Friday, March 2, 2012

Just Because it's Change Does't Always Mean it's Growth (pt. 1)

One sad truth I've learned over the years is that, while there are still lessons to be learned in my middle-aged life, a good many of them will come as a result of much pain and sadness. One thing I cherish about my kids is that they've allowed me to see the world again through eyes that haven't become cynical through experience. I see them each day and wonder if my dad had the same trepidation as I do now, watching them grow and struggling to find a balance between protecting them from the hard parts of life and letting them experience enough to become inured to them.

I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Each branch of my family history is replete with stories of the faith and sacrifice of my ancestors, who chose this path before the cast was even set. My parents were raised in an old fashioned Mormonism that began to fade in its cultural mainstream before I was even born. As I grew up I realized that my home existed in a generation of Mormonism that was at least 30 years behind the one in which my friends were being raised. I appreciate that fact and have always been thankful for the parents who raised me. The LDS church is not only my religion, it defines who I am and is the prism through which I see my life and my whole family tree.

Over the years I have questioned my faith a number of times. I often get the feeling I know a bit more about Mormonism's storied beginnings than the average congregant, but I've still discovered doctrines, events, and questions that called for answers I had to find to my own satisfaction. I don't make a habit of looking for answers among those who spend their time denigrating the LDS church, but I've never accepted the idea that I should only look to sanitized sources either. I'd rather learn the truth about things (where it can be established) and decide from there. Each time this has happened I've come to the ultimate conclusion that "the church" is where I belong. It's where God wants me and where I want to live my life. It's who I am. I feel God's presence most in my life when I strive to live in the way I was taught.

Before my first son was born I found myself questioning almost every aspect of my life. I'd been pondering the meaning of truth and whether I identified as a Mormon because my parents and family did or whether I truly believed it was the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith taught that truth is something to be embraced, no matter where it ultimately leads. The question that came to my mind was whether I was following the truth (God) or following man. Any man. I came to understand that following God was the only choice I wanted to embrace and that I needed to do so even if it meant His leading me out of the only church I'd ever known. I didn't think He was going to, but I had to be open to the idea if I was going to ask for God's guidance and be willing to follow it, no matter what.

It was at that point that I made the biggest mistake of my marriage. Not that it was wrong to do so, but it proved to show a divide between my wife and I that, ultimately, was never closed. I approached my ex and explained everything I'd been pondering. Over the few years we'd been married she'd often complained that I didn't trust her enough; that I wasn't open to her in sharing my innermost thoughts. I wanted to though, and here was a chance.

My ex was also raised in the LDS church. Her past was a little more colorful than some, but when we dated I made a point of inquiring about (and she made a point of expressing) her commitment to and belief in our shared faith. When she was pregnant and I explained to her what I was thinking she didn't say much, but I knew immediately that I should have been silent on the matter. Within a few days she confronted me with a lecture and made sure that I understood she would never allow our son to be raised outside of the church. The best way I can frame the conversation is to describe it as less than charitable. I found later that she'd gone to various family members and others to express my "apostasy," and our relationship was never the same. There were at least two major events later in our marriage when she brought up these events. Each time it was done to emphasize that I would never measure up as far as church matters were concerned, and that she deserved better. The circumstances behind her bringing that up struck me as quite ironic once I (later) learned why, but that can wait for my next post.

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