Mother and son bridge the void of faith transition…

Mother and son bridge the void of faith transition… December 18, 2016
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The following excerpt is from an anonymous guest. With the spirit of Christmas all around us… I am particularly touched by the love and understanding this mother is able to freely offer her grown son. Many family systems within our midst are suffering with members going through transitions in faith journeys. And regardless of which end you find yourself on, the pain is real and valid and scary — often tragically driving family systems apart. The decision to choose love first has always been the one that reaps the most rewards in my experience.

I went to see my 88 year old mom, as I often do on Sundays, who has known for a year or so that her previously, enormously dedicated son was no longer attending Church. She did a pretty amazing thing. She didn’t ask condemning questions or preach to me. She just told me that she and I had always been able to share everything except what was happening right now and she didn’t want to go to her grave without understanding what was happening in my life and to hear it directly from me. I tried all the “I don’t want to hurt you” and “I don’t want to offend your faith or beliefs” and she kindly refused to take no for an answer. And so I did the unthinkable. I told her my truth. I tried a little bit at a time and I felt acceptance and love and she just kept asking polite but pointed questions for which there we no dodges. She listened carefully to the answers most often without comment of any sort. Five hours later, I had shared more with my mom than I ever dreamed I could or would. We both shed lots of tears. She kept saying to me, “I feel so bad that you were struggling and I couldn’t help. We’ve always been there for each other.” My mom is remarkably intelligent. She made me get quite specific with doctrinal issues and issues the recent church essays had opened up to me that she knew little about. She was like a sponge listening to what I said. She hugged me and held me tight which was a bit odd as I’m 6’7″ 265 pounds and she’s about 140 pounds soaking wet. She told me, “With the Church’s position on gays and your gay son and these essays you’ve told me about, I can see that you’ve had an enormous challenge in front of you and that must have been a very hard fight to try to retain your faith.” She said, “I knew you were not someone who would make such a big decision without weighing all the issues carefully and trying to do the right thing.” She then did something almost unthinkable. She apologized to me for not being better informed so that she could have taught me the complete truth. She told me she had raised me with the best knowledge she had and was so sorry that she didn’t know more. I explained that there was no way for her to know back then (I’m 62) and that I felt she’d taught me the most important lessons in life that had and will always sustain me. It hurt a bit for her to hear the truth and I apologized many times for needing to be very specific but I explained that I had to be or nothing I was doing or saying would really make any sense. She dismissed my apologies and said, “I want to know everything.” She never once challenged the veracity of any fact or information I shared. She told me of some of her own faith challenges about which I knew nothing. She told me of several visits my dad had arranged for her to see Bruce R. McConkie (back when such a thing was possible) with her own questions on polygamy that she couldn’t reconcile. She told me of my dad’s questions that he had struggled with. She told me that she had a strong belief in God and a love for her Savior and a love for her Church but she told me that there were many things that her leaders had taught that she didn’t always feel were right. I think some of these statements were more her attempt to find common ground with me and show empathy but that speaks volumes about who she is. She’s a very dedicated member. She told me that she felt the Church was likely wrong about my gay son. She acknowledged that he came to us just as he was and she felt badly to know that Church participation had been hurtful to him and that she was happy to know he was at peace even if that was outside the Church. As she told me that she felt that the Church was wrong in its treatment of gay people, she told me that she hadn’t always felt that way — but knowing the challenges my son had faced in the Church and knowing what a fine young man he was, she couldn’t accept Church teachings about him. My jaw was gaping open. She has been the most faithful LDS member I have ever known. When we were done, she thanked me for my honesty and told me that while what I’d told her made her sad, she had great respect for how hard the road had been for me and that she respected my decision and knew that I’d find new ways, outside the Church if necessary, to bless lives. She was glad I was now at peace with my decision and told me she respected it. She finished by saying, that while she “believed” much she “knew” very little about what awaits us on the other side. She told me that God will respect my journey and know the honesty of my effort. She told me she would not delve into the issues I’d raised as at her age, it would not give her comfort or help her with her hope that she might really see her husband (my father) again and be with all of us. She bore witness to me that God will not punish such an honest pursuit of truth and told me of her belief that she felt God was likely at work in every religion trying to help His children in any way He could. For her, she said the religion she’d been raised in was Mormonism and she felt it did good things for her family and thus she’d tried to live it and teach it the very best she could. She kindly made it clear that she hoped that there might be something that would reunite me with the Church and asked me to remain open to the possibility that, in time, I might feel different. She asked me to respect that for her the LDS faith was all she knew and that she needed to hold on to it as she contemplates the end of her life which may not be too far off. She reassured me that no loving God would keep us apart and told me she could go to her grave so much happier knowing the truth of what I’d gone through and relieved to not have to speculate on what might have happened and knowing that with or without the Church, she knew I’d continue to do good. WHO GETS TO HAVE THIS KIND OF A CONVERSATION WITH THEIR 88 YEAR OLD MOTHER AFTER LEAVING THE CHURCH? DID I WIN THE PARENT LOTTERY OR WHAT? God bless my dear mother tonight. I know a part of her is hurting but we’re both happier for what took place. We had the best conversation of my life and I’m so at peace to know she accepts my journey and respects me as much now as she ever did in my most active days. We’ve always been so very close and such good friends. I feel closer to her now than ever. For those of you who have hope that maybe someday, somehow, you’ll be understood and maybe even affirmed, keep hope alive. Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.

Love, respect, agency, communication, validation, honesty, vulnerability, loving boundary setting, curiosity, providing a safe environment, active listening, reassurance… can you see the wonderful examples of the ingredients necessary to well-differentiated, healthy relationships that prioritize wellbeing and longevity. Christ-centered ingredients. May we all be willing to take such risks.

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.
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