Monday, May 8, 2017

A New Flavor of Mormon

When I was a young boy I used to love mixing random foods together. Sometimes I would mix things that ended up being really tasty, like putting brown sugar in the french toast egg mix. I also ate some things together that other people thought was kind of weird and even gross, like when I mixed green beans and applesauce. Some of the mixtures were pretty tasty but didn’t stick. But some did stick, like the sweet eggs for french toast. It became a new flavor that I got used to and it became normal after tasting it long enough. 

For 13 years, the spiritual side of me was all one flavor. 

That was who I was. And because I tasted it all the time, I never mixed that flavor with anything else. I had no reason to mix it. And whenever someone tried to mix in a new flavor into the already established flavor, I thought it tasted weird and I didn’t like it. So it didn’t stick.

Two years ago, a new flavor was introduced into the recipe of my spiritual self. My wife had a mental disconnect with reality through what is called psychosis. Psychosis comes with delusions that make what is real and what is not real become really hard to decipher. Many people have delusions about secret codes, the CIA or some grand conspiracy that will help save the world from terrorists (like John Nash in The Beautiful Mind). But Stacie’s delusions weren’t like that. They were spiritual. Talking to God, Jesus and other angels. Deeper significance into temple ordinances. Many things we held sacred became augmented and were given even deeper significance in Stacie’s mind. To her it was the most powerful spiritual experience of her life. But for me, it was the most traumatic experience of my life. 

Incorrect beliefs about what God wanted for my Stacie led her down a dangerous path which led me to the very difficult decision to admit her to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. She was there for nine days. At first she didn’t even recognize who I was. After a few days, she recognized me, but she was still struggling with reality. During one of our visits, she tried really hard to make me promise to bring divorce papers to the hospital because she was going to be marrying Jesus. I guess I didn’t have a chance against Jesus (LOL), but I knew that I just needed to buy more time and she would come back to reality. She did finally come back to reality and the reality was that her intense spiritual experience was all just a delusion. 

Her spirituality was hijacked by a brain that was misfiring. 

She was diagnosed with Bipolar I. The doctor told us that she would be on medication for the rest of her life and that we should be really careful when having children because the risk of relapse into psychosis is extremely high. Oh, and he also said: “I would avoid spiritual things for a while until she really stabilizes again.”  What? Avoid spiritual things? Wasn't that the only thing that could bring us peace when life was in chaos? None of this made any sense to me. It was the most complex paradox of my life.

This was a very different flavor. I had never tasted this before.

The flavor I was used to was the one where spiritual things made sense. A flavor where if I had enough faith, was a 100% tithe payer and was temple worthy, all things would work together and I would prosper in the land. I mean, I was the guy who started LDS blogs because I wanted to, who wrote a book for RMs and who spent seven years writing individual entries on every chapter of the Book of Mormon so that my posterity wouldn’t ever wonder what I thought about the scriptures. That was the flavor I was used to. It was predictable. It made sense. It was who I was. 

So what do I do with this different flavor?  

Why would God allow the part of Stacie’s mind that related to sacred things to be tampered with? And now how does she tell the difference between the fantastic spiritual experience she had while delusional and actual spiritual experiences? To her it actually felt the same. The very instrument through which we receive and perceive revelation (the mind) was no longer a safe place to seek revelation. How could God communicate with Stacie now? Isn’t the entire foundation of the gospel based on our ability to “receive the Holy Ghost”? 

For a while I became silently angry. This anger led me to open the door to many of the questions I had while studying psychology in my undergraduate education at BYU. These questions just didn’t mix with the flavor of spirituality that was such a foundational part of my identity.

After a general conference talk by Elder Ballard about helping those within our church who have questions, I decided to speak up. I posted on this blog about it. I wasn’t looking for a reason to abandon the Church. I was looking for a reason to believe. I wanted a reason for faith. It helped me quite a bit to get the support of literally hundreds of understanding friends. 

Around this same time, my step-sister unexpectedly passed away at a very young age. Melissa was my Ivy League sister who believed in my intellect, but who had lost her faith. Before she died, we had some enjoyable, yet intense debates about God’s existence and benevolence. I respected her arguments and she respected mine. We disagreed with each other. Her flavor of disbelief in God didn’t jive with my flavor of belief, but we loved each other all the same. When she passed away unexpectedly, I felt unresolved. And honestly, it almost felt like I wasn’t honoring her if I just disregarded all the questions she posited about my system of beliefs. I secretly wished that some future debate would prove productive and that I would win with love during a later chapter of our life. But it never happened.  

Fast forward six months. 

My temple recommend expiration date was coming soon. I didn’t want to have to figure it all out, but after listening to General Conference and some encouragement from my wife, I decided we should both talk to our new bishop about everything. I didn’t care how many times I had to meet with him. I just wanted to get it all out. So I did. I talked to him. I told him everything. I truly believe that this bishop somehow ended up in this ward at this time for a reason. And I was part of the reason. He just happened to be friends with one of my LDS blogger buddies and he was very open-minded. So much so that I didn’t feel like I had to put on any filters. He got it all. For almost a month I met with him.

I thought I was going to have to go back to my old flavor of spirituality. I thought that I would have to just get all the questions out and resolve all my doubts or I just couldn’t be myself in the Church. Not so. The truth is that I had tasted a different flavor of life that didn’t mix with my old flavor of spirituality. It seemed to me that either one or the other had to go, but neither of them could be ignored and both existed. 

In my last meeting with the bishop I remembered a Hope Works talk I had watched called Seeing Green. It reminded me that I needed to find a completely new flavor. Not the old flavor of spirituality alone. Not the frustrated and confused flavor about spiritual delusions alone.

A new flavor. A new me.

A me that doesn’t know the answers. A me that still has questions. A me that acknowledges the reality of miracles in my life, the goodness and beauty within LDS doctrine and the depth of pre-mortal identity, but a me that may not know the difference between revelation and delusion 100% of the time. A me that trusts God's love without understanding Him. A me that sees through glass darkly and doesn’t try to ask God to replace the dark glass of mortality with a sensational understanding of the afterlife. A me that doesn’t expect instant answers to fasting prayers, but who fasts and prays anyway. A me who has panic attacks after my wife gets anxious about powerful spiritual experiences. A me who can still “receive the Holy Ghost” without having to have a powerful spiritual manifestation. A me who may not speak up as much in Sunday School for a while. A me that will be full of love for the people within wards I reside in, but who doesn’t base any part of my testimony on unhealthy belief systems that exist within the culture of many wards. A me who seeks truth from all religions and science. A me who may not worship in the temple, even if I’m worthy to enter. A me who doesn’t isolate himself out of fear of being misunderstood. A me who feels a little more comfortable with the science of happiness than he does with powerful spiritual experiences. A me who doesn’t seek out powerful spiritual experiences, but who does seek to serve people with love, if I can. A me who may not seek for answers to prayers, but who fills my heart with gratitude in prayer because it feels good. A me who isn’t afraid to talk about being a Mormon again, but realizes that talking about being Mormon with non-Mormons won’t be how I used to talk about being a Mormon.

I now believe there is a way to more comfortably taste two conflicting flavors simultaneously. Mixing both together creates a new flavor of me. A new flavor of what it means to me to be Mormon. 

For most of my life, I thought the flavor of sushi was disgusting. Now I love sushi. 

This new flavor still doesn't taste too great, but I'm okay with that and maybe someday soon, I'll come to love it.        

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