Thoughts on Leaving

No, I’m not leaving. Not even considering it. But…

It shouldn’t be this hard. I mean really, it’s just life, happening all around- no different, when we get down to brass tacks, than the life almost all of us are trying to live. It’s laundry, and housework, and little kids underfoot and into mischief. It’s bills and clients and trying to run a business between loads of diapers and feeding the baby. It’s carpool and dentist appointments and teacher conferences and fundraisers and extended family ties- and how many balls can we keep in the air at once?

Ah, but we’re a peculiar people, and we have more: our church responsibilities. Added to everything above, there are presidency meetings, family nights, scripture study, family prayers, being good examples for our kids, storing tons of food, fuel and water, humanitarian service, Eagle scout projects, pot-lucks, mutual, primary, enrichment nights, and not drinking, smoking, swearing, tattooing, piercing, or otherwise marring our Temples.

So this afternoon, as I leaned on my kitchen counter, staring out into the late winter wasteland that is my backyard, I found myself pondering. Rolling around in my head was the idea that I could leave behind half the stress in my life if I decided not to be an active member anymore. This thought was spurred on, with certainty, by the previous post, and the questions it posed- why do people leave the church, and why can’t they leave it alone?

I’ve had thoughts like that before- it’s like when you’re crossing a bridge, and you think- it would be so easy- just veer a little to the left or right- I wonder what it would feel like? The truth is, my leaving the church is about as likely as my veering off that bridge… not gonna happen. But why?

As a new member, it is fascinating to read the comments of the people who were raised in this faith, and who chose to leave. So many of them bring up points that I myself thought about and pondered when following the white rabbit of my own Faith. We seem to be gathered around a big campfire, only we are staring at each other from opposite sides of the flames- the veil of the heat-rising slightly distorting our faces, but still visible to one another.

How is it people can ask the exact same questions, have such similar, good hearts, and end up miles apart from each other? How is it that I would prefer to have the proverbial extra balls in the air, than give it up and have a good relationship with my family again? How is it that someone else asks the exact same question, and takes the other path in the woods?

And how is it, that even though we may be opposite, different, strangers to one another, we are still gazing into the same hypnotic fire?


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    Maybe because that’s why we were all sent here in the first place: to learn, to interact, to experience, to struggle, to choose, to get ready for something more. We gaze at each other through the veil of heat because at our deepest level we know we have seen each other before.

  2. Mike,
    Just wanted to say that you’re a class act.

  3. Tracy: all I can say is, yeah.
    Mike: yeah.
    Ronan: yeah.

  4. Thanks for the shared musing, Tracy.

    For me the difference really boils down to something like a/the spirit. I should be clear to avoid giving the wrong impression (which would be “those who stay have the spirit, those who don’t don’t). What I mean by the spirit is this sense of connection, greater purpose, spiritual satisfaction, what others have called the numinous. when I am experiencing that, I feel inclined to stay; when I do not, I feel inclined to leave.

    That is part of what makes religious experience unpredictable and exceedingly difficult to mandate: in a sense many of us are at the whim of the numinous, however you want to define it or see it. That may be one reason (I’m sure among others), why churches invest heavily in establishing infrastructure that is independent of the numinous to help people to stay in religious bodies even when the fire of conviction burns less brightly. Ironically, there are situations where this will backfire, throwing water on an already dying flame, and many will complain when the infrastructure is conflated with what it is trying to support.

    My mom likes to share the story about a senior church authority (she married into a dynasty) who told her in a private setting, “Sometimes you live by the light, sometimes you live by the memory of the light,” and I think that’s true in some important way.
    (There are those who leave because a primary numinous experience has led them in a different direction. My understanding is less applicable to them, though in my experience these extramural numinous experiences come when the sense of mystical grandeur associated with one’s prior affiliation has already been lost.)

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks, Tracy.

  6. Thanks for this post, Tracy.

    I like to use a metaphor to describe how we view things on earth that involves our vision. If I look directly at the computer screen, I can see the words I’m typing. If I concentrate and think about my peripheral vision, I can see an alarm clock and a scanner to my right, and my iMac surrounded by a pile of cds and junk to my left. I can’t see my husband behind me on our bed or the tv he is watching. But I know he’s there.

    There are things going on all around us on a spiritual plane that we can’t see. If we concentrate, we can get glimpses. But we’re unable to see so much of our spiritual selves, including all our experiences in the pre-existence.

    It’s really interesting to me how we can all have such different perspectives and realities. One person reading my words may understand them in a way I don’t intend, but their different experiences, personality traits, thinking processes, etc create a reality for them that is different from mine. We’re all looking at the same thing but understanding them differently.

    One of the things I look forward to in leaving this earth life is being able to see perfectly. To understand how another’s perspective was shaped and why they made the choices they did. To understand how my own perspective was shaped, and where I was wrong and where I was right in the choices I made.

    No more of this through a glass darkly. But to know even as I am known.

  7. very thought-provoking. i had a day last week where i just wanted to pack up the kids and run home to (anti-lds) mommy and daddy’s house, just to get away from it all… the dishes, the laundry, the solo parenting while husband is away, and the other responsibilities… meetings and meals of compassion and lesson-planning. i didn’t go, but it’s nice to know it’s not just me.

    mike, wow. what a stellar comment.

  8. I never thought of it as stepping off a bridge. I am inactive in the sense that I don’t hold a calling and I rarely go to meetings, but I’m active in that I believe, I have faith, I tithe, I contribute to the PEF and give my fast offerings, I read scriptures and I pray, I read the Ensign, and I study the history of the church. I’m very much a Mormon, but one who struggles with fitting in to the physical church, the cultural church, my ward, and callings. I’m a spiritual and intellectual Mormon, an online Mormon. I try to live the gospel as well as I can. I find that, for now, actually going to church and holding a calling pull me away from my religion. They make it harder. So I do what I can do. I just am patient. Someday it will happen for me, perhaps, or things will change or something.

    Maybe we’re going to start having online wards. That would be awesome! I would love to do that. I could be a great missionary for online wards. Maybe they would be entry points for people who eventually end up in physical-world-wards. Or maybe they would be forever for some folks. I don’t know. I’m just taking it one day at a time. =)

  9. Some leave precisely because they become weary in well doing. It begins to feel robotic and “Just do[ing] it” for the sake/appearance of doing it. If your conviction is shot, there’s no reason to continue w/ all the effort/work of being a member.

  10. I think it is impossible for believers with no intention of leaving to come anywhere close to imagining what it would feel like for them to leave the church. When I was in high school, not dreaming that I would ever actually leave the church, I enjoyed the thought experiment of answering the rhetorical question “Lord, to whom shall we go?” My assumption was that only the LDS church had the words of eternal life. But if I ever left, I figured I’d probably become Catholic, because they would have the most legitimate claim to authority if there hadn’t been a Restoration. Third choice would be Judaism, because they would have the most legitimate claim to authority if there hadn’t been a new covenant. Suffice it to say that my actual exit did not involve a subsequent search for a religion with a legitimate claim to authority. Thus, not only could I not predict that I would exit, but I also could not predict what thought process would surround my then-hypothetical exit.

    “when you’re crossing a bridge, and you think- it would be so easy- just veer a little to the left or right-”
    That’s not what it feels like.

    “sometimes you live by the memory of the light”
    That’s not what it feels like, either.

  11. I became weary early in my marriage, and took some time off (with my wife accompanying me most of the time). I was surprised, and felt a little guilty, at how easy it was for me. We both were released from callings about the same time, we were living in a ward we knew we’d be leaving in 6 months (we were building a house), and after a few Sundays we really enjoyed the extra time we had to spend with each other. We still prayed and read the scriptures, but everything else just stopped.

    It was a nice break, and I have no regrets doing it.

    We came right back in our new ward, and seven years later I see no harmful effect other than realizing how easy it would be to leave, and how physically and emotionally exhausting it is to be LDS.

  12. My fatigue comes from dealing with fighting the fights I shouldn’t have to. Ignorant Bishopric and Stake Presidency members (why is it that I need to explain basic procedures and policies to them?), Lazy HT companions, the constant revolving door of counselors and secretaries.

    I need a sabbath from putting up with with the crap that comes with our LDS Culture. If I could get a nice year’s break, I wouldn’t feel so burnt out and perhaps refreshed and ready to fight the fight again.

  13. I think I would like to close the comments on this thread with exactly how they were opened… MikeInWeHo put it beautfully:

    Maybe because that’s why we were all sent here in the first place: to learn, to interact, to experience, to struggle, to choose, to get ready for something more. We gaze at each other through the veil of heat because at our deepest level we know we have seen each other before.

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