When I was a kid I adored the Little House on the Prairie books. The last book is called The First Four Years, and it details the ups and downs of the beginning of Laura Ingalls’ marriage to Almanzo Wilder. At the start of their life together, the newlyweds decided to try farming for three years and then evaluate whether they want to stay with it or move on to something else. At the end of the three years Laura isn’t sure, so they give it another year, which she called “A year of Grace.” At that time in my life a year seemed SO long! I couldn’t believe that anyone could take a year to make a decision. Now that I’m an adult, it makes a lot of sense.
At the beginning of the last school year, I publicly announced to my friends and family that I no longer believed in the LDS church. I thought my horribly painful faith transition was over, and I was ready to move on with my life! I planned to go to graduate school and start writing and performing music again. I was impatient and didn’t understand that my faith transition was only through phase one, not to mention the identity crisis that would turn me inside out. I kept beating myself up inside my head, not wanting to give myself time to process the enormous changes in my life or find my new self. I was angry with myself for not having it all figured out immediately.
This year I find myself disappointed that I’m still not ready to apply for graduate school and that I’m just barely starting to settle in to my new self. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed, angry and frustrated! I find myself thinking back on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her year of grace. A year often brings you full-circle. A year ago I had no idea that I would spend late nights around Christmastime crying in heart break as I gave up my belief in Christ. I would never have guessed that my Stake President would suddenly want to excommunicate me for apostasy because I publicly said I’m happier for leaving. And I didn’t know that the summer would bring no family reunion, in part because my extended family was worried about my apostate influence. I now know better where I stand in a lot of areas in my life.
I have been listening to a podcast called Ask an Ex-Mormon Therapist by Jenny Morrow. Her calming voice and tried-and-true methods of self-talk have taught me a lot about self-compassion. Now when I want to beat myself up for not being as far along in my life transition as I want to be, I can tell myself: no wonder it’s taking time. I’m undoing 35 years of indoctrination. No wonder I’m still getting used to the idea that I don’t really believe in God, it’s only been a few months, and I used to think atheists were amoral and evil! And no wonder that I don’t totally know who I am anymore. I can be kind to myself. I can give myself the space to grieve and transform into the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I still have a lot of life ahead of me, and I want to be healthy this time instead of always rushing into the next thing before I’m prepared to handle it.
My amazing therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife gave me an awesome mental exercise where I try to think what I would say to my daughter, if I were the old, wise, gray-haired 65-year-old version of myself, and she were in my life right now. I imagine the older version of myself having learned more patience, more love, and more compassion. She would say to give myself a break. To move through these changes in my life, and not try to skip over them or rush through the pain and transition. To give myself a year of grace.
One of the reasons I’ve been impatient with myself lately is because I feel like I’ve finally woken up from a 15-year nightmare and I find myself so far behind from where I wanted to be. I’ve had to accept that I’m emotionally immature, and that I’ve allowed myself to be dependent on my husband. I suddenly remember that I have gifts and talents to share with the world that have lain dormant, drowning in a sea of diapers, church callings, depression and cognitive dissonance.
I feel like a lot of these things I’m struggling with are bad habits I picked up from being Mormon. Not giving myself a break for my imperfections. Wanting to pretend that things are fine when they aren’t. Pushing myself into the next thing before I’m ready, like I did with marriage and motherhood. Allowing a version of who I’m *supposed* to be to override my inner voice. Seeing life as a checklist or destination instead of a journey. I’m still falling into the same trap that made me miserable before: constantly telling myself I’m not good enough. Thinking I should be busy all the time, because I got so used to being overworked and overwhelmed. It seems slightly uncomfortable to give myself time to heal. I need peaceful moments. Short, guilt-free vacations without my kids that don’t involve visiting family. Time to read and contemplate and grow. I need a year of grace, and I’m going to love myself enough to allow it without beating myself up for it.
So the church isn’t true. I may be over that, but there’s still so much to change and to work through. It’s going to take time, and that’s okay. That’s what life is, evolving, learning, maturing, gaining wisdom and experience – not just enduring to the end! Not just making sure my sons go on missions and my daughter covers her shoulders. There’s so much more to life, and I’m going to give myself the space to live it and enjoy it one day at a time.
Beautiful post, Marisa. It really resonated with me. In particular, I found that maturing in my relationships after my faith transition was really difficult, painful, and liberating work. Sooooooo many years of therapy. 🙂
Amen sister, in the agnostic sense of the word! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I find myself in a similar space and truly needing to allow myself a year of grace. It has only been a few months and I am still trying to de-program my thought processes that have been engrained in me since birth… that no, I don’t have to wait for something bad to happen to me, my husband, or my kids. I had been taught from a young age that if I didn’t stay active and faithful, then all kinds of bad things would happen in my life. All of us are happier now but I still have a deep sense of foreboding that I have to work through, over time, being patient with myself about how long it takes for the de-programming phase to be complete.
This is beautiful. Thanks for writing! I could relate to many of the things you said. It was nice to shed a few tears as I read and felt like I’m not alone in this experience.
Also, I’m so glad the podcasts have been helpful in learning some ideas for self compassion. It really is crazy how hard it can be to just “be in our life.” I’ve been saying to myself lately “I give myself permission to be in my life.” It’s such a strange experience to go from trying to control life to being in life 🙂
Sending lots of care and hoping that one day we meet in person!
Beautiful thank you
Thank you for this. I feel like I’ve definitely been wanting to rush rush rush into the next phase–when can I talk about this, when will my husband admit his faith transition to me (and himself), when can I do this and that and when will I stop having to correct myself when I try to default to one of the “primary answers” as a way to make my life decisions. It was great to read about your experience. It helped remind me that I have been living this life for many years and that change doesn’t happen the second you decide something isn’t true.
Hi Marisa. Thanks for sharing. I’ve had so many of the same thoughts and feelings. I’m 5+ years into my transition and still trying to get many things straight. Although, I’m in a better place than the one I was 2 or 3 years ago. I’ve accepted that I will need to have grace and self-compassion possibly for the rest of my life. Both my husband’s and my families are completely active and the Church still has a big presence for us in that way. Just today, I received an email from a friend, with the best of intentions, which included a recent General Conference talk. We also are receiving nice letters from a well meaning nephew, newly in the mission field. There’s all the pressure all the time from these loved ones and it still makes me ask myself. “why did I leave?” and I spend half a day pondering this question then try to move on. It feels all consuming even after 5 years. Will it ever end. I think so eventually. But in the mean time your right, there has to be compassion and a period of patience. 🙂
I love this…echoes some of the feelings I haven’t been able to put into words. Here’s to a year of grace!❤️
How sad for you. You are not happy and feel so lost because you know in your heart of hearts what is true and you have let Satan get ahold of you. Return to the truth and you will find happiness again.
How wonderful for you that you have all the answers for another person. That is a typical reaction from true blue believing mormons -blame the person- she should be applauded for taking the reins of her own life and not staying on the well worn path that was heading her away from being her best self. According to your way of thinking all good practicing mormons should be hysterically happy, why aren’t they then?
Not cool, “sad for you.” I’m a believing and practicing devout Mormon. We need to do a better job of not criticizing others for their choices. You don’t have to agree with them. Compassion and empathy is what our church teaches. Please recognize that. Love all.
Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, etc feel the exact same thing when they leave?! Are those the one true church as well?
those sort of threats don’t work for us anymore “sad”. You may as well threaten me that I’m going on Santa’s “bad” list. Sorry! Thanks for trying!
and thanks for sharing Marisa! You gave some great advice. Looking forward to more posts from you!
This was a lovely, thoughtful piece of writing, that clearly resonates. Leaving the church – or allowing it to leave me – is like a death also. You would not expect to recover instantly when someone you care about dies, and so it is when a part of your life is gone. There is so much to work through. But there is also hope, and the freedom from the ever-present feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Beautifully written. I am so sorry this journey is such a difficult on…long in duration and pain. I applaud you for searching for who you are. Keep seeking to find what “feels” right and comfortable. You deserve that for yourself and for your family ultimately as well.
Spot on, Marisa. Thanks for being vulnerable and real. I love the idea of “a year of grace.” It has been liberating to be able to say, “I don’t know.” Someday I might, but if I don’t, I’m ok with that too!
You are bright, but don’t forget to be grateful for your blessings. Things can and often do become unbearable (I.e., loss of a child). Ten years from now, you will likely look back at these years being as good as it gets.
I love what you said and how you said it. I also am feeling such a huge loss in this transition…I don’t know which direction my life should be taking now especially since my children are grown. I am so used to having the church fill up every moment of my time with either activities or guilt. I am not sure where to go or what I should be doing with my time. I am trying to be patient. Your insights on a year of grace are beautiful.
What you said is true for me as well, I was used to the church filling up most of my life with activities or guilt about what I should be doing. Having left the church just a few months ago it will take time to establish a new normal and certainly a year of grace sounds like a good idea. Forget Joseph – I intend to give myself a break.
“…because I feel like I’ve finally woken up from a 15-year nightmare and I find myself so far behind from where I wanted to be. I’ve had to accept that I’m emotionally immature, and that I’ve allowed myself to be dependent on my husband.”
This section really struck a chord. I am 53 and left the church 10 years ago and I still marvel and take delight when I do something that makes me feel like an adult; something that my former infantilized self would not have done. Thank you for this beautifully written essay.
I didn’t realize how these articles would inspire and touch me and I understand how difficult it is to explain to a Devoted Mormon the devastation and pain of a heartfelt search for truth I fully accepted this truth about a year ago and every day I realize how the church has damaged my life (was a TBM all my life)
I’m 65 and my daughter and husband will not listen to a word of it and I feel judged and rejected isimply because I found the truth and I acknowledge it this is very painful
I was in deep depression for many years and now I have a big burden lifted from my shoulders Life is not perfect but the guilt and fear and worry are much less
Loving and being with family is the most important to me yet my grandchildren live out of state because I sent my children to Mormons schools
Just one example of how the Mormon priorities have affected my life negatively
Please keep sharing your thoughts you’re the kind of friend I wish I had it’s hard to find friends who understand
Thank you so much I totally relate to everything you say please write more
Hi Marissa. ❤️ I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re wonderful. When we do have that family reunion, I’ll run up and hug you and your apostate influence. ????
Our beliefs are very different, but who cares?! I love you to death!! That’s all. ????