Friday, November 6, 2015

My reaction to the Church's "New" Policy.

L. Tom Perry said, "Family is the center of life; it is the key to eternal happiness."

Last night, as I read article after article about church policy, I was stirred. 

First, because it seems the way these articles were headlined were sensationalized to grab people's attention. It was working... people were definitely paying attention. 

Second, because the 'policy' that was being reported was not news to me, nor, do I think it should have been news to any active member of my faith. There was no change in doctrine and The Church has stood it's ground on the topic at hand.

Thirdly, I was brought back to memories of my own childhood and my journey to finding the place where I knew I belonged. It was thinking through my own experiences where I came to a peaceful understanding of what was happening, and I'd like to share a little of my story...

I was raised in a loving home, but religion was not part of our lives. We did not speak of God or things of that nature in our house. We rarely attended church services of any sort, and although I still don't fully understand why, my dad had always seemed to have animosity for one church in particular; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Imagine how surprised he must have been the day that I came to him asking for his permission for me to be baptized and join ranking with 'those Mormons'. 

To add a little more detail, this was not a decision I made on a whim. Throughout my childhood, I had visited many church congregations of multiple denominations. This usually happened when I would sleep over with friends or extended family on the weekend and fall into their routine. I was always fascinated with the idea of something bigger than myself and even though I didn't really understand it, I had always felt that there was something missing from my life. 

When I was about 14, my parents divorced and for the first time in my life, my dad started actively studying The Gospel of Jesus Christ. He began attending a foursquare church and I attended with him. I loved the people there and it was great to finally have a little light in my life that had been missing for so long, but there were times that I felt uncomfortable and confused by some of the doctrine that was being taught. I continued studying other churches and eventually, I began meeting with Mormon missionaries. 

I love the promise of The Gospel and the Plan of Happiness. I identify with the doctrine that we have Heavenly parents who wish for our progress and happiness. I love the feeling of familiarity that has always been with me when I have studied the Gospel. The peace that it has brought to my life, in even the most trying of times. I love the Priesthood and the order that exists in The Church. To me, it just made sense.

I began building a testimony of what I was learning at a time when other stability I had in life had been taken away from me. Life as I had known it had been turned completely upside-down. I was living in a joint-custody relationship with my parents. Spending half the week with my mother, then switching and spending the next half with my father's family. I felt that there was no place for me to feel at home. The houses where I laid my head were just houses. I had lost a sense of who I was, and a major depression had begun to set into my life. Under the pressure, my father and I began to drift apart. It was hard for me at the time. 

The Gospel provided the relief and sense of purpose that I needed. I didn't know how big of a role it would play in my life, but I knew without a doubt in my heart that there was something there that I needed. I made the decision to be baptized, which was actually a rather simple decision for me to make, it was what came with that decision that I wasn't prepared for.

Because I was a minor, I needed permission from both of my parents. My mother was not partial either-way and consented quickly. By this time, however, I was no longer living with my father part-time. The stress had become too much for me and I had requested full custody from my mother a few months prior to arriving at this decision. I knew that getting my dad's permission wasn't going to be easy.

He tried to talk me out of it. He told me he didn't support it. He made multiple arguments against it, but eventually, he understood that I had already made the decision for myself and he consented. I will be forever grateful to him for this, because he could have just as easily said no.

I was sixteen at this time, so I would have only had to wait two years until I didn't need permission anyway, but I was ready then and I went ahead with my convictions. It was the hardest best thing I have ever done for myself.

So, that is a little of my story and how I arrived here, today, minus a few details. The reason that I write, however, is actually to tell about my experience after I was baptized. 

You see, by making that decision, I had taken on a challenge I didn't even know existed. When you are convicted to something in one area of your life that conflicts with what is happening in your home, life can become very confusing and trying.

I love my family, and it wasn't like they were going out and doing anything particularly sinful or of bad nature. They were just people living their lives. However, our values didn't match. Things that were important to me were twisted and turned against me. When I would visit with my dad, or step-siblings (both my mother's and my father's children), our views didn't always match up. Often, conversations would take place with them questioning why I did things the way I did, or trying to disprove things to me. I felt judged often. It often felt that I was walking between a line of proving myself to them and coming across as snobbish and full of myself. I feel there were expectations placed on me that were unfair and contrite.

Now, whether these feelings were justified, or merely my perception, I don't know. I do, however, know that it brought on unwelcome stress and anxiety in my last two years of high school. I remember meeting with my bishop for counseling and telling him I just couldn't wait until I turned 18 so I could be out on my own and be free to make my own choices rather than having to explain and justify everything I did.

This brings me back to the policy that was so prevalent in social media. The idea that a child must wait until he or she is 18 to become a member of The Church if there is obvious conflict in the home that he or she resides.

Here is my testimony of what a mercy this is from God.

God is no respecter of persons. You don't have to be a member of the 'right Church' in order to hold a relationship with Him. He WILL NOT revoke blessings from those who seek for better things in life. However, God is a god of order. He does have a plan that has been set here for our better good. His plan makes sense. He has accounted for every circumstance that may befall upon His children, and no person who requests His blessings will be denied. His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. He will place stepping stones in our path to guide us to His goodness. I know that oftentimes, those stepping stones first appear as stumbling blocks. This policy does not come from a place of hate in the Church. Rather, it is a blessing and a tender mercy that children will not have to deal with the confusion that comes from conflicted teachings in the home and in the Church. It is not meant to be a punishment, but a trial of faith. I know that we will not be punished for the sins of our fathers. God looketh on the heart, and not the outward appearance. He, and only He truly knows and understands the desires of our hearts. He has provided a savior to come in our stead to vouch for us so that we might not be judged for our shortcomings and imperfections. His plan is perfect, and every wrong will be righted and everything that is taken from us will be returned a hundredfold in the world to come. The Church creating a policy that slows the process of someone making a very, very important choice is not a policy of hatred. It does not deny a person God's blessings. It does not mean that someone who's life has taken them on a different journey is seen as better or more pure in God's eyes. Remember, God is no respecter of persons. I don't claim to know why there seems to be so much contention brought up from this policy (which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the doctrine of the Church). I do, however, know that to God, there are two very important principles that we often don't understand how important they are to Him. The first, is that the family is the single most important unit on this Earth. It is central to the Creator's plan for the Eternal destiny of His children. It was the first commandment He gave to Adam and Eve when He brought them to the Garden of Eden. He will do everything in His power to keep family units together (even though there are laws that He is bound to follow). Secondly, the principle of gifting us with our own moral agency. Our agency is so important to Heavenly Father, that He will allow us to make decisions that trump His will. That is hugely important to understand. He loves us so much, that our own will and choice is what we live by. However, we are not free from the consequences that come with that freedom, whether they be good or bad. I believe that is something that we often forget in the scheme of things.

The last thing that I'd like to say is that God is a god of Love. He knows you and the trials of your heart. Please, don't turn from Him because your are distracted by the shortcomings of people around you. He is perfect, and His love for you is perfect. I don't know, but I think we're all going to be quite surprised when the time comes that all truth is revealed to us and we see how foolish we were to put such stock and creedence into what are really very trivial things here on Earth. I really believe that it is much more simple than we like to make it. Man is that He might have joy. Don't bog yourself so much in trivial things that you forget to enjoy your life and miss the beauty that is all around you. Life really is a blessed and beautiful thing.