Over the last several years I have worked with my colleague and friend, John Dehlin, to host a variety of workshops and retreats (next one taking place in April) that are purposefully developed to help those transitioning from Mormonism and their loved ones – whether they may find themselves in a mixed-faith marriage (an often difficult and painful road to navigate), parenting mixed-faith children, or just needing to find healing and forward movement individually. Faith transitions are chalked full of the steps psychologists describe in “the stages of grief.” Denial, depression, anger, bargaining, etc. With “acceptance” as a step that is often difficult to know how to define and arrive at.
With today being Valentine’s Day – a day we set aside to express our love, commitment and loyalty to those within our inner circles – I thought this would be a good topic to write about. And I’d like to share the thoughts of one of our recent attendees who attended one of our retreats with his believing wife.
The following is shared with permission and written by Tim Jacob.
Much of the day as I sat and listened I was brimming over with insights and questions and observations. And I could sense that others were too. It was all just so completely relevant.
So after a fun dinner, my wife Cecilia and I embarked on our long, late drive back to our home. It was so great to debrief and discuss while it was all so fresh in our minds. We traded insights, we made plans and commitments to each other, we came home with so much wind in our sails and so much eagerness to begin.
Today we had an extremely touching and meaningful discussion with our kids (15, 12 and 7). We have struggled to manage their tender feelings and disappointment as we became a mixed-faith couple. We told them the basic premise of the conference and how much we enjoyed our experience. My message to the kids went something like this:
“You guys know that our family values (love, kindness, respect, service etc) are the things that help make us who we are and they are common to each of us. At the same time you also know that there are specific religious beliefs that are different among us. The role and importance of the Book of Mormon for instance. And I want you all to know that it’s ok that there are differences. And in case I haven’t stated this clearly before, I want you to know that there is not any sort of secret battle in this family to persuade any of you over to my (or your Mom’s) way of thinking when it comes to these differences. Your Mom is the best person I have ever known and if you, over time, become an active, faithful Mormon like her, I think that would be wonderful. [And here my wife inserted her thoughts about her love and admiration for me and my journey, following my steps out of the Church]. Our message to each of you is that our role as your parents is not to attempt to tell you what to think but how to employ our family values to learn how to think. We think that each of you are amazing even with all of your differences. It’s a beautiful journey and we’re so glad for each day that we have with you.”
I could go on but I’ll close here. It was such a pleasure for both of us to meet you as your work has meant so much to us. And for that to become even more real and deeply personal, well, that just means the world to us and we are so grateful!
What a beautiful example of how faith differences can be bridged by a mixed-faith couple focusing on their similar goals and principles – allowing the anxiety, fear and heartache of their differences to give way to the stronger foundation of their love, shared values and respect for one another.
Discussion of doubt, faith transitions and controversy about certain church positions and policies have become a more common happening in the mainstream media, in talks over the pulpit, within congregations and LDS family systems. Peggy Fletcher Stack recently penned an article in the Salt Lake Tribune called, In this new era of doubt, will a stronger Mormon faith emerge? I sure hope so. And I strongly believe that the principles and values we hold most dear within our faith – love, patience, charity, perseverance, and family to name a few – are the tools that we will use as our church and church membership continue to shift and change. May we all contemplate these joining and unifying concepts that lead to common ground and the prioritization of connection and relationship on this day dedicated to love (regardless of what side of the story line we are on) – is my Sunday prayer.
*On a total tangent – I am launching my new podcast today on Valentine’s Day called Mormon Sex Info. This will be a project geared towards offering accurate, evidence-based and applicable information to a wide Mormon audience on a variety of topics from parenting, pornography use, sexual dysfunction, increasing intimacy and sexual desire and much, much more…. As a certified sex therapist, I travel and attend conferences on a regular basis, am in ongoing supervision relationships and have developed a rich network of some of the best sex professionals in our country. I’m so excited to launch this project and hope many of you will find it useful. *
Natasha Helfer Parker can be reached at natashaparker.org.
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