Dear readers, please forgive my time off. New job, new schedule. No sleep.
But now, for more angst. The last time we met, I was leaving the LDS church with absolutely every intention of never talking about religion again. I hated being there, I felt betrayed by my friends, and I felt abandoned by God. I told Him, “I needed you for this. Where where you when I needed you to make this okay? This was your shot, pal. This was your opportunity to let me know what’s up. You let me down.”
For every hurt feeling I had, for every broken piece of my heart that felt completely abandoned by God, I somehow still knew that He was there. He just happened to not love me very much. Fine then. I don’t need you either, I thought.
The sister missionaries called me that week to meet. When they called, I knew that they were setting aside their missionary responsibilities and they just reached out to me as a friend. For the conversation they were hoping to have, they were my friends, and I needed a friend. So I agreed, and we met at the church (ugh) the following Saturday. Normally, I would have never agreed to go back to that place, but we couldn’t meet at my house, and I didn’t want to have the conversation we were surely going to have in any public space. It really was our only option.
We met at 2:00 p.m. and the three of us sat in the Relief Society room. For the first few minutes, it was dead silent. What was there to talk about? Every reason I left church in the first place was thrown back at me that week. I had been right all along. What could they possibly have to say to combat that? How do you teach someone that Heavenly Father loves them, when their first experience at church is hearing that he doesn’t. We knew that a “lesson” wasn’t going to cut it.
Sister R asked me, “How are you feeling? What are you thinking?”
Raging fire. Burning heart. Love and hope and desire blown to bits. Testimonies crashing down like a poorly constructed house of cards. I was hurting.
We sat for 6 hours. Count ’em. SIX HOURS. We sat for 6 hours in that Relief Society room and most of it was me crying in a raging fit about how I felt and what I was thinking. “God doesn’t love me and you heard it for yourself. I don’t need this church. I don’t need God to be a good person. If Christians were really Christ-like, people would not be suffering the way they are right now. If God really was a loving Heavenly Father, He’d fix this. He’d put an end to this suffering and fix this right now. But He isn’t, so He isn’t.”
The missionaries already knew how I felt about religion (see: every other post before this), but I needed to make it perfectly clear to them that I, LadyMo, could not survive in a church. Religion would crush my soul, kill my passion, and drive a stake through everything I knew to be true. Religion, to me, was a powerful tool with which people could commit hate crimes and hide behind a mask of righteousness. Ugh. I was so angry.
But I felt like this wasn’t over yet. And that just made me more angry.
That night, after a six hour marathon with the sisters, I was emotionally and physically drained. I’m shocked they wanted to stay on their missions after conversations with me, as I’m positive I drained them of their will to live. I was so tired, but I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but I knew that I didn’t want to be home. I wasn’t ready to be alone with my thoughts, but I didn’t want to be around other people. I know that I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but I really needed God.
Growing up Catholic, I knew that sanctuaries were always open. The Catholic Church was the very reason I had to “leave religion,” but I felt so strongly that I needed to find a church. I drove across town to a ginormo mega church. I walked inside and, even though it wasn’t the church I grew up in, I found comfort in the familiar, even if that kind of familiar was hurting so badly.
I stood in the narthex for almost 20 minutes, wasting time pacing around and looking at church pamphlets. It took a while for me to find a reason to walk into the sanctuary because I still didn’t know what I was looking for (God) or how to find it. Before I walked in, I felt a very subtle push and got a gentle feeling of, “Just pray.” I told that voice, “you know I don’t want to do this.”
I walked past the baptismal font and was overcome with reverence of the silence. It was upsetting. I sat down in a pew, and just shivered. I was shaking, felt defeated, everything was spinning, and I just felt lost. I needed something or someone, but I didn’t know what or where to find it. UUGGGHHH. It sucked.
I sat for an hour and found anything I could do to not pray. I read the missal, read some hymns, let my eyes rest on the stations of the cross. I did anything to not pray. But I felt glued to my seat. And that voice got louder. Just pray.
I read Mark. I read the entire Gospel and I think with the hope that I’d find my answer that this is all stupid and all made up and I am, as I had maintained all along, right in my conviction that God hated my family and that religion was a hate filled institution of foolish human beings.
My heart and lungs and body were so filled and heavy and I could taste every salty tear in my head. It felt like there was another person trying to rip her way through my body and to escape from me. Something was trying to get out, and my skin was burning trying to keep it locked in. I walked into the church hurting emotionally, and I sat there hurting physically.
I put down my Bible and grunted and groaned in frustration. I screamed on the inside, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”
That voice that I was trying to ignore came in loud and clear: Get on your knees and pray.
I got on my knees, I folded my hands, and I tucked my head in. I was fighting back tears. I was fighting so hard. I was holding back tears so hard I thought I was going to vomit right there in the sanctuary.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Tell me anything.”
“How? How do I do it? I don’t know how to do this.”
“You’re doing it now. Just tell me anything.”
“FINE! I don’t know if you’re real. I don’t know if you love me. And that scares me.”
In that second, when I finally opened up my heart to tell Him how lost and how alone and how scared I felt, everything I had been holding on to came rushing out. Tears, snot, drool, hysterical sobbing. It was a bone cleansing cry. Everything that was trying to get out of my body finally just broke through and came flooding out of me. I felt empty, but the good kind of empty. It felt like an empty that comes after carrying something heavy and cumbersome and you just want to dump it out to make your load lighter. I felt lighter and clean. And I felt loved and comforted.
“I’ve known you all along. And I’ve never stopped loving you.”
You know when kids have a full body temper tantrum and they are so hysterical you can’t go near them because they will probably end up kicking or punching you? You know how they eventually become so exhausted they have no energy left to even cry? You know how they are able to find just a second of peace and you can swoop in and just wrap your arms around them and hold them?
This is what it took for me to know God. I got on my knees and prayed and He comforted me. He was there when I asked for Him, and after my physically and emotionally exhausting temper tantrum, He swooped in and held me. For the first time in a very painful and very long time, I felt God’s presence. It was everywhere around me and I could feel it, breathe it, and drink it.
It took a few minutes to pull myself together. I was alone in the sanctuary and it was late. When I came back down to put my feet on the ground (literally and metaphorically), two thoughts crossed my mind: that was incredible; don’t tell the missionaries.
The next day, I went to church and told the sister missionaries.