why that might be the case for them; but for me, it's who I am. I'm happy with that part of my identity.
5) Doctrines: Where do I start here? While there are some tricky doctrines that I give a side-eye (men only holding the priesthood forever, and ever--doesn't make sense to me, especially considering what I learn in the temple) and those I completely dismiss (eternal polygamy, I'm looking at you), there are so many wonderful doctrines in the Mormon faith that I truly love. In no particular order (and as concise as I can manage):
- Heavenly Parents: There is a mother and a father up there; not just a man. That is one of the most empowering doctrines for me and a major touchstone as I navigate other doctrines and church cultural norms that I feel are at the very least confusing, and at the very most harmful to me, as a woman. I look beyond those to the bigger doctrine in my mind--that Heavenly Mother exists and stands side-by-side with Heavenly Father. (I do wish it was not so taboo in general in my church talk more about Her.)
- Personal God: Our Heavenly Parents are omnipotent, omniscient beings, but they aren't some all-seeing-eye made of smoke or spirit. They have tangible, celestial glorified bodies (we were created to look like them), and they actually really CARE about us, their spiritual children, and want to help form a meaningful life for us. The Holy Ghost is apart of the Godhead and is how our Heavenly Parents communicate with each of us. I love this doctrine!
- Purpose to this Life: There is a reason we are here. This earth is not here by chance (more on that under "Laws"), and we are not here just to wander around aimlessly. We WANTED to be here to have our bodies, practice our agency (ability to choose), learn, grow, and return to God ready to make the next step.
- Eternal Progression: We are not destined to be in this lower state (mortals or even just angels ) the rest of eternity. There is a grander purpose beyond this earth. We existed as spirits before we were born, we continue as spirits after we die and eventually become resurrected beings (all of us, by the way, will be resurrected thanks to the Atonement). We will continue to learn, progress, and grow and become like God (using that term here to describe the Heavenly Parents unit). Some people get freaked out by this doctrine, but it makes absolute sense to me. If there is a God, in His infinite goodness He would want His children to have what He has, and to be like He is. He would provide a way for us to get there.
- The Atonement: The Atonement of Jesus Christ came to satisfy the justice side of the eternal laws the govern the universe (see more under "Laws"). Without it, we wouldn't be able to be forgiven of our sins and return to live with God; we would be lost. Another twist though that I think is unique to Mormonism: the Atonement doesn't just cover our sins; it covers all the pains, sicknesses, afflictions, anger, sadness, etc. we will experience on this earth. Jesus can be our personal Messiah because He has felt what we are each going through. I believe that it is because He has done that, that the gates of mercy are also equally opened through the Atonement, not just the justice side. He can provide the mercy because he knows the context of our life experiences and our choices, and He can provide the justice because He has suffered for our sins.
- Eternal Families: Family is an eternal doctrine and a foundational unit to eternity (see "Heavenly Parents" and "Personal God"). What we do as a family matters. If we do our best to be obedient to the promises we make to God (through baptism and covenants we make in the temple), we will be sealed by priesthood power to have these units continue on past this life. A mother will never truly lose her child that died. A husband will never say an eternal goodbye to his wife, and vice versa. This is why Mormons are so hard-bent on forming strong family units. I sure don't want to do the rest of eternity alone, I don't know about you!
- Hope: Underlying all these doctrines, is a profound sense of hope. We of course still have a lot of questions that are unanswered, even within the doctrines I list here. (Such as, we can't really explain the Holy Ghost and how that works). But the LDS faith carries a powerful hope that there ARE answers, that God will reveal them in the right time and in the right way, and that we all have hope to return to God. Everyone. If someone didn't know how to be close to God, they'll have that chance. Even if people do die in their sins, they can repent and continue to progress after this life. There are no sins (save the denying of God after you've received a personal visitation from Him), that cannot be forgiven. There are no habits that we can't eventually learn to control (maybe not until after this life, though). There is hope.
- Personal Revelation: We believe that God can speak to us personally and answer our prayers, although this looks different for everyone. Admittedly, I struggle with this one. But I still believe in this doctrine and have hope it will eventually be made easier for me. This ties into "Personal God," but it also ties into our belief in prophets and that God will not leave us alone on earth without direction. I also love the idea that we still can--and must--receive personal revelation that confirms what our prophets have told us. There is a lot of fairness in that belief for me, and that God is no respecter of person.
- Laws: The universe and everything spiritual, physical, etc. is governed by eternal laws. There ARE rights and wrongs. There is an eternal ORDER to everything, and things must be done according to that order. Justice has to be satisfied. Mercy also has to be extended (when justice is met--thanks to the Atonement). Worlds are created in a certain way (hello, science!). When a law is broken, there is a consequence. When a law is obeyed, there is also a good consequence. Morality is not just created by dictators or prudes; there is a higher morality led by higher laws. I know I don't know what all the laws are, but this principle makes sense to my logical mind and I take a lot of comfort in this.
- PS: one of the biggest eternal laws in my mind is personal agency. We each have our agency and God values that law so much that He will not step in to interfere. That--for me--explains why bad things can happen to good people, how churches or states can be led by flawed people, and why God permits these mistakes and missteps to happen. However, that doesn't mean that He can't right the wrongs that are created in our lives due to others' mistakes. That will happen--whether here, or afterward. God will make things right. For me, that means He will also sort out the mess we might have created with His church and His doctrines. He might not have stepped in to fix atrocious things in the church like bans against blacks holding the priesthood, because of this eternal law of agency. But, He will right this ship. It will all be fixed! For Monica the THINKER, this doctrine is everything.
6) Because I WANT To: Being a faithful member of the LDS faith is not easy. It requires a lot of time and consecration; this faith expects a lot out of its people. The doctrines are not all clear; there are big questions and concerns in my mind. But ultimately, I stick with this faith because underneath all the frustrations and sadness I have experienced with it, I WANT to be a part of it all.
Well, how's that "nutshell" for you?!
Again, please know that this is just what works for ME. I don't judge someone for being black-and-white about their faith, those whose beliefs feel obvious and 100% true, nor do I judge someone who has been traumatized and left their church. All I hope is that giving some of my reasoning here will empower others to think through what is worth it for them to stick with their religious faith.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to reach out to me personally or to comment here with what has helped you commit to your faith, regardless of denomination. And--hopefully this doesn't need to be said--please be kind to each other if there are disagreeing views in the comments.