Guilt has been a prevalent topic for me this week. I find the topic of guilt absolutely compelling. Guilt is such a motivator for so many people, Mormon and non-Mormon alike. Guilt is what drove my ex-husband from the church months before he'd ever touched another man. Guilt is something I personally have not experienced at all in my journey away from the church.
After posting this a few days ago, I got an email from my mom. For the first time, she expressed her feelings about my 'leaving' the church. I'll just sum it up for you by saying she has mourned my departure from it. I don't ridicule her for this. I don't in any way want to invalidate or belittle her very real and deep emotions on this subject.
What I do want to bring up in my post today is a specific part of her email that I found fascinating:
She believes that Guilt is part of the reason I couldn't stand being in the church building on Sunday or set foot on the ground of Temple Square in Salt Lake City back in April. Guilt on my part. Guilt for my dissent. Guilt for no longer adhering to the Word of Wisdom. Guilt for being sexually active with someone I am not legally and lawfully wed to.
What fascinated me was that even after I have written here on my blog, in more than one post, my feelings of hurt and deep disappointment with the church, 'guilt' is still the place she goes.
On the one hand, I see my anxiety and severe, negative physical reactions to being on church grounds as a result of the betrayal and loss of trust I've felt with Mormonism.
On the other hand, my mother, and I'm sure many many other active Mormons, sees these negative reactions as a product of my guilt.
I learned a few years ago in therapy that guilt is not only the opposite of constructive, but it is simply a cover emotion for something deeper.
To be fair, my mother did state that she believed my guilt was only part of something bigger- remembering. Remembering somewhere deep in my soul that it's all true. That my involvement in the 'one true church' was the best part of who I was, once upon a time.
I was breaking this all down with Jeremy last night. He vocalized something I found thought-provoking, and I asked him to write his thoughts down for me. His thoughts were less about guilt specifically and more about what active, faithful Mormons think of those who are no longer practicing/believing. This is what he wrote:
As an ordained missionary in the New York New York South Mission I often found myself conducting a sort of "damage control" with people I spoke to concerning common misconceptions about Mormons. I often found myself baffled at how badly misinformed the average person was about the LDS experience. "How many wives will I get if I join yer church?" "You don't believe in Jesus!" "I heard you worship Joseph Smith" and my favorite, "My cousin who is a Mormon says he has to keep his garments on when he has relations with his wife" (I'm not making that up)
All of us have experienced it at one time or another; having to course-correct a friend or perhaps a stranger whose collective knowledge about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints comes from Christian literature and South Park. It can often be frustrating and time consuming for members of the church to have to deal with these objections, but we do. We patiently respond, with love and with kindness so that we may in turn open the lines of communication and share our testimonies.
Fast forward ten years.
As a non-practicing, non-believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I have found myself having to defend my motives from active members of the church concerning exactly why I left the faith. I often laugh at the irony of the position I find myself in, when a member of the church tries to inform me of the real reasons I left as if they have a Urim & Thummim which peers into the deepest chasms of my soul. "It's because of the anti-mormon literature" "Have you been looking at porn?" "You weren't reading your scriptures daily" and my personal favorite, "Well then maybe you just weren't living it right." (No true, Scottsman)
Ladies and gentleman, I hope I have made myself clear that I have experienced life on two very opposite sides of the veil, and I have something I would like to say; We need to start a dialogue between members who are still active, and members who have, as is often whispered about them, "fallen away" (another misleading myth about apostasy). If you are an active member, I ask that you please put yourself in the shoes of the outsider for a moment. The outsider who on my mission thought that Mormons did not believe in Jesus. The outsider who since my exodus thinks the only possible answer is that I must have given into influence of the adversary.
My purpose in this is not to mock faith nor challenge your testimony. I come to you now with the same sincerity I carried with me on the streets of Brooklyn ten years ago to tell you in no uncertain terms that many of the conclusions which you may have reached concerning your brothers and sisters who have left the faith are quite malformed.
~Elder Jeremy J. Minagro
New York New York South Mission 2000-2001
I don't draw any conclusions here in the post about this conundrum, because it's just the start of a conversation. Again, my mother was very loving and gentle in her words that she emailed to me. I think that gentility is paramount in starting a dialogue between the believers and former-believers of Mormonism- a dialogue which I think most people on both sides of the fence aren't interested in having and would rather avoid.