About five years ago I began a major faith transition. Prior to this I would have described myself as a fairly typical Mormon man. I was raised in the church but I didn’t really believe what I was taught, then around age 15 I began to read the Book of Mormon. I knew all the stories and my family had read through it together when I was much younger, but up to that point I had never really read it for myself. I was surprised by what happened to me as I read it. I frequently experienced what people commonly describe as “feeling the spirit.” For me, feeling the spirit was, and continues to be, a metaphysical sensation that I cannot otherwise explain. I concluded from these fairly frequent metaphysical sensations as I read the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon was the word of God. Based on that, I decided that Joseph Smith must be a prophet and that the church he restored, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was God’s church on the earth and its teachings were of God. This was the foundation of my spiritual beliefs. I studied and experienced more and my spiritual beliefs multiplied, but the foundation didn’t last forever.
When I was 26, I was talking with a friend one day about an LDS church policy, and I realized that I just didn’t accept that this policy was of God. When that realization hit me, I began some fairly intense introspection about what that meant. I realized that I wasn’t sure anymore about a lot of the beliefs that I had adopted including the beliefs that the LDS church was God’s one true church and that the Book of Mormon was what it claimed to be.
This began one of the most difficult times of my life, as I had no idea what I believed anymore. My foundation in the LDS church was gone and I didn’t feel sure of anything. I talked with my close friends about what I was going through. They all listened patiently and felt some compassion for what I was going through, but they didn’t have the fix that I craved at the time. I talked with my parents with similar results. I talked with my bishop and he told me that his wife had gone through something similar, but he didn’t have any real answers for me either. However, I felt like he cared about me and felt empathy for what I was going through.
I spent a lot of time trying to sort out what I really did believe. This process took months and years. The main thing that I came away with was that I would probably never feel 100-percent certain about any belief ever again. This perpetual uncertainty fundamentally changed me.
During this period of my life, attending church was the most difficult thing for me each week. I would be feeling pretty good about my spirituality and then I would go to church and feel crushed spiritually. Until then, church had been a place where I felt pretty comfortable; it had always been a part of my life and, in a way, it had felt like home. Now, after losing my testimony, church made me feel completely alienated. Every expression of testimony from others was like a dagger in my heart; I couldn’t relate anymore. These utterly unqualified professions of rock solid belief made me feel sad, both for the person who believed so blindly and for my former self who did the same. I yearned for people to actually say why they believed what they believed, but that is very rare in the LDS church. Culturally, Mormons want to state as firmly as possible that “I know . . . ,” but I wanted to hear “I believe . . . because . . . .” The former relies heavily on emotion, while the latter is based more on evidence or experience, which I longed for. For whatever reason, people at church tend to feel more comfortable sharing their conclusions rather than sharing the evidence and process of how they arrived at them. I would vent my frustrations to friends and family and they’d listen with compassion, but during this time the emotional costs of attending church were much greater than the benefits I was feeling.
I wanted church to feel better to me so I tried attending a different LDS congregation, but if anything, it was worse. I continued to wonder if I belonged at church. I kept going but it was difficult, and at that time I believed going to church shouldn’t be difficult. I think this was partly because the LDS church basically teaches that every person would be better off if he or she attended church. Even though it was miserable, if I was going to stop attending church, I needed to feel more certain that was the right choice for me.