Tuesday, September 11, 2012

tell your story.

"No one should be left to believe that she is the only Mormon girl who walked alone into the dark. No one should be left to feel like she is the only one broken and seeking." 

- Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl 

She told me she'd never had a spiritual desert, this teenage girl with her back ram-rod straight, her hands folded neatly in her lap. I didn't believe her, didn't believe any of them who said they'd never experienced a drought of faith. I didn't believe them, because we'd heard about their lives all semester long, we'd watched them interact with their parents, overheard conversations in Bible class. I didn't believe them, because I'd lived long enough to know: Spiritual deserts exist, whether or not you admit you've traveled through them. 

I didn't believe her, but I told her what I told everyone else in our class that day: They're coming. The spiritual deserts are coming. If you haven't been through one now, you will. And it will hurt. But you will live, and it will -- one way or another -- change your life.

That class was years ago, and while I didn't think too much about it back then, I've spent some time since thinking about that girl's answer, thinking about how adults in the church might answer the same question.

Would they admit to experiencing crises of faith? Would they acknowledge their own hurt and brokenness and what it cost? Would they share stories of not fitting in, of lonely moments when they just didn't belong? 

In another Bible class, this one a couple of weeks ago, miles away at a church in South Alabama, a young woman raised her hand to offer her thoughts on community, that buzzword that seems to spring up in evangelical circles so often these days. She wondered aloud if true community could ever be achieved without honesty, without sharing our burdens and speaking our fears.

The class -- made entirely of women, ranging in age from 20 to 65 -- agreed: It could not. 

I picked up The Book of Mormon Girl because I am fascinated by the Mormon way of life. I watch PBS specials and I read their blogs and I drive by their churches. I saw Joanna Brooks on Jon Stewart, and I thought: She might do the Mormon story justice. (Or she might at least offer a different perspective from Deborah Laake, whose story I read earlier this year.)

Although I have a couple of issues with the book -- mostly having to do with Brooks' writing style, which I'll explore in more detail in my review later this month -- I was taken by how similar Brooks' story was to my own.

It's baffling, really, since Brooks grew up in the orange groves of Southern California, and I grew up in a college town nestled between the beach and the South. She has a plethora of brothers and sisters; I just have the one. She was raised devout Mormon -- complete with food stored up for the apocalypse -- and I was raised in a nondenominational congregation not associated with any higher church leadership or authority. 

And yet. 

Despite the differences, despite an ancestry with pioneers and polygamy, despite a Marie Osmond obsession and an education at Brigham Young, the similarities?

They took my breath away. 

I, too, have read Scripture and wondered, as a woman, what those verses meant for me. I have been torn by political stances and have longed for more Jesus. Always, more Jesus.

So often, I have felt alone at church. Then these authors show up out of nowhere, and they save me.

Madeleine L'Engle. Barbara Brown Taylor. Joanna Brooks. 

These women aren't afraid to tell their stories, the good and the bad. 

I think we do our faiths a disservice when we leave out the bad stuff, when we avoid talking about the hurts and the frustrations and the doubt. 

We fail our brothers and our sisters by painting our belief in rose-colored hues. When we leave out the brokenness in our stories, we unknowingly withdraw from the broken, and they are left alone to deal with their pain. 

I wonder what would happen in our churches if we spoke freely and honestly about our doubts and hurts (and in turn, our celebrations and joys). I wonder what would come of acknowledging our church's failures and our faith's mysteries. 

What would happen if we admitted we didn't have all the answers?

What would happen if we talked about our walks through the desert as openly as Scripture does?

I wonder what keeps us from speaking freely, and I'm going to guess it's some mixture of pride and fear and misguided respect.

We forget that Jesus honors honesty, that the Heavenly Father loves when our voices reach Him, and that He calls us to the sharing of burdens and joys. That's what church is: spiritual highs and lows and everything in between. 

The truth is, we're all a little unorthodox. We've all walked through the desert and achieved the mountaintop. We've struggled with politics and winced at the words of our leaders. 

We've struggled to find a place to sit at the table, forgetting we were invited, and there's a place set for us. 

Our faiths are as diverse as our personalities, our walks as different as our faces. 

But every story -- no matter how mundane, how unorthodox -- deserves to be told, because somewhere out there, someone is waiting for it. Someone is waiting to sigh and say, "Oh, me too."

Let's not leave them in the desert alone. 

"An unorthodox story," writes Brooks, "is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something that deserves to be shared." 

Amen. Again and again, amen.


vintage grey said...

So beautifully said! Thanks for sharing this today, and wishing you a most lovely day! xo Heather

Laura said...

Definitely needed this reminder! Thank you for addressing the call to be open about our struggles

Anonymous said...

I have a "pen pal" friend who just shared the same thoughts in her last letter. I whole-heartedly believe it's true. She, like you, also wrote of how our pride gets in the way of spilling our lives to our sisters in Christ though that is exactly what we need in order to experience the bond together in Christ. I know that is one of the greatest services anyone has done for me in the church - told me their story so that I didn't feel alone in mine. I am blessed to be around many women who are open and honest. There are still so many who aren't though. The saddest part is that they don't even realize what they miss out on by hiding their trials, struggles and imperfections.

Aunt Lisa said...

Loved this today. Maybe we will be able to be honest with others if we will ever be honest with ourselves.We are quick to recognize the "obvious" shortcomings of other people and the great story that makes. But when we are honest, we all fall so short. I am convinced (lately anyway) that selfishness is at the bottom of so many ofour problems. It just doesn't make as big a splash as those "obvious" problems. We will "cry holy, holy holy" in one breath and demand our way in the next. Quite frankly, we all are a piece of work. So I say yes yes yes to honesty, but lets begin by being honest with ourselves. Thank you Annie for your insight, being bold and for making us think. I love you. HOnestly:)

Anonymous said...

So good.

This past year has been really eye-opening for me about the responses to being open about spiritual deserts. Some friends respond with alarm and/or frustration that you don't "get it," but the wonderful thing is that lots more friends respond that they, too, have had times like that. Maybe they're even currently going through one.

I recently told my sister that ever since I started studying God's relationship to time and predestination, I stopped praying very much, because I couldn't understand how prayer worked with what I was learning, and I lost motivation to pray. It made me nervous to think about my struggles with prayer, because what if I couldn't figure it out? (Like I should be able to 100% figure out communication with the Creator, anyway. Yeah, right.) It was easier to just not think about it, which led to less and less prayer.

But my sister confided that she wondered the same things. And then somehow, that gave me the motivation to stop being afraid of the questions and read more, study more. Now it's not just for my own sake, it's for hers, too.

So I'm reading Philip Yancey's book on prayer right now, and the first thing he talks about is being open and honest with God, even about your doubts. It's so refreshing.

Syd said...

Honesty is hard. Especially when it comes to one's faith. I truly believe that we all long to find truth. I also truly believe that we all struggle to really find it, because truth must be found through vulnerability. And yet while we all experience these aspects it is still hard to talk about them.

I think you are absolutely right that we all have a story to tell and that it is worth sharing, however unorthodox that tale may be. As an LDS woman I too feel that the culture of my faith can sometimes, unfortunately, overshadow the truth for which we are all connected by.

Here's to more honesty, and by so doing creating more valuable connections as we all strive to come to know God.


Annie said...

you always recommend the best books, so i'm adding this to my list. i can't tell you how much i agree with this. i'm so tired - SO tired - of the facades we raise, especially in church. i feel like a lot of times, we do this in the name of "being joyful," as the scripture (i can't remember which one) says. but we need to break through that. we need to address everything, the spiritual highs and the lows, in a way that keeps His purposes in mind but is authentic and plainly honest. as jessi connolly says, it's "our story for His glory." (on a related note, have you heard of her e-book be quiet and say something? i'm halfway through and it's fantastic so far.)

Brittany said...

You're so right. I'm learning this right now too--faith stories are really important. I've grown in hearing a lot of stories about goodness and perfection, but I'm finding comfort, inspiration, and God in the stories of imperfection and trying lately. Loved this post, Annie.

AVY said...

I wish I could belive in God but I just can't.



Kristen said...

I have yet to read this book, but I love the words you have to say about it -- might be picking it up soon.

Sierra said...

I am Mormon myself and it's amazing how often my relationship with God correlates with other Christian women. Thank you for sharing this book. I have heard about it and I cannot wait to read it. I feel like I will have so much in common with this woman--since I am living in Utah and got my education at BYU.
Thank you for your kind words. Maybe we are all more alike than we think.
We are, in God's eyes, right?
This is so sweet!
Hope all is well.
Oh, Just Living the Dream

Anonymous said...

I love this post!!
I just started following your blog & its wonderful
follow back?!
please & thank you :)

Anonymous said...

I love this post!!
I just started following your blog & its wonderful
follow back?!
please & thank you :)

becca said...

Hi there, I am not quite sure how I found your blog. I am Mormon and most of the blogs I follow are by other Mormons. So I figured that you were, until I read this post. I have your blog in my google reader filed under "inspirational" and this post certainly was. I read the Book of Mormon Girl last week and enjoyed her discussion of these spiritual desserts that you so eloquently spoke of. Thank you for sharing and also for discussing the similarities of our religions. Most people in my life think that they can't relate to me because of my Mormon beliefs, but thank you for pointing out that we can share similar feelings and experiences as we go through the ebb and flow of life.

Also I love Anne Shirley too and I went to Prince Edward Island for the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. It was fabulous and I think you should go too!