In introduction to my friend’s post, I will include a few things before we get to her thoughts. In my last post I discussed many of the positive aspects of the LDS church. I’m honestly happy that many find their membership in the church to be positive and helpful for them in their lives. Being in the church was largely a good experience for me. Some would then ask, “So why did you leave?” For me it truly came down to integrity. As the church teaches that it is the one and only true church on the earth, if there is sufficient evidence that it is not, I personally couldn’t continue pretending that it was. And it’s uncomfortable feeling like you no longer belong. That your participation in church is not really wanted or allowed. As well as, in taking a step back, you begin to see the negative aspects that are there that were not noticeable before you began looking critically. But choosing to leave is a very painful decision and process.
Which brings me to this post. To break the suspense, this article was written by Kate Waldie, previously Kate Leishman. She has given permission to publish her name rather than remain anonymous. My father used to live across the street from her family and I would visit their ward when my brothers and I would stay with my dad every other weekend. I actually took Kate to my high school graduation! But I find it interesting that, looking back, I never would have expected her to one day leave the church. I will let her tell her own story but I think it is important to keep in mind that there are many in our situation that checked all the boxes of faithfulness until we decided, for one reason or another, to look deeper. We don’t choose to leave for no reason. We leave because the information that is available about the history of the church leaves few other options. Anyways, I’ll stop pontificating and let Kate share her experience.
When Dason first asked me to write this post, I took about a week to gather my thoughts and then sat down and wrote a looooong story. It was the story of how I came to leave the church.
Frankly, plus or minus a few details, my story is Dason’s story. It’s also the story of thousands of people who have left the church in the past few years.
What I really want to share, and for people to know, is how if feels to first have a change in faith, and then to decide to leave your faith community. This experience is mine, but I don’t think that I’m unique.
I am a 36-year-old woman. I’m a wife and stay at home mom with a university-level education. I was raised in the church, attended seminary and institute, was endowed and married in the temple, and I loved the church. I based all of life’s major decisions on it and it was everything to me...until it wasn’t.
I didn’t lose my faith in a single moment, day, week, month, or even year. It started with a sincere question, not unlike Joseph Smith. Like Joseph, I read the scripture in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him”. I asked God. I sincerely asked Him.
I asked Him to help me find the answer to my question (which quickly turned into many questions). I asked Him to help me read with faith. I asked Him for this every time I sat down to study. I believed that there were satisfying answers to my questions if I put in the effort to find them.
I’m not a writer. I don’t know how I can possibly find the words to adequately describe how it felt to be me during this harrowing period of my life, but I’ll try.
The first powerful emotion I felt was confusion. I felt so disoriented by the massive amount of information that I was reading straight from the church's own website. Although I suppose it wasn’t as much the amount of information, but rather that it was new to me. I felt confused.
I’d been an adult Sunday School teacher before and thought I knew a fairly complete history of the Restoration. I knew the doctrine and had studied both the scriptures and teachings of the current prophet. This was not the history I’d been taught.
I felt confused and then I felt betrayed and scared. Really scared. All of my questions seemed to boil down into one searing thought: “What if the church isn’t true?”. I was terrified to ask God for the answer to this question because I might get the answer that it wasn’t true, and I couldn't handle all that it would mean for my life and for my family.
My husband and I have walked this journey together, for which I’ll always be so grateful. I had him, and he had me. For many months, he was the only person that I talked to about any of this. I didn’t want ANYONE to know.
I told myself that if we lived the Gospel to the letter, then surely God would help me find a faithful path through this.
I didn’t want to alarm anyone, especially my family. I also didn’t want to change the way anyone in the church saw me. I’ve always been the faithful one. I was the annoying kid in seminary who always knew the answer. My patriarchal blessing told me that I would be a great scholar and teacher of the gospel. I was always the good one. I wondered, if the people at church knew about my doubts, would I feel ‘less than’? Or worse, would they even trust me?
For the next year or so, this is what I experienced every. single. day. Crippling fear. Fear that someone might find out. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to fix this mess. Most of all, fear that I might ask God for an answer and that I either wouldn’t get an answer, or it would be different than what I was hoping it would be.
I needed the church to be true.
One of the major problems that comes out of living in this limbo is the mental and physical exhaustion. It felt dishonest to go to church every Sunday and not share with those closest to me how I felt. Sitting through lessons that weren’t exactly accurate or missed the point completely felt like I was a human pressure cooker, ready to explode. The force of it made me physically ill. Migraines, stomach aches, and fatigue are just a few of the signs of the physical toll all of this was taking on my body.
My mental health began to deteriorate as well. The community of the church had always been my place, it’s where I belonged. Most of our friends and family are members. I told my husband many times that even if we decided that the church wasn’t true, we wouldn’t leave.
How could we?
One Sunday, I came home from church and felt I was finally ready. I knew what I had to do.
I’d read all the things...the books, the articles, the footnotes, the arguments (always, by the way, from the “right” sources”). I’d been fasting. I went into our bedroom and closed the door.
I knelt down on my knees and I poured my soul out to God.
My prayer was a very personal one. I’ll share that in it I asked God to tell me if I was being deceived. I literally cried to Him in the humblest and most sincere way that I knew how to answer my question, “Is the church true?”.
As a parent, I have learned a kind of love that I’ve never experienced before. I know that sometimes it’s better for my kids if I let them struggle, work for, and earn things. It isn’t good to just hand them everything in life. It was this logic that always kept me going when I felt like God wasn’t answering my prayers. I had to put in an effort to get answers, and I had to work for it first.
This particular day I realized that if there was an all-knowing God who unconditionally loved me as a Father, that knew my effort, knew my heart, my sincerity, then He would know what was on the line when I asked my question.
This wasn’t me asking for some trivial thing, I was asking the most important question I’d ever asked, the consequences of which could be spiritual life or death. I realized that if my own child came to me hungry, that I would never deny them the food they needed to survive. And I was spiritually starving. God had promised in James that He would give unto me liberally. Somehow in that moment, on my knees, I knew the answer.
I let it wash over me, and then I stood up... and I felt at peace.
After my experience of praying and deciding that the church wasn’t true, we still carried on as we always had for some time. We couldn’t make sense of leaving the community we loved.
This was an uncomfortable place to sit and eventually I had heard enough Sunday School comments, enough messages in General Conference, that even though I was told that there was a place for me in the church, in reality, the only place for me to be honest about where I stood would have been to be not trusted, not taken seriously, and ‘othered’. We needed to leave.
The thought was terrifying.
Something that I never realized before this all happened, was that leaving the church is an act of courage and integrity. I always saw people who left the church as weak, people who took the easier road. I was wrong.
Leaving the church is hard, but in doing so, I was doing what I’ve always been taught...to stand up for what I believe in. We decided that there are two main ways for people like us to exit the church.
The first way is what we call ‘the slow fade’. If we chose this route, we’d stop accepting big callings, slowly decrease our attendance, and eventually just fade away. The problem with leaving this way is that people assume you just got lazy with your faith or wanted to go to Waterton on Sundays. Almost like we got bored with the church or something.
I didn’t want people to think that about me. I wanted people to know this was a decision, an active choice.
The second way is to just leave. Be there one Sunday, and not the next. Cold turkey. The problem with this is that it can be shocking and abrupt. Gossip about why you left and assumptions that you’re angry or ‘anti’ are very common.
Neither of these options seemed appealing to us. My husband and I are VERY non confrontational people. We didn’t want to kick up a fuss, but we just couldn’t do the slow fade. We told our family and closest friends that we were leaving and then we asked our bishop to release us from our callings...and we were done.
I’ve always considered myself a fairly confident person. I didn’t think I really cared what people thought about me, but I’ve learned that I very much care about what my friends and family think of me.
In the weeks following our exit, I constantly wondered who knew, what was being said about us, and if we were going to have any relationships intact after this was all over. I worried people would be nervous around me.
Leaving the church is so hard, because even when you leave with no ill will, it still feels personal to the members who stay. It can feel like a personal rejection.
I wanted our friends and family to know that I’m still me. I wanted to feel understood. I wanted to show people that even though I don’t want to be part of the church, that I still want to be part of their lives.
It turns out that when you leave the church almost no one talks to you about it (I don’t blame them for this because I would do the same if I was in their shoes)...they ask your best friend instead.
My dear friend has fielded the brunt of the reactions from our community. She’s defended us, accepted us, and loved us. She’s invited us to her home with other couple friends so that they can get that awkward first meeting out of the way and see we’re still the same. She drug me on a girls trip that I almost stayed home from because I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. She’s loved me and made me feel normal. I know that I’m really lucky and it’s rare to have had this friend to bridge my transition.
I actually have to give a big shout out to pretty much all of my friends. They’ve given me a chance to prove that I’m ‘safe’ and have loved me. That is all we really need when we leave. We don’t want to be a project, we don’t want to be pitied, we don’t want to be viewed as deceived, we just want to be loved for who we are and feel respected.
I haven’t really gone into the family stuff. It’s an important part of this, but I honestly think it would take its own post to do it proper justice. I’m just going to say that it can be harder for families than it is for friends because of the doctrine of eternal families.
Our families have been loving and kind for the most part. My family is grieving and dealing with their belief that my choices are taking me away from eternity and from them...an empty chair at their table in Heaven. I’m trying to give them space to experience their grief, but it’s heavy.
Sometimes things are normal and easy. Other times, it feels raw and so very hard. It’s hard knowing that I’m the source of their pain. They are wonderful and even through their grief, they are showing me that what is important to them is our relationship.
I feel emotional writing this. It’s brought up a lot of memories and feelings that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to move on from. There’s so much more to say.
But here is what I hope:
If you are a believing family member or friend of someone who has left, just love them where they are...no motives behind it. Just love them and let them know that your relationship with them is the most important thing to you.
If you are someone who has lost your faith, who is thinking of leaving, or who has left...there’s hope. It doesn’t come all at once. Some days are harder than others. I’m still working on it.
It sounds so cheesy, but I found this nugget of wisdom while watching ‘Call the Midwife’. It pretty much sums up how I feel now, so here it is:
“We can decide to be happy, make much out of little, embrace the warmth of our ordinary days. Life unfolds as a mystery. An enterprise whose outcome cannot be foretold. We do not get what we expect...we stumble upon cracks, are faced with imperfection, bonds are tested and tightened, and our landscapes shift in sunshine and in shade. There is light. There is. Look for it. Look for it shining over your shoulder on the path. It was light where you went once, it is light where you are now, it will be light where you will go again.”
Also, PLEASE read this. I love it and it’s definitely worth your time.
Thanks to Dason for asking me to write this. It’s been hard, but it’s also been quite healing. It’s good to see how far I’ve come from that terrified and confused woman of four years ago. <3