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

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Mette Ivie Harrison

(courtesy of Mette Ivie Harrison)

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).

  • Mette and Jana – Thank you. I didn’t lose a child, I lost a religion – the same one you are trying to return to. I guess mine isn’t lost, but it is laying in a coma trying to decide what it wants to do. I am sitting by it’s bed, recounting all the good memories, but wondering if I am not being selfish by trying to hold on. I used to be the leader, like Mette. As a leader though I was rogue. Not in a rude way, but over time and over others choices, I am one of those not wanted anymore, or if wanted, it is a compliant want. I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but Mette I pray for your success, may your healing be splendid and may your voice be heard. Easter is near – I hope it brings renewal to you.

  • Ajo

    Mette concluded her excellent post with “Perhaps we should think instead about what we failed to do to help them.” I would love for her to expound on that. How do we help? What can we say that won’t be misconstrued, incorrectly judged as being judgemental, or come across as insensitive?

  • Some thoughts on things that would have helped me:

    1. Emphasis every day in church that God loves us. Rather than the tendency to beat people over the head and tell them they aren’t going to temple enough, or serving enough in other ways.
    2. Getting rid of the narrative that says “I’m glad terrible things happened to me.” Growing and learning from mistakes is different than real tragedies.
    3. I would personally ban the phrase “I know” in testimony meeting. Replace instead with “I believe” and “I hope.”

    Other than that, I think that repeating the phrases “I love you” and “I’m sorry” really never gets old. The idea that you need to come up with a narrative that fits someone else’s experience and comforts them is contrary to the command to mourn with people. Sit and listen. Allow yourself to be sad. Stop trying to bandaid the pain by saying it is God’s will. Pain is pain.

  • Also, I forgot one other thing. I feel strongly that we need to teach in lessons about accepting callings that there are times when turning down a calling is appropriate and right. We should be teaching when these times are instead of guilting people into accepting a calling no matter what. It really is not always the best thing.

  • I agree with this. I’ve heard too many stories when the church has issued callings to people in very vulnerable states and put on a lot of pressure to accept those callings. In most cases I think that this is kindly meant — we want people to feel useful and know that they are NOT being ostracized for having a hard time or for struggling with their testimony. A calling can help them feel a part of the community, and that’s a good thing. However, we need to be open to their answer being no, and recognize that people have the right to be the judge of their own situation.

  • Ajo

    Thanks for the ideas. It’s surprising (and then again not) to think that any would say anything besides “sorry” and “I love you”– as if they could speak for God and explain the why. Again, thank you for the insightful post.

  • jeff

    I started both a facebook page and group that deal with these topics. They’re called Tattooed Mormons. Check them out and welcome back Mette.

  • Amen. Even back when I was crisis free, I wanted to hear changes like this, and I tried to do and say as I felt. The challenge is the intense tide that floods the other way. Thank you Mette for your courage in your pain. Thank you for inviting us in to your process.

  • Linda

    I appreciated this so much. It’s hard to be honest about our doubts in a culture that stresses perfection on very limited terms. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve done or embraced even when it didn’t feel honest to myself, because that’s what good Mormon girls/moms/women did. It wasn’t until well-meaning but narrow-focused YW leaders judged my daughter right out of the Church and my sister and her family finally stopped attending after years of depression and hurt each Sunday that I began to question this living the Gospel by rote. I still believe… mostly. But I’m trying to be more honest with myself about what that means to me and my family. We’re more open now. More accepting. Active, but on a more relaxed scale. It raises some eyebrows… and “helpful” comments… and I try not to let that get to me, but it is hard. Thank you for sharing your experience. It helps to know I’m not alone.

  • I said the same thing in Relief Society the other week. I used a real example from my life when my health precluded me from the calling I was being extended. The entire room was like a tomb after my comment. The teacher wasn’t even sure where to go in her lesson, because she was teaching a General Conference talk by a General Authority which stated that the second or third way to keep the Love of God in your life is to accept all callings. I wasn’t trying to buck the system, or say the speaker was wrong, only share that “to every thing there is a season”. I guess I need to work on my delivery or maybe not worry so much about others silence.

  • Anonymous

    This is an interesting read, as I made the decision a day ago that I guess I don’t really know if I believe in God anymore. Ambiguous decision, I know. However, my wife is my best friend and is a devoted member. I know that if I told her I don’t believe, that she would probably leave me for someone of “equal yoke.” So I have been committing myself to “fake it” so that we can stay together and I can be close to the kids we have together. Maybe God will show me what I am failing to see someday and it will click. I guess I am working through what my life would be like in those circumstances and if it is what I want to do. I knew that after serving my mission I would have “trials of faith,” but I never thought I wouldn’t have faith.

  • Anonymous – I am hugging you as hard as I can over the net here. May whatever Divine Source exists to assist you, may you find it and succeed with it. My blessings toward you.

  • M

    «What can we say that won’t be misconstrued, incorrectly judged as being judgemental, or come across as insensitive? ».
    This sentence shows exactly why judgments continue to happen in church… In those situations, the «offender» expell the blame from them, saying that they were «misunderstood», therefore bringing sympathy to themselves. As adults we are all judgmental of others, we should accept that try to get rid of our misconceptions, judgments and indifference in our very own mind.

    Nobody «knows» that the mormon church is true unless they’ve seen Jesus, everybody’s afraid of making mistakes, everybody (the apostate and non-member too) is trying their best. Nobody is better than his neighbor or «knows better».

  • Mette,
    My heart just breaks for you! Both for the trial you’ve had to endure and the reaction you’ve gotten from church members. Truly, people don’t understand. They mean well, but don’t know how to help. I’ve had a couple of trials in my life that really ate at me. One was infertility. It was so hard going to church and looking at all the happy, big families. It was so hard to go to baby showers. It made me mad to be invited, but would have hurt me not to be invited. Like you, I felt that people’s sympathy was just a band-aid on a gaping wound. It didn’t help.

    It wasn’t that they didn’t care. They just didn’t have to deal with the pain everyday. They didn’t know how to help me with it. (And people outside of the church weren’t any better. It isn’t Mormons, it’s people.) Really, looking back, there was nothing anyone could have said that would have helped. (Except maybe, I love you. I care. I’m sorry. You must be really hurting. Do you want to talk about it?) I was hollowed out inside. I didn’t know how to handle that trial well. I wonder if anyone handles trials well when they’re in the midst of them.

    Thankfully, that trial ended. Sometimes you just have to do what it takes to endure. My advice to people is not to distance themselves from the things that will eventually bring them peace. It does eventually come. If you need medicine, take it. If you need to see a therapist, do it. If you need to mourn, do that too. Sometimes I think we try to push away the mourning, when really, we need to mourn.

    Another trial I had for years didn’t end, but eventually my attitude about it changed. It can happen. And going through these trials–even though I certainly didn’t always go through them well–has made me more sensitive to other people’s suffering.

    Mette, I’m sorry you’re suffering. I care. I don’t know you all that well, but I love you for trying. I’m sure there are many women in your ward who would put their arms around you and listen if they knew that was what you needed. Hang in there!

  • I want to hug you so hard right now, Mette. Your bravery in sharing this reminds me that I do not have to feel ashamed for doing what feels right for me and my family. And also, we are not alone. Hughughug.

  • Tracie

    I too want to give Mette hugs and hugs! I’m so grateful for brave folks willing to share stories like this so we can all learn what love, support, and bearing one another’s burdens looks like for various men and women. Jana, I’ve been grateful for your ability to share your grief over your mother’s passing – I have thought on it often – along with Melissa Dalton Bradford’s account. Looking forward to her book “On Loss and Living Onward.” I hope you review it 🙂 Bless you, Mette and others here, for navigating your return on your own terms. I like the idea of sabbaticals in many shapes and forms. I’m really grateful that in my ward council as we’ve discussed Activities held in the ward, that the focus has been on truly viewing the ward and activities as being there to support individuals and families and not an end in themselves. Mette, your advice felt right on!

  • Fern

    I think your question is an honest one and deserves and honest answer, but like you, I don’t know what the answer is.

    If we, like all people, have been judgmental in the past and are truly sorry, we should be forgiven and not be condemned when we are not that way anymore. We should be able to live down our past mistakes without someone else coming down with harsh judgment on us as well.

  • Tracie, thank you. I hadn’t heard of Melissa’s book — do have someone send it to me when it is published.

    It sounds like good things are happening in your ward community.

  • Fern

    Like everyone else, I have problems. Who cares? Who even understands? A lot of the time, we are simply incapable of understanding. Yes, saying “I love you” and “I care” might be better than nothing, but even having someone who talks to you in ordinary situations is more than I have had most of my life. I have been terribly lonely. A few rare individuals have befriended me, and I am grateful for them.

    From the time I was 12 until 65 I thought I was autistic, or with Asperger Syndrome, but had no clue as to how to get help for myself or an evaluation for a possible diagnosis. Then I thought it might not really be helpful for me at my age anyway.

    With my experiences of the past year, I think it isn’t really autism, but the thyroid, or something more basic than that that affects the thyroid, probably something genetic as I see similar problems in family members. What I want is medical answers.

    I did not lose a child after carrying it for nine months; I lost children in the first 3 months of pregnancy. Was I glad that the Doctors were more concerned about my “grief” than my need to know what caused the miscarriages? No. I still want answers. I still want real help. Maybe the real answers would be helpful in my current health situation.

    I believe there is much to be learned in the medical world. God only knows the answers…literally. That is why I turn to Him with the questions. That is why I suffer through His treatment…because I believe that He will help me through the worst of it.

    When I was 7 months along with my 4th child I broke my foot. No big problem. All was well. It was my fault, anyway, for taking the stairs 2 and a time with a load of groceries. Why was I doing that? I had a lot of energy. Why did I have so much energy? because I had been given a pack of Medrol for a chronic cough 9 months after my previous daughter was born. Did my doctor make a mistake by prescribing it? No. He asked me if I was pregnant and I said “no” because I hadn’t had a period while nursing.

    It took women at Relief Society asking me, “Did you say you were pregnant?” a couple of times for me to realize I should probably get a test. Then it took ultrasound to show when my due date was. My daughter was born on her due date, 9 months after the Medrol. She was born with infant glaucoma, a side effect of having the steroid while pregnant.

    Rewind about 5 more years (I was almost 35 at the time)…my husband and I bought a house and moved to a new city with our first baby. We needed a new doctor, a new pediatrician or simply a good family doctor. I prayed about it. Getting an answer in the form of a voice in my head would probably mean to the mental health community that I am schizophrenic, but I will admit it anyway. The voice said “Look in the yellow pages and a name will stand out to you.” I did. The doctor.’s name was John Taylor. I re-read the list a few times and that name certainly was the only one that stood out to me, so I called and got an appointment.

    Wind forward again those 5 years… My fourth little baby was the smallest of all at 5 lbs 15 oz. She looked frightened much of the time and I thought she might have a problem with her hearing. I said as much to my husband when he was going to give her the name and blessing. He did not bless her ears, but her eyes.

    At her six-week well-baby check, Dr. Taylor said it looked like there was something wrong with her eyes and got us an appointment with an eye doctor. The eye doctor thought maybe it was the thyroid, but also tried to check her for glaucoma, which was hard for him to do on an infant. Then he was at a meeting with a glaucoma specialist speaking. Our eye doctor talked with him afterwards about our baby. In short, we were told to bring her to the specialist right away. He diagnosed infant glaucoma and operated in time to prevent her from going blind.

    It took me five years, and after several miscarriages and some fertility difficulties, to realize that breaking my foot at 7 months along, may have helped my little daughter to weigh as much as she did, because it stopped me from expending so much of OUR energy. I also began to realize that the Medrol itself may have been the thing that helped me ovulate and conceive. The infant glaucoma caused no blindness because my doctor that I was led to find was quick to observe a problem and send me the right direction, which way was prepared ahead of me to have a good outcome.

    Sorry about the lengthy comment, but I will conclude by saying that I believe that the choices are all our own. Blaming other people doesn’t help. Blaming ourselves certainly doesn’t help, but learning from past mistakes and moving on to a brighter future is something we can only do for ourselves and not for others.

    For myself, I choose to believe in God. I believe He has perfect love for all of us and that He has wisdom and foreknowledge that greatly exceeds anything mere mortals can hope to dream up. I believe that prayer and having a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father is the best choice we can make for ourselves, but for you that choose otherwise, I respect your decision.

  • Anonymous — God bless you in this struggle. If you don’t feel you can talk to your wife about it yet (I hope you will be able to down the road), I pray that you can find someone sympathetic with whom you can hash this out. Maybe that will be a church leader, a therapist, or a spiritual director.

    Formal spiritual direction can be a helpful option for many people. Basically, a spiritual director is trained in deep listening — not giving advice or telling you just to read your scriptures more, etc. — to help people discern what God might be trying to communicate. http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director

  • Pingback: Leaving Mormonism . . . and finding my way back | Flunking Sainthood()

  • Tharen

    Knowing Mette as part of my community and not as a member of the LDS church I am humbled by her openness to share her trials and pain openly to connect with others in a very human and loving way.

  • Thank you all for your hugs and your support. I was pretty nervous about posting these naked essays about my life and I spent several days with my stomach in a knot. I haven’t always met with support when I am honest. Lectures, even well-meaning ones, tend to leave me crying alone in bed at night.

    Secondly, a friend of mine asked *why* I came back. And I thought that was a pertinent question. I know so many people who leave and I respect and understand their choice. My oldest daughter is serving a mission, but my second daughter left the Mormon church in her teens and is now an atheist, but has no bitterness toward the church. I love her so completely and feel she is making good choices for her life.

    But for me, after I was an atheist for a couple of years, I just felt so alone. It wasn’t being out of the church. It was the sensation of smallness in the universe and the lack of intention or purpose in existing. I just couldn’t bear that. So I decided that even if I made up a belief in God, I still wanted that. After that happened, I considered looking around for a church that fit me, but I got kind of stubborn.

    The Mormon church is MY church. It’s the church of my ancestors, who died for it and lived for it. It’s the church of my husband and my children. It’s the church of my childhood and the church of many friends. I was NOT going to let other people decide what my church was or wasn’t. So,yeah, I get annoyed a lot. But I stopped listening to what people say so much and tried really hard to just have my own communion with God at church and during conference today. It doesn’t always work, and I’m still pretty tentative.

    But I do believe that there can be reform from within and that I can be part of that.

  • Mette,

    My heart goes out to you in compassion and love. I’m so sorry to hear about this painful situation. I have never had anything like it, and it is simply unimaginably painful. Thank you for sharing. All I can hope is that perhaps your load might be at little lighter knowing some of us long to bear some of it with you.

  • Susan Corpany


    Although I have always hoped that my own trials have made me more compassionate to others, your message makes me want to redouble my efforts. And as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I am going to try harder to remember something that people seem to forget at church, that just because we are there in the chair doesn’t mean we are all fully converted and all at the same place spiritually. Most talks and lessons in the Church are reminders meant for those already living the principles. So many feel less-than as a result of so many things. Some are striving, some are struggling, most are doing both. And many are fearful of sharing their struggles for fear of the judgments that inevitably follow. I pray I can be that person who inspires someone to take a tentative step back toward the church rather than the person who, knowingly or unknowlngly, pushes them out the door. I have lost a brother, a husband and an unborn child, and I have found that most people are willing to be there in your “hour of need.” But they get rather impatient if it takes you longer than an hour. We are expected to bounce back like spiritual Weebles, bear our testimonies about how grateful we are for our trials, and soldier on. And we get the message that comes across. “If you are hurting or struggling, keep it to yourself.” So we often do, struggling alone and putting on our Sunday face. Because we all learned early on that “no one likes a frowny face.” While the intent of that simple little song is good, “smiling all the while” is not often possible and is not always the answer.. Thank you, Mette, for reminding us that we need to do a better job to bear one another’s burdens.

  • Yvonne

    I “walked” in on some already on-going, in-depth conversations. I’m hearing at least one of several underlying themes…God is only found in or through the LDS church. May I suggest an alternative? That would be that God is God. Church (LDS Church or any church) is not God. If there is a choice to be made, perhaps one can look at a choice between Joseph and Jesus, or church and God. Consider that church may be a housing facility, wherein people have religion to support their ideas about God, true or not. …just something to consider…

  • Tiani

    Mette: I think we might know each other; I have this vague memory of you, I think, from BYU? Sorry, as we get older, we have a harder time remembering people from our more distant past. But I remember I liked you!!

    Anyway, I want to tell you I love you. Like you, I was a “valiant youth,” and stalwart member. I thought I was super strong in the Church, with what I considered to be a rock-solid testimony. The quick version is that I had a few little mini faith crises, each time coming out stronger. But one day, a lot of little things that had been difficult, without being able to pinpoint exactly how it happened, I found myself in a darker place than I’d ever been, hanging on with a thread. I couldn’t deny my past experiences with God, but it seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to find Him, and the darkness lasted a long time. I had tiny glimmers here and there. I never got to the point of saying I was atheist, nor did I leave the Church, but it was dark, lonely, scary, and painful. And then one day, a miracle came into my life. I had done nothing to deserve it. It was simply the grace of God, starting through the inspiration of another person. It was a clear, unmistakable answer to so many deep down, unspoken prayers. And what was important was that it was a clear confirmation to me that God loves me more than I ever could have imagined, that he’s ALWAYS mindful of me and was there all along (and that He feels this way about ALL of his children) . . . and I started to feel much more empathy for others and a desire to be a better disciple of Christ. Since then, I’ve had other trials and difficulties, other dark moments, and other miracles. A continuous journey.

    I’m learning that we in the Church have nearly lost the ability to find our faith in times of crises because we have nearly lost the core meaning of Christ’s gospel. I’ve changed the way I view many concepts. I see now that the law does not save us: we can obey the law and be “righteous” all the day long, but that in itself will not help us find the pure love of Christ. But the pure love of Christ immediately cleanses us and gives us only a desire to be righteous. That love comes from Christ, unconditionally. That’s all we have to have faith in, the love of Christ (the Atonement of Christ). –(Christ taught the two great commandments: love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself). It seems so easy, but when there’s darkness all around us, it’s nearly impossible to believe that enough for Him to reach us. I don’t believe I deserved this blessing from God anymore than anyone else. All I can do is thank God and hope that I can help bring others unto Him. I know He loves you and pray that you will find that glimmer and feel that love very soon.

    (I posted this on part 1 accidentally; I had already read part 2)

  • Anonymous

    It seems unfair to begrudge someone for ” knowing” something is true when you would appreciate when others do not judge you for merely believing. I too want to know WHY someone “knows” it’s true. For me, I know its true because I cannot deny the burning feeling I had in my heart when I was baptized or that same feeling I get when I have a profoundly spiritual experience. These experiences are not often but they are undeniably real.

    I do not wish terrible things on me or anyone else I know for sake of “growth,” and while I believe that we do get stronger through overcoming our challenges, some challenges (tragedies) take a lot longer to overcome so we have to give ourselves a little slack. I cannot fathom getting through any of them without the grace of God: Mormon or otherwise. I pray I wont need to.

    In cases such as yours, you have to know that everyone handles these tragedies differently. If it were me, I would have totally shut down and not wanted to hear everyone’s awkward condolences or wanted to face people or talk about it. I, immaturely, might have assumed you needed some time and space to process your grief so I might have reached out in other ways. Regardless, I should not project or assume that you or anyone else would need anything but love and someone to talk to. Major regret and lesson learned for me.

    I do not judge nor do I care if others judge me, that is their prerogative. I am who I know how to be and you are who you are. We need to perfect our own spiritual house and worry less about judging someone else’s. At the same time, we all need to give each other a break and realize that there is no one way to handle things. Every one comes pre-wired with different personalities and insecurities so not everyone is going to handle things exactly as one might think they should. This, in no way, means that they do not care; that they do not pray for you and wish they knew how to help.

    I’m so sorry that your faith has been shaken, that you have endured this profound tragedy and that your journey has been tumultuous but I can tell that you are going to be a spiritual giant when you learn all that you need, to “know” that this is the right place for you.

    You are an inspiration to many, whether they say it to your face or just admit it to themselves. Know that you are loved!!!

  • Tiani

    I just wanted to add that I believe we’re here to gain the experience we need, through adversity, to become like Christ, to learn to love as Christ did. We need to quit looking at life as a test, that if we’re good enough, we’ll pass and if we’re not good enough we’ll fail. That outlook just breeds contention when we start to judge one another, put ourselves above one another, or start to feel incapable of being good enough. I don’t think we can get to the Celestial Kingdom alone; I don’t think anyone in the Celestial Kingdom would be satisfied or happy there until they’ve labored all the day long to help each of our brothers and sisters come back home, through love and noncompulsory means. That’s what “bear one another’s burdens” means. We literally accept responsibility for other’s burdens, taking Christ’s cross upon us, to help Him bring everyone home.

  • Anonymous

    love you

  • Anonymous

    Your story is inspiring and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

  • Lee


    I’ve been in your shoes–worried that everyone I loved (especially my spouse) would stop loving me once they knew I’d lost my belief. It’s a real fear. I lived in this vicious cyclone for a few years where pretty much all my actions were based on fear and anxiety and when that became unsustainable, I started to be honest. And even though I’ve never been so vulnerable, and many of my relationships were significantly altered, I see honesty with those closest to me as inevitable to mental/emotional survival.

    Sending my love and understanding to you in what I know as a very lonely place. This may sound trite, but I really do believe and have seen: it gets better.

  • Rebecca

    Mette (my former BYU roommate – 25 years ago!): Thank you for sharing your deeply personal story. I went through something of a faith crisis myself a while ago. Though I’m not without questions now, my faith is deeper than it was before—albeit more complicated. I’m reminded of this quote by Rabbi Harold Kushner in which he paraphrased the philosopher William James:

    “William James, in his classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience, writes of ‘once-born’ and ‘twice-born’ people. The once-born are people who sail through life without ever experiencing anything that shatters or complicates their faith. They may have financial problems, disappointments with their children, but they never go through a time when they say, ‘The religion I was raised in is a lie; that’s not how the world works.’ Their understanding of God when they are old is not that different from their view of God when they were children, a benign heavenly parent who keeps the world neat and orderly.

    “James’s twice-born souls are people who lose their faith and then regain it, but their new faith is very different from the one they lost. Instead of seeing a world flooded with sunshine, as the once-born always do, they see a world where the sun struggles to come out after the storm but always manages to reappear. Theirs is a less cheerful, less confident, more realistic outlook. God is no longer the parent who keeps them safe and dry; He is the power that enables them to keep going in a stormy and dangerous world. And like the bone that breaks and heals stronger at the broken place, like the string that is stronger where it broke and was knotted, it is a stronger faith than it was before, because it has learned it can survive the loss of faith.” (Who Needs God, [1989], 36-37.)

  • RosaleeLuAnn

    I agree that there are some unfortunate cultural expectations surrounding callings that aren’t helpful. I was lucky enough when offered a calling that I did not want. Though I accepted, the bishopric member who extended the call noticed that I was upset and told me it would be ok to not accept the calling and that they would get back to me when they had another calling for me.

    My experience was an exception to the norm, and I wish that sort of attitude could become more common, because it ended up being a very positive experience for me–I felt more valued and loved because they were sensitive to my feelings, rather than pushing me to do something I didn’t like.

  • Rebecca (Becky!), Good to connect with you again here. Thanks for that idea. It helps a lot.

  • hpm

    Mette, clandestine reader of Sherm Burton’s AP English essays, I am sorry to hear of these losses. I think we last saw each other at a reunion a couple of years after the events you describe. How chipper and chatty you were–I think you had a book to promote!–and I wish now that I had been better situated to help bear the sorrow that the eye can’t see. Please accept my warm wishes from (slowly) warming Boston.

    Jana, my other reunion buddy, the Thai place is calling our name. Let me know when to make the reservation. 🙂

  • Tiani

    Thank you, Rebecca. You said it better than I could. I have left the world of black and white, and have entered the world of wonderous ambiguity and nuanced belief. All I can be completely sure of is that God loves me and all of his children, and that there is a Christ. The rest is line upon line.

  • Mette Harrison

    I had to leave the last reunion abruptly when they started announcing people who had lost children–could not keep it together.

  • BHodges

    Thank you for your witness, Mette. It cuts deep. I especially appreciate your caution against trying to shoe-horn a mourner into a narrative about their troubles in which they may not fit. Within the church this often takes the form of telling them it will all be made up to them after this life, or that God had a different plan in store that somehow required such devastation, etc. You reminded me of a great insight I learned from Elizabeth Spelman:

    “Feeling for others in their suffering can simply be a way of asserting authority over them to the extent that such feeling leaves no room for them to have a view about what their suffering means, or what the most appropriate response is.”

    I agree with you that it is almost always better to simply sit and mourn with someone.

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I am sorry that hearing people say they know the Church of Jesus Christ is true bothers you. Oerhaps you can be a bit more tolerant toward people who have concluded that, both intellectually and experientially, their knwledge oif the truth of the Restored Gospel is as undeniable as anything else they know in physics or politics. Maybe you can be forgiving of a man who tried to listen to the Spirit when he was blessing your daughter, but was imperfect in his own faith and sensitivity to the still, small voice. You speak of people in the Church being judgmental towards you, but you repeatedly condemn them for not measuring up to your standards. Do I sound too critical of you? Can you foirgive me, really?

  • Jeff P.

    Ms. Harrison:

    This is old, but on the off-chance you see it, I wanted to let you know that your story, and especially April 4 comment, has been very helpful to me. It hit me like a bucket of ice-water when you wrote it, as I instantly realized, with shame, how ‘unhelpful’ I have been to two loved-ones, who are dealing with variations of few of the things you describe in your story. Argh!!! The last thing you want to do to someone who is suffering is make them feel worse….

    “I love you, I’m sorry you’re going through this, I don’t know why it is , but I have complete faith God loves you and that suffering is NOT God’s ultimate plan for us, I don’t know why God seems to be absent, or when that will end, and I’ll want you to know that I want to be here with you as you explore what this means, and I will love you and not criticize you or reject you, wherever this takes you.” Its so obvious that this is a better way, I don’t know why I didn’t see it earlier, (maybe the good-feeling from having an occasion to be self-righteousness?).

    Thanks for being a help to me and someone I am close to-

  • Suz

    I think bringing more Buddhist philosophy would help a TON because it is truth. This idea that we shame ourselves when our desires don’t align with God’s desires. It isn’t shameful it just IS. Being addicted to porn isn’t shameful it just IS. Being gay just IS. Leaving the church just IS. What next? It is so much easier to take the next step without attaching shame to every thought and decision we have. I’ve been thinking that it would be amazing if we would teach the gospel with a therapist’s perspective more. Also, I’ve been experiencing something similar and I call it “Holy Ghost PTSD”. About a year ago I felt that I should pray for my kids by name. A month after I started doing this, the spirit showed me that a neighbor was molesting my daughter. A month after that, I was shown that a different neighbor had begun to molest my daughter. Both were true. Both I only knew because the spirit told me and helped my daughter respond to my questions. Today, I still don’t want to pray for my kids. I’m so worried that I’ll be told something else horrible. I tell HF that. It isn’t shameful, it just IS.

    Also, to your idea that the culture of the church is always “be MORE. do MORE. Try MORE.” I just stopped. I wasn’t going to try harder to read my scriptures, etc. And I think HF wanted me to know that I was loved no matter what I did. In therapy once, the spirit told me that I could say the F-word as many times as I wanted and He would still love me just as much. Once I can feel God’s love, then I can move forward and be more, because He makes me more and the glory of who I am is His, and not mine.

    I think people worry that if we focus on God’s love too much, people will not try so hard to keep the commandments, while I think the opposite will happen. It is only people who have been through horrible trials that conclude thoughts like yours and you truly can’t make it without feeling God.

  • Debbie S.

    Just now read this – what a beautiful and generous post! Thank you Mette!! So many things I want to say. First, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. I’m so sorry.

    My mom had breast cancer & was told in several blessings she would recover. She died. Just a few months ago, a young (12 yr. old?) boy bore his testimony in my ward, he said that he knew his mom’s friend would survive breast cancer because Priesthood blessings had promised her so. I felt sick to my stomach, hearing him say this. She recently died.

    When my husband’s sister killed herself (my husband used to be LDS, is now atheist) a well-intentioned lady cornered me after the funeral and said that the suicide was really a blessing in disguise because it just might bring my husband back to church. Oy. I tried very very hard to see that this woman was trying to console me, she obviously had no clue how ignorant her comment was. I think stories like yours are helpful to many of us. We need more honesty in this church.

    I’m anonymous because I want to share this: About a year ago I experienced one of the hardest times of my life. One child got heavily into drugs and ended up in jail – we had no idea (she was away at college). Another child left home right after high school with no forwarding address, no phone number, nothing. I didn’t know if I would ever see her again. The next child was suicidal & struggling – wondering & anguishing over whether he was gay or not, spent time in a facility for being suicidal (all this happened within the space of about 8 months). I was somehow strong through this – kind of muscled through on auto-pilot like it sounds like you did those first months after losing Mary Mercy.

    But now, after much of the dust has settled, and much of the crises are over, I’m exhausted. My health has suffered, and I’ve turned down callings and had to quit another calling (my RS president wants to “get me doing something!” but I said, “No. I need to spend time with my family & my husband on Sundays. I’m barely taking care of my self and household.”) I know people are trying to help, but blog posts like yours help us all learn how to *really* help one another.

    I spoke with my bishop a week ago & told him how exhausted emotionally & physically I am [dh’s atheism can get pretty negative/cynical – we have 2 children left in the home & I worry about them – it seems the atheist dad + Mormon mom combination is extremely hard on the children – there’s a dysfunction here I don’t know how to fix (along with some pretty strong family genetics for mental illness/depression.) We don’t want to break up our family – we usually avoid religious conversations altogether. I’m a very liberal Mormon & ignore much of the dogma I hear each Sunday – it still doesn’t make our home life any easier for our children.] The bishop gave me a blessing & I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – in it he basically said, “Life is rough, and it’s only going to get rougher ahead. You’re a pioneer.” I appreciate the honesty, but crap. What’s next? I don’t think I want to know.

    It doesn’t help that before many trials I felt deep peace (like right before my mom’s death, and right before my husband lost a job.) Subsequently, I now associate the feeling of deep peace with: ‘the worst possible outcome is going to happen!’ That’s just messed up. Peace doesn’t even console me anymore. I know that can’t be right. Something is off about the way we teach things in the church. We need to get serious about properly teaching dark nights of the soul, and interpreting spiritual impressions. We’re terrible at it, it seems to me, and it’s messing with people’s testimonies and trust. I still believe in God, but I think S/He is a different sort of being than the one we caricature-ize in church.

    I didn’t write any of this to get anyone feeling sorry for me. My point in writing this is I’ve learned just one small thing through all this, and it’s that we really shouldn’t ever cordon anyone off as ‘other’. The person who struggles with faith – they’re not “other”, they’re one of us (they might *be* us). The LGBTQ, they’re not “other” either. The downtrodden, the poor, the proud, the addicted, the ignorant – none of us should be “other”. I had an eye-opening experience when I picked up my daughter from jail. Most of the hour ride home I was thinking, “She has caused us all this grief! She did this to herself! I would never do anything illegal or end up in jail like she did! She is the problem!” Then something miraculous happened. Something shifted inside me. I suddenly saw her and myself in a completely different light. I saw that I was her mother, and the conditions of our home and family and life had contributed greatly to who she had become. We were in this *together*. There was no ‘she vs. me’ anymore – we were “WE”. I felt a great love come over me for my daughter, and a great sadness that I had blamed her and labeled her, and made her life harder during an extremely hard time. We need to stop ‘othering’ people (if that’s even a word). I don’t know if this insight is any huge solution, but I think there’s something to it that will help. We are “we”, not ‘us vs. them’ or any other kind of hurtful labelling.

    Mette, thank you for so generously sharing your story with us. Thanks, Jana, for posting it. It’s more helpful than you know.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your experience that left this series of responses. I was attracted to this web site based on your book, The Bishop’s Wife. I loved your book and wanted to see if there were others. I am married to a very devout Mormon, but have not found the belief to join the church. Your challenges, the series of advice and responses were very helpful in addressing some of the issues I have found with the LDS church over the last 35 years. Thanks all and thanks for your honesty and openness. My hope is that you can write additional books in the future to provide me insight into my wife’s religion.

  • Don

    Mette, thank you for your personal story. It sounds like you might have suffered from Clinical Depression after the tragic loss of your child. I went through a bought after losing my mother and struggled with suicidal thoughts and had a crisis of faith, too. I experienced lots of well intended but hurtful comments from others, too. From my experience with Clinical Depression is that no amount of prayer, scripture study or postivie thinking can fix depression. That experience at the time was hell, but it made me a more compasionate, understand and less judgemental person, and helped me understand that God has given knowledge to mental health professionals that can help people struggling with Depression. Most people, including bishops are not equipted to handle it.

  • Crystal S

    ❤️ I love this so much. Honesty and vulnerability matched with an openness and willingness to re-evaluate ones own beliefs and grow. It is the most beautiful connection in the world. This made my day!

  • Iain

    Late to the party, but a great article. What I would want to say is that the Church is not the same thing as the members, and when members (even General Authorities) say insensitive things, it does not mean that the Church says that. The Church is so much more than individuals, and so much more than callings. There are some black and whites: God exists, Jesus Christ paid the price of our sins, and both of them love us unconditionally. The truth of life after death can provide solace in the face of loss, but it should never be used as a way of telling us not to mourn. Death is never easy to face, and losing loved ones is always devastating, however strong our individual faith might be. Each person’s faith is a matter between them and Heavenly Father, and no one, RS President, Bishop, Stake President, etc can dictate the nature of that relationship. It is yours to work out for yourself. I hope you have gained greater peace over the past 18 months and I wish you joy in your life.

  • Sara

    I also have come from a life full of loss. My mother died from suicide when I was a baby, and you should have seen the Mormon Pamphlet on suicide written in the 1970’s which basically said if you commit suicide you are going to hell. In the early 2000’s I wrote a letter to the church saying that this pamphlet wasn’t helping anyone, and fortunately it has been taken out of circulation. I also grew up an orthodox Mormon. But I fell away from the church for a few years. One day I heard the hymn Abide With Me and was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as the Holy Ghost. It was then I knew that the church was true for me. I am now 40, an active Democrat with gay friends, and still active in the church. My relationship with God is solely mine. I roll my eyes at the church’s idiosyncrasies, but I ignore it, read my scriptures, pray, and that’s how I stay. I go to church to serve rather than receive, and know the church needs more members like me. Good luck with your journey…

  • Tyger

    Like many, I was raised LDS. I studied the religion and it’s history lately and found many issues. I see the direction the church is going, especially with its love of money and I’m saddened. I never doubted or questioned the religion until recently. I feel lost, angry, abandoned and I don’t even know if there is a god now. I don’t value my life very much any more since there may not be a purpose. I live now only to help my children be happy. I have a constant pain in my head from the reality that what I built my foundation on may be biochemical “feelings”. I see loved ones praying to god and worshipping leaders who encourage a culture of materialism. I have thought to get rid of the pain in the only way I know. But I want my kids to live their life without that sorrow.