Follow Anne Marie

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For anyone who has seen the Broadway Musical, The Book of Mormon, you may be familiar with the phrase “Mormons just believe.” It’s a catchy line from one of the songs from the show, but more than that, it is so true of Mormons, in general. And I would know. Because I am a Mormon who “just believed” for thirty years.

I have all the “Mormon cred” to back myself up. I was born in Utah, the land that my not-so-distant ancestors followed Brigham Young to as they crossed over the Rocky Mountains from the Midwest in their covered wagons. Although I was not raised in Utah, I returned to “Zion” for college, where I graduated from Brigham Young University and met and married my husband in the iconic Salt Lake Temple. I hardly ever missed a day of church in my whole life. I was as Mormon as they come.

That all changed in the summer of 2012, when I happened upon some unsettling information about the history of my beloved church. I began to study and evaluate my beliefs and their origins. After intense internal struggle, I found myself drawn to atheism, the logic of which finally brought peace to my troubled soul. This past spring I decided to start a blog to chronicle my faith journey in hopes that my stories might be of comfort to others in similar situations. I started with one reader, my husband. In an attempt to help me share my story, he posted a link to my blog on Reddit, and I went from zero page views to hundreds of page views within a few hours. It was really exciting and intimidating all at the same time, and somehow the adrenaline of that moment gave me the last push I needed to finally call my extremely devout Mormon mom and tell her my story (well, not my whole story. I’m not that brave/crazy!).

Over the past three years, I played this conversation out in my head hundreds of times. I’ve written letters that never got sent; I’ve agonized over what to say; and anytime I saw “Mom” come up on my caller ID my heart would start racing, because what if this would be the time she would finally ask? I live a few hours from my parents, and we only see each other a few times a year, but I knew she had noticed my lack of garments (even though I’ve been very careful about not being obvious about it) or at least suspected something was up. The anxiety I was loading on myself over this inevitable conversation was getting to be too much.

I am a list maker. If I know something needs to get done, I make a list and I have a very hard time having things on my list that are not crossed off. Telling my mom about my non-belief had been on my imaginary “To Do” list for far too long, and I felt like I needed to cross that off my list in order to move on with my life in a more healthy, less anxiety filled way.

So I paced around the house with my phone in hand rehearsing phrases like “I just want you to know that this was not a decision I came to lightly,” and “I have never prayed and fasted more sincerely than I did after I came across these difficult things,” and anything else I could think of that would help her understand that I’m not just lazy or bored with church. I kept rehearsing and pacing, stalling more and more as I psyched myself up to actually make the call. Finally, I just closed my eyes and pushed call.

Unfortunately, the conversation went just as I expected it would. I said what I wanted to say, but I didn’t feel like she really heard me. She went on and on about how she had to study and pray a lot to get a testimony of Joseph Smith, as if I hadn’t just told her that I did the same thing just with different results. She pulled the “I can’t help but feel like a failure” card and “This is so hard for me because I believe in eternity” and “are you still keeping the standards?” (BTW, what does that even mean or matter as long as I’m still a good person…which I had to explain to her that I still am…). I told her I would answer any questions that she had, but I also would understand if she would rather not talk about it. I wish she didn’t actually take me up on the questions thing. When my mom asked me if I still believe in Heavenly Father, and my real answer is “no” but I knew that would break her heart, I ended up saying “I don’t know, but I’m okay with not knowing.” After lots of tears (mostly on her part) and mutual assurances that we still love each other (this should be a red flag about your religion if these assurances as necessary…), the call ended amicably with an unspoken deal to agree to disagree and pretend like nothing had changed—true to our Mormon culture, we don’t like to draw attention to anything awkward or unpleasant in my family.

Even though I had expected these responses all along and had braced myself for them, when I hung up the phone I was so angry with my mom. I was physically sick to my stomach and I definitely didn’t feel that weight lifted off my shoulders like I was hoping to feel. It seems like everyone on the ex-Mormon Internet is always so relieved to be open about finally being able to “live an authentic life.” The only relief I got was that I could finally cross this off of my list, but mostly I just felt sick.

It’s a strange feeling to be so angry with someone and know you shouldn’t be. I was in her shoes once. I believed it all at one point. I can’t blame her for her reaction. In her mind, she no longer has the perfect family that she used to have, that she worked so hard for. She has done everything she was supposed to do. She dragged us all to church every week. We rarely missed Family Home Evening, Family Scripture Study, or Family Prayers. She did it all by the book, and I am the first one of her five children to stop believing. But my lack of belief has no validity in her world. She cannot understand it. It’s not her fault that she has been indoctrinated and programmed her whole life to feel this way. So why am I digging up all of these resentful and angry feelings towards her, when I know it’s not her fault?

I don’t know if I’m glad I came out and told her the truth or not. Part of me wishes I had just left it unsaid and let her think what she wanted. Then I wouldn’t have to feel this anger toward her and then the guilt for being angry at her. But I’m also the kind of person who still cares what other people think of me, and I felt like I needed to let her know it wasn’t just me being lured away by an easier lifestyle. There was nothing easy about losing my belief in Mormonism, and I want her to know that. I can’t take it back now, so I just have to hope that she heard me even a little bit and be thankful it wasn’t worse. It definitely could have been.

[Photo credit to Jon Collier]

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