Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Too much pain

I am really in pain folks. It just hurts too much. I feel like I have nowhere to turn. Last night I had a moment to talk to my son about his upcoming ordination to be a deacon. He will not turn 12 until this summer, but I felt I needed to at least talk to him about it. I started out by asking him if he understood where I am at with the church. He said, "Yeah." I said, "So where am I at?" He said, "You don't believe." So I said, "Do you understand that kind of makes it difficult for me to be able to give you the priesthood since I don't believe?" He said, "I guess so." I could tell at this point that he got really sad and didn't want to say any more. Now, he may have thought that this meant he wouldn't be able to receive the priesthood at all (a thought that had not occurred to me until later when I talked to my wife about it and she brought that to my attention.), which may have contributed to his sadness. I tried to convey my unconditional love and support for him and what he wanted, but that I just couldn't perform that ordinance and be able to live with integrity. At one point I asked him if he were in my shoes, would he just do what he wanted me to do and perform the ordinance in spite of where I am at? He said, "Maybe."

At this point I can't help but point out that I may be the worst father in the world and that I am placing a huge burden on a young man that he doesn't really deserve to bear. However, I think that deep down my son is capable of understanding what I am going through (at least I hope anyway). It is so difficult to be where I am at. When I try to think back to when I was his age and what my reaction might have been to the kind of news I was trying to relate, how would I have felt? It would have been awkward, confusing and hard for me, I think. I don't know why I continue to insist on living with integrity anymore. I feel like I am sort of worthless because outside of believing that the church isn't true and that God may or may not exist in any form that we can relate to, I can't offer much. My belief system right now pretty much consists of no belief. My thinking right now is that, if this is the case, and I truly don't have an alternative belief system that can drive and motivate people to do good because of the prospect of a hereafter, what harm is there in tacitly supporting the belief systems of my wife and children to contribute to their happiness? After all, I don't know for sure that they are 100% wrong. I do know that most of it is crap and mostly made up, but I am not 100% sure of this (99.99% sure, but not 100%).

Sometimes I think I am just being selfish. Why can't I just go to church and be the good Mormon father that does everything the church teaches that Mormon fathers should do. I think realizing I could just be a cafeteria Mormon would be helpful and maybe I could just try to focus on my family and the good things that belief in something, even though I can see is messed up, is better than belief in nothing at all. My former beliefs have brought me a lot of good things in life. I wouldn't have my wife and children if I wasn't active in the church as an RM around the time we met. I wouldn't have my current job if I weren't active in church at the time I met my present boss, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy so many friendships with people (that just seemed to come automatically at times) because of my activity in the church through the years.

On the flip side there is that whole living with integrity thing. I am beginning to think that living with integrity is overrated. I really believe that a lot of people get ahead and are able to enjoy fabulous opportunities on this planet because they are able to justify things to some extent. I mean, looking at corporate executives, wall street bankers and politicians, it seems that as long as you perfect the art of speaking out of both sides of your mouth you can really get ahead in this country.

I have felt for the last couple of years that I really didn't want to go to church because I was standing for some ideal. It was the principle of integrity that I clung to. I also excused my lack of attendance by saying that it was because church just infuriated me and caused me to be someone that took out rage on my family. Now I feel like there is potential for me to not be so angry if I go to church, but I just don't know how long this will last. Part of me wonders how long it will take for me to become enraged and that maybe the reason I have been able to let go of some of the anger is because I haven't been going to church. I wonder if it would be possible for me to ever get over it and just focus on the things that I can find that are praiseworthy.

I don't know if I can ever get to a point where I am able to pray or actually perform ordinances at church, but at least I would be there to support my family. So, I don't think it solves the problem of me feeling like I am letting down my son in his desires to ordain him, however, at least he would see me there and coming to church to offer some stability in his life. Would I be a total hypocrite if I went to church on Sunday, but secretly didn't believe any of it? What will my children think of me when I tell them that I never really believed but I decided to go to church anyway? Do I want them to have an example of someone living contrary to their beliefs to please others? This is what I have kind of been also hanging my hat on as far as a reason for not going to church. I want to show my children that I have integrity regardless of how meaningless it may seem. I want them to be true to themselves regardless of how much others tell them to be someone else. Can I teach that while not living it myself?

Maybe I am just blowing much of this out of proportion right now and the lessons I think I am teaching are just not that important if they drive family members away from me. Maybe the pain I am causing my wife and children is far outweighed by any future potential for them to realize that I had integrity and lived according to my beliefs, regardless of how shallow they may seem. Can I still teach my children to be true to themselves while pretending to be active in church for their sake? I wish I had more answers. I really need some advice. Unfortunately, my desire for advice is balanced by the understanding that where ever I turn for advice, that is the advice I will get. If I ask believing (and some not believing) members of the church what I should do, the answer will be clear that I should go to church. If I ask the postmo community, I suspect that the answer will be to stick to my guns.

I already did receive some advice on this question from an old friend from high school. She is agnostic and pretty much said, "Would it be so difficult to sacrifice for your family to go to church?" She said she has gone to church for friends (for special occasions) and granted there is much time spent rolling the eyes and trying to stave off the boredom, but, since it was important to that person, it was important to her. Maybe I just need to focus on that. I so wish I were not in this position, but here I am. Any thoughts would be most appreciated.


  1. This post tears at my heartstrings. I wish I could do more than just give you digital hugs, but here you go ((((((((hugs))))))). I have often been grateful to not be in your sort of situation. I am free to leave (though it they let me I would go back despite my disbelief)...

    I have not written about it on my blog because I have family members that read my blog, but I found out that my dad was in your position more or less my whole life. When I left the church we went out for coffee and he told me that he was agnostic. He did sacrifice and pretty much live the gospel my entire life.

    He periods of inactivity where I think his integrity was getting to him, but all in all he did the church thing.

    We were sitting in their backyard this last summer and I asked him why he had put himself through all of that. Going to church was not easy as a non-believer, and how did he reconcile pretending.

    He looked at my mom and got all teary eyed and just said, "I love her."

    There are a lot of people that do it. You have to change the reasons that you go to church. It can't be about true and false. It has to be about family and community. Those are both perfectly good reasons.

    Have you ever wandered over to the NOM forum? I love NOM. It is the New Order Mormon Forum. Many of them still partcipate in the church at varying levels of belief.

  2. At this point I can't help but point out that I may be the worst father in the world and that I am placing a huge burden on a young man that he doesn't really deserve to bear.

    You are not putting this burden on him. The rules that say your son can't be ordained if his father doesn't fit their cookie-cutter mold are at fault here.

    Would I be a total hypocrite if I went to church on Sunday, but secretly didn't believe any of it?

    No. Going doesn't mean believing. I've gone to LDS services with my in-laws even though I'm Catholic. I would just do what you're comfortable with. Anyone who thinks any less of you, if they know that you are sincerely uncomfortable with certain things, isn't worth your time. As for your children, there's no reason not to tell them, "I'm going to church to support you, not because I believe again." There's no reason to lie to them or hide your motives.

    There's no single right answer to any of this. Every situation is unique. Nobody else can tell you what is or should be most important to you. You have to decide that. That's not easy to do either. If you think going to church will do more harm than good, consider not going. If you think it'll do more good than harm, consider going. But don't think anything has to be either/or. You don't have to either be 100% faithful and active or 100% inactive and unbelieving. I'd say, trust your instincts.

  3. I wanted to add too that your son may not understand right now about integrity, but I guarantee when he looks back he will see it. He will remember that you did what you thought was right and that you were honest.

  4. @ Kiley: Thanks so much for your comments (and virtual hugs!) I appreciate it. Your experience means a lot to me. That is just amazing about your father. So does your mom not know that about him then? Also, you said that if they let you, you would go back despite your disbelief...Do you mean that if the church would have "your kind" back and could accept you that you would go back? I guess I am not sure what you mean by that. Yes, I have looked briefly at the NOM forum...I will check it out again. My problem was that I was turned off quickly by the NOMers, because I just feel like there is so much rationalizing that is going on there. The reality is, anyone who really thinks they can change the church from the inside is deluding themselves (in my opinion anyway). The church is not going to change in our lifetimes...maybe given a generation or two, who knows. I just have such a hard time with squaring up non-belief with full participation. I just feel like I have a brain block or something that keeps me from being able to go along with all the mental gymnastics that take place to allow a person to fully participate in church while not believing it.

    @ Carla: Thank you for your comments. I agree, the burden is not being placed on my son by me...but how can those that are fully in the church be expected to be able to see that? They don't see it, so no matter how I might try to tell them, I am the negative one that is just trying to tear down their belief. I appreciate the insight. You're right, if people judge me, they are not worth my time or effort anyway. I guess it is a constant battle to try to help those that don't understand see what it is they are not tolerant of...of course, if I do go back, I can't be a jerk about it either...sometimes that is so hard. If I do go back, I will definitely need to get a punching bag or something ;-)

  5. After years of living with him I think that my mom has figured it out it but it is really not something that they talk about. He does not go to church anymore, but he still follows all of the church rules for her.

    What do I mean... I would go back. I am not sure that I honestly know. If the church did not require everyone to fit in a box and be silent I would go back. So maybe rather than saying if they let me back I should have said if they changed enough for me to let myself go back I would. BUT they are so damn orthodox...

    There were definitely things that my dad did and did not do. He went through phases where he went to the temple, and fully participated and phases where he did not. I think the battle with authenticity and integrity is certainly one he fought. He was a "hopeful agnostic". He really hoped and wanted to believe in God so I think he went through actual phases where he took all of his doubts and just tried to have faith...

  6. Nooooo, I just wrote a long comment and then it wouldn't post and then I lost it :(

    I think I said -

    oh yeah, I said that you would definitely need a punching bag!

    I also said that Carlas advice - As for your children, there's no reason not to tell them, "I'm going to church to support you, not because I believe again." There's no reason to lie to them or hide your motives.

    - sounds awesome for you. I think your kids will see the integrity in your actions. I also think that they will think it is cool to have a dad who doesn't follow all of the rules. They will get to be the cool Mormon kids who CAN question things and will have the freedom to make their own choices. I think by supporting them in this way they will be more likely to question (and possibly leave). They might further entrench themselves if you are absent from their church involvement. I don't know but I think that it actually sounds really great for where you are at right now.

    I don't think I'm writing very well but I do feel very optimistic about Kiley and Carlas advice and I think that you will find a way to have more peace with your family. Good Luck :D

  7. @ Kiley: Do you think picking up on where your dad was at helped you leave at all or did you not find out until after you were out? Thanks again, that gives me hope.

    @ M: I like the optimism! I definitely need to have a more positive outlook on it. You're right, my kids, I think, already do enjoy more freedom than I see other kids enjoying in more strict LDS homes. I sure feel sorry for some of those kids...sorry about the loss of your comment...I'm sure it was really good. Thanks!

  8. It was an amaaaaaazing comment ;D

    It happens. I usually copy it before posting if I think there will be a problem but I wasn't fast enough this time and it evaporated into thin air. Maybe it was full of hot air anyway :P

    I am full of optimism these days, loving it! Look after you my friend :)

  9. Regarding integrity being overrated, I am reminded of something from a novel I read recently: the problem with death before dishonor is that eventually it sorts the world in to only two kinds of people, the dead, and the forsworn. If demonstrating integrity by not going to church on the one hand and going to church anyway on the other both hurt your family, I can understand the pain in your cri de coeur. I think as a father my integrity is most implicated in the question, what is best for my children. Of course I can't answer that for you. I can only guess about it for me, for that matter. But your love for your children is no less authentic than your doubts or unbelief or whatever you feel now about the gospel.

  10. Hey just wondering how you are doing. If things are a bit better?

    I never responded to that last question you asked me. I did not notice it sorry!

    My dad did share a lot of FARMS stuff with me growing up. He was trying to find a way to believe. So growing up and hearing apologetics at home fairly regularly probably did pave the way for me to question and doubt a bit more than your average TBM.

    How much his personal state influenced me is hard to say. It did not prevent me from really and truly believing, but when I lost my belief I think it made my exit a bit easier...