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My Wife’s Story

I’m a 28-year-old woman, and I have never prayed to know if the church was true.

I have had experiences that gave me a testimony of things like prayer, repentance, and God. Somehow, somewhere along the line I attributed these experiences to the fact that I was a member of the church and that must be why I was blessed to have had received spiritual witnesses of these things. My experiences combined with the testimonies of so many people around me that they knew the church was true became my testimony of the truthfulness of the church.

I was born into a Mormon family. A very Mormon family. And while we didn’t always have regular family home evenings and nightly prayers were not consistent, my parents made it very clear that we were Mormon and there was no other choice than the structured beliefs and commands set forth for us by the church. In my teenage years I experienced some turbulence and professed to not believe the church was true at times, but in my head I always thought it was, I only said those things to drive my parents crazy and to have an excuse to make decisions that were not in line with the church teachings. At a certain point when I was 17 years old I decided to “come back to the fold” and the feeling of respect and pride I felt from everyone in my family at that time also cemented my feelings about the truthfulness of the church deep into my psyche. If it felt so good to come back after repenting and humbling myself, it must be true, right?

I think many times over the years I have looked back on that rocky period in my life before I came back as both an exhilarating and guilt-ridden time. I made choices that were truly mine for the first time in my life. I was guided by my instincts, my feelings, and my desires. I felt deeply, loved fully, and made friendships that remain to this day. But with every toe I stepped outside the line the church had drawn for me, I felt deeply guilty for the disappointment I caused my parents. I took those feelings of guilt at the time to also mean that the spirit was telling me that my choices were wrong. Eventually, when I grew weary of the constant conflict with my family over my life choices and the feelings of guilt I attributed to the “spirit”, I repented and changed my life. I vividly remember thinking that I wanted to marry a better guy than the ones I had been dating and if I came back to the church I could have that cookie-cutter perfect life that we are taught to aspire to within the Mormon church. My parents were thrilled.

A few years later I met my husband- an upstanding, clean-cut, returned missionary attending BYU- and as is typical in the church; we were married less than a year later. I was a barely 20-year-old bride. I remember my experiences as I attended the temple to receive my endowment as the first time that I ever felt doubtful about the church or its teachings. Because I was afraid and there is no sufficient preparation for entering the temple your first time- I did a little bit of internet research beforehand to calm my nerves. My research had the opposite effect however, and I sobbed through my entire first endowment session. I specifically remember one point when I sat with a room full of other brides and their mothers as a temple worker spoke to us about the care and wearing of our garments. I remember looking down the row of all the women about to receive their endowment and I saw how their faces were glowing with happiness and excitement at what lay ahead in the ceremony. I was jealous. I felt that I obviously must be missing something because all I felt was nervous, repulsed, and truly frightened by the secret ceremonies of my religion. I thought for a moment that it might be a cult and I was just too indoctrinated to know it. That thought passed quickly though and then I just longed to sit next to my fiance during the ceremonies, to have him hold my hand to reassure me. It bothered me immensely to be across the room from him through such an emotional ordeal. I cried the whole way home after I made the signs and promises I was obviously not ready to make. I made them anyways because I wanted desperately to get married a week later to the man I was in love with, and I was afraid of what people would think of me if I didn’t do as I was supposed to. I was afraid that my fiance might not want to marry me if I didn’t marry him in the temple, and that was a much more frightening option than making the weird signs and covenants. On the drive home my fiance actually pulled the car over and held me, reassuring me that the temple ceremonies may have seemed a bit strange but that I would understand them more with time.

My understanding of the sacred temple ceremonies never came.

As the years went by my husband and I attended the temple sporadically. At times we attributed it to not enough spare time, lack of childcare, distance from the temple, and a dozen other reasons. Now looking back, we just needed excuses. Neither of us every felt excited to be there. The times I did attend the temple the best part of it was when it was over and I felt like I had done my duty and didn’t have to feel guilty again about not attending for a while. I believed what I was always taught that understanding and enjoyment of the temple ceremonies came with lots of time and experience in the temple. I thought that the fault was mine if I didn’t feel the spirit there. Since I felt that this was my own problem and fault, I never shared these feelings with anyone, not even my husband. For 7 years we hid our own insecurities about the temple from each other. We had both grown up in the church and I believe the teachings of the church shaped us to feel embarrassed and ashamed to have doubts.

Our marriage has been a happy one. I always tell people how we are the perfect example of how opposites attract. My husband fits and molds into all the spaces in life where I am lacking. He is my own personal superhero, ready to rescue me from the difficulties in everyday life like washing dishes and paying the electric bill. He is funny, and smart and selfless. He is so many things that I am not.

One night in August of last year he came to me and told me that he no longer believed the church was true. And my world fell apart.

I was left speechless at first after he told me, then I left the room without saying a word. What do you say to someone when they tell you that the life you had planned with them will no longer be possible? I went for a walk that night, needing to get away from him before I said things I could never take back. As I walked the streets, I tried desperately to find the words to convince him to come back, the understanding in my heart to not hate him, and the faith to fight for my beliefs from that moment on. Yet, for some reason that night, I found that I kept coming back to the same thought- “He’s right. The church is not true”. Of course I pushed this thought into the far recesses of my brain as quickly as possible. I thought it was the whisperings of Satan as I’m sure other members of the church would think.

The next few weeks are a blur. I know that there were days when I couldn’t even get out of bed. Days where my husband had to stay home from work and care for our children because I was so sad I couldn’t function. There were days at a time when I wouldn’t talk to him at all, I was too hurt and angry. I blamed him alone for losing his testimony. I felt that it was selfish that he had explored his feelings about the church and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t true without every telling me he had doubts. I felt that he couldn’t really love me if he would do something like this to me. I worried that he didn’t love me anymore and he would not only leave the church but me as well. So much of the assumptions and conclusions I made at that time I am ashamed to admit now because I wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt and I imagined the worst of him. My actions were emotion based and I came very close to losing everything I value in this life because I wanted to wallow in sadness rather than be strong.

I clearly remember having the thought that members of the church that I knew would think I should leave my husband. That thought made me the most sad of all. The judgements of others about what kind of man my husband was, or the happiness of our marriage due to him leaving the church were the assumptions I feared the most. My husband is a GOOD man. He is a great father and a wonderful husband. The idea that he would not be worthy of my love anymore because of this was the worst assumption I think anyone could make.

My dear sweet husband stood by me during this hard time. He withstood the verbal attacks I bombarded him with. He defended himself and his character with honesty and humility. He tried to gently help me understand where he was coming from and why he made his decision. He never pushed me to hear the information that I wasn’t ready to listen to. He was unfailingly supportive, open, and loving. He also made it clear that I could believe whatever I wanted to believe and he would respect me no matter what.

There came a point when I realized that I was at a major juncture. I had a decision to make. I could ignore the things that my husband had researched that destroyed his testimony in the church. I could turn a blind eye to them, continue on as a believing Mormon with an inactive husband, bringing our three children to church on my own. I could refuse to communicate about a large portion of our life, marriage, and future…but I may never respect my husband and his reasons for falling away and I would resent him every time I had to attend church alone. I would feel pangs of sadness every time they taught about eternal marriage in church meetings and he wasn’t there with me. I would grow more and more resentful as time passed at the decision he had made without me…

…or I could research those things myself and come to my own conclusions. I could find out for myself if the church was true. I may come to a greater testimony with the knowledge I uncovered, but at least I would respect him and the nature of his reasons. We would be able to have open discussions about the facts and what they meant to each of us. Or I may find out that the church is not true and then we could be on the same religious page. Either way,  it seemed best to find out for myself. After all, that is what we are taught in the church- to find out for yourself if it’s true.

So I did.

I researched, I pondered the information I uncovered and what it meant, I discussed these things with him from time to time, and I spent a lot of time on my knees asking the big question- “Is the church true?”. If ever there was a time in my life when I needed a solid answer to that question, it was now! I hadn’t committed any sins that I knew of that should prevent me from receiving the spiritual answer I so desperately wanted, unless wanting to know the truth can be considered a sin. I was worthy, I had pure intent, and I asked. And no one answered. Time and time again, I asked, and no answer came.

There came a point during this time when I read a specific paper by Richard Packham about how you can tell if the feelings you receive are from God or the devil (if there are two such beings). This was a turning point for me. I finally understood that the feelings I had over the years don’t necessarily mean the church is true. Those feelings could come from Satan, they could be an emotional response to the situations I was in, or it could also be the way I was taught to feel my whole life. None of those spiritual experiences standing alone make the church true. Even grouped together they cannot stand up against the mountain of information I uncovered that made it impossible in my mind that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. And if Joseph Smith was not what he claimed to be, the rest of my testimony of the church crumbled with very little effort. I read this paper immediately after a sincere and heartfelt prayer. I felt led to read it. Once I had read it I felt the warm peaceful feelings I had always attributed to the spirit.

I guess I got my answer after all.

Once I stepped back from the situation, and thought the church might not be true, suddenly everything made sense. My feelings in the temple, my experiences as a teenager, my feelings about Prop 8…It all finally made sense. Because the only thing that solved all the historical problems, all the doctrines I never felt good about (polygamy!), and the feelings I have had over the years was that the church was not true. It shocked me how relieved I felt when I could finally admit it. It all made sense.

I have long since forgiven my husband for never expressing his doubts to me over the years. I have realized that even though I didn’t consciously realize I was having doubts, I never shared any feelings I had about the church with him either. Our marriage is in a better place than it ever has been before. I guess when your husband tells you one of the worst things you can imagine, and you stay together and work through it, you feel like you can share everything with each other.

At one point he shared this thought with me that has helped me a great deal at a time when I just wanted to point fingers and make it all his fault:

“It’s as if we got married and began to talk about how we wanted to go on a trip somewhere, let’s say France, together someday. Both of us wanted to go there very much so we began to plan, and save, and dream about what it would be like to visit. We both looked forward to going, but you especially were excited about the trip. And because I love you so much, I really wanted to make it a great trip for you. So I looked up great things we could do when we got there, I researched how to prepare to visit France, and I started learning the language. I really wanted to make it memorable and incredible for you, because then it would be a great trip for me as well. However, as time went on and I did more research and study, I began to realize that France might not exist. I didn’t tell you right away because I didn’t want to upset you and I wasn’t sure yet. I also turned a blind eye to the signs for a while because I didn’t want to face the fact that France might not be real. But when the mountain of evidence became too great to deny, I had to tell you, because I knew now that we would never get to go there. I am not sorry that I found out, I’m just sorry that it doesn’t exist.”

Sometimes I am still sad that the cookie-cutter life of a Mormon mother, wife, and daughter does not exist for me anymore. I’m sad that getting to the eternities with my family is no longer something I know for sure I can do by simply checking things off a list given to me by people who say they know. I’m sad that I don’t always know what to think or do anymore without someone laying it out for me in such a defined way. Sometimes I am sad that I no longer fit into the community of believers and I don’t know that there is really a place where I fit in anywhere.

But the sadness passes quickly, and it as almost always replaced with peace. Now the world is full of endless possibilities for me. I had sometimes felt like the exciting part of my life was over now that I was in my 20’s, with three kids and a husband. I thought the only thing left for me was to hunker down and endure to the end. What a gift it is to have my eyes opened to the freedom and excitement of a life without boundaries. A life where I decide what makes sense to me, what I believe in, and what values and morals I will instill in my children. I used to dread the years when my kids would be teenagers, but now I am excited for that time, because I have high hopes that I now can be the kind of mother who loves my children no matter what and embraces them for who and what they are regardless.

Yes, sometimes I am still sad that there is no France.

But I am already beginning to plan new fun adventures for me and my family, and this time, I am sure they will be real.

Next Step: What Do I Do Now?

One Comment
  1. Brookec permalink

    So, I’m sitting on a blue bench at the local swimming pool in our city, reading your story, and crying like a baby. I want to tell all these people looking strangely at me that I just discovered a true hero. But, of course, they wouldn’t understand those long nights of pain, those heart wrenching days of horror. So, I’ll lick my tears silently away, and share it just between you and I. You are a hero. One of those super hero ones.

    Courage, honesty, integrity. And a willingness to zip open your soul and share yourself. You’ll be blessed over and over again for being that sort of a person. And you can count me, officially, as one of your very first groupies. Adore you so, dear girl!

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