Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Leaving Mormonism . . . and finding my way back (part 2)

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

Yesterday we had the first of two parts of novelist Mette Ivie Harrison’s personal story of losing faith in Mormonism. Today she reveals how she is trying to find her testimony again, returning to prayer and to church activity.

As you can see, she rejects the “blame the victim” response that many Mormons have when someone chooses to leave. I agree with her. Everyone seemed to tell Mette that if she could just pray more, do more, read the scriptures more, BE MORE, then she would be fine. Her faith must be flawed, her heart must be stubborn, etc., if she couldn’t just get with the program.

That kind of approach from church members is empty of compassion — as Mette points out, it is a selfish and self-protective response on the part of those still in the fold. They don’t want to listen so much as to blame, finding culprits in other people so they won’t have to face the dark places within themselves. Instead of pointing out their faults, why can’t church members look a little deeper and ask themselves how they might have failed to help? — JKR

Leaving Mormonism . . . and finding my way back (part 2)

By Mette Ivie Harrison

[For the first part of Mette’s personal story, click here.]

I am trying to return to belief. It is not an easy road. I now read scriptures again, but completely differently than before, often one verse over and over for months on end until I feel I understand it.

I pray differently as well. I asked every night for a couple of years, “Are you there? I don’t hear you. I don’t believe it. Amen.”

Sometimes I found myself wanting to pray for one of my five living children, but being afraid to. I had been promised in a priesthood blessing that my daughter Mercy “would be fine” and not to worry that she was two weeks past her due date. I had a terrible fear that praying for my children might end up killing them if God decided that being “fine” meant being dead.

Most of my atheist friends think I am crazy for going back to church. Their stories of loss of faith make me think about what we as a community of believers are doing wrong.

One friend told me that his mother asked how he could not commit suicide if he didn’t believe in God. He wondered if that was a subtle hint that she thought he should commit suicide.

Another had been a Primary President but when her husband ran for office in Utah as a Democrat, random threatening phone calls to the “baby killers” began from members of their own ward. Others have left because of being gay or transgendered and feeling there is no place for them among the believers.

President Uchtdorf’s talk in the October 2013 General Conference made me cheer out loud for the first time in many years. The idea that someone like me, who still isn’t sure what she believes, could be welcome to just be who I am and not feel like I am unworthy or inadequate, was such a gift. I love Elder Uchtdorf and wanted to copy his talk and send it around to the former Mormons I know.

Many Mormons do not see the subtle ways in which they signal that some among the fold are unwelcome. When a Young Women leader tells the girls they shouldn’t come in shorts even if it’s right after a soccer game, is she encouraging modesty or telling some girls not to bother? What about when we insist that we can only be saved only as families—what message does that send to single Mormons? When we insist that a mission is the highest standard of church service, what are we communicating to members who never served missions?

I am not saying that we should have no standards, but that we need to be a more understanding people. We need to truly mourn with others, not judge them. We need to be less smug when people leave the church and stop pointing out their faults.

Perhaps we should think instead about what we failed to do to help them.

 

Mette Ivie Harrison is a nationally ranked triathlete and Mormon mother of 5, including one missionary in Texas. She is the author of six YA fantasies, including The Princess and the Hound and The Rose Throne. She also has published a memoir of her experiences in loss and triathlon called Ironmom and has an adult mystery coming out with Soho Press in December called The Bishop’s Wife. You can find her at www.metteivieharrison.com or on twitter (@metteharrison), facebook (Mette Harrison or Mette Ivie Harrison), and tumblr (www.metteivieharrison.tumblr.com).

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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