Ownership—the legal right of possession.
When I was in high school I worked in the mall in an earring shop. I am sure that my aversion to going into Claire’s with my nearly-10-year-old-daughter has something to do with the fact that I have already spent enough of my life in the middle of earrings and ear-piercing. It was my first job and the first time I was making my own money. While I was working at the earring shop I was active in Seminary (released time). It wasn’t too long after I started my job that I decided to spend some of my hard earned money on a new set of scriptures at Deseret Book. They were the new compact size, with the soft leather cover and the snap closure that protected them. I loved them. They were MINE. They were the first thing that I remember owning. I worked for them. They were well loved. They traveled in my backpack through high school, college, Girls’ Camp, and for years into my marriage. My name was engraved on them and at one time was carefully concealed with duct tape the summer I spent as a counselor at Oakcrest Camp. The older they got, the softer the cover became. I spent hours marking them in Seminary and those scriptures were the copy I read when I finished the Book of Mormon the first time on my 18th birthday. I turned to them time and again as I found comfort in their pages. And then at some point, they became a reminder of someone I used to be.
Experiencing feelings of doubt and loss of faith can be an incredibly scary and lonely thing. I have heard many people compare their experience to the five stages of grief. As I experienced my days of struggle and grieved for the simplicity of owning my faith like I did those scriptures, I looked forward to my ‘graduation day’ when I would step into the world wearing ‘Acceptance’ like a cap and gown, as evidence that I had survived. But it never came. Frustrations over lapses to previously-mastered stages were deep and hard to deal with. Would I ever go back to just simply having faith again?
Somewhere along the way I have changed the way I think of grief and the cycle of grieving. I now know that grieving is more like a cycle than stages you graduate through. Many things push us forward in the cycle and the process of the cycle is much easier when you can recognize its value, the stage you are in, and what the goal of the cycle is. This usually comes through experiencing these stages multiple times.
For me, the goal of the cycle has become ownership and experience. The idea of ownership and religion really became clear to me after I first listened to the first podcast of A Thoughtful Faith with Greg Prince. Since listening to that podcast, I have had many opportunities to reflect and study this idea in my mind. What does it mean to own your religion? How do you start that process? And how do you recognize progress within it?
If you think about ownership in the way that I ‘owned’ my scriptures, it becomes about choice. I chose to buy those scriptures. I chose the color of the leather and the size. I chose the kind with the flap that protects the pages. I chose them and they were a manifestation of what I wanted for myself at that time. I was never afraid to write in them. I have lists of things that have come like lightning bolts to my soul. I made them mine. We make these same kinds of choices in owning our religion. We choose to be true to who we really are and honestly express what we think and feel. We choose forgiveness of those who dismiss us and trivialize our struggle by categorizing us as sinners or easily offended. We choose forgiveness of the Church and the imperfection that is found there. And we choose to love others wherever they are in their own journeys. These are not easy choices. To be honest, they are goals I strive for. When I have tasted the fruit of these choices as I nibble at them, I know they are delicious even while deciding to stop at just a nibble.
The past several years (and especially the last few months) as I have discovered this concept of ownership of my own spirituality, I have read and heard the stories of hundreds of Mormons like me. And dozens of other spiritual beings trying to find a way to connect with God. I can tell you one thing for certain . . . there are no two stories that are alike and there is more than one way to find God. This discovery has led me to search for stories and for practices to incorporate that may not look like my mother’s or grandmother’s religion. It is authentically mine. I am learning that the image and stereotype of the perfect Mormon woman (and man) does a lot of damage to the individual contribution that our differences can bring. This is how I own my religion.
So as we start this blog and we bring all of the stories and the points of view that are all over the spectrum of Mormonism, my hope is that everyone who visits and reads here will feel like they can come as they are and find another voice that will echo even a part of their own. My hope is that those connections will help just one person be able to own their religion a little more authentically.
There is not just one way to be a Mormon. You are not alone.