In 2005 (at my little sister’s bridal shower) my mother rebuked me for purchasing my own “trashy lingerie” for my honeymoon instead of using the beautiful and elegant nightgowns she’d given me for the occasion.
“You didn’t know I knew about that, did you?” she asked with a resentful edge in her voice, her eyes gleaming with the bitter triumph of announcing a secret betrayal.
I was mortified. This night wasn’t about me. I’d come to support my sister as she prepared to marry her sweetheart. But every person in the room was looking at me, the weight of their eyes making me self-conscious. Color drained from my face.
“I uh . . . how?” I stammered.
“I did your laundry, remember? Just a few years back, when I helped you clean the house after you’d returned from your honeymoon.” She clenched her fists in her lap, and my mouth went dry. I remembered the incident well.
In Mormon Diaries Sophia L. Stone tells a story of growing up Mormon, getting married in the temple, having kids with her Mormon husband, and then leaving the church. Her story is similar to Ingrid Ricks’s “Hippie Boy” in that Mormonism isn’t the root cause of the author’s problems — the root problem is poisonous, dysfunctional relationships, as illustrated by the quote above — but Mormonism doesn’t help. Indeed, quite the opposite.
Stone describes growing up in a codependent relationship with her mother (“I’d appointed myself the keeper of her moods”) and later feeling powerless when caught in the middle of a power struggle between her husband and her mother. Her attempt to write an article to prove that Mormon women aren’t oppressed ended up being the catalyst that started her questioning (and eventually rejecting) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This happened shortly after she realized that she needed to “break up” with her mother, and the self-confidence she found through her disaffection from the church helped her to build the necessary boundaries in her relationships.
Stone’s description of growing up focused on pleasing others is fascinating and poignant. The scene that really stood out for me was the following:
And so, when the prayer ended and I felt nothing but the air around me, I convinced myself I’d felt something the same way a child who believes in Santa runs through the house on Christmas Eve announcing they’ve seen flying reindeer.
I stood and said, “I feel it!”
But in the moments that followed, when people were shaking my hand and there was no time for confession, regret washed over me.
I had lied.
So on the day after my baptism and confirmation, I sat in Fast & Testimony Meeting while people got up one by one and said, “I’d like to bear my testimony that I know the church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet and that we have the one pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Many of them told stories about their family, some recounted experiences when they’d felt the spirit. But when one man in particular spoke about my baptism and confirmation, saying how my countenance had glowed when I stood and said, “I feel it!” my stomach twisted with guilt.
“I didn’t really feel anything,” I whispered to my dad. “Should I go up and tell everyone the truth?”
I’d been taught all my life to be honest, and my impulse to go up to the pulpit and confess my sin was almost unbearable. I could, in fact, think of nothing more important than correcting the lie I’d told.
My father, however, knew people better than I did. He knew perfectly well what was appropriate in a Sunday service. He knew what I did not, that there’d been conflict amongst some in the congregation over what kinds of stories were appropriate to tell in church. So while I had no idea what was going through his mind at that moment, I’m sure what he said next was his way of looking out for me.
“Don’t do that, sweetheart. You wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s testimony.”
The core of Sophia Stone’s story is her deconversion and how it affected her relationships — themes that are familiar to many of us. However, her book is an engaging and well-crafted narrative, not just a diatribe against the CoJCoL-dS. I recommend it as an enjoyable read for anyone who interested in how religion affects life.