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|To the Pastor II:|
May. 25th, 2007 at 1:34 pm
Margaret Young at By Common Consent has written to you before about life in the LDS church. In moving terms and with beautiful metaphor she described her experience with the gospel as a born and bred member of an active family. The picture I have to share with you is different but is an equally important part of what it means to be Mormon.
I come from what we usually refer to as a “part-member” family. My father’s story is not for me to share; I can tell you that he was raised Methodist and that he did attend church with us for a period when I was very young. However, there was a long period where he didn’t attend any church. Recently he’s been attending the Methodist church again but I don’t know if it’s out of any feeling for the church or if it’s just a kindness he’s doing for my grandmother who can’t drive herself anymore.
It was my mother who taught me the importance of faith in life. My mom was born into the church. She’s a very determined person and she did many things to help us learn the gospel; however, often I think that just the simple act of going, despite the difficulties and disappointments she faced, spoke the loudest.
My life in a part-member family was largely devoid of the circles Margaret Young experienced, though geography played a part too. My mother’s family lived on the other side of the country and the area we lived in had few members. The gospel brought me something else instead: answers. Paul Gauguin once asked “Whence do we come? What are we? Where are we going?” If he were here today, I would tell him, “We come from heaven, where we lived with God. We are truly and not merely metaphorically His children; as His children we have a divine destiny. We are going back to Him.”
That’s the gospel in a nutshell. It seems wrong somehow to boil down such sublime truth into so few words. There are so many beautiful things left out, like the Atonement and Eternal Marriage. There are also many necessary things left out, like repentance and the need to follow God’s laws. However, they’re the answers to the question of “how?” and what Gauguin asked is essentially the great “why?”
When you’re a lonely kid tormented by your peers in school knowing “why” is very important. I don’t mean to say I know why they tormented me because I don’t. My religion was never the issue. Maybe it was my shyness; maybe it was my wordiness; maybe it was my weird sense of humor. Whatever it was, for about six years and through three different schools, I was the official “Target Kid.” I was taunted, assaulted and isolated. Painful as it was and angry as it made me I could only wonder at it. I was their sister. How could they let rolled-up pants, rolled down socks, New Kids On The Block, or whatever the obsession of the moment was be the basis for how they treated me?
I had no real friends. What I had was the gospel and those answers to the great “why?” I shudder to think of my life without them. What might I have done to be liked or to have a group to belong to? However, through it all I knew who I was: I was a daughter of God. I valued me and I knew God did too. What’s more, I knew where I was going. Some day I would be like God; it seemed a betrayal of my future self to do anything I couldn’t imagine Him doing, not to mention a betrayal of all Jesus, my brother, had done and gone through to make it possible.
I kept this knowledge and desire even through high school, where things got better for me. I made some great friends and we had great times together. When I received my Patriarchal Blessing shortly before graduation, they were my biggest concern. On the way to the Patriarch’s house, I prayed earnestly that I might be a guiding light for them. It’s not that I wanted to “save” them. That’s a choice only they can make. I hoped (what do I mean “hoped?” I still hope!) to be a good example for them so that some day when or if the gospel finds them, they will be receptive to it. Or at least not turned off by negative association!
When I went inactive in college, it wasn’t through any desire to leave the church. It wasn’t even a real decision. I was intimidated by a building full of strangers and my mother wasn’t there to make me go. Then when I had graduated and moved to Japan (which had been a long-time dream of mine) I couldn’t go. Two years into my three-year stay my request for Sundays off was finally granted and I began attending the small branch in my city.
It didn’t matter to me that the service was in Japanese. I was home. At that point I’d been inactive for about four years. Many changes had come into my life, including the man I was going to marry. As I prepared for life as an actual, functioning adult I realized that the time for my little detour was over. I had lived “in the world” and all I had to show for it was a feeling of spiritual stagnation. I had never been dissatisfied with the gospel. No other philosophy or faith had ever filled me with the Spirit the way the LDS gospel did. It was time to resume the journey I’d put on hold.
Some people have grand turning points in their lives. Some people have large, loud miracles. My miracles are the quiet kind, miracles only to me. Like the nights of comfort and protection God extended when I, terrified for nebulous reasons I still don’t understand, would open a prayer to Him and say “I’m really, really scared and I’m not going to end this prayer; I’m leaving the line open so You can hear me and please, please help.” The sense of trust and safety I got from those nights (and I can’t recall how long it went on but there were several nights like that) laid down a kind of bedrock in my soul. I’d sooner doubt gravity than doubt God.
I make no claims of a perfect life. Despite my brave words above, I have sometimes chosen to transgress God’s laws and there are still things I struggle with. I find it hard to connect with people. I’m not as patient or mindful of other people’s weaknesses as I should be. I’m not very good at discerning when a soft answer will turn away wrath or when a firm stand needs to be taken. I don’t spend enough time listening to God; I’m sure there’s a number of times I’ve let Him and His children down because I wasn’t listening or was too unsure to act.
Thankfully, this is where the Atonement comes in. The great “how”of Christ’s sacrifice helps me to stay on track. I will some day be like God. Probably not tomorrow, but some day. In the meantime, my most beloved elder brother is there to help me stand up when I have fallen, to clean and bandage wounds of the soul and to send me on again, a little more battered but hopefully also a little wiser.
So that’s what being Mormon means to me. “I know who I am, I know God’s plan and I’ll follow Him in faith.”