Like many people, I was raised in a religious home. And like many people, I then grew up, made choices for myself, and decided I didn’t want to be a part of that religion any longer.
This story is not unique by any means. A byproduct of growing up in a highly religious environment is that it can feel too confining as you’re growing older and testing your limits. You can’t wait to get away from it, shedding it like a too-small winter coat.
I’ve spent the last 20-ish years floating somewhere in between agnostic and Crunchy-Universal-Love-Hippie on the spirituality scale. I’ve said a lot of things about God or God(s) or No-God(s) that I don’t even know where they came from. That’s because they weren’t founded in anything but my imagination and whatever I could suss out that felt kinda ok. I was making-do.
I’ve spent the last few months evaluating and reevaluating what I think, feel and believe to be true. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time dissecting how the Mind/Body connection of health flows into this because there is a spirituality component of health. The three pillars of fantastic combined health are Energy (both physical and polarity), Nutrition, and Mind/Body Connection (including tools). Those tools include supplements, self-care, and essential oils and other ways that bring the Mind/Body connection closer. And Energy includes your connection to the Divine, whatever you deem that to be and however it’s the most healing for you.
If you’ve seen me this past year or so and thought (or said to me, as many of you have), “Man, Leah! You glow! You really look great!” then you’ve seen the change good health can bring. And like I mentioned above, having spirituality in my life and being able to feel is a big part of good health.
When we talk about reiki and energy clearings/healings and cranial sacral work, it’s really all the same thing. You’re pulling Universal Love & Light from your Source, which then flows through you to help others and yourself. Understanding this was the door that opened me back up to looking at my own spirituality.
Along this journey I’ve identified five main points of my own story that I feel might be helpful to others. These are the looming questions and long unidentified non-positive feelings I carried around with me for years, not understanding what they were or how they fit. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in some of these and be inspired to look into your own Self to see where spirituality fits in with you. Most of what I have to say is based around the LDS church because that’s what I was raised in, but I’m willing to bet that however you were raised, you might find similar things. If you’ve felt something missing, it might be your connection to the Divine.
5. I Was Hurt and Confused
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. Many of the people in an organized church are fine people who are really trying to do their best each and every day. Others are kind of along for the ride, not coming from a place of love, perhaps not sure why they are members of a church to begin with. Maybe they attend because that’s just what they’ve been doing for a long time. Those people can do a lot of harm in their ignorance. I came into contact with many of those.
From a very young age, depending on my teachers at church, I spent a lot of time in the hall. What that really meant was I was asking too many questions or being silly and distracting my neighbors from listening to the teacher, so I was sent out of the class.
I remember on more than one occasion asking what must have been yet another question and having the teacher roll their eyes at me. But here’s the thing. I was being sincere. I really didn’t understand what they were teaching and I wanted answers. The problem being that in a class setting where you have 12 or so little wiggly kids trying to sit in their chairs through a 45 minute lesson, you really just want to get the lesson done, not keep answering the Whys.
My teachers were probably doing the best they could in the situation and I’ve come to understand that they probably didn’t know the answers to tell me, which must have made them uncomfortable. But when they brushed me off and moved on, leaving me with a gaping misunderstanding, I got bored or sad or irritated and started talking to or teasing those next to me, which ended with me out in the hallway until class ended.
I left Primary and went to Young Women’s for ages 12-17 but at that point, I’d spent so much time not getting my questions answered, I figured no one really knew or I didn’t belong there. I spent those ages really struggling to stay active in the church with weeks where my parents insisted I go and me sneaking out and walking home as soon as their backs were turned. Needless to say, church was not a spiritually uplifting or soul-filling experience for me.
I would occasionally have a good teacher and those few stick out in my mind. I didn’t ever really feel a part of the class but I could see them sincerely trying and that meant a lot.
4. I Misunderstood Gospel Principles
Piggybacking onto number 5 above, because I didn’t actually learn things at church I misunderstood a lot of basic gospel principles. This is kind of fascinating to me because you have to understand that I wasn’t only getting teachings for three hours on Sundays, I was getting taught daily at home.
My family had scripture study nightly at 5:30pm every, single, solitary day where we would read a chapter from the scriptures, memorize a monthly scripture passage, sing, and pray together. We also met on Monday night for Family Home Evening where more doctrine was discussed. Plus as a teen I met mid-week for an additional youth meeting at church.
As a family we probably read through the Book of Mormon together 8-10 times and the Bible 4-5 times during my youth. That’s a lot of scripture reading and not understanding going on. I remember spending the time while we were reading daydreaming or having conversations in my head, basically doing my time until I got to leave the room.
There were a lot of small things like why we fast or keep the sabbath day holy or why we pay tithing, but my biggest misunderstanding was the Atonement (basic definition here, and Mormon explanation).
I recall having a conversation not too many years ago with someone about how I didn’t want to be a part of why Christ suffered on the cross, if He was indeed real, so I was choosing not to participate. That statement shows just how much I didn’t understand. There is no choosing. If you believe Christ is real and that He died on the cross, it was for you.
Due to the many misunderstandings I’ve had over the years and my lack of knowledge, I made up my own version of what I thought Mormons believed. Many of these were in fact false.
To overcome this, I started inviting the missionaries over to our home. You’ve probably seen them around town where you live. (They are adorable.) I’m taking the discussions, as they’re called. Our current missionaries, Elders Felix and Jennings, are two of the most passionate young men when it comes to the gospel as I’ve ever seen. I’m talking, exuberant fist pumps in the air about teaching lesson 2, The Plan of Salvation. “This is one of my favorites!” exclaims Elder Jennings. And he means it. Every time.
It’s hard not to be enthused about something when the young men in the room are so clearly full of joy about teaching it. I’m learning a lot about how many misconceptions I’ve held onto over the years and for the first time in my life, I’m enjoying reading the scriptures.
It sometimes works out that the Elders are here for dinner. The time we had roast, mashed potatoes and sliced carrots, there were no left-overs. The time I made spaghetti squash with bolognese sauce, Elder Felix mentioned he’d never seen spaghetti sauce with kidney beans or olives in it or ever eaten what-was-the-name-of-that-squash-again. Joe and I had those leftovers the next day. Those poor guys. They have to eat whatever you put in front of them. If you want to see their eyes light up, say, “Cheesecake.” (I hope my nieces and nephews that have been out on missions have had a little cheesecake now and then.)
3. I Saw a Church Full of Hypocrites
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. (I feel like I’ve said that somewhere before…) But in no way more than in this way was I more confused and understood less.
I looked around at the people that attended church and saw sinners. Men who drank alcohol or did drugs and then went to church and blessed and passed the sacrament. Women who talked about other women in some of the most ugly ways imaginable but then went to church and pretended they were friends. People cheating on their spouses. Liars. People who were into porn. People cheating on their tithing and taxes and making justifications for paying less. So much sin but then so much pretending to be perfect on Sunday. These were the people I was supposed to aspire to be like? These were the people I was supposed to be friends with and who were supposedly representing God’s church?
And here’s where my new understanding finally caught up to my reality. Every organized church is filled with people who are making mistakes and doing wrong. Also true is that they are trying their best, because if there is one thing I do know now, it’s that every person on the face of the planet is doing the best they can, every day of their lives. When they can do better, they do do better. (I said do do.) (Sorry.) (<--See? Repentance in action.)
And now that I understand the Atonement better, I see how it fits in with all of these sinners, of which I am one. Could there have ever been a more judgmental person than I was? Highly unlikely. Could that have been more hypocritical of me to be judging each of them and not looking at myself? Nope. (Am I done asking and answering my own questions in this annoying way? Yes.)
2. I Didn’t Feel I Fit In
So. Not fitting in is a theme of my life. Not as a child in church or with my family in general and not as an adult with people my own age. Not with my first husband. Not in elementary, middle, high school or college class settings. Not with Americans sometimes. Not even with the human race occasionally because of our brutality and chilling indifference with each other all around the world but especially in our own backyards.
Having mental and physical illnesses had a way of always keeping me separate from others, if not in reality then at least that’s how I perceived it. But beyond that, I’ve just always felt, well, different. Like I was watching life from inside my head. There was a buffer layer, like a blanket, all around me like insulation. From inside that place I watched people being happy and being sad and having lives like it was a play happening and I wasn’t really a part of it.
When considering becoming more spiritual and attending a church with real other human people, this crossed my mind. If I’m going to go to a church, whatever church I decide to go to, I’ll have to be sitting near other people for meetings and interacting with them afterwards. All that shaking hands and nodding and smiling and such. Could I do it? Could I do it and be genuine or would I be hating every second and watching the clock, waiting to leave? What if someone asks me what I do for a living? The horror.
I have tattoos. I can be a little crass and loud. My sense of humor can include body-humor (see above: do do) much to the chagrin of more refined people (like my husband). I don’t like being put on the spot, read: called on to say a prayer or read a scripture or answer a theoretical spiritual question posed by a teacher when I’m not ready for it. Don’t ask me to be smart or witty on the spot. Don’t ask me to wear a funny hat.
And what about my political views? I support gay marriage and there’s nothing you run into faster like a brick wall than churches that don’t. I also support social programs and clean, legal abortions for women. Could there even be a church out there that would accept me?
The answer is, yes. Pretty much every church I would want to attend would accept me if I’m going to church to connect to the Divine and to people who are just like me in that they are trying their best every day to be good people and do what they’re supposed to do. Getting caught up in the details of what every person who attends that church believes in can be a distraction. And part of keeping my focus on coming to understand the Divine better is not being distracted. If I believe that God knows me, loves me, wants the best for me, and has a plan for me, anything that keeps me from that plan is a distraction, including getting caught up in those details. My job is to check in with the Divine, ask what I’m supposed to be doing, and then go do that thing.
Part of looking around this life with new, spiritual eyes is trying to understand that I just don’t know everything. I’m limited by the confines of my physical-ness and my small understanding of What Is. And I’m ok with that because this life is a journey and I’m finally enjoying it.
1. I Couldn’t Feel
This is perhaps the single most damaging thing I experienced. If you can’t feel, you can’t really be in touch with the Divine. You can only get hints and shadows of what real “Feeling” feels like.
Members of the LDS church believe the Book of Mormon to be holy scripture and another testament of Jesus Christ along with the Bible. There is a promise contained in the BOM (Moroni 10:4) that if you read it and then ask of God if it’s true, God will tell you and confirm it is true and you’ll know it by the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. I tried this experiment probably four times growing up and never felt anything. I also didn’t feel anything when I was baptized at age 8, which for everyone I talked to was a very spiritual experience for them. Likewise, you are told to pray and ask when big decisions arise in your life and you’ll be told which way to turn and how to choose. But, for me? Nope. Nothing.
From a young age I surmised that one (or both) of two things must be true. 1. Everyone around me from the people in my family to everyone in the town where I grew up, nay, the entire state of Utah must be crazy or lying and/or, 2. God did exist but I was broken and/or beneath God’s notice.
Because I’d never felt any confirmation or peaceful feeling in my chest, I had no idea what they were talking about. It wasn’t until this past year that my body was in a state where I could feel anything. But when it happened, it was amazing. (I’ll share that story another time because this is already so long.)
We’re all seeking connection in our lives. We tell our stories and interact with each other moment to moment and connect. The energy we have around us and running through us is what connects us to each other. Sometimes we meet someone new and feel a strong pull, like something cosmic is happening. Sometimes we come into contact with someone and instinctively know that nope, that person is not someone we want in our circle. Becoming familiar with how your energy (and the energy of others around you) works for you or against you is important.
And beyond that, finding your connection to the Divine will be life-changing. Tap into whatever you believe in. Figure out why you believe in it separate from any old thinking patterns from your childhood or those around you. Chart a new, clean course with your Higher Power and it will bring the peace, joy, inspiration and connection you’ve been lacking.