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.