It’s the time of year when my thoughts turn back to several important things that have impacted me. This is also my last year in my fourties which may add to some of this reminiscing. The end of summer and fall always seem to bring a feeling of introspection as the nights begin to get a little cooler and you anticipate the last blooms of summer. Seasons are a wonderful thing as they offer new adventures, anticipation, traditions and experiences. They can also generate some nostalgia, discomfort and even fear/dislike. Change can be uncomfortable.
I experienced a major change in my life about this time in 2013 as I Let Go of a very significant relationship. This decision resulted in ripples that reached out and affected many others in my life. With those ripples came a variety of experiences and emotions: relief, self awareness/acceptance, knowledge, comfort, a willingness to embrace ambiguity, a new beginning and a much deeper understanding of my life up to that point. It also brought with it: concern, isolation from others, dissappointment, discouragement, moments of loneliness, anger, hurt and at times tears.
The most painful aspect of this transition was the challenge I experienced in attempting to communicate what was happening to those around me. Walls went up. Barriers were errected. Assumptions were made. Relationships were strained. Judgements were made. Things were said that were painful. My attempts to open up conversations regarding my experience, my feelings, my perspectives and decisions were often met with painful silence or it was made clear those conversations were not wanted. It didn’t matter how respectfully I tried to do this. This was shocking to me when some of these were with people I had close relationships with. People that I desperately cared about and wanted to open up with. I often felt unable to share why I was feeling the way I did. Why after a lifetime I was making this big decision. This enormous change was met with silence, saddness and discussion was often completely avoided. There were moments of extreme discomfort. There were lots of tears in my bedroom as I felt like I had tape put on my mouth. I was being told (through words or action) that I should just stop trying to reach out and bridge these conversations. That it was too uncomfortable. I was told I should just focus on other things, positive stuff, stuff we still had in common and avoid any topic that broached on something that had to do with the church. Of course this was super challenging because so much that is meaningful in life touches on topics that connect with church opinions/beliefs! I believed I had fairly good communication skills and yet I often found myself unable to figure out how to have these conversations. At times I blundered with my attempts and I’m sure I said things that hurt others. I was keenly aware that I lacked experience (and perhaps some skills) needed in order to navigate this in my relationships. I bumbled along attempting to learn and understand why this was so much harder than I thought it was going to be.
For some of my believing Mormon relationships, interaction became quite challenging if we veered off “safe” topics (weather, kids, hobbies). They genuinely felt uncomfortable. They didn’t know how to have conversations about my faith transition. They were concerned about what might come out in those conversations. They didn’t really want to know what my experience was or why I had made this decision. Some came to their own conclusions about why this had happened. Some believed I had been misled, misinformed and had let myself become spiritually lazy. Some believed challenges in my life had just worn me down and I had lost my way. They were honestly sad about what had happened. They viewed it as a tragedy. They had concerns about what would happen to me, how this would change me and if my life was going to be negatively affected. They did not know how to navigate this and had also not been given the skills to do so. They had been taught that disagreement was contentious. Their relationship with the church was too deep and it felt too personal. Often they were encouraged to avoid the types of discussions that might result in information/perspectives that might not be faith promoting. Fear about what those conversations might include seemed to be a common experience. Fear about the impact they might have. Fear that they might not be able to have them without damaging our relationship, their views of the church or their testimony. It seemed, that for many, engaging with a post Mormon was way more challenging than a non-member. After all, I had rejected something they held dear and true.
I learned that my experience was not unique. It was being felt and lived by many others navigating this. Not only those that ended up transitioning out of Mormonism, but those that transitioned away from a more orthodox approach. It seemed like, for many, there was a vast lake of differences that couldn’t be crossed. People were standing on different parts of the shore unable to understand or engage with someone in another spot.
I wondered if there was anything that could be done in order to bridge these challenges. Could something be created that helped people understand each other better? Was it possible to create something that could showcase and demonstrate love and support between people who had different relationships with Mormonism? How could I help people find each other when they were experiencing this so they didn’t feel so alone? Was there a way to connect people so they could learn what had worked for others and how to navigate these challenges? Was there a way to explain, define and showcase the differing views and perspectives to help foster better understanding?
That started an intense project. About this same time in 2015 we launched Mormon Spectrum and I attempted to explain why I had created it. Since that initial release at Sunstone we’ve added a lot more content. We’ve expanded the MSiP and new groups continue to be registered and listed. We’ve added new resources with the goal of providing a full range of content for exploring, unorthodox and post/ex Mormons.
And through it all my hope is that this experience can be less painful for others. That we can help bridge the challenges. That we can show in a very visual way that it’s possible for us to do this despite these differences. That each of us deserves respect, love and support. I firmly believe we can learn to do this and help model that in our daily interactions. I believe we can discard the black/white thinking that often makes this harder and which all of us have a tendancy toward. I believe if we are willing to learn about our differences it will broaden our understanding of each other, help us be more empathetic and draw closer to each other. I believe if we are willing to learn from each others experiences (and mistakes/successes) this will help us gain the skills to navigate this with those we care about. I believe if we are willing to have the difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations, our relationships will become more vulnerable and therefore more meaningful. I believe it’s OK to disagree and to come to different conclusions. I believe that when we decide that our relationships are truly important enough to learn how to have these conversations…… we are showing true unconditional love. I believe when we choose to avoid generalizations, stereotypes and assumptions about each other…. and instead engage/ask questions/listen and seek to understand….this is when our relationships become significant and impactful.
And really isn’t that what all of us want? That’s the amazing thing ….. no matter who you are. We share so many similar desires. When it comes to life we yearn for: meaning, purpose, significance, relationships, memories, happiness, intimacy, fulfillment, enjoyment, love and acceptance. Our diversity, in how we pursue and achieve these goals, is what creates a beautiful world.
One of my hopes for Mormon Spectrum is that it can be one of the things that help us reach each other across our relationship lakes. My hope is we’ll be willing to take those trips, through conversations, to reach each other. To see and fully understand each other. To slog through the hard times. To learn the skills needed in order to do this successfully. To be patient with each other. To be willing to push past our comfort zones.
My hope is we can learn to appreciate, respect and accept the view each of us are experiencing….wherever we are on the lake.