Exchanged some emails with my dad over the weekend.
I have some friends on Facebook that, like me, used to attend church but have since gone “inactive”. Every now and then we say hello and exchange pleasantries online. My dad sent the first email; basically, he told me to be careful talking to these folks because they are preaching “false doctrine”. On one hand, it was kind of ridiculous to send me that email. On the other hand, I understand why he did it. He knows that since I haven’t attended church for a while, and the church teaches that when you go inactive you’re susceptible to being misled, he’s afraid that I might be misled by these folks and fall even further away from the church.
I thanked him for his concern and explained that he doesn’t need to worry. But I went a little further than that and, in a nice way, explained that I have a lot in common with them and have no desire at the moment to come back to church. I used some of the words from an article on becoming “unchurched” (I posted it on my blog here) to explain my feelings to him.
His response showed understanding, which I appreciate:
“When I was in Bishopric, we often discussed the “happy face” syndrome as we called it. We knew people struggled with a variety of issues but when you asked them how they were they just said “fine”. As priesthood leaders we were sometimes inspired to probe a little harder. I learned there were two basic reasons for the “happy face” syndrome. One was that people just said “fine” because it was more or less understood that everyone suffered from the day to day challenges, car repairs, running out of money, job pressures, etc. The other was that the asker was perceived as not really wanting to take or having the time to listen to the person give a true account of their problems at that moment. And that is kind of true, we pass in a hallway and say “Hey how are ya?” and don’t stop walking so the response is “fine”, “cool”. “OK” and “How are you?” to which we reply the same way.”
Well said, Dad. Well said. So in the spirit of full disclosure, I went a little deeper. I thought I’d post my response here (partially redacted) so I can look back at it later on and remember how I felt today:
“I get what you are saying, it is definitely a perception thing and I’ll be the first to admit that my perception isn’t always reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels real and when it came to church I could only keep telling myself I was wrong for so long before I was emotionally exhausted.
Maybe you already know this but the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was everything that went down at the (old landlords’) house. That was incredibly embarrassing and frustrating for me; being in a house that I knew we should never have moved into, but not having the confidence to put my foot down and say no, and then watching everything unravel over the course of a few months. I felt like I had no control over the situation and I wasn’t willing to try to take control over the situation because I didn’t want to add any conflict to what was already a shaky marriage. As the (old landlords) turned to you and other church members to get rent payments, and eventually to get their house cleaned up and us moved out, my personal failures became public. It was just a continuation of the cycle of moving, falling behind, and moving again that we had been stuck in for a long time but there was something about what happened at the (old landlords’) house that really brought out those feelings of loneliness and isolation. It felt like the (old landlords’) “clique” moved us out and cleaned up our mess. It would have been impossible to go back to church and put on a “happy face” and tell people everything was fine. And to a large extent, I still feel that way. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my real thoughts and feelings with anyone at church.
Perhaps as a result of all that, perhaps not, I really don’t pray anymore. I do spend a lot of time thinking. I have spent a lot of time digging into the subconscious undercurrent of beliefs that is the basis of everything I do. Most of those beliefs are the result of my upbringing in the church, and having made a conscious decision to disconnect myself from the church (attendance, anyway) I have been able to question a lot of my behaviors and attitudes. For example, I recognize that all throughout my childhood, teenage years, and adulthood I never questioned whether or not I believed the church to be true. It was just a given. The same goes for phrases like “I know that my Redeemer lives”. It was a phrase I had repeated over and over to the point of just accepting it as reality even though I didn’t truly know. There are a lot of things that I did or believed just because it was what I accepted as normal and real, and those behaviors and thoughts were enforced through repetition. I’m at a point now where I can’t say those things aren’t true, but I can’t say they are true either. I feel like now I can be scientific in my search for truth and meaning. I wouldn’t say that I’m Agnostic because I do think that those things are knowable. I just don’t know yet. I’m searching. I know that this is where people would tell me to pray about things and seek confirmation, but I’m afraid that subconsciously I want to believe that the church is true and that Christ lives and is my redeemer, and that my own confirmation bias will lead me astray. I think this process will take some time. I like to think I will get it all figured out somehow. In the meantime, I just want to make the right decisions and be a good dad and go to bed each day knowing that I did everything I could to be a good person.”
I had a few moments of real clarity while I wrote that response, which was nice. I got some feelings out that had been festering for a while, or that I just hadn’t found the words for yet. I don’t know what my dad’s response to all of that will be but it feels good to be honest about my reasons for not going back to church. I hope that a lot of this comes up in my meeting with a counselor tomorrow as well, and in subsequent sessions.