Are “Stumbling Blocks from God” a False Doctrine?

Yesterday I listened to Neylan McBaine’s interview with the Salt Lake Tribune about the recent temple changes. I have sincerely appreciated McBaine’s work inside the church to address cultural habits and traditions that hurt women and the church as a whole. She is a trailblazer in many ways as we’ve seen a lot of improvement through her “within-the Church’s comfort zone” approach. (There are many people working to improve the Church’s cultural tendencies. McBaine happens to be a YW President who also has a slightly “radical” book called Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact that got published through Deseret Book publishing. I’ve heard stories of Stake and Ward councils reading and implementing many of her suggested changes. McBaine is also CEO of “Better Days 2020“, which is a non-profit initiative to publicly celebrate Utah women’s past contributions and create a better future by and for women.)

In this interview, however, McBaine brings up the concept of stumbling blocks placed in our paths that confound or confuse or challenge us in our faith journeys. I paused when I heard this because there seemed to be an assumption that these stumbling blocks were intentional, part of God’s plan, or from God.

This concept of stumbling blocks is one I am familiar with as a member of the Church and as a reader of LDS and Christian scripture. McBaine seemed to suggest that stumbling blocks, like the inequality between men and women in the temple, could have been from or allowed by God himself, though she acknowledges that she doesn’t really know and that this is confusing for members before and after the changes, e.g. Did that stumbling block lead those before the changes to more faith or less? Will those who enter after the changes not ever question or wrestle and in ways lose opportunities to draw closer to God? Are we hurt or helped by these stumbling blocks?

This concept of stumbling blocks from God tends to be common, even if not dominant, among many members of the Church–and not just ours. I’ve heard this idea that God gives us pain or confusion referenced in other Christian denominations and even Eastern religions. I think it is a belief in this concept that makes many within our Church feel uncomfortable denouncing past temple practices as sexist or past Priesthood and temple bans as racist because, what if this was an intentional stumbling block to test the faith of us Saints? If we denounce that, aren’t we denouncing God’s intended plan? After all, His ways are not our ways.

In my own struggle with understanding the recent temple changes, I have had a hard time saying confidently, “THIS IS WRONG.” Because questions I feel I have inherited from my culture and upbringing are: What if God wanted to test my faith through this uncomfortable time/practice? Perhaps the changes are a sign of new times: a part of the unfolding, the unveiling, the restoration, new revelation, etc., and there is more to come? This is all just line upon line and each step in the process has been from God! Milk before meat, y’all!

After the recent temple changes, however, I didn’t pray and ask about the changes. I didn’t ask, “What do you want me to learn from this?” I wasn’t ready. Because I didn’t know if the temple as it was was exactly from God–I didn’t feel like it was–but if it was, I was afraid of that utilitarian God that I thought I no longer believed in.

So I didn’t ask about it. I avoided the topic like I avoid touchy topics with my husband until I’m ready to confront them. And I took a break last week and this week because there’s only so much to talk about when underlining your polite, surface talk you feel extreme irritability or rage.

After today’s Relief Society lesson on “Divine Discomfort”, however, I felt ready again, begrudgingly as I’ve been lately, to explore the question of stumbling blocks further. I wanted to start with scripture first because I like to differentiate between culture and theology. I don’t even bother with General Conferences or magazines here, but invite anyone to explore there. I’m a believer that Mormon theology and doctrine is much more progressive than our culture (which is a reason why I stay) and so I will still look to scripture and LDS resources for insight, even if they don’t provide all the answers.

I looked up the term in our scriptural canon “Stumble”, “Stumbling block”, and “err” or “error”. I read each reference and the surrounding scriptures for some context. The following are references that shed light on who is responsible for these stumbling blocks–God or otherwise. I’ve listed at the end of my post relevant scriptures if you want to take a look, but for those of you less interested this is my summary:

According to our scriptural cannon, stumbling blocks overwhelmingly refer to the errors, unrighteousness, or wickedness of men. The only three scriptures that seemed to suggest stumbling blocks are directly from God are few, and I feel like I can explain them away:

STUMBLING BLOCKS FROM GOD

  • 2 Nephi 4:33 . . . Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
  • Isaiah 63:17 Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.

What’s interesting about these first two references is that they are questions by men–Nephi and Isaiah–rather than declarations or prophesies. “Please don’t give me these stumbling blocks,” they say because they believe 1) God is responsible for giving them in the first place, and 2) this stumbling block is prohibiting them from obtaining something better God would want for them (peace or inheritance, e.g.). If only God would remove these, then these men could grow closer to God or to what’s good. They believe God is placing these in the way, but that doesn’t mean God actually is.

The third reference is trickier. This scripture suggests God deliberately provided confusion in response to a request for it:

  • Jacob 4:14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.

It seems that in this particular case, God gave stumbling blocks because “the Jews” deliberately asked for them (and hopefully this just isn’t an anti-semitic text ;). But it is clear even here that God does not want stumbling blocks for them. It seems to be more of a consequence for a refusal to want plain truth. God gave them what they wanted, rather than what He wanted.

In addition to being able to explain away the references in our scripture to God placing stumbling blocks, there are far more scriptures deliberately stating stumbling blocks are from men, usually from pride, wickedness, ignorance, or unrighteousness. For example, in Alma 4:10 it reads: “. . .the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” And in 2 Nephi 28:12 it reads, “Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted . . . they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (See below for a full list of stumbling block/err references). In other scriptures, not only are the stumbling blocks created by men, but the desired end goal, for God, is to have those stumbling blocks removed.

This is big and important and here’s why. To attribute to God the Priesthood and temple ban for black members or the “incorrect” temple ordinance(s) is to reveal a belief in God-sanctioned stumbling blocks. I think I’ve had a confused belief in that before, though I’ve never been able to articulate it until now. I feel now that that belief is wrong because it isn’t supported by scripture and, more importantly, it falsely characterizes God with whom I feel I have a strong, loving, nurturing relationship. And anything that does not reveal God’s true nature will not lead us closer to Him. In fact, to believe God will deliberately confuse you or hurt you or teach you fake, awful things just to test you is to believe in an abusive father. Hurt is different here than challenge. What challenges us in good ways can help us (but I also think nothing evil comes from God because in the New Testament Jesus only heals and provides. But that’s another post.). But hurting us, confusing us, lying to us, making us doubt ourselves or Him are signs of an abusive relationship, not a healthy one. As a mother, I provide consequences and teach my children, but I never lie to them or make them doubt themselves intentionally or doubt me to make them “stronger.” Those who have been in abusive relationships are made to feel weaker, miserable, and less sure of themselves until they learn how to get out of that relationship. The false doctrine of “God’s stumbling blocks” is not supported in scripture, but it also just doesn’t make sense in our personal lives or in our personal experiences with God.

So let’s stop spreading that “false doctrine” if it ever was one. Common answers to the temple changes that reflect a belief that God creates stumbling blocks for us can be like the following:

  • “Perhaps God knew we wouldn’t have been ready for these changes so He needed to work line upon line.” [That first line, the first stumbling block, then, would have needed to be from God. But God doesn’t do that. + Another problem: Who wasn’t ready? The racists? The sexists? Because those being affected by these stumbling blocks were ready.]
  • “This is the higher law.” [The assumption here is that the previous law was a “lesser,” but still “from God” law, like the Law of Moses.]
  • “God’s ways are mysterious.” [This assumes that this is God’s way, and our scriptures teach otherwise.]
  • “God has revealed we no longer need to . . .” [Like with the Priesthood and temple ban for black members, the assumption that God ever wanted these stumbling blocks in the first place is a disgrace to God and His character.]

Those of us hurt by the stumbling blocks felt and feel relieved when stumbling blocks are removed. Many have always understood stumbling blocks to be from men. For example, I remember hearing one black member’s conversion story on a podcast and she exclaimed something to the effect of, “Racism is everywhere. Of course it’s here too.”

But others ignorant of or distant enough from that suffering and hopeful that everything may indeed be part of God’s plan need to come to grips with the fact that our own scripture suggests God doesn’t actually work in this way. To suggest otherwise, I think, is to twist His character even if that’s not their intention. I find it easier to appreciate current leaders who help correct false traditions (centuries old even) and move on when I understand with confidence that “God didn’t want this.” I also feel obligated to comfort those hurt by these false traditions when I understand that these traditions were wrong. I also feel responsible for and empowered to discern for myself what is taught or practiced at church with a correct understanding of God and His nature. Those are good things for me to understand, not bad. This understanding should be encouraged, not ignored. Feel free to share other excerpts from scripture or otherwise that have contributed to your own understanding of stumbling blocks/your relationship with God.

The following excerpts suggest stumbling blocks are not from God. I’ve cut down a lot of the references for the sake of length, but you can read each chapter in its entirety because a lot of the context is enlightening. These scriptures also include specific references to the cause (who) and effect of the stumbling blocks. (Some scriptures that reference “err” or “stumble” are used in a different context, so I have left them out of this list.) This is not exhaustive. The concept of stumbling blocks or God deliberately confusing or hurting us (like in the allegory of Job) still exist in our scriptural canon, so feel free to share more of your thoughts on this topic.

STUMBLING BLOCKS ARE NOT FROM GOD

  • Alma 4:10 “. . . the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.”
  • 1 Nephi 13: 29 “…because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”
  • 2 Nephi 26:20 “And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches. . . 23 For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.” 24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world  . . . 28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. . . 33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
  • Jacob 4:13 …the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls…
  • 2 Nephi 28:12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted . . . they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.
  • 2 Nephi 25: 20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err.
  • Moroni 8:And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle. [Moroni explains that the correction of the error of infant baptism was from God.]
  • D&C 1:25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
  • D&C 33:And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.
  • Romans 9: 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
  • Jeremiah 31: They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
  • Isaiah 63:13 “That led them [children of Israel] through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?

The following references don’t reveal the source of the stumbling block, but God seems to not desire the stumbling blocks. God seems to want to take them away and that to do so would be good for His children:

  • 1 Nephi 15:And it shall come to pass, that if the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day that he shall manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks
  • And harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.
  • Mosiah 7:29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not [something from God]; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them. [from men]
  • 33 But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage [the desired end goal].

Advertisements

“Truth is no trophy”

“We might know some things. We might even be in possession of some fundamental truths, but truth is no trophy you can hold up. Its value isn’t in possessing it. Its value is the love we muster to build relationships in its pursuit. This is why we need God, each other, even our enemies, to teach us truth. Paul made it clear: you can talk truth all the day long, but if you don’t have charity, you have nothing. There is something truer than truth, and it is love.”

 

from the gorgeous George Handley, “On Criticism, Compassion, and Charity”

Women & The Temple Changes: A Live Wrestle

I haven’t written on the temple changes but not because I haven’t been thinking about them. I’ve been thinking a lot. I tried writing something yesterday, but I didn’t publish it because I didn’t know what I wanted to say because I didn’t know what I felt. I still don’t.

I’ve been thinking about my past experiences in the temple. About women and their inherent power and the power limited toward them. About change. Correction vs. revelation. Responsibility and accountability of institutions and responsibility and accountability for my own faith. I’ve been thinking about women who have been ostracized or excommunicated for advocating for some of these temple changes. Some who have come back and others who probably never will.

I just want to get out my feelings right now—in the middle of things—because it’s a step in the process that I rarely write about while in it. So here goes:

I don’t feel clarity. I feel glad and hopeful yet confused, and at times angry and very, very suspicious. More suspicious than ever. There have been powerful experiences I’ve had in the temple but there has also been so much confusion and a lot of resentment from it. I did a lot of work—reading, praying, pondering, studying—to try and make sense of it and there were times when I felt like I found some real answers. And now all that work feels unnecessary and wasted because so many of my questions and doubts were just eliminated but without any explanation as to why. As if, no big deal. Policy changes. About woman’s eternal role. 

I’m suspicious of deliberate or unintentional mistakes—abusive, spiritually damaging and destructive mistakes—guised under the term revelation. It makes me feel sick. I felt sick at the Be One celebration when we celebrated a prophet supposedly receiving the revelation to remove the Priesthood ban. IT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. It was wrong. Say it. Say “I’m sorry you ever thought God thought less of you and we didn’t let you have temple ordinances that we believed would exalt you because we were repulsed by your feet or we cared more about what past leaders did than finding real answers for you.”

But there will always be enough silence from leaders and enough spiritual experiences from God for that small window of uncertainty to make me feel paralyzed. Were the past 150 years in the temple a result of corrupt and sexist views? I believe so. But my leaders won’t say that and I continue to feel slightly guilty for thinking it.

I’m glad for these changes. It will be simpler for my daughters and for young women. They won’t wonder, like I did, OMG is God actually hierarchical? And women are below men in that hierarchy for the simple sake of order? In moments of doubting my own self-worth after attending the temple, I approached God. “What do you think of me? What does all this mean?” I asked. For the first time, I literally doubted how God felt about me. God told me, “You know how I feel about you. Hold onto that.” Despite what you feel in the temple, know I love you and see you and value you. 

What do my past feelings mean and what do I feel now? I know God works us through the doubt and fuzziness. I know God makes up the difference. But He has also always promised to hold those who place stumbling blocks or caused suffering or practiced unrighteous dominion accountable. He will hold me accountable too. Where do I go from here? What do I do? 

Right now I’m waiting. I’m listening. I thought I’d share that publicly because I think that’s important to recognize: that there are others out there not saying anything, who don’t absolutely know everything or anything and so we wait. If we don’t actually need to wait, if our leaders know something that will make this less traumatically uncertain for us, please tell us. Please talk about it with us. In the meantime, I’m waiting for God’s voice directly to me because I refuse to have a mediator this time. I will be here—unveiled and open.

As I read over this, as I sit here, writing in the dark, because it’s so late and I can’t sleep, and I have a massive headache, I’m feeling in the back of my mind and in the back of my chest, But of you, it is required to forgive all men. And I don’t even want to write that right now. I know it pisses people off—it pisses me off—and I think that phrase is often used as a cop out to toss at people who have been wronged or hurt. And I believe in accountability and I believe in saying what’s true and I hate Pharisees and I hate liars and I hate deniers and I hate everyone who doesn’t say anything and tells me to shush and tells me to doubt myself that I don’t know that I’m not righteous enough that I must not get it that I should feel this and I should say this. I hate that all and still, right now, against all odds and against all my will, I literally feel God telling me, But of you, it is required to forgive all men. 

Even if no leader apologizes and what a freaking waste of decades of pain and struggle of real people and real faith and their real relationship to you? I want your justice because I’ve already felt your mercy. 

But of you, it is required to forgive all men.

For the first time, I cry. 

I feel the resentment begin to leave me. Is this how forgiveness starts? A release of the flood?

I cry again. 

When Truth & Light = the Goal, Differences Can Lead Us There

I once overheard a (good) friend at a gathering tell another (good) friend, “I just don’t see eye-to-eye with Tara at all on this. I don’t get it,” and then, gratefully, I heard my other friend reply, “That’s okay. We’re all different. It’s good for us.”

I don’t agree with some friends and family members on many political or religious issues (apparently I’m disagreeable), but I keep telling myself this:

Differences challenge our assumptions and can teach us more about what we truly want and believe. This doesn’t mean every opinion or every viewpoint is equally valid or equally moral, but allowing space for dissent or disagreement or argument helps us recommit or adjust or change.

As someone who wants what is best, what is good, what is light and noble and true, I want to know everything. But I don’t. I want to be right and wise about every single thing. But I’m not. So I keep telling myself this: Remember truth and light are always the goal. Choose humility.

Image result for blind men and elephant

“When the opinions or ‘truths’ of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.”

“My young friends, as you accept the responsibility to seek after truth with an open mind and a humble heart, you will become more tolerant of others, more open to listen, more prepared to understand, more inclined to build up instead of tearing down, and more willing to go where the Lord wants you to go.”

– from Pres. Uchtdorf’s “What is Truth?

For My Friends at Church Who Want to Know if It’s Good to Stay

I’ve recently had a few people contact me on behalf of themselves or family members about struggling in the church. Some of these contacts have been more serious than others, including whether or not to continue being Mormon, or living the endowed Mormon life. I am not one to oversimplify the concerns some members feel because I’ve been there and I’ve emerged and am still emerging in a way that I believe is harder, but more beautiful and rewarding.

As someone who has at times experienced the effortless, adored lifestyle of Mormonism from my youth and even now off and on, and as someone who has literally had to confront my decision to remain in the church, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to a friend a short while ago (with some additions), which hints at why I continue to practice Mormonism full-heartedly. I’ve posted it below.

***

Dear friend,

I am sitting in the temple pondering our conversation. I feel much love for and mindfulness of you.

I have been praying for you this day. Not only because of the trials you have been through but for your path forward. I have wondered why I have felt impressions of you on my mind lately and now I know why after our conversation. I wonder now why I feel so invested in praying and pondering on behalf of you. Perhaps God continues to bless me with his love for his children and perhaps we have been placed in close proximity to help and buoy each other up. I know you have helped and lifted me with your joy and zest and interesting perspective.

While here in the Provo City Temple (after they let me in by looking up my records online because I again lost my temple recommend which I literally just interviewed for last Sunday to replace my previous one I lost—cool), I am sitting in front of a picture of our Savior praying on behalf of us. The picture moves me because I literally begged God for the privilege to attend his holy house today even though I’ve been flippant about the temple in the past, and at times resentful of it, and obviously careless about attending it and even keeping track of my recommend. I say this because I recognize it is a privilege to be blessed by priesthood authority given to men and women in the temple. I really believe that. And even though I struggle with feeling complete peace with the temple and understanding all the ways in which the rituals are taught, today in initiatories, women blessed me in behalf of a deceased sister with eyes to discern between truth and error, right and wrong.

And so now I’m writing you because of that discernment. I am becoming increasingly aware of my need for discernment. My patriarchal blessing says I have been given this gift but to be careful not to abuse it. I have often thought about this: how can I abuse this gift? At times I have thought to abuse it is to call out bad in people and in ways that may focus more on judgment than on love. I felt impressed after reading the words of Elder Bednar (yes, he’s probably not your favorite apostle, but what he says here is enlightening), that discernment is the gift to see the good in those around me. I have really felt that I have been given discerning eyes of light to see good motives and to honor and encourage those motives. Today, though, as I am sitting in the temple, I am again thinking about discernment in the context of initiatories and the instruction not to abuse my gift. These women bless my brain with discernment. Is this to only see the good? No. It is also to see evil and error. Today I feel like I am learning that discernment is to see the two–it is not to only see good and truth, but also evil and error. Both can exist at the same time–in a person, in an argument, in a church experience. Error is an interesting word, don’t you think? It doesn’t imply blame but instead unintentional mistakes. Which is why I wanted to write you.

As I’ve pondered your comments about church or wearing temple garments I’ve contemplated my responses to you. I have a close friend who listens remarkably well. She is introverted and reflective and I adore her feedback because I know it is thoughtful and honest. She often questions my ideas out of her quiet love and wisdom because she loves me and wants me to have joy and also return to God with her. I have thought of the real value of her friendship—I’ve known her since I was 7–and how friends should at times, when moved upon, move beyond echo chambers and compassionately provide questioning in times of serious contemplation about real life choices.

I worry in my flippant responses to you I may not have provided valuable, thoughtful, discerning feedback. I may have been more of an agreeing soundboard vs a thoughtful and reflective friend who acts less on impulse and more on discernment. I am thinking of that now. Here. And I feel troubled. So I want to offer some of my more meditated-upon thoughts and questions in hope that you will value them as I value my old friend from home.

I told you about my experience recently asking—“Is this where you want me, God?” I asked that, and it was an honest, sincere, even scary question, because no part of me wanted to stop practicing or believing Mormonism. Mormonism had been a good experience in the past. But I asked it because I had real issues that challenged my understanding of Mormonism–the role of prophets, scripture, revelation. I still have questions, but God responded to my question telling me that yes, this church is where he wanted me.

That was the beginning revelation, though. Not the end. I have since had incredible experiences that have expanded my mind and my heart because I stayed. Because I chose the wrestle vs the nap. I worry about you and the choice you have right now: do you leave the church with the hope that you come back rejuvenated? AKA do you take a restful nap? Or do you stay awake, groggy, tired, with eyes barely open? What good can come of THAT any of us might ask. Unlike some members, I am not inclined to tell you to stay if it tortures you. I do believe some who do stay in the church are napping already. They’re not seeking and finding light here. In fact, they may be going through the motions, focusing on rules vs developing a relationship to God. Instead, I am inclined to suggest you ask God himself and see what he tells you.

As someone who has chosen to stay awake, again and again (you know me and my probing questions. I’m a curious little daughter), I have felt increase in spirit, power, strength, love and wisdom. I have felt that that increase has been particular to my decision to endure.

I have wrestled in the dark so many times, but each time, more light comes. Stronger, purer, brighter light. I say this because for me, the persevering has brought the blessings I needed and what I believe you and your family want. And so I don’t want to be flippant or lightminded about suggesting you stay because I’d like friends like you at church. Or that we, the body of Christ, need you, so come for us. Even though that’s true, it’s more than that. Real lives, real consequences, real increased light and power—especially during a dark time for you and your spouse and your beautiful boys—are at stake. I believe in personal revelation but I would plead with you to be very prayerful and mindful of that revelation and to have the discernment to know the answer is from our Father. I feel my discernment is stronger when I keep commandments, repent, read my scriptures, and pray. That’s all I have to do and immediately my eyes see better. Which is why I chose to come to the temple today even though I told you I don’t actually like to. I often get bored. So bored. I joke with God that symbolism is not my learning language. I get restless too. Distracted. Angry, even. Why and in this way? And I could be at home doing good things with my family or outside where I feel God distinctly or reading scriptures which I adore. There are other ways I can connect to God, but the promise of discernment is something I want and need in a very confusing and necessarily complicated world. The temple uniquely gives me an increase of that and I need that more than ever now. I believe we all do.

You know Father and Mother see the big picture. I worry about relying on current emotions in our limited paradigm with church or callings or doubts to determine our choices when perhaps there is more good at the end of this particular wrestle. I worry about relying on current feelings (e.g. “I don’t like how I feel or I don’t like these people”) when so much light and knowledge can come by continuing to explore, rather than stopping too soon. Can God still reach us if we choose to leave? Could he still reach us after mistakes? Of course, if we let him and still want him. If you were to leave church or him or whatever just to know for yourself, would God punish you? I don’t know. But do I want my daughter to jump in a pond out of curiosity or rebelliousness and drown for a bit in order for her to learn to listen to and trust me? And what happens if I reach down to save her and she swats at my hand because she’s “got this”? What if because she’s under water she thinks my hand is a snake and opts out for drowning instead? As an earthly mother, I will jump in that pond and save my girl. I don’t care if she kicks me or hits me or bites me or screams at me. But whether or not she chooses to keep following me on the paved path around the pond, whether or not she chooses to jump back in the pond (and how many times?), once we’re out of the water, the choice is hers. What will she choose to do?

I don’t know if or how much God will so much punish us for lightmindedly wandering or even deliberately wandering, but he will grieve and ache because we will lose the potential light we could have received in a very hard time. Light he was waiting to give but couldn’t because we weren’t in earshot or eyesight. Or maybe he was still shouting instructions across the pond and we heard, but we were too far and the instruction was muffled or obscured. Or perhaps we swatted his hand away in the depths of our drowning. Perhaps this relates to discernment. When we’re too far from God, we may still hear him but incorrectly. Or we may think we discern a solid rock, when it is instead sand and we fall. This is why God gives us more than just personal emotions and convictions to follow him. He gives us resources that help us hear and discern him. It is work and it takes growing into. I’ve already mentioned the sources our church teaches about—scriptures, prayer, repentance, obedience, service, temple. Church can be a place in which we practice discerning that voice—what’s really from God, what’s really the spirit amidst our fellow crazy church friends. We’re practicing hearing and learning to listen together.

I say this all somewhat hesitatingly because this all suggests God is here in this church. Some do not believe he is. But what do we make of those that do feel him here? Because I’ve experienced him here–I’ve learned to pray to him, read of him and her (this church gives me more access to scripture and light than anywhere else), practice serving his children in my callings and appointments–so I believe he is. Though I’ve had moments of doubt, despair, turmoil, confusion, resentment at or during my church experience, I’ve also had earth shattering answers to prayer. I’ve had witnesses in the temple. (This coming from someone who even struggles with the temple!) I’ve had light spear my heart and divine revelation pour into my mind. I’ve wept at the grandeur of God’s majestic and simple love. I’ve basked in divine priesthood blessings that have revealed to me what I thought were hidden desires and secrets whispered only to God. This church has taught me of God, and how to find him and her. And it has actually worked. Where would I go to better find God? To become like him and like her? Like in a dating relationship, at times I felt restless with my now husband–believing I was giving more than I got in return (which wasn’t always true), feeling unhappy, upset (which was definitely true). But often, I would ask, where would I go? Who wouldn’t I have these issues with? And who do I want to work on these issues with? Like my now husband, the church for me can be hard, but it can be immensely worth the work. To give up on or be shunned from a potential relationship can leave feelings of bitterness and resentment and understandably. So what can we do?

If the church is not what you think it should be, would you stay if it were? Why or why not? If it could be so much better, how does leaving help you? If you believe in God, what led you to that belief? That God is here in the Mormon church doesn’t mean he isn’t elsewhere. But if your choice is to leave, where will you go to find him and her? If that doesn’t matter to you, that breaks my heart. We all need God. And I believe God needs us. I’m developing a more human perspective of God. A complex and feeling God, with many nuances.

Yes, I’ve had harrowing doubts of inspired leaders, and what feels like tumultuous encounters that confuse the hell out of me, but I cannot deny what has also happened here, at church–the good with the bad. I don’t have to ignore the bad. I can do something about that. But I can’t ignore the good either. Because I’ve stayed and chosen faith over and over–and to do things for my faith–God has blessed me with a more authentic, intimate relationship. And I honestly want that for everyone. I want you and those I love and every child, every divine child of God to hold on and feel the pure love and reality of a God in heaven.

I hope you feel God’s love and I hope you feel my sense of urgency because upon further reflection, I believe you are at a fork in the road and the choice you make matters, just as it did for me those few months ago. I also experienced my mom calling me after listening to my giant “IS THIS ALL A SHAM!?!” moment with divine, motherly, powerful revelation for me. She said, “You are on a precipice. You are a strong spirit. I sense that things are so serious right now and you are making a choice. Make the choice that leads you to God. Nothing else. Not even yourself. God knows who you are and what you can be.” She then went on to tell me how crap happens at church and that local and higher leaders can sometimes be idiots. But choose faith and use your discernment. Actively choose it and use it. And she plead with me because she knew my intentions despite my perspective. I had desires to be faithful even if I didn’t all the way understand how. I am so grateful for that call at a critical time in my life.

In my faith journey, I could have so many times chosen to pursue abandonment over faith. Every time I’ve chosen faith, however, God has blessed me with giant love and insight. Like universally-explosive love and light. I really do love him and feel mercy, kindness, thoughtfulness from him.

I am so proud of my choices to stay. I say choices because it is a repeated choice. I am aware of Satan and how he tries to get me to doubt myself and others. He wants me to abandon what I know for the allure of the unknown or the potential. None of us wants to be deceived. It is natural to not want to stay somewhere that is not true or good. But find out for yourself with patience–again and again if you have to. I really get that faith is a choice more than ever now. It wasn’t a choice before when I was young and church was the only thing I knew and the only obvious solution. But when other options—what seem to be pleasant, fine, work-for-other people options—are on the table, this is a moment of many moments to choose faith. Like in a marriage, that choice has to be deliberate and conscientious. You can have the greatest spouse in the world, and still that choice has to be deliberate and conscientious.

So that’s how I want to end this. I want to say use discernment. Sometimes I’m more discerning than other times based on what I read, do, listen to. In moments of doubt or confusion, I choose to nurture my discernment. I turn to the Book of Mormon. I know it’s so cheesy. And I know you have said you’re more of a music person. I know it’s so basic. But it is a freaking lifesaver for me. It dispels darkness for me. There is a real power I get just by reading it. More light enters my heart and my brain. So much sacrifice has been made in behalf of the Book of Mormon and the temple and the church. I think reason would have me consider why. What good is here?

Perhaps if I had asked God “Are you okay with me leaving?” He might have said yes. I don’t know. Similarly, he could have told that to Eve about staying or leaving in the garden. If she chose to stay, we couldn’t be here. If she chose to eat the fruit, we could come but there would be hard times. God gave her two options and let the consequences follow. He didn’t force her and it wasn’t an easy black and white choice. It required discernment and thoughtfulness and a choice of the greater good with greater potential. I am grateful she chose the choice that challenged her and taught her more about who God was. I think it’s very possible she could have stayed in the garden and learned less about God even if he was there with her. Isn’t that interesting that she could learn more about Mother and Father by living like them rather than just being near them? I believe Mormonism, in its essence, teaches us to live like them.

But I didn’t ask if it’d be okay to leave. Instead I asked, “God, do you want me here? Is this where I can best find you?” God told me yes, and that has made a big difference for me. What matters less to me now is that everything is as it is preached at church or that it meets the expectations or wishes I have for it. But like God with me, I choose compassion and work. This is where I can learn God if I choose to keep awake, eyes open, always blinking toward the light.

I hope you feel inspired in every step of this journey and that you feel particularly the gift of discernment–seeing the good with the bad in every choice you make–during this confusing time.

I love you. Amen.

Tara

An Open Letter to My 3-yr-old to Convince Her to Want Me As Her Mother

Dear Eleanor,

(Is it cool that I call you that? Or do you prefer Aurora Rose?)

Are you sure you don’t want me as your mother? Or in your own words: Are you sure you don’t want to be [my] daughter anymore?

I’m writing you to persuade you to stay. Please stay in our family. Please be a Boyce with us. I think this would be a good choice for you because of the following:

  1. I like Cheetos too, so I buy them more than the average mom. You will have less access to Cheetos if you leave.
  2. I don’t yell as much as some other bad moms I’ve seen in the Walmart parking lot. And I certainly don’t yell like that in public. That’s a good thing for your reputation, isn’t it?
  3. I sometimes pretend I don’t notice you eating a second snack pack of blueberry muffins because I’m literally too lazy to stop you. You could eat a lot of blueberry muffins!
  4. I let you crawl in my bed every night because I’ve become that mom who values sleeping the short time it would take to carry you back to your own bed more than an entire night of quality sleep. You love sleeping burrowed in my back! I don’t know if other moms out there would let 3-yr-olds sleep on, around, or beneath their bodies.
  5. I let you brush your own teeth half the time because it’s too D hard. I can’t brush my teeth, your sister’s teeth, and your teeth? And twice a day!?!?!?!?! Sometimes I even let you brush your own teeth only once a day so you and I can spend more time doing more interesting things.
  6. You get to go to the dentist a lot more when I’m your mom. Remember all the cool prizes you got in your dentist bag? Another non-electric toothbrush that requires more exertion!? And toothpaste! And floss! There are a lot of cool crafts you can make with floss.
  7. Other moms make their 3-yr-olds floss. If I’m your mom, you don’t even need to worry about that.
  8. I let you roam the yard because I am not a helicopter mom. You can do anything you want because I won’t even be there to notice until minutes after you’ve already done it! I GUARANTEE YOU THAT FREEDOM!
  9. I take you to DI and let you pick out your own hideously puffy dresses. What other mom would let you dress yourself in that and on Sunday?
  10. I don’t exude any authority so I have to entice you to not hit, punch, scratch, or tackle your sister with “mad toys”. You literally get to play with squeeze balls and poop balls or chew gum when you’re mad and feel like beating everyone up. I give you fun ways to get rid of your “poopy” feelings. WHO ELSE DOES THAT!?!?

There are many more reasons I think you would like to stay, but I think these are the most convincing. I hope you thoughtfully reconsider “running away to a new family” and to a “new mom” because even though you “don’t even want to be [my] daughter”, you might find that you actually do.

Love,

Mom