When I was three, four, and five years old I passed most summers without skin on my knee caps. My father taught me to walk tall, breathe deeply, and fight back the tears. He also taught me that when it was too much for me to handle, his arms were strong enough to carry me and my pain.
I learned that his musk-scented shirt was the perfect burial ground for my tears.
When I had just turned eight I saw my father sob for the first time. I tried to understand how someone who stood as big as a tree could be brought so low, his arms circled around my sister and I, barely upright on the one knee that supported him as he hugged us gently, but so fiercely.
I learned what hurt meant from my father. I asked him why he was crying. He breathed in deeply, blew it out slowly, and in a deep and husky voice explained that there was a knot in his heart, the kind that you can’t see or touch, but can certainly feel. And, he said, he felt it every time he thought about losing his children.
He told me when I was much older exactly how long it was before that knot hurt each time he took a breath.
I learned about strength from my dad. I learned to stand up and face the sunshine, even if when tears streamed from my eyes.
Even so, there were some things my father’s life lessons could not prepare me for.
For all of the things that brought me pain in my life, little can compare to losing my faith. The pain that came from my disaffection has been some of the toughest to endure. I turned to the lessons my father taught me for guidance. I’m not ashamed to say that I turned to that musk-scented shoulder a time or two in the fray.
One thing Dad couldn’t teach me was the right path to follow along to rebuild my life. I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle. Your path won’t always follow the same footsteps another traveler treads; you have to make your own map out of the things that work for you.
It would be so much easier if someone could just write out the winning formula, the recipe that takes the quickest preparation time.
And nets the fewest losses.
The losses are the toughest part. Dad pegged it right. That knot that forms in your heart hurts each time you take one more breath. Even worse is when the people who walk away from you because of your doubts and questions leave you holding on to the blame for losing their love.
From that hurt came a steaming, burning anger that swelled up in my chest and squeezed my fists until they were tightly clenched each time someone spouted off more rhetoric. For months, my phone would ring out of the blue with someone on the other line tsk-tsking my lack of faith, my useless life devoid of the spirit and warning me over the darkened state I had singlehandedly plunged my family into. Patience and longsuffering went only so far. I wanted to lash out, to grab and tear and rip something until my anger was abated.
Unwanted and unwelcome.
When you have been robbed of a voice before you can even form the words on your tongue, the stinging hurt elicits a primal rage. I was mad.
I stayed mad. For a long time. Until being mad just took up too much energy and I needed peace. Then I began to move on. I didn’t think a perpetual state of anger was best for me.
Once in a while I will read something in the DAMU that reeks of anger and spite. Or I will hear about the stereotypical “anti-Mormon anger” from someone who quite frankly has no idea what they are talking about.
There is anger, and unless you have walked this path yourself, you have no idea how tough it is to get beyond it. I don’t recommend staying in it one second longer that you have to.
But, I most certainly get it.
At the end of the day, I don’t think vitriol is productive for anyone. I have a tough time with anger that turns into name-calling and mudslinging, I don’t care what the platform, in religion, politics, or whatever.
But when you hear or read about a disaffected member who is angry, I can only say that I get it.
Even if you don’t agree with the point of view, I think it’s only human to understand.
It’s a common goal in the disaffected underground community to move past anger and resentment towards the Church. And I have great respect and throw my full support behind those who work to build bridges, to extend olive branches, to replace bitterness with peace. Each of these things is a guiding principle in my life.
But, just for a second, let’s give some space and compassion to the people who carry that anger around for a while. If you have walked this path, it is not too hard to see the honest evolution of that anger.
I am not justifying hostility; one is not always the inevitable companion of the other.
But the anger is born of the hurt, the betrayal you feel when you lose something as big as your faith.
And unless you know the full depth of that hurt, you really have no business judging it in someone else.
My dad taught me another life lesson that has carried me pretty far. He used to say, “You rob your own train, and I’ll rob mine.” Maybe that seems a little simplistic, and just a bit down-homey, but the truth is in the meaning. You do the one thing that works for you, and I’ll do what works for me. And let’s let off judging each other for it.
So for those who still feel the burning embers of anger flame from time to time, I get it. I really do.