(Disclaimer: This is merely my experience. I do not wish to project that it should be yours, but I believe that there is much we can glean from sharing authentic experiences with each other and so I attempt to do that here, and hope you will share with me your experiences.)
(A few buzz words to understand if you don’t know them already:
Church– In context here is referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Bishop – Essentially, your church leader for the particular ward that you attend.
Ward – Essentially, a synonym for congregation)
In May 2015 I walked into my Bishop’s Office, sat down, and basically told him that this was my last attempt at staying active in the church.
You see, unbeknownst to all but some close confidants I had been struggling with my activity at church for a year or so. I mean, I would attend each Sunday, but mostly out of habit, for social reasons, and guilt/paranoia of what would happen if I stopped attending.
For the sake of my experience, I think it’s important you know why I was ready to be out. I was completely and utterly exhausted. I was exhausted by my interpretation of the gospel, as well as, my practice of it. Basically, I was living what I now see as a skewed interpretation of the gospel.
At this time in my life I was feeling the need to be perfect. Since I could never attain what I thought “perfection” looked like, I would get discouraged and think why even try? Because of my imperfections, I was certain God would never bless me, or never answer any of my prayers because those are only things he does for righteous people. And since I was so imperfect, there was no way that could happen for me.
On top of that, I would constantly feel guilty for the fact that I wasn’t doing all of the things I had been taught my whole life to do – reading my scriptures daily, attending every meeting, praying, having faith, etc. And when I would do any of these things they were done out of guilt.
Basically, somewhere along the way in life my discipleship had turned into one where my actions were based on a foundation of guilt and the idea that God was disappointed in me because I was never doing enough, but at the same time, I was too exhausted to do more than I already was.
I proceeded to tell my Bishop that it was up to him to convince me to stay.
No pressure, right?
Looking back, I see the millions of ways this was wrong and the millions of ways that it could have gone south very quickly. And you know what? Sometimes it does. And I don’t fault those people. We are all on our own journey.
Thankfully for me, I had a Bishop that knew me well, understood my needs, and listened to The Spirit.
He gently looked at me, listened to me speak for about 40 minutes straight, and then kindly said,
“Katie, I’m going to tell you something that might sound a little unconventional. I don’t care if you attend church. I don’t care if you read your scriptures or pray. Do I want you to? Yes. Would I miss seeing you at church? Absolutely. But I don’t care about any of those things. I only care that you have a personal relationship with your Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Let’s get you back to that.”
Not the answer I was expecting. And yet, it was the perfect answer for me.
He then shared the following verses with me:
Mark 12: 30 – 31
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
He went on to explain how in the grand scheme of things, these two greatest commandments were all that really mattered. Everything else was just additional.
He gave me counsel to not feel pressured to attend my church meetings, reading my scriptures, praying, etc.
The only thing he asked of me was to practice and implement these two verses in my life and to do it in whatever way I could. He didn’t place parameters as to what the practice of it should look like. He allowed me to discover what it would look like for myself.
I’d like to say that I left his office that day and a week later everything was fine. In all reality, it took months. Months of literally thinking of these verses and trying to implement them in everything I saw and did.
However, slowly yet surely I began to rebuild my testimony and church experience. This time, however, it wasn’t built on a foundation of anxiety, perfectionism, guilt or fear. Instead, it was being built (and still is) upon these two commandments – love thy neighbor as thyself (“Thyself” being a key part to this that we shouldn’t overlook) and loving God with all my heart.
As I focused on these two things, and pretty much only these two things, for several months I started noticing a few things:
- I had a desire to read, search and study my scriptures because I wanted to know more about God’s love for me and my fellow men. I didn’t read them every day, but I read them when I wanted to because I wanted to see and feel more of God’s love. Over time, the frequency of my scripture study increased, but this time not out of guilt or feeling like I “should” be reading them.
- I felt God’s love for me. Sometimes, I would literally sit down in silence, eyes shut, and I would just try to feel God’s love for me. It worked. I would feel a warmth inside of my heart that began to grow stronger over time. For this first time in several years, I felt like I was enough in God’s eyes. Not because I was trying to do everything perfectly, but because I spent time just feeling His love.
- As I felt God’s love for me, my love for Him also continued to grow.
- I became happier and more hopeful. My Faith increased.
- My prayers became personal and meaningful again. I wanted to pray and speak with Him because I loved Him and no longer felt like He must constantly be disappointed in my lack of perfection.
- I wanted to attend Church – not always all 3 hours of it, but I think that can come with more time.
At the end of the day, it essentially took pressing the restart button on my testimony and beginning with the basics for me to see what this gospel is really about.
It’s not about completing a checklist of all the things we are “supposed” to be doing, or even understanding everything in the gospel at this time in our lives.
To me, it’s about loving God, loving ourselves and fellow men the way God loves us, seeing God’s love for us individually and then allowing everything else to just grow from there.