It was the best of times in that as a young child I was given a road map to life that was safe and easy to navigate. I was surrounded by a community of people who cared for me and, for the most part, protected me. It was the worst of times in that I spent many years chasing rainbows and in so doing I neglected and missed out on relationships with family and peers who deserved my respect and my love but instead received my pity and my judgement.
This pity and judgement was all wrapped up in golden rules like 'love thy neighbor' or 'love the sinner but hate the sin'. These golden rules allowed me to feel like a compassionate, loving, non-judgmental person. What was really happening; however, was that I had little respect for my father as I tried so diligently to save his sorry soul. I had no way of relating to what many of my peers were going through as they grappled with the gray matter of the world. As a young girl I had no skills to navigate my way out of two damaging and dangerous situations with abusive men.
Families are forever; 'it is the best of blessings and the worst of burdens...'
I was taught, from a very young age, that the 'Eternal Family' is one of the greatest rewards one can attain. To live a life of righteous endeavor, to stay faithful to the principals and ordinances of the gospel with the promise of being together forever is, most likely, a top priority for most true believing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Pretend for a moment, just for the sake of understanding, that you believe with all your heart, might, mind and soul that this eternal family principal is true. As a parent you are doing everything in your might to raise your children 'right'. You have loved and nurtured; you have given everything you have to your children; and then, one of these children has the audacity to 'think for themselves' to actually make choices for themselves and boom, before you know it, they have decided on a path different from your own.
Suddenly that child is out of the EFU (eternal family unit) and there is nothing you can do but hope and pray that this child will one day return to the true church. Okay, this isn't all you can do; there has got to be more you can do. The stakes are too high and you are not going to stand by idly and watch it happen. So you send gospel literature you use guilt to possibly steer them in the right direction. You beg, you nag until before you know it you have placed a wedge between you and your child.
Or you may just let them go, knowing it's their decision; yet, you never stop aching for that child. You will continue to love and reach out; because, you don't like the alternative of losing this child in the here and now. But imagine the weight on your heart because of the fear of not having this child with you in the eternities. The guilt that you did something wrong along the way.
As a prodigal parent; my heartache was that I wouldn't be with my children forever. I was robbing my children of their mother and opening up the possibility that they would also go astray. I was eventually able to let go of this belief but the fear and grief was still there because I worried that my children would pity me, pray for me and try with all their might to save my sorry soul. Yes, it had come full circle; I went from being my father's savior to being my children's sinner in the wink of an eye. I have since become more confident in my children and in their ability to question, discern and sort through their beliefs; coming to their own conclusions and walking their own path.
The grief, the guilt and the heartache are very real in so many people's lives because of this principal of eternal families. When I made the decision to leave the church I received letters from family members and friends shaming me and expressing their concern that I was breaking eternal commitments; I was destroying my eternal family. "How can you do this to your children?" was the common question. The decision I made to leave the church was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I had been so controlled and conditioned that I felt there were eternal implications; that there was some sort of God waiting to exact punishment on me and my family simply because I was taking a different course.
The Mormon temples are at the center of this issue. If you are not Mormon you may, or may not, know the significance and importance of the temple and the temple recommend. In the temple faithful members of the Mormon Church perform very important ordinances and rituals required in this life so that when you leave this life you will be allowed to enter into the Celestial Kingdom (the upper heaven) where families are allowed to live together for eternity. If you don't attain this level of heaven you will not be allowed to be with your loved ones forever. Each year a person is required to interview with two church leaders in order to prove worthiness of a 'temple recommend'. If you answer a set of questions correctly you will get a recommend allowing you to go to the temple. If you don't answer satisfactorily; you will be denied a recommend.
This is a very real issue in the Mormon church; affecting families in many different ways. A mother is kept from attending her daughter's temple wedding. A ninety one year old faithful woman, who chooses to pay her bills or help a family member instead of paying tithing, is kept from entering the temple. A gay son is taken to therapy in order to repair his 'same sex attraction'. Instead of being loved and encouraged to seek a healthy, happy relationship he will be encouraged to live a life of celibacy or to find a worthy young woman and marry in the temple regardless of his sexual orientation. A 15 year old girl tells her bishop that she was molested by an adult male in the church and nothing is done. That adult male holds a temple recommend and is a youth leader in the local congregation. An abused wife is told to keep trying to make her marriage successful in order to preserve her 'eternal family'. Her husband, the abuser, has a temple recommend and holds leadership positions in his local congregation.
To be fair there are many good things that come from the Mormon focus on family and the intention behind most members actions are love and compassion. I don't know about the motives of the institution itself. As I go through my own cycle of healing from breaking off this relationship I find I have gone through all the normal stages of grief. After leaving I went many years keeping a quiet respect for the church; but now, I feel compelled to let go of some of the frustrations and anger I have for the church as an institution. An organization, that I feel, controls the hearts and minds of millions and abuses their power.
The church was, and is, a part of who I am. I continue to be proud of my pioneer heritage. I will always love my friends and family in the church and respect their choices. I am happy to be who I am and where I am today. It is often the case in life, that as we get through the worst of times we arrive at the best of times.