Guilt is a heavy burden. One I carried with me in the early part of my journey through deconversion. When I first started questioning the tenants of the Mormon religion I was drowning in guilt. Guilt for so many reasons. If I was praying more, reading my scriptures more, attending temple more regularly, serving others more frequently, I wouldn’t be questioning anything. I was looking first to myself for my deficiency of faith. There must be something wrong with me. But the nagging questions wouldn’t go away. And let me tell you — if I spent anymore time doing the things I mentioned above during this period in my life, I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else.
I spent so much time in tears and prayer. I wanted to believe. I’d wrapped my whole life up in the things I had been taught. Prophets, works, callings… As an adult convert to the religion I’d led my family here with me. If it wasn’t true I would have to share this truth with my husband, and my children. More guilt.
My prayers were long and pleading. The answer I kept receiving was simple. Start over. Read the Word. Just the bible. How could it be that simple? The other feeling I had was that I needed a simple version of the Word — not the Mormon version of the KJV that was interlaced and cross-referenced with the Book of Mormon. The religion teaches that the Book of Mormon is the most correct scripture on the Earth and that the bible is true in so much as it is translated correctly. And here I was, about to dive in to the “lesser” scripture and a version that I’m being told most likely is not the most “correct”. More guilt.
But I heeded what I felt to be right and went to a Christian bookstore for my first time and stepped inside. And then I felt the wave of panic, of overwhelm. More tears. Thankfully a kind store clerk came to my rescue, tissues in hand. They didn’t ask what was wrong, just how could they help. I told them I needed a bible. Off to that section of the store we went. WOW. I had no idea there were so many bibles to choose from. After some discussion I settled on the NIV, bought it and took it home. Home where it sat in the bag, on a shelf, for nearly two weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to open the pages. That was a mixture of guilt, shame and fear. Guilt because I had a perfectly beautiful set of scriptures, complete with years of my notes just sitting upstairs. Shame because I was searching in secret — I hadn’t shared my concerns with anyone…if I was wrong I didn’t want to stir trouble for anyone else — and fear that I might find out the Church might not be true — that Joseph Smith led entire generations of really good, rational, intelligent people astray. Me being one of them.
After a few weeks, I decided to open the book and begin at the beginning. The further I read the more I realized all I had missed along the way. Here was a story of a loving, caring, forgiving Father — certainly one who disciplined His children along the way — but one who always made way for forgiveness and second chances. And it was a story of Grace. Grace that was not earned but given to us. Our salvation was given through grace, and could not be earned. That works was a way we showed our thankfulness for the gift of salvation, not as a way to earn it.
It’s not to say I cracked the Good Book and magically my guilt dissipated. Not at all. But starting there helped me gain some clarity that what I had been taught to this point was not correct, not true. That holding myself up to these church imposed, and then self-imposed, checklists was foolish and not necessary. Failing to check off all the boxes led to feelings of failure which led to more guilt. Removing the check boxes eased my sense of not sizing up. I was enough just as I am. And this was a start.
Guilt is a powerful tether. And the “should” tapes take a long time to erase. Five years later and sometimes they still get stuck on “play” in my head. But then I remember Christ had a simple but powerful message:
…love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.
~ Mark 12: 30-31
I try to remember these things and not over complicate what they look like. For me, understanding this message was the starting point for me to release a bit of the guilt.