This is the story of how I lost my faith. It's not a beautiful story, nor will it be a popular one. I have struggled with writing it down for over a year. There are so many people I don't want to disappoint, so many people who touched my life, so many people who loved me and supported me on my journey. I have not attended church for four years, and I no longer consider myself to have faith. I feel that by not acknowledging my lack of faith, I am lying by omission. I have grieved for my loss, and now I am ready to share.
On April 26th 2009, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons. My conversion had been fast and magical. In a short period of time, being LDS became a critical part of my identity. I had immersed myself in Church life. I made wonderful new friends and found a community that loved and supported me. I embraced my newfound identity as a daughter of God. I did my best to live a virtuous life. I was astounded by the acceptance I found within the Mormon church. I was told that the Church had great plans for me; one member even told me I was an angel. I was overwhelmed with love, and I had a strong testimony of the Church's truth. If you are interested in reading my conversion story, it was published by New Era, the LDS magazine for youth, here.
But with my new life came moments of loneliness. My congregation served as a sort of surrogate family, and I felt distanced from my biological family. I was frustrated with their refusal to join the Church on a daily basis. I prayed each night for their conversions. At my new ministry in Berlin, I confessed my desire for an eternal family. I was advised to fast more frequently. As a struggling anorexic, I embraced this counsel. I do not hold this against those church members, but I wish they had seen the signs of my deteriorating mental health.
At my new congregation, several events occurred that led me to question the validity of the Church. Before, I assumed that the Church and all of its members were perfect. I understand that this was my own error. One issue was my rejection at my new ward. Part of this was the language barrier (services were conducted in German), but I never felt really welcome. No one offered to let me sit with them. I constantly felt awkward and out of place. I questioned why God wanted me to go somewhere for three hours each Sunday and countless hours during the week where I felt unwelcome. One time we were sewing dresses for an event and the Young Women and the leaders laughed that my dress required extra fabric because of my breast size. I cried on the bus ride home and decided not to attend any more activities. I am aware that this was a harmless joke and that it was only serious because I had an eating disorder. The deeper issue is that they didn't know me well enough to recognize that this comment would be so painful. The second event is far more serious than extra fabric. I was being constantly harassed by a boy at school to the point where I didn't feel comfortable going to school anymore. I explained what was happening to my bishop, and his first question was whether or not I was praying enough, and his second question was whether I was dressing appropriately. I trusted this man to be able to articulate the word of God. I am no longer angry at him. I understand that he is human, and he made a mistake. His questions prompted me to search for answers in my left arm. I felt abandoned by God.
My distance from God only increased as my mental health worsened. I didn't understand why God would deprive me of sanity. I prayed nightly, but I only found solace in cutting. I could, to some extent, convince myself that God was testing me, but as I continued to be harassed and bullied at school, I questioned His motives. Why was He torturing me? Did He want me to kill myself? I was conflicted. I knew that suicide was a sin, but I felt like God was driving me towards death. Emptiness overpowered my will to live.
I could rationalize physical disabilities, but I could not understand why God would curse me with foul brain chemistry. Why would He affect my ability to see the world with hope? Why would He steal my capacity to experience joy? At church I was taught that He was a loving, compassionate God who cared about my sorrows and wanted to help me overcome obstacles. Church was supposed to be a source of strength. In anger and confusion, I rejected God.
When my family moved to the States, I made the decision not to go to church. Missionaries came to the door, and I tearfully asked them to respect my decision. I promised that if I changed my mind, I would return. I continued to distance myself from organized religion, and I began to identify as an atheist. I have decided that in my life, there is no God. I do not wish to damage anyone's faith. I understand that faith, for some, is a sustaining force. I know it brings many people happiness and that religious people do a lot of good for this world. I respect their decision to worship, and I hope they respect my decision to abstain.
I write this post with eyes full of tears and a sore throat. Remembering my joyful times at church, the warmth in my heart - it pains me. I physically ache for that time. I know that by publishing this post I may lose friends, my Brothers and Sisters. I am changed by my time as Mormon. I became a more loving person. I was introduced to a "peculiar people" who loved me and taught me valuable life lessons. They instilled in me values that will serve me the rest of my life. But now I must shed this label. I am no longer a Latter Day Saint. I am no longer a Christian. I cannot be. I do not believe in the most fundamental component of this religion: God. I feel the need to apologize to the members who treated me like a daughter and a sister. They opened their homes and their hearts to me, and I feel like I am hurting them with this post. I am so sorry.
I cannot guarantee that I will live a godless life forever. I never thought I would leave the Church, but I did. Right now I cannot see myself returning, but I do not know what the future holds. I will maintain an open mind. My current priorities do not include religion. I am focused on my health, my education, my family, and my friends. I am finding meaning in other areas of my life.
I hope that I have expressed myself clearly. If I must whittle my message down to a sentence, it is this: My experiences with mental illness and the failure of my religion to provide guidance or comfort has led me to live a secular life. There is no disrespect intended. This was a decision I needed to make for my own mental health. I request that you respect my choice.