Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?

I grew up in the church. My father is a lifelong member, descended from many great and noble pioneers. My mother is a convert with a powerful story. I attended church with them almost every week throughout my childhood. I felt the spirit strongly at Girls’ Camps and Youth Conferences. I loved my leaders and I wanted to share all of the good that I felt. I remember standing in the Women’s Garden in Nauvoo, IL, completely overwhelmed by the Spirit I felt there. I wanted everyone in the world to feel the exact way I felt that night.

Soon after, I was off to BYU, where I would watch the historic announcement that young women would be able to serve missions at the age of 19 instead of 21. I returned to the state of excitement about sharing the gospel and sharing the feeling of warmth and joy I had felt through the Spirit. I strongly considered going on a mission. I prayed fervently, attended the temple, and even opened my mission application.

But then, one day in the temple, I felt the prompting to read D&C 25 (to refresh your memory, this is the revelation for Emma Smith). I read it, seeing the call for Emma to focus on her marriage, her callings, and her faith. I took this to mean, and felt strongly, that I should not go on a mission, and proceeded to close my application.

I often forget that I went through that decision making process. And I often forget how firm my testimony was at that time. I feel as though I made the right choice for myself, but it seems to have led me down a path of confusion. I haven’t felt the Spirit like that in direct relation to the church in a while. My strongest spiritual experiences occur in nature. I find these just as meaningful, but in a different way.

I have felt myself slip away from the church ideologically on many issues over the past few years. I’ve asked a lot of hard questions. I’ve pondered and soul-searched. I have found comfort in non-traditional ideologies and in progressive circles. I’ve listened to the stories of members, ex-members, and non-members (not a huge fan of these terms, but they’ll work for now). I’ve shed many tears.

I still attend church and try to pay attention. I’ve slacked at a lot of daily tasks. I have started to lose comfort in gospel lessons and study, as they just bring more confusion and internal conflict.

I feel pain when I see people hurt by the church’s poor response to sexual assault allegations. I am confused when I see LGBTQ+ members being ostracized and shamed for their identities. I feel frustrated when church leaders fail to acknowledge the institutional racism still present in our structure and congregations.

How can I be a part of something that causes pain to so many people? How can I believe that our Heavenly  Parents would want this to be happening? How can I be satisfied with the fact that no one seems to have answers regarding these issues? Why do marginalized people have to suffer at the hands of the privileged because we refuse to make space for them?

Can a church led by older, mostly white men truly be inclusive? Can I reconcile a church that isn’t inclusive with the gospel of Christ? Is separating the church from its culture just an excuse? Can I allow myself to be a part of both the institution and its culture, knowing the damage they do?

Is there space for me in the church when I don’t agree with so many things? And if not, what would my life even look like without the church? It’s all I’ve ever known.

I don’t have answers to these questions. I don’t particularly want your answers to them either. I don’t want to be told what I “need” to do to strengthen my faith. I don’t want to know how you went through the same thing “at my age.” I don’t really even want to know what worked for you. I’ve heard it all.

I am just in a place of pain and conflict and I want to know that I am not alone. I have felt the Spirit so strongly in the past. I resonate so much with certain aspects of LDS doctrine, especially doctrine that is unique to the church. I believe so much and I doubt so much. Some things I wouldn’t even say I doubt at this point, because I truly do not believe them.

If you are here to be with me and hold me while I cry and try to figure things out, I welcome you. If you are here to push me in they direction you think is best, please find another cause to get behind, or better yet, work on yourself. I don’t want to commit to any decisions yet. I want to be able to sit in my confusion, in limbo even, as I figure out where I want to stand. I am tired and lost. And that’s okay.

Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    Oh, am I empathetic. I’ve been lost and sad about the church for a long time, and now I’m just tired too. I have no choice but to engage with it, but I’m so tired and wish I could stop.

  2. I am with you. You are not alone.

  3. Rick Boedy says:

    You mention the word unique near the end. What is good about religion is not unique to one of them. What is unique about one is never good.

  4. You’re not alone. Your particular conflict is very familiar to me. We’re vastly different in age and generation too…I’m nearing 60 years of age. I fell away (the term in the day for less active members) when I was 19 and only just returned in 2013. Now, five years after my reconversion (as it were), the old doubts and troubles seem to be returning. I know you don’t want advice nor to be told ‘what to do’, but this worked for me. I focus on what I KNOW to be true (which is personal to each of us)…whether that is your testimony, your belief in Joseph Smith’s experience, or whatever. I pray. Every day. I attend my meetings, albeit more sporadically these days. If nature comforts and soothes, hey! Go for a drive of a Sunday, go to a mountain, hike a trail, walk beside the ocean. Yes. God is there (IMHO). And I think He understands and loves His children, however confused our journey is.

  5. cookie queen says:

    You are not alone.

  6. EnglishTeacher says:

    Similar story over here. I can empathize with the inner conflict, and hope you/we find peace.

  7. I’ll sit with you in this. Solidarity, sister.

  8. Rachel E O says:

    <3 <3 <3

  9. Lean into your doubts, beliefs, and even those things you don’t believe anymore, God/you will be found. I found God in my brokenness.

  10. Jessica says:

    I am more than 10 years your senior, maybe 15, but feel almost exactly the same way. It is so confusing and hard!!! Thank you for sharing.

  11. jlouielucero says:

    I feel your pain. I have been there too. Just be patient and try to learn what you can because doubtless you’ll feel differently again 10 years from now.

  12. jaxjensen says:

    You’re not alone.

    And if you happen to find answers to your questions, be good enough to pass them on, because many of us ask them.

  13. mrsashtondennis says:

    You have summed up perfectly so much of what I’m feeling in my life, things I haven’t even been able to put into words myself. You’re not alone. Thanks for helping me feel not alone too.

  14. I’m with you in so many ways. I love that you distinguished between ‘doubting something’ and ‘not believing something.’ I think we conflate the two way too much, and that is part of where there is so much pain for me. Traditional members want to fix other people’s doubts. But I’m not doubting. I’ve just rearranged what I do/do not believe in.

  15. Sara Lee says:

    “Is there space for me in the church when I don’t agree with so many things? And if not, what would my life even look like without the church? It’s all I’ve ever known.”
    This speaks to the heart of my own conflict. I still show up every week and fulfill all my callings, but it’s so hard. You are not alone! I’m right here with you.

  16. Amber,
    You’re friggin awesome. That is all.

  17. Troy Cline says:

    I couldn’t tell you what path to take even if I wanted to because I have been at a crossroads for about 3 years myself. I have gone through the motions, for the most part, that the church requires but my spirit isn’t in it anymore because I have stopped feeling the spirit in so much of it. The church just doesn’t seem like the vibrant, wonderful place that it was when I was a child and a teenager. It seems that its loudest declarations these days are AGAINST things that it despises rather than FOR the things that it loves. My own view of Christ and his gospel has become so much larger than the narrow-mindedness of Mormonism allows for and it is both a beautiful and terrifying place to be. Beautiful because I have “graduated” from that narrow-mindedness. Terrifying because, for different reasons, I still feel connected to it. But not connected in a good way. Connected in a way that an anchor is connected to a boat; preventing it from progressing along its jouney.

  18. phbrown says:

    Check out Fowler’s Stages of Faith (or the wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_W._Fowler). The step from Stage 3 to Stage 4 can be messy. And few take it. Institutions like their members to stay in Stage 3.

  19. So much empathy from my corner of the church, too! A few months ago I was inspired to take my kids on a “tour of world religions” in an effort to combat living in Utah. Doing this once/month to meet the people and learn about their various religions has already been SO good for all of us. I especially love having a Sunday each month where my kids are engaged and excited rather than fighting. I wish we could have similar experiences within our own church attendance. Bless your efforts!

  20. Anna Buttimore says:

    I feel your pain. I’m a convert of over 20 years, and was previously an anti-Mormon activist. While I answered many of the accusations thrown at the church (by me, and others), there are still some which I struggle with – but oddly, they are not the things anti-Mormons generally talk about.

    My answer has been that I worship Jesus Christ, not the church. I will remain in His church, because that is where I have been able to come closest to Him, and where I honestly believe He wants me to be, but while He is perfect, His church is not. Did it ever claim to be?

    I worship at other churches regularly too. It’s reassuring to see that they’re all pretty messed up in some ways.

  21. Shy Saint says:

    I think anyone who is honest with themselves is with you. I think those who aren’t, aren’t yet dealing with the ground the church has staked itself to.

  22. I am grateful for the empathy you feel for the pain and quiet desperation of those marginalized or closeted because of how things are in the Church. I am transgender and the pain and alienation is acute. But it only would pain me more to know that someone empathized to the degree that it contributed to a separation from the church. I still feel a testimony of the keys and covenants and presence of Christ in this church that I cannot leave even though it hurts. The institution, policies, culture, and individuals (self included) have much to repent of, and in a paradoxical way I find a vibrancy and power in staying even with doubt and hurt happening daily. Without doubt I don’t think it would qualify as faith. I have no advice, I am grateful for your kindness and your heart. I won’t leave the Church, it may leave me (I cannot promise that I will always conform- to do so feels like an endangering of my life) – but I do feel Christ won’t leave us. I know it hurts, I hope you can stay with me here in this church, but either way I feel your love and kindness coming through in this post – you will be fine. 💜

  23. Paul Ritchey says:

    I salute you, and wish you well. +1 on Fowler’s Stages of Faith (noted above). And I’ll just share that, in my journey so far through the lone, dreary world you’ve so well described, my greatest moments of triumph, joy, and the sublime have come not when I doubled down on my own case (in either direction), but when I comforted, encouraged, or loved a fellow traveler (in either direction), most of whom are scared, and few of whom are ready to trust anyone. Holding a hand through that vale of sorrows is a work genuinely to be done.

  24. (Please note, Amber, in reference to my above clip, that I don’t think the place you’re at presently is at all a “tragedy.” It’s just a difficult state, one that many of us have been in, and your friends–whether they’re still in the same state, or have never been in it, or have long since gone beyond it, whatever “beyond” may mean–will be here for you, regardless.)

  25. One extremely fearful night on the other side of the world, I stumbled into a frightful civil war zone. By the time I realized the extent of my danger, there were no good options to get out, only one to go farther in then out. I prayed and prayed, but unable to receive clear direction, I explained my feelings to my Heavenly Father. I was frightened and needed to feel the Spirit. I needed to know that He knew where I was and what I was facing. I have never experienced anything like the peace He gave me that night.
    Oh, and I too was told not to go on a mission, something that took me half a lifetime to understand. It is not that you have been taught incorrectly. But like all of us, you stumble in the dark for much of mortality.

  26. I feel this pain as well, and I have stepped away because speaking of my doubts and voicing my realization that the Church is wrong on some things is not well tolerated and might lead to me being forced out anyway. How do you stay quiet enough to stay?

  27. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and questions that so closely echo my own. You are not alone. It’s nice to know that I’m not as alone as I often feel, too. :)

  28. Beth Clayson says:

    I have similar thoughts and feelings although I am in my 50s. I watch my daughters and nieces struggle. To complicate my struggle, I am the RS President in an ultra conservative ward. I love certain parts especially family history and temple work. They are what keep me strong.

  29. Sitting with you.

  30. wreddyornot says:

    Blessings. I will listen (or read) with a warm heart and my understanding.

  31. Thank you for writing this. I’m a little older than you, but I have had similar experiences and feelings…and it looks like there are many more of us. I’m afraid to talk to anyone about it too much because I know what they’ll tell me to do – pray, read the scriptures, go to the temple. But I tried those things. I wish sometimes I could just be 100% out or 100% in.

  32. Brittany says:

    I feel like I could have written this. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and know that you are not alone.

  33. Just to let you know I understand your situation. Hope you see a way through it that works for you!

  34. I would urge loyalty to God and to Christ no matter your doubts.

  35. Dale Johnson says:

    We all have doubts and questions to varying degrees. I was inactive before returning and being made Gospel Doctrine teacher in our ward in Greenville, SC. Later my wife and daughter joined the church, we were sealed in the Los Angeles Temple (where I attended it’s dedication by President David O. McKay) and as we adopted 10 children, they were each sealed to us. I have concluded that the short comings, both real and perceived, are the result of God’s greatest gift — that of Agency. God will never interfere with our individual right to make good, bad and terrible choices. The church is led by inspired leaders who are human and fallible. We are told we will learn step upon step, and we wish others will agree with us and get the steps going a lot faster. I expect the learning and evolving process takes so long because Heavenly Father knows is so well, and has set up the curriculum to bring to pass his ultimate goals.

    No matter how far off the mark my analysis may be, I strive to allow men their Agency and if it is totally different than I imagine, I hope I have been as good a person as my limited and fallible nature will allow. I hope everyone will eventually be exposed to the Gospel to the extent they can make a knowledge choice. We should all work to minimize human suffering consistent with the freedom we have been granted.

  36. Here to be with you, sister.

  37. With you.
    I want to say “you are not alone” and that’s true in the sense that I and many of my friends could and have written much the same.
    However, you probably *are* “alone” in the sense that the warm blanket of belonging—acceptance, commonality, cultural comfort—is thin enough to see through and the “alone in a crowd” feeling is a real presence.

  38. Jenny G says:

    You are not alone. I am with you.

  39. It’s a big table, come sit with the rest of us.

  40. You’re not alone.
    I’m sorry.
    It’s been four years of this.
    And I served the mission.

  41. cat thatcher says:

    I’ve been there. I’ve come to my own resolution, and it is not as satisfying as I could want, but it is better than all the other options, at least for now. Best wishes.

  42. You are not alone. What you wrote resonates with many. Part of the frustration is that there is no way to communicate these concerns in a unbiased context. Any criticism of the church is viewed as misguided and unfaithful.

  43. Mormonism, one in a long line of religious cults by a charismatic dreamer promising the imminent coming of the Savior. Life after death is a delusion. Amber, I’m from an old Mormon family too. GGMother crossed the plains in 1851. I always wondered too how something that was supposed to be perfect was not. The monotheists have been deluded for some 2000 years. GROG

  44. A brave post. Even on the anonymous-ish internet, it’s hard to speak from the soul. Wishing you comfort and understanding on your journey.

    Two thoughts come to mind that I’d like to share – the first is not an attempt to push you in any direction, just to provide a resource that might prove helpful as you process the things. I read it in a BYU Humanities magazine: https://humanities.byu.edu/the-birth-of-faith-in-the-crises-of-self-understanding/

    The second thought I heard from a dear friend after wrestling with a difficult circumstance: “I always knew faith was a choice; I just didn’t ever expect it to be a hard one.” You’re in good and common company.

    One additional thought to ponder, though perhaps a less popular one: dismissing the leadership’s ability to preach and practice inclusion simply because it’s ‘mostly old and white’ embraces the racist thinking we yearn to eradicate. We can and should judge actions and ideas independent of skin color.

    Having called out that mote, I’ll go work on my own beam.

  45. James Jensen says:

    I am 64 years old and a Mormon since birth. Many of my ancestors sacrificed all they had to cross the plains in the 1850’s. I am a returned missionary, temple recommend holder, High Priest, and no longer active in the church because my thoughts and feelings resonate more with you and your doubts than they do with the white church orthodoxy. I am sad to say it, but I believe the church orthodoxy of our day have become the Rameumptoms of Alma’s day!

  46. You are definitely not alone… The Church is all that I’ve ever known. I’m now in the throws of a full blown “Faith Crises” – hate that term. I’m married (to a very TBM spouse), kids the whole 9 yards… I like you, don’t know what to do. There are elements of the Church that I just can’t reconcile with truth. I’ve avoided seeking truth on many issues worried about what I might find. I realized that’s not a good plan and I dove in. Unfortunately I feel like Adam after eating the fruit, now I can see what before I was blinded to. It’s a soul crushing concept to ponder what my responsibility is to my Children to raise them in truth. My faith in Christ has actually strengthened during this period. I don’t have advice for you, but I can tell you there are many many people that are in the same boat. Probably a lot of people you would never suspect feeling exactly the same way you are.

  47. Youraveragemormon says:

    Thank you for writing this. I feel like this too, and today I felt alone in feeling like this. I may not have you (or the other commenters) in my ward, but I have you all virtually and I appreciate you taking the time to verbalize your feelings.

  48. One quick comment to add. I know you aren’t asking for advice, but for me making a concerted effort to seek out Christ has helped as my belief in the LDS Church has begun to crumble. Seek him direct from the scriptures without being “guided” by LDS manuals and opinions. Too many people go straight to Atheism or give up on Christianity as a whole when they experience a faith crises. Be glad you are confronting this early on. At my point in life it’s extremely difficult to up end everything. So I’m still here, holding a calling, paying tithing, doing all of it. You are not alone and the pain, the feeling of being trapped, and the fear that you might be devoting yourself (and your family) to something untrue. You are absolutely not alone!

  49. Amber, I’m with you.

  50. marcella says:

    Oh, you are not alone! It’s hard that there are few safe spaces to discuss our doubts and really hard that we aren’t to discuss them at church because they’re not “faith promoting”.

  51. I’m with you.

  52. I am with you as well. It is an exhausting struggle but one from which I hope good can spring. I am focusing on building a genuine relationship with deity and I have found that the process requires the painful tearing down and throwing away of many things that were false constructs. It is likely that this process will take me outside the institutional church, but that is because, for me, my personal growth seems to happen better outside the LDS context. Be true to yourself and your connection to the divine.

  53. Do not give up on your searching and praying and struggling. Sometimes the answers are not what you thought they were. Sometimes you realize you have been badly taught. Sometimes you realize you just misunderstood the teaching. As you approach the end of life, you realize life is a truly treacherous path, no matter how you navigate it. But Jesus Christ and a relationship with Him is worth everything. Just as He had to accept that doing His father’s will was worth everything when logically it would have seemed better to leave the Jews and live a normal lifespan serving and teaching elsewhere.

  54. I’m with you in solidarity, sister. You don’t have to rely on the arm of flesh or make excuses for the decisions of man, whether they claim it came from God or not. Prophet , even though they will often claim that authority, also REPEATEDLY tell us to study it out in our minds, develop a personal relationship with Christ, and don’t look around, look up! Prophets are people, they are part of looking around. Christ is who we see when we look up. If what prophets teach confuses you and causes depressing levels of mental gymnastics, study what Christ taught. Consider what he teaches you, personally, now. There is peace in Christ, not people. I don’t know if there is space for those of us who believe there are so many things wrong with the church but see the good, and the spiritual things, and want to stay. That seems to depend on the person and their local leadership. I’m still trying to figure that out. But know that you are not alone, many people love and support you whether you know us or not, and Christ is the focus, not the church or it’s leaders.

  55. I feel like you do and am so confused. I’ve always done everything that the prophets have said in terms of how to be a wife and mother and to always serve in the church. My husband no longer believes and is constantly pointing out everything that is wrong with the church. He admitted a few years ago that he cheated on me because he didn’t think I was intellectually his equal. My wonderful returned missionary son is gay and is depressed and suicidal. I stay because I want to be a force for good and help others in the church who are struggling like me because I believe there are many of us out there like you that feel this way. I still love the brethren but I know longer do everything they say. We always like to think that our church is separate from the world but I believe we have let a lot of false traditions into our church. But our hearts shouldn’t have to be broken like this. I’ll mourn with you.

  56. Nunya Bidniss says:

    Hm.

    Your final paragraphs here stating (in paraphrase) “feel what I feel, and tell me I’m right, or just GTFO” might be exactly the frame of mind that is contributing to your confusion and discomfort.
    Additionally, preemptively sniping at people who want to stanch your spiritual bleeding won’t help you. (“I don’t really even want to know what worked for you. I’ve heard it all.” You so old and wise! :-/ )
    You might think that someone who is physically injured but refuses diagnosis or treatment may be less than wise. Surely *you* of all people wouldn’t stand idly by as they bled out, protesting your first-aid because they just want to have someone ‘mourn with them’ in their injury. Your “year of empathy” shouldn’t inhibit you from helping to saving someone, right?

    So here’s a tourniquet, despite your protestation:
    All the “I’m with you” co-crying in the world won’t bring you the peace and answers you desire. It will get you lots of preening sympathy from the other incapacitated and bleeding people in BCC comment threads.
    “Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?” You already know how to find out what God wants you to do, but by your post’s admission, you aren’t doing some of them. Asking for blogosphere-sympathy is not an adequate substitute for doing what’s necessary to receive the quickening Light of God.

    However, from your post, it looks like you’ve already decided that the knowledge and answers you want to get need to already agree with the “non-traditional ideologies…progressive circles…[and] the stories of [struggling believers as well as non-believers]”. You’ve now hobbled your efforts by pre-filtering what answers you’ll accept.

    I’m not surprised that you’re in pain, confused, and adrift when you’ve cut yourself off from the necessary preparations for personal revelation, and you’re left taking your bearings by measuring the institution of the church, the body of the church, and the doctrines of salvation by the ideas of your favorite socio-political beliefs.

    “Also, just to get ahead of it, I won’t be responding to any comments giving me direction.”

    -AH on Facebook
    Whew.
    This also makes me wonder why you didn’t write it down in your own journal. If no one else’s thoughts are good enough, why go through the public garment-rending? (asked rhetorically, of course)

  57. Harry B. says:

    I left this comment on Wheat and Tares discussing a different topic, but I’m editing to provide some commentary I think is relevant here.

    In my experience, the church does not prepare its members for the stages of development that occur as adults. Yes, we understand adolescence and prepare our youth to enter adulthood on a high note (and I’ll give the church high praise for doing that well). Yet, we do not have much of a narrative for the complexities of adulthood, marriage and family dynamics (aside from perfect veneers), maturing, alternative narratives for belief and meaning, ethics and moral living, etc.

    It sounds to me like you are experiencing something that many people start feeling in their late 30s, 40s, or early 50s, so take comfort that you are not alone. Many (most?) adults go through midlife changes in their expectations, values, beliefs, and not all will come through this internal conflict in the same way. Some may emerge more committed to the church, others with a new job or car, others still may find relief by leaving old beliefs behind and more fully embracing new ones that breathe life into your being.

    As long as your decisions are not rash, but you do your best to examine choices impassionately and decide to move forward in the way that is consistent with your inner values, then odds are you will emerge from this precarious situation wiser and happier. Though I acknowledge that it’s sloppy and painful in the middle of it.

  58. Dale Johnson says:

    If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all

  59. I’m Methodist and I feel the same way and have for years. I often come to this site for refreshment.I find in it a home of sorts. I wonder if our species is evolving to walk away from divine beliefs or if God is allowing this lonely time to walk away from from the truly great apostasy that all our organizations keep us away from seeing our common humanity and beginnings. That we are to lightly hold on to our roots of faith while our organizations seek squeeze us. So a lost feeling pervades our lives. Thanks for sharing what many of us are feeling.

  60. Amber, I hear you. I’m exhausted, heartbroken, and lonely. I feel like I have to pay a therapist just to say what’s going on in my mind and heart. I’m so sick of people believing there must be something wrong with for me to feel the way I do–that I must be either unwilling or unable to “see the light”. My entire family and life revolves around a church that I have major issues with, and my gradual withdrawal doesn’t really change that–it just increases my feelings of dissonance. And yet, I don’t feel better when I go through the motions of things I think are spiritually destructive, so I am constantly experimenting with how to participate. I don’t keep trying because I think the church does a good job of helping people grow spiritually, but because it is currently the most accessible way for me to be involved in the lives of other people in my community and to offer service. Perhaps I will naturally feel comfortable further limiting or discontinuing my participation when I am a practicing marriage and family therapist–maybe then I will feel like I have a meaningful way to interact, learn, and contribute in the community that can be sustained separate from the church.

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