Once upon a time, there was a boy that had no desire to go to BYU, but ended up there, for a variety of reasons. Prior to his departure, his parents exhorted him to take full advantage of the extra-curricular opportunities that BYU offered, including devotionals. This boy embraced their advice, as he was rather obedient, in spite of a large contrarian streak that influenced many of his actions.
Devotionals became a highlight of his experience, providing a break from the tedium of typical school-life. They served as some kind of nourishment during that dark, lonely time (it wasn’t really that bad, a bit lonely at times, but overall, quite enjoyable). However, he soon received a mission call, finished the semester a little worse for wear and went home to prepare for his imminent departure.
Yes, that boy was me (surprise!). I returned from my mission hungry for the sort of spiritual nourishment that I felt I had as a missionary. I eagerly awaited my return to BYU to return to school and have the joy of weekly devotionals.
Yet, something was different. I went and did not feel the same magic that used to be there. I kept going back, hoping that I would feel the same sense of uplifting encouragement (yes, the redundancy of that phrase is intentional), but it didn’t come.
What was wrong with me? Why did the devotionals no longer provide the same sense of spiritual wonder that they had before? Was I incapable of feeling the spirit? Had I lost everything that I had gained while serving in Lithuania? Why? Why me?
All of this was complicated by my simultaneous start of openly identifying as a liberal. That wasn’t the most well-received news for my parents. I had also stumbled upon Sunstone and Dialogue and began reading various articles, started listening to the Mormon Matters podcast and dabbled some in the Bloggernacle. I felt great enlightenment from reading and listening and was shocked to hear that many members thought of them as dangerous and potentially anti-Mormon.
Given this, I faced some serious introspection about my faith and why I felt such deep spirituality and goodness from things that others dismissed as incompatible with the Gospel and did not from the typical sources of spiritual nourishment.
I struggled to figure out what had changed. If I was different or if everything else had changed. Clearly everything else changing was the more logical option, but upon further reflection, I realized that even though I still largely believed the same, the nature of that belief was altered. It’s difficult to articulate exactly what had changed, although much of it traces back to a shift in my understanding of prophets and revelation.
I’d always been an independent thinker, who questioned much of what I was taught at Church and in seminary (again, likely bits of my contrarian side coming out). My parents played a huge role in this—always asking what we had learned and then frequently correcting those teachings, by pulling out the scriptures and pointing out flaws verse by verse.
Anyway, I still attend devotionals every week. I’m not always sure why. The reason is multi=faceted, but boils down to 1) me promising myself (and kind of God) that I would, 2) my contrarian-self likes engaging with ideas that I disagree with, 3) I want to keep a connection to my previous self, 4) I like being in the know in regards to Mormondom and while being a BYU student, devotionals are a key part of that.
Continuing to go has helped me better understand perspectives that differ from mine and also helped me realize that typically people mean well, even when they say things that are potentially damaging and marginalizing. I’ve been able to look past disagreements and find points of intersection, taking away something insightful.
My Church experience is remarkably similar and for a time was incredibly frustrating. I’m at a place now where I’m comfortable enough with where I am at spiritually that comments are typically not that hurtful on a personal level (it also helps that I’m rather thick-skinned). Again, I can typically dismiss things that irritate me (with a knowing twitch of my mustachioed face) and focus on bits of goodness.
It’s been a trying journey and some days are better than others, but in the face of particularly awful things, I typically just laugh. Sure, I get judgmental stares, but it’s worth it for my emotional well-being. I’ve found that goodness is there, if I look for it and think the best of others.
I definitely don’t have all the answers. Nor is it always easy, I frequently struggle to keep my mouth shut or to control the expressions on face that often clearly betray how I feel. But with a little help from my friends (h/t to the Fab Four) and many a snarky comment under my breath, I make it.