Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Response to a reader on being a Mormon

In an email, a reader said she had attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a child, and now had a new curiosity about it. She was especially interested in how I could have a little bit of the rebel in me, and still be a member of what she called a very strict religion. Also, she wondered what would happen if she attended services on Sunday. Here's my response:

I don't know how much you know about Mormonism, but I love the teaching that we came to earth for the chance to choose which direction to take. Jesus said, "I stand at the door and knock" which means we get to choose whether to let Him in or not. Because I've watched the gospel plan in action in other people's lives, and tried it for myself, I totally trust it. That's why I've chosen to live it. I see the commandments as eternal laws that always work, and I have the opportunity to choose to keep them, or to try something else.

Experience and observation has now combined with my faith, and I know for myself that breaking commandments leads to unhappiness. I've seen how adultery, abuse, alcoholism, meanness, dishonesty, envy, pride, etc. destroys individuals, marriages and families. On the other hand, I've seen that service, charity, forgiveness, kindness, faithfulness, etc. build people up. An eternal perspective of the family gives me hope and motivation.

My understanding is that Heavenly Father is my partner as I try to live the commandments; He's understanding and helpful when I fall, and always there to help me back up, if I ask. So, I don't feel forced. My rebel isn't raised. I am happy, in spite of challenges and problems, and I think it's because I've made choices that lead to happiness. My bad choices have been turned into blessings over time, when I've asked God to take over and fix things.

I realize that bad things happen to good people. We can be victims of other people's bad choices. But that doesn't mean the gospel plan failed; people fail. I know that bad circumstances can be turned into good ones, with the help of Jesus Christ, and we can choose whether to ask for his help or not. When I've humbled myself, acknowledged I can't do it on my own, and sincerely asked for help, it's always come.

I view the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Latter-day Saints separately. The Church is the organization set up to teach the Gospel (the perfect plan for happiness) and help us live it fully. The Saints are just a bunch of imperfect people trying to apply the plan to their lives.

The Saints can sometimes be annoying. My rebel comes to life when somebody arbitrarily says we have to wear nylons to church, or that the Republicans are the one true party. I'm trying to develop Christ-like attributes, like patience and kindness, so my attitude is that these people mean well, but often they're preaching their own gospel and it isn't necessarily true. I read the scriptures and the General Conference issue of the Ensign magazine so I can tell the difference, and pray that I'll recognize the truths that will lead to happiness. Then I let everyone else make their own choices.

There are some things I don't understand about the Gospel so I take them on faith. I study things out, pray, and do what seems right. I guess I don't feel rebellious against the LDS Church because I've never felt forced to live it. When I hear all the rumors and gossip and different opinions, it bugs me, but I don't put people in the same category as the gospel. The gospel is true, and people are trying (in both senses of the word!)

Being active in the church, serving in callings, and teaching the principles to my kids have definitely given me peace of mind, eternal perspective and happiness. It's a commitment, but it's worth it.

I don't know your circumstances, or how familiar you are with your ward, but if you want to go back to church this is what I'd recommend: There are three meetings in a row on Sunday—it's a 3-hour block, with Relief Society, Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting. Just go, and attend whatever you feel like, and stay as long as you want. I think Relief Society is great. It's just women, and the lessons are usually very good and applicable. You'll probably feel like you're standing out as THE NEWBIE, but you won't. Every ward has a few visitors each week, and every ward has members who show up just occasionally. Some wards are friendly and you might feel overwhelmed, but they're just trying to be nice. Other wards (like ours) have visitors a lot, and people are offended because the lady next to them didn't introduce herself and act welcoming. It's usually because she was a visitor, too.

If you want to, introduce yourself to the Relief Society president. When the roll gets passed around, sign as a visitor if you want. The truth is, the presidency will notice you're there, and want to make you feel welcome, but they'll be worried that they might offend you in some way. They want you to have a good experience. You can sneak in and out without talking to anyone (people do it all the time) or you can join in the lesson, make a comment, ask a question, whatever you feel like doing.

Sunday School is as good as the teacher. You can usually sit in there and never be noticed at all, or you can participate. This year the lessons are from the Doctrine and Covenants.

When you go to Sacrament Meeting a few people might introduce themselves. They're not singling you out, necessarily. They're just being friendly. Sit wherever you want to. Everyone will assume you're visiting or that you've just moved in. Sing if you want, or just listen. Nobody will notice or care if you take the sacrament or not, so don't feel self conscious about that. Just pass the tray along. Don't judge the church by the speakers. They're sometimes interesting and sometimes boring, but they're always trying to do a decent job.

If you want to really jump in with both feet, introduce yourself to the bishop and ask for an appointment to see him. Then just explain yourself to him, and tell him your situation and how involved you want to be. Usually bishops are pretty sensitive and they become protective of people, anxious to help without too much interfering or pushing too hard. I have never had a bishop who is judgmental. They usually feel very humble about their responsibility and aware of their own shortcomings and mistakes to be disapproving. My experience is that they're loving and sympathetic.

Sorry to ramble on. I love talking about myself, and the church is a big part of me. Good luck with whatever you choose to do. I'd love to hear about your experience either way.

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