This post follows an earlier one, the spirit. Check that one out first so you can get a segue into where I’m coming from.
During my long process of questioning and exiting, I’ve re-evaluated just about everything in my life. I had a especially hard time explaining, defying, and reinterpreting the Spirit. One issue that held me up was that my mom spoke to the Spirit on a daily basis. Spoke. Daily. Even to the point that other Mormons thought she might be a little cuckoo. I think she eventually learned to stop announcing her personal revelations. Not because she questioned them when others did, but because she decided those other people just didn’t get it. They could have those revelations, too, if they just listened, you see.
On my way out of the church, I started to doubt that God talks to any of us, that that sort of God didn’t really exist. But what would that mean for my mom? Was she just crazy? Was she schizophrenic? Had she, this whole time, been basing her decisions–including how to raise us–off the little voices in her head? I really thought those things about my mom, and thought, for a short time, that maybe she really, really needed a psychiatric evaluation. For a while, it was the only alternative explanation I could think of. Exorcising the Spirit was, then, a choice between “the Spirit really talks to people” or “my mom is crazy.” Not a comfortable place to be.
I no longer think God sends messages to people, nor that my mom is crazy (though I think a trip to a counselor wouldn’t hurt). I eventually came to another explanation. I now think that her revelations, her promptings, her still-small-voice moments come from within herself, defined and interpreted in a Mormon-influenced way. Her prayers are simply reflections into her own desires and fears, moments to clear her mind of other things and figure out what she wants. This goes for all of my moments of praying and feeling the Spirit, too. If I remember right, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World was very helpful in my seeing things in a new way. People’s brains work to try to make sense of things, and when these things do not have an obvious, natural explanation, it is easy to interpret them in supernatural ways.
Another reason it was so hard to let go of the Spirit was that my mother raised me to think that the Spirit was everything: my conscience, my guidance, my only hope in negotiating this difficult life and returning to heaven. Nothing could be known better than by the Spirit. The Spirit trumped all, including the most obvious evidence. Asking the Spirit, e.g., the messenger for the Lord, was the only way to know things, to make decisions of any gravity, to get comfort, to overcome doubts.
So you could say I felt a bit, well, completely and utterly lost when I realized the Spirit was not, actually, what I thought. I didn’t know where to turn for guidance, for comfort, for answers. I felt adrift, floating freely and uncomfortably, without direction. What were my standards? What were my morals? How was I supposed to live?
Somehow, I don’t remember how, it finally dawned on me that I was capable of making my own decisions, even about the big things. That I had my own, internal moral compass that could guide me. It was a liberating moment, to see that. It was also quite scary. Before, I had only been asking questions in order to get answers from others. “Where should I go now? What am I supposed to do?”
It only then occurred to me that I should be asking myself questions.
Where do I want to go?
What do I want to do?
The choice is mine.