On Sundays everyone would go to the pulpit explaining how the LDS Church made them happy. They explained their life and the role the church played in it. In church class discussions, everyone would offer their personal believes about church teachings, the commandments, service, and everything in between. Twice a year, the General Authorities would give their talks. Days, weeks, and years of this, and I start to realize that I had nothing in common with the general culture of the LDS Church, or mainstream Christianity for that matter. Whether it was my day to day interests, my hobbies, or my philosophy on life, I could not have been more opposed to the vast majority of the culture of the LDS Church and mainstream Christianity. I’m not saying their culture is a bad thing, like all cultures it has its good and bad points.
I knew that the teachings of God were separate from the culture of Christianity and Mormonism, but for some reason, it began to bother me more and more. In fact, I realized I didn’t just dislike LDS and Christian culture: I was growing to hate it, and I was growing to hate the fact I was letting it bother me.
I had a firm belief in the Book of Mormon and in Jesus Christ. I had been helped by God in so many direct ways that I believed strongly, but it bothered me that what I believed was God’s religion, and his path to enlightenment, could produce a culture that was in my opinion naive, close minded, and superstitious.
I started thinking maybe there was something wrong with me. This upset me more. What if I was supposed to become more like these people that I was so diametrically opposed to on such a fundamental level? This would never happen. I prayed a lot for some sort of answer. All in all, things were pretty upsetting. While I am not a bad person, most of the things that I like and enjoy have been condemned at some point by popular LDS or Christian culture.
None of this had ever bothered me before. Why was it bothering me know?
I had all but given up on an answer when I got a call from the bishopric of my church on a Saturday (A kind of local leadership in the LDS Church). They told me that a member of the stake high council (local LDS leadership) was coming to the ward and he wanted to talk to me. I had never talked to this man or even knew what he looked like. What could this be about? Nothing good, I thought. I was fairly confused. Sunday I went to church and after Sacrament Meeting he greeted me and asked if we could talk. I agreed.
We got an empty room and introduced ourselves. After a little small talk he asked me, “What is the hardest part of living the gospel for you personally?” This was pretty easy for me. I explained to him how I did not really feel like I belonged, how I was the opposite of what LDS culture thought I should be, and that I was beginning to struggle with basic Christian teachings because I was becoming so defensive about who I was.
He told me something that has changed my life for the better. He said, “You’re a lot like me; I never meshed with Mormon culture. And one thing I learned is that the Church is true, and it is okay to be different.” That reassurance: “It was okay to be different.” Something profoundly simple and something most people knew naturally. This was something I needed to hear. We kept talking for a while and then parted. I had never told anyone prior to this meeting about my struggle with my beliefs and identity.
I know that God had answered my prayers. I did not have to change who I was for any group or culture regardless of the basis of that culture. I could be myself, and there was nothing wrong with that. God gave us all commandments to obey that help us evolve spiritually. We are all unique, and can be who we want to be. I could be okay with myself, and on the flip side, I should learn to be okay with people, even if I thought that they were being naive or illogical. This was a huge step for me, and I’m glad that a man that did not even know me decided to talk to me and help me out. I know God helped me through him.
Since then I have learned that God knows us all personally, and he does not want us to be clones in a herd. In fact, I think that living the commandments and being worthy to have God’s influence in your life is the only thing that can help us become our highest selves, or who we are destined to be.
I have stopped worrying about the fact that what makes most of my Mormon and Christian peers happy makes me miserable. Through living the commandments and being faithful, God has changed aspects of myself that I could not change myself, and they have helped me become closer to my true self. Closer to who deep down, I truly want to be. Being okay with yourself and what you love is a major basis for anyone’s happiness. The only two people who matter when it comes to my hobbies and interest are me and God. We are all different and because of that we all see God, the commandments, right and wrong, and being happy differently. There is not one definition of happiness that we all neatly fit into. The world is a complicated place and is full of really cool things we are meant to enjoy. We were not put on earth to simply go to church. The church was put on earth to help all of us enjoy our lives to the fullest. Mormon and Christian principles are the same for everyone, but how we apply these principles in our lives are different for everyone.
Not everything has been perfect for me since I had the talk with the stake leader, but I have been much happier and optimistic about the future. It has not taken away my struggle with feeling alienated; however, it has made it bearable and much easier to handle. I have learned for myself that God knows me perfectly, and that he actually does want me to be happy. Not only does he want me to be happy, but he is much better at making me happy than I am. I now know that submitting to God is not an act of giving up something we want for something foreign and unappealing. Submitting to God means ignoring our limited understanding and trusting God’s. When I do this God always gives me something so much greater than I could have ever done on my own. I don’t just say this because it sounds nice, I say it because for me it is true. God has helped me be myself much better than I can be myself on my own.