It is no secret that Ashley Thalman is no longer LDS. It is also no secret that some of my most profound memories, relationships, experiences, and growth came as a practicing true-believing Mormon. And I was true. I served a mission and deeply felt the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation and it gave me hope, helped insulate me through child abuse and neglect, a parent's death, and a painful marriage.
It has been a hard and rewarding road learning to navigate spirituality on my own terms while wrestling with the pain points that very aggressively, very unexpectedly destroyed my foundational belief in Mormonism's core concepts and culture. I did not "fall away", nor was I "lead" from the paths and prescriptions of Mormonism or the Gospel. I did not read "anti". I just took my gospel doctrine calling seriously and leaned in hard to what I thought Christianity was.
It would be an understatement at best, and dishonest at worst, not to say that my faith crisis hit me with the force of war. I felt like I was exploding, imploding. I collapsed under the weight of it. I aches with screaming and sobbing and moaning. This went on and on for well over a year.
Groaning in heaves of crying, praying, begging. "Please, let it be real." --- "What is the point anymore?!"---- "What happens when we die!" I ran. I ran so hard and far and fast that I ran my knees ragged and the torn cartilage evidence is audible.
I tried, I read and researched hoping to find a loophole, a wormhole to bring me back all my assurance and knowing. I versed myself on the finer points, the broader foundations, the intentions, the culture, the history and yet, I could not unsee what I had seen. I wished I could and still I couldn't. I was not wrong but I didn't know that. I made myself wrong and felt deep pointed pains of loss and grief.
There is a difference among the disaffected, between those of us who never felt the true-blue depth of Mormonism, and those who did. It is the divisible difference between leaving a casual boyfriend/girlfriend and divorcing a person you were deeply in love with and committed to for 20+ years.
I taught gospel doctrine for about 6 months following the collapse of my belief because I hoped that somewhere in Ashley was a spiritual gift to reconcile not only myself, but all the pain the church and its culture had caused, with all the good of all the people who relied on it and were committed to it.
But then I mercifully moved. I left the branch I had belonged to for 6 years and I stopped going. I have never been back. I started telling friends, told my family, experienced a lot of freedom not having to hide anymore and once my divorce was final, I sent in my official resignation letter and had my records removed from the church. This entire time I had an army of ex mos, jack mos, liberal af mos, mo mos who all loved me. But even still I had to learn to love the me I never planned on becoming. I had roadmaps of unorthodoxy, exit, resignation. I had Reddit. I had tools. I had a therapist but some are not so lucky.
I know this hurts to read for some of you. It would have hurt and worried a previous me. I do not share this to "leave the church, but not leave it alone". I share it to humanize something happening that is not one dimensional. You see, I never foresaw this path for myself. And because of the alchemic work I have done to accept, embrace and grow from all this I have become someone I was always afraid I could never be. And I love her. And I'm grateful that I'm not LDS and at the same time I am grateful that I was. And that's flippin' hard to work through and not everyone can say that.
So, here is the point of this long long share. And a little invitation... Our culture of Mormonism is filled with countless people who, like I once was, are running and aching and sobbing and begging and hoping to reconcile their faith. They are everywhere. For some, even once reconciliation and relief comes, they stay. The reasons are myriad and each one is real and worthy and shitty and isolating and painful beyond what I can explain here.
These people are teaching gospel doctrine, they are bishops, they are your daughters-in-law, they are leading auxiliaries, working at the COB, at BYU- all wearing the costume, walking the walk, because it is too painful to leave, too expensive, too emotionally costly, too dangerous. And sometimes if may be because of things they have heard you say. It may be that they are so certain that your love is limited to their 10% and temple recommend that they keep this huge grief from you, resigning to live as a shadow. And you don't know who they are because this is a well-intentioned culture that encourages us to "doubt out doubts" and therefore we erroneously "doubt the doubters" and that hurts people terribly.
Years ago when I was very "in" and I was hoping to gain insight on how to empathize and create safety for those who were out, or verging on it, a therapist invited me to "BE CURIOUS"- be empathetic.
That is where the magic begins. And if that feels safe, and you can follow the inclusive lessons of Christ a bit deeper you will deepen. It will profoundly enrich you to embrace others. Maybe you will find that you would be okay having a family member or friend who is changing shape. Open your mouth and reaffirm their place and security as someone you love and trust who can love and trust you.
My dad said the most beautiful thing a few years ago, "I trust that you had good reasons for leaving and I still think you are great." That is ideal! If you can't say it with integrity, start by withholding your judgements about those leave because you never, ever know who will leave next.