I Just Can't Help Questioning

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Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I'm 17 and have been going to church since April. I was baptized at the end of July. I know that the church is true, and that Heavenly Father wants me to be in this church for a reason, but I just can't help questioning so much. Every time I read any talks by Church leaders, I am so happy, but then as I go out into my school, I doubt everything.  I know that faith and doubt cannot exist in one. Why, according to people at church, are my non-Mormon friends, who I've had forever, now the bad people, and my boyfriend is the person everyone wants me to break up with because he's not Mormon? Why is marriage pushed so harshly on girls who know they want to go through college before getting married and at least have a job? Why are women pushed to marry a returned missionary before they are able to go on a mission? Those are just a few of the questions I have. I'm going to be moving to Salt Lake this summer and I'm worried if I don't get this fixed now, I won't figure anything out.  Any advice?


Dear C.D.:

Congratulations on your baptism, honey, and welcome to the world of Mormonism!

Despite your tender years, I'm hoping you've seen the classic movie Star Wars.  Remember how the young Luke Skywalker struggles and fumbles on his way to becoming a Jedi? Well, C.D., that's you. You're young. You're inquisitive. You're full of spiritual courage -- otherwise, you never would have decided to be baptized. But you have a lot to learn. So, young Skywalker, take a deep breath and try to be gentle and patient with yourself, because you've got some Jedi training to do.

The first thing you need to know is that it is okay to have questions. Our religion was founded by a person just a few years younger than you who had big-time questions and went out into the woods to seek his own answers directly from God. You can do that too. You can take any question you have, study it out in your mind, and then put it directly to God. Just don't feel bad about having questions. And don't let anyone make you feel bad about having questions. 

The second thing you need to know is that you're not going to get all of your questions "fixed" any time soon -- certainly not before you move to Salt Lake next summer. Choosing a life of faith means choosing a life of questions. Baptism is the beginning of a spiritual path, not the end. So please, take a deep breath, and don't panic. There is nothing to be "fixed" here. Only a world of faith to explore.

Next, I want you to seek out some spiritual mentors. Young Skywalker, find yourself an Obi-Wan Kenobi. If you are close to your parents and you feel they can be supportive of your spiritual journey, share your feelings with them, even if they are not LDS. Doubtless, they will have some wisdom to share. You should also find someone in your ward you trust -- someone mellow and nonjudgmental -- and let them in on what you're going through. Mormonism is full of people who have had (and still have) questions, fears, and worries. Faith means learning how to deal with them day by day, and it helps to be able to share them with someone a little further down the road than you.

It sounds like some of the static you're encountering at church has to do with the perfectly natural process of sorting out what actually matters in Mormonism. We long-time members often talk about separating the "church" (the culture of Mormonism) from the "gospel" (the essential doctrines). Faith, repentance, baptism, loving your neighbor:  gospel. Getting married super young, having a zillion kids, baking your own bread: culture. Ask your mentors how they separate the two, and practice doing it for yourself.

Now, as to all of the pressure you're getting about only hanging out with other Mormons, you should know that the Church can be pretty intense with its teenage members. There is a lot of emphasis on rules and boundaries and standards. Try not to let it freak you out. It all comes from very well-meaning adults who want to protect you from harm and drama that can distract you from or derail your spiritual growth. But it also comes from a peculiarly us-vs.-them way of seeing the world that some Mormons have. Remember that most Mormons lived in isolation in the American West until well into the 20th century. Many still only feel safe when they socialize with other Mormons. If you feel your friends and boyfriend can support your spiritual growth (including your desire to live Mormon standards -- and, frankly, that's not always so easy), don't let anyone make you feel guilty for hanging out with them.

11/16/2010 5:00:00 AM
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    About Joanna Brooks
    Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, follow askmormongirl on Twitter, or visit the Ask Mormon Girl Facebook page. Joanna Brooks is an award-winning writer, religion scholar, and university professor. She lives in San Diego and writes the weekly Ask Mormon Girl column.