The reason the sister in the pew next to you is having a faith crisis is not because she is focused on her doubts, its because she wants to know the truth. Her faith is interrupted because she is finding out that some of the things she was taught were true aren’t and because she is giving herself permission to disagree with things she feels are morally out of alignment.
When one dedicates their whole life to an organization and then they find out they haven’t been dealt with integrity it is disrupts every aspect of their life. It breaks trust. To dismiss the spiritual wounds of betrayal as a lack of faith is to perpetuate spiritual trauma.
After a faith crisis that is now going in to its fifth year, I would like to share a little about the person in the pew next to you. Some of these are my personal stories and some of them are stories of friends and clients.
In Relief Society a sister shares her vulnerable experience about the pain she endures because she feels she is left to teach her children the gospel on her own now that her husband is no longer a believer. No doubt her pain is real, it is obvious in her voice and in her tears. But as she explains how her husband has betrayed their marriage covenants by no longer seeing the truths of the church after he “studied some things” the sister in the pew next to you is hearing that her own faith crisis is a betrayal to her family.
As the emotional sister sharing her experience continues to refer to her husband as a wayward, breaker of covenants who is not supporting her in her efforts to direct her family in righteousness, the sister in the pew next to you knows exactly what the husband is going through. He has become the “unrighteous one” in the relationship, spiritually inferior to his wife, the man’s efforts at being a husband and father are being diminished to only reflect his value based on how he can implement the church in his home. Never mind that he continues to for provide for his family. No buttons or bows for funding the mission of his daughter to go preach a gospel he doesn’t subscribe to. His perceived pathetic-ness is now being broadcast to a whole group of women who undoubtedly side with his wife and see him as the wicked villain.
Meanwhile the not-believing-as-much sister in the pew sitting next to you reflects on her non-believing husband at home where he is finally loved by her for who he is, not for how he can perform Mormonism. Her family has never been healthier since she let go of the fear and paranoia of losing them if they didn’t conform. As she listens to the sentiments of the sister at the front of the room, the anxiety begins to build. The sister in the pew next to you toggles between the idea of speaking up for the husband or leaving the room, but she settles on shoving the trauma back down in the deep and tries to redirect her mind to the commitment she made to try and only see the good and be more loving today.
Sister Just One More Time
The priesthood leader in Sacrament meeting is sharing his passionate opinions about how the saints must fight against the worlds agenda to accept things like gay marriage because it harms the family unit and is an abomination to the Lord. The tired sister in the pew next to you was up all night on another suicide watch with her son because the church’s stand on his same sex attraction has caused him to believe he is a mistake and an abomination to the Lord. His pangs of loneliness that come from knowing he must never act on his human desires for intimacy else suffer excommunication from his church are causing such trauma that death seems like a better option.
The sister in the pew next to you has come to church to partake of the sacrament and feel the presence of the Lord and to be strengthened and supported by her ward family. Imagine her anguish because she talked her son, sitting next to her, into coming to church just one more time, promising him things would get better.
The Gospel Doctrine teacher has followed the instructions in his manual by putting the three scenarios given in lesson 24 on the board.
Milk striplings. A misspelled name. No seat at the temple dedication.
He goes on to share how fragile the testimonies of these characters in our church history were that they could leave the church over such petty things. The woman in the pew next to you is trying desperately to keep coming to church. She has devoured Mormon history trying to get answers to some of her questions and now she is hearing the watered down, whitewashed, church slanted version of the three stories of apostasy as they are read from the manual. She is shocked how the men in the stories are made out to be such petty villains to make a point about how taking offense could cause someone to lose their testimony.
Her own testimony is hanging on a thread. Her mind is heavy with unanswered questions about polygamy, the Book of Abraham, how the methods of the church align with the discoveries of undue influence. She is trying to figure out why she hasn’t been spiritually fed in church for years. She knows she is worthy of being in the house of the Lord but she doesn’t qualify for a recommend because her nice and tidy faith in the church has turned into a pile of rubble she’s trying desperately to piece together.
The sister in the pew next to you has been praying and fasting and studying and begging for God to help strengthen her testimony and help her overlook these things that are truly disturbing and relevant to her faith. The sister in the pew next to you feels like the examples on the board are reducing her faith crisis to petty issues and a mere lack of faithfulness.
The teacher doesn’t know he is perpetuating spiritual trauma but the spiritual wounds are sliced open afresh as her grueling wrestle with her conscience has been reduced to someone taking offense. She doesn’t want to talk to her leaders because she’s concerned, that like the lesson being given to the main body of saints, they too, will see her issues as taking offense or being deceived by the devil, of which she feels neither. She will grieve the loss of her innocent version of the church in silence as the room is being conditioned to believe the apostate saints are so petty in their offenses.
Sister Outside the Gates
The sister in the pew next to you is sitting with her soon to be wedded daughter as the Stake President speaks on the importance of a temple wedding. It’s the only sure way for couples to start their life together with the protection of the Lord. It is the only way to assure your family will be together in the next life.
The sister in the pew next to you, even though she is trying to stay active in the church won’t be able to attend her daughter’s temple wedding because she cannot consciously answer affirmative to the temple recommend questions. She isn’t having any moral issues, she is just finding it difficult to reconcile her conscience to agree with some of the tenants of the church. She feels in order to attend her own daughter’s wedding ceremony she will either have to lie to get a recommend, ask her daughter to get married civilly and wait a year to be sealed or she will have to wait outside with the rest of her un-assimilated family members.
The grief of the sister in the pew next to you is intense. Her daughter shouldn’t have to choose between her family and the temple on her most important day. The sister in the pew next to you wants to support her daughter, she doesn’t understand by she has to be worthy to observe the ceremony when she is not participating in any ordinances for others. She is struggling to see how this strengthens families and she is feeling remorse for not being more sensitive to all the mothers who have stood outside the temple feeling excluded from the day she has been looking forward to all her life.
More than likely, the sister in the pew next to you will miss the gaze the two lovers will share as they hold hands across the alter and say, yes. Someone else will carry her daughter’s dress behind her. Someone else will hand her a tissue to dry her joy filled eyes. A room full of people will hug her daughter and new son-in-law before she will even get to see the couple, probably not until after the pictures. The sister in the pew next to you can’t hear the rest of the message being delivered at the pulpit because the trauma of her daughter’s upcoming wedding day has already happened in her heart.
Maybe you have never considered what is happening with that forlorn, discontent, lost, struggling-to-attend sister in the pew next to you, but now that you do, please don’t tell her to read her scriptures more, to pray a little harder or just trust in the Lord. Don’t take out another knife to dig at her already bleeding heart. Her knees are worn, her pride is shed, her heart is crumbled in pieces. The sister in the pew next to you needs to be heard and understood, yet she is being asked to keep her issues to herself. The pain of the sister, your sister and mine, will get too much and perhaps next week she will no longer be sitting in the pew next to you.