Link: https://www.facebook.com/lucas.steimle/ ... 1528360576
Posted by Lucas Steimle on Facebook.Lucas Steimle Wrote:
This is a long one...
Why I stopped going to church, and what will it take to get me to go back?
It has been about six months since I last went to church services (other than christmas and the primary program). During this hiatus I have often thought about---no, that would be a huge understatement; more like I have obsessed over, been consumed by, and anguished over--- the answers to the two questions in the title.
The thing is, I loved the church. It was more than a place I went every week. It was a way of life, my primary source of friends, a resource, an avenue of service, and where much of what I loved existed.
So why stop going if it was so precious to me? Because, as one of my therapists told me, church attendance was killing me.
I know, I found the concept very hard to swallow at first as well. In fact, it took two more subsequent therapists (the last one was LDS) to tell me the similar things before I even seriously considered the idea. Even so, if I hadn't been sitting with my wife with that third therapist, and if she hadn't insisted that she would keep the kids home from church in order to get me to follow doctor's orders I probably would have ignored his counsel and kept going.
What many at church don't realize is is that it was extremely difficult for me to stop attending church. I really didn't want to stop. I wasn't offended by any particular individual. There wasn't a lesson in Gospel Doctrine that I just absolutely hated (I think Brother Jones was a great teacher). And no, my faith in God hadn't diminished at all. I just want it to be clear that ceasing my church attendance was a very hard choice.
I don't regret the choice though.
At first I spent the time just coping with the loss (I watched anime, cleaned the house, played video games, and drank hot cocoa). Eventually, I sporatically spent some of the time exploring my thoughts and feelings through meditation and writing. Now...ok, I'm still on that sporatic stage. But I have thought a ton about...so many things and not just on Sundays.
The major topic of thought were the questions: how was church attendance killing me and what will it take to get me to go back?
The first question: at first, I had no idea. Was church attendance painful? Honestly, yes. I mean, the people were kind. No one ever gave me a hard time after I came out as gay a few years back. And when I put forth the effort to be social, no one ever turned me away (it's tough being an introvert, but I've learned to manage). But none of that was a source of my pain.
I had to really dig deep to figure this one out. I knew I hurt, but I thought I deserved some of the pain while I didn't even realise most of it was there. The thing is, I'm a sinner. I have been taught since I was a teen that the third worst sin out there is sexual sin and that my behavior definitely qualifies. I was also taught that the gay nature of my sexual sin was worse that the straight version, so that whole nigh unto murder thing doubly applies (maybe just as bad as murder when you think about it). Yes, this is what I was brought up to believe. So of course I should feel awful and guilty and bad and evil because I am all of those things. Ok, in my worst moments I have thought this way, but we are taught that we should feel guilt for sin, really. The rest is just my self-judging inner voice. It is hard to be as kind to ourselves as we try to be to others, isn't it?
But I am also a disfellowshipped member of the church. It has been eleven years. Eleven years of not being permitted to take the sacrament, hold a calling, exercise the priesthood, attend the temple, or say a prayer in church. What I realized is that every reminder of this lack, every instance where I could have done something that I couldn't do because I'm disfellowshipped hurt. It more than hurt. It reminded me that I am unworthy.
No, I can't take the sacrament because I'm unworthy. No, I can't say a prayer in class because I'm unworthy. No, I can't assist in that blessing because I'm unworthy. No, I can't baptize or ordain or bless my own children because I'm unworthy...
But it is more than that. You see, every time I saw or heard about another person do or doing something I was too unworthy to do was another reminder that I am unworthy. So talks, lessons, testimonies, people receiving callings, or even casual conversation at church reminded me of my unworthiness.
Yet, isn't that a good thing? I mean, with enough reminders of one's unworthiness, shouldn't this encourage the person to do whatever it takes to become worthy?
Eleven years. Such an idea hasn't worked for eleven years. Oh, I certainly have tried and put in a ton of effort (several years of 12 Step, many therapists, decades of talking to priesthood leaders, endless prayer and scripture study and fasting...), but I'm still unworthy.
The worst part, and I didn't realize this till very recently, is that under the statement of "I am unworthy" was an unsaid, unthought, but truly felt accusation saying, "I am worthless." True or not, it is what I felt dozens of times each week while attending church meetings for a very long time. This repeated negative feeling chipped away at my sense of self-worth until, several times in my life, I looked over the edge of suicide and came close to jumping. I see now why the therapist said that church attendance was killing me. Thankfully each time something stopped me, but it is scary to remember.
This is why I left and have yet to return. So what would it take for me to start going to church again?
Let me say first off, I have a ton of work ahead of me. I have already done a ton of work, but it is far from over. I fully recognize and accept this fact. And let me say, I am working on it.
However, one reason of writing this publically is to answer the question several people have asked me: how can we help? After a great deal of thought, here are some ideas.
1. Be Real -- While attending my 12 Step programs, a pair of concepts was introduced to me. The first was the human need for connection, and not just shallow superficial acquaintances, but share the deepest darkest parts of you connection. The second concept was to lead with (start by showing) our weakness.
In my life I have had plenty of people who wanted to be an example of how to live, so they hid their weakness and showed only their strength. I used to do that myself. But I discovered that doing so made it impossible to have a real friendship with anyone. Even my marriage suffered when I hid parts of myself (even the parts I hoped would just go away) from my spouse. It took real honesty and openness with my wife and friends to finally feel connected. But it wasn't just me being honest. They had to be open and honest with me as well. And this is more than simply not lying, but it is a deliberate sharing of oneself. A removal of walls on both sides. This does not have to be an all at once event, but little bits here and there also works.
2. Be Equal -- This is mostly a continuation of the previous point yet with a different emphasis. I don't need more examples of how to live, I need to know others are struggling too...that it is ok and normal to struggle. The struggles don't need to be the same, but they need to be perceived as of equal weight.
I don't need someone to reach down and lift me up (the Savior is already filling that role), but I need people to stand by me to hold me up when I feel weak. I need people who will also ask me to hold them up when they feel weak. Yes, I can get this from a 12 Step program, but should I not be able to get it at church? Should I not be able to find people "willing to bear one another's burdens...and are willing to mourn with those that mourn...and comfort those that stand in need of comfort?" And not from a position of one reaching down to help, but from one beside me?
3. Be "There" -- This one is a toughie. On top of being gay and one who has sexual sin, I am also an introvert. What this means is first, I have only a limited amount of social energy and every social interaction (even positive ones) are draining to me. After every one of my late Saturday game nights with my close friends, I have to spend an hour or so unwinding before I can sleep for example. This means I can easily be smothered by too much attention.
That said, I still am human and desperately need human interaction. I easily feel ignored or brushed aside. Perhaps due to my being gay, I am also a very emotional guy, so I acutely feel rejection when I perceive my efforts to reach out being rebuffed or ignored.
So where is the happy middle ground? If you want to be there for me, you don't have to be available 24/7. In fact, I rarely reach out...though I know I should reach out more. But when the need hits in such a way that I can't ignore it, I need to know you are either there to talk to, spend time with, or even just hug. Yeah, sometimes I just need a hug and just don't know how to ask. I do have guys I know I can already rely on, but it wouldn't hurt to have more.
4. Please Don't try to "Help" -- I have been through so very many priesthood leaders, experienced addicts in recovery, and trained professionals. Not to mention the vast amount of reading, study, and thought I have done on my problems. I am sure you have ideas and opinions you might be tempted to share, but unless you are sharing from your own personal experiences with some of the same things I am dealing with, your well meant efforts might do more harm than good. Please trust that as I listen to the Lord and do the baby steps He wants me to do now that I will heal in a way much better than I could with outside help.
The thing is, and this is another major reason I felt compelled to write this, I know I am not the only person who feels the way I do. If anything I have written helps anyone else relate to another loved one, I will be glad for it.
I have to say that I know God is in charge. Nothing I can do on my own will ever be enough to overcome the trials I face. But I am glad for my trials, because they motivated me to turn to the only source of rescue which could ever work...not just for my difficulties, but for every difficulty.
And last, if any want to share this post, please feel free to do so.