Disjointed conversations

My parents are wonderful and very conservative, orthodox members of the church. They feel a need to bear their testimonies to me and let me know they believe. I understand totally that this comes from what they hear at church. They feel responsible for and so sad about my change in belief. It’s hard: they will send me little emails about stuff, but if I reply back and express things I never get a response.

I get that. They probably don’t know what to say but it means the exchanges are never really a discussion. They express stuff to me and then if I try to engage…silence. It’s odd. I wish we could actually TALK. I wish we could actually share what we are thinking, listen, ask questions and then express love and respect for each other’s choices. I wish this didn’t have to be the big huge fat elephant in the room that we dance around but can’t actually look at and talk about.

This was the email I received yesterday which included the link to the church video Because of Him

Dear Alison!

I realize that at this point in your life you have many doubts, but I just hope you will watch this very brief video on your computer and consider it as my Easter greeting just for you. And please know that your old dad still believes it with all his heart and one day in the not-too-distant future will find out if it is in fact true.

Love you! Dad & Mom

I didn’t want to remain silent. They want to express themselves; I’d like to do the same. If they bring it up and share something I feel like that opens the door. I don’t want to pretend. I want to be me and authentic. I want to engage and not have this weird superficial relationship where all we talk about is the weather, gardening and what’s happening with the kids.  So I sent this in response:

Dad & Mom,

I love you back. Thanks for sending me a little love note today on Easter. I watched the video and it was beautifully done and I can see how it would touch you. The message of believing that there is something after death is comforting and gives people hope that there is something after this life. I can totally appreciate that.

The messages about the atonement and repentance can also be comforting for people who believe they need to repent from sin. That’s an interesting concept to me now. The idea that God would have his son suffer and die so that everybody else could be forgiven for their sins is not so comforting to me anymore. It makes me sad to think he would set things up this way and would require that. It’s not a beautiful story to me. It seems cruel and is hard for me to understand as a parent. It’s also confusing that because his son died this would impact everybody else’s choices/sins and allow them to repent. To believe that without his suffering/dying our Heavenly parents wouldn’t forgive the rest of their children for mistakes just doesn’t fit with anything my experience has taught me about loving parents. You guys have always loved me no matter what and I do the same for my children. To set up a system where there are such strict rules and specific things you have to do in order to be together again just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially when some of those rules are unhealthy and detrimental to some people. When people are just trying to do their best and when his instructions/information is so confusing that you have people all over the place trying to figure it out…coming up with different answers and interpretations. Not only that but the information he’s given is filled with mistakes, contradictory stuff and misinformation. To set up a plan like this, and then have punishments for not figuring it out correctly, just makes no sense to me.

I believe if there is a God he will be more loving and more like the type of parent I am trying to be. Someone who understands and wants me to succeed. Someone who knows my heart and that I’m trying to figure it out. Someone that will embrace me and empathize with me when I have hard times. Someone who lets me learn and grow but doesn’t tell me exactly what that has to look like and exactly what I have to do in order to be “rewarded”. Because we are all different and have different needs and experiences. I believe he knows the person I am and the effort I’ve put into trying to understand it all. If I die and find there is something more after this life I hope and believe he will take all of that into consideration. I don’t want to believe in the God of the scriptures (especially not the Old Testament), the God of the rules and strict black/white definitions of what your life has to look like and what’s OK to do and not OK. I don’t want to believe in a God that would set up a plan like I was taught in the church.

I’m choosing to live my life without being driven by guilt/shame/fear about what if. I’m choosing to love, accept, support myself and let go of the worry/fear/guilt about rules/mistakes/perfection. I’m choosing to not live with the fear of what if I’m wrong? I’m going to go forward and try my best to be a good person, live life honestly, treat people with respect/acceptance/love, support others in their choices and attempts to live their life and I choose to believe that’s good enough. I choose to believe if God exists he will know and understand that. Whatever happens after I die is what happens and I’m OK with that. There’s really no way to know and like you said one day we will find out. I know you have lived your life doing all of these things too – trying to figure it out and live with what you’ve felt is true. I respect that and I love you tons.
I think you are pretty wonderful.

Alison

I’m not going to hold my breath for a response but it sure would be wonderful. I know I’m probably expecting too much, but hey, I like holding onto hope.(It’s one of the things I retain from Mormonism.) A girl’s gotta dream, right? After all, it could happen. I was open and honest with them. That’s all I can do right now.

13 thoughts on “Disjointed conversations

  1. this is so great.

    I think this is a pretty standard occurrence–all of it: the letters from the parents, the replies that get no response.

    It’s one more ways that Mormonism makes it hard for people to experience intimacy or to have relationships where anyone goes off script.

  2. Thanks Holly,
    Sadly I think you are right about it being a standard occurrence. In the church you are encouraged to share your experiences, feelings and what’s important to you. When you leave you aren’t asked about those at all. You aren’t supposed to share your experiences or perspectives or why you feel the way you do. Suddenly those closest to you don’t want to know and they don’t ask.

    It’s really unfortunate and sure damages your ability to have meaningful conversations and relationships.

  3. In the church you are encouraged to share your experiences, feelings and what’s important to you.

    You are encouraged to share your experiences, feelings and what’s important to you–as long as those things adhere to orthodoxy and can be related without deviating from the standard script.

  4. I loved this. It made me grateful that though my mom doesnt agree, she is at least very willing to have open conversations. It can be very hard though when mormons view sharing their beliefs as something God compels them to do against all odds, but for someone else to do the same is seen as spreading apostasy and the devil’s ambitions. There is so much that can be learned from stepping away from the truth claims, things that anyone and everyone can learn from–but we are unable to share the joy in our journey because it is one that is off-limits for conversation.

  5. Suddenly those closest to you don’t want to know and they don’t ask.

    I don’t know how old your parents are, or how long it’s been since you left the Church, but generally most parents try not to end their days with broken and/or shallow relationships with their children. The faith unites families, and without it, families struggle to fill in what it is that makes them a family beyond what the Church says makes them a family. A useful way of looking at it, I think, is that the elephant in the room is not the Church and its orthodoxy, but a vacuum of something/anything else for family members to say, “We’re a family.”

    I’m with Lori that I’m grateful my mom will have conversations, but it didn’t start out this way… it was only after we figured out what to stay silent about and what to build on. Occasionally, we venture into the contentious stuff, but only because we have the other connections to fall back on in case the conversation goes sour, which it often did for, I dunno, 10 years or so, after I left.

  6. Alan my hubby stopped believing 8 years ago and my parents have watched me slowly pull back since then. I really tried to see if I could make it work as a more unorthodox member and still have a sense of community. That didn’t work for me. So they have been aware of it slowly happening and in discussions have sensed the changes but it wasn’t until last year that I decided I had to figure out what the hell I was doing and believed. At the end of last year I came to my decision and told them.

    Your perspective about the elephant being a “vacuum” is really interesting and I think you are right.

    I hope my parents will at some point be willing to have conversations like your Mom does with you. I don’t feel a need to talk about the contentious stuff either…I just don’t want to have to keep my mouth shut and not be able to express anything! Or get silence when I respond to something they’ve sent me.

  7. Lori

    I love the things you shared and I agree there is so much we could share about what brings us happiness, meaning and fulfillment. Even if those aren’t the same things. I wish there it wasn’t so hard.

  8. And please know that your old dad still believes it with all his heart and one day in the not-too-distant future will find out if it is in fact true.

    I think it’s really sad that your mom would bring up your dad’s impending death as a way of adding emotional pressure to believe. Your comparison of a loving parent’s behavior with the behavior of God (as believed by Christians) is beautiful and heartfelt, but they may have found it upsetting because it threatens cherished beliefs.

    On the other hand, maybe they’re thinking about it, and maybe one day they’ll come to understand and respect your perspective. Stranger things have happened! 😀

  9. Alison, that was a wonderful heartfelt note you sent back to your Mom. There’s a lot there and I hope she is taking it in bit by bit. Perhaps she’s breaking it down and trying to understand it. Perhaps she’ll read and re-read until one day she can be easy with it. (or not)

    Your Mom and Dad are perhaps victims of the ‘Families are Forever’ ransom game that the church so cruelly uses to divide families and create a sense of guilt and unnecessary burden on family members to hold their family together. Once the parent, or other family member, accepts the idea that you no longer believe they have to deal with sadness and they are reminded of that sadness often.

    I like your plan a lot better:

    I’m choosing to live my life without being driven by guilt/shame/fear about what if. I’m choosing to love, accept, support myself and let go of the worry/fear/guilt about rules/mistakes/perfection. I’m choosing to not live with the fear of what if I’m wrong? I’m going to go forward and try my best to be a good person, live life honestly, treat people with respect/acceptance/love, support others in their choices and attempts to live their life and I choose to believe that’s good enough. I choose to believe if God exists he will know and understand that.

  10. And please know that your old dad still believes it with all his heart and one day in the not-too-distant future will find out if it is in fact true.

    Chanson – I actually believe my dad typed this email to me and was referring to himself in the third person. He is quite aware of his age and will often comment about his recognition that his life is coming to an end. He is quite melancholy at times.

    Out of his four children three no longer believe/participate in the church and this causes him a LOT of sadness. I wish that wasn’t the case! I wish he could accept and appreciate each of us for who we’ve become and the lives we are trying to live. None of us are axe murderers, abusers, immoral people! In face we are all three happily married, working, functioning, ethical human beings. :) BUT the framework he has from the church outweighs any of that and the focus for him is on our leaving. My brothers served missions, we’ve all been through the temple and we didn’t endure. We lost the faith and this is at the forefront of his mind. My parents feel a heavy burden for this as if they didn’t do enough, they failed, their posterity will no longer carry on the church tradition (except for my two active married children).

    It’s such a shame that this is what he focuses on as his legacy.

  11. “Your Mom and Dad are perhaps victims of the ‘Families are Forever’ ransom game that the church so cruelly uses to divide families and create a sense of guilt and unnecessary burden on family members to hold their family together. Once the parent, or other family member, accepts the idea that you no longer believe they have to deal with sadness and they are reminded of that sadness often.”

    Just Jill, Sadly I think you are absolutely right. :(

  12. My parents feel a heavy burden for this as if they didn’t do enough, they failed, their posterity will no longer carry on the church tradition

    Oh, I never thought about this, cuz my family doesn’t have a long tradition of being Mormon…the feeling of inadequacy if one’s family tree is multiple generations of Mormons, but it just so happens that one’s children break the line of tradition. This, of course, wouldn’t just be the parents’ “fault.” Many factors play into why people leave.

    At one time my mother expressed how she was upset that us kids weren’t sealed to her in the temple, and I’m sure she somewhat blamed herself. But such traditions to be “together forever” shouldn’t be more important than learning who the people you’re supposedly tied to forever are, I would think. I would hope if there’s any truth to the faith, the condition of “belief” is less important than the actual relationships.

  13. But such traditions to be “together forever” shouldn’t be more important than learning who the people you’re supposedly tied to forever are, I would think. I would hope if there’s any truth to the faith, the condition of “belief” is less important than the actual relationships.

    Yes Alan. Exactly! Why is that so hard for members to recognize? When their children no longer believe it just seems to overshadow everything else about their relationship. Which often damages the relationship! It’s ironic.

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