I’ll never forget a Sunday School lesson I had growing up. The teacher drew a straight line across the length of the chalk board, representing eternity. Then, somewhere on the line, he put a tiny dot, invisible unless you put your eye up to it and squinted to see it. This, he explained, represented earth life. Why, he asked us for most of the lesson, would we want to jeopardize all of eternity, which goes on forever, by screwing up in this tiny amount of time that is life on earth. We needed to be good, otherwise that dot could destroy that whole line of eternity.
Last night, my wife spoke with a friend she hadn’t seen for a few years. This friend was president of seminary growing up; you know the type, the walking epitome of a good Mormon girl. Last night my wife learned she no longer believes in Church, or in God. Her parents, understandably, were devastated and upset. These parents, good, decent people, raised their children to believe in the Church — otherwise, they wouldn’t go to heaven and be with their family.
I’ve come to realize that so much of where we end up depends on the Mormonism that was presented to us as children. In my youth, the positive side wasn’t emphasized, but rather was taken for granted. I had no idea of the uniqueness of Mormon doctrine or of what other faiths believed. All I knew is that if I drank or had sex (even if I was all alone!) it was off to hell for me.
I spent a great deal of my youth feeling guilty; I’d sit in meetings and pretend hard to look normal. Could they see it on my face, I wondered? As the bishop lectured us on chastity and morality in the combined youth meeting, did the spirit tell him that the gangly, awkward fifteen-year old toward the back watched a naughty movie on cable the night before? When they interviewed me for my temple recommend for baptisms for the dead, was I supposed to tell them sometimes I wasn’t sure if God was there? Maybe, I thought, but the shame (shame was a big part of my youth, too) of confessing it was too great. I couldn’t bear it if my mom found out (would they tell her?!?), or if word leaked out that the Hatch boy wasn’t going to the temple because he flunked the interview.
As I’ve spoken with others, it was almost a surprise to learn that they didn’t grow up with the same feelings. I figured everyone went through the same thing as part of being Mormon. But for so many others growing up, Church was a safe-haven, a place of peace and comfort, where they knew they’d be taken care of because of the love of God and of Jesus the Christ.
Two questions then: First, what Mormonism did you grow up in? Second, should feelings of guilt and fear and of a God ready to strike one down for the slightest infraction be blamed on the Church, or are they the makeup of the individual, inherent to their personality?