ON WHY I LOVE MY CHURCH
Disclaimer: For the most part, I’ve tried to keep my religion out of this blog. My reasoning behind that decision came with wanting this blog to be something that everyone, from all kinds of religious (or non-religious) backgrounds could relate to. Lately, however, I keep getting the feeling that this is something that needs to be written. And so, I write.
I am a Mormon. Born and raised. My parents converted to the LDS church sometime after my oldest brother was born. I grew up thinking that everyone had a three hour church session on Sundays, that coffee was a universal no-no, and that families with less than six kids were considered “small.” The older I became, the more I realized that people of the LDS faith were definitely a little more quirky than Christians of other denominations.
Our lingo alone sets us apart from our fellow Christian friends. We use terms like “wards” and “stakes” to describe our local and regional congregations, we call sermons “talks,” we usually only refer to God as “Heavenly Father,” and we talk about “preemies”, “investigators”, and “R.M.s.”
As our church is solely run by non-paid members who volunteer, my parents both always had a church “calling” or assignment that was given to them. For example, I remember that my mom was often the leader for the young women, which meant she helped plan activities and taught Sunday school lessons, and my Dad even served as Bishop (the steward of the aforementioned ward) for nearly 5 years. I held callings myself as secretary and president over the girls my age. All four of my brothers served two-year missions, from Billings, Montanna to Joao Pessoa, Brazil, again, non-paid.
While I was growing up, I went to early-morning seminary at 5:45 am every weekday all throughout high school. I participated in girl’s camps and Wednesday night mutual meetings. I was taught to read from the Bible and Book of Mormon daily. I gathered with the other youth of the ward to help can food for the less fortunate, paint houses for the elderly, and pick up litter from the side of the road. By the time I was a teenager I was spending at least 10 hours at my church a week. I was surrounded by youth who valued what I valued, who built me up and made me want to be better, and while it’s easy to look at all that was expected of me, I was never bothered by those things. Church was a home away from home for me, and a haven.
As an adult I’ve served in the nursery, I’ve been in the young women’s, I’ve served as the 8-9 year-old activity leader, and most recently, the Sunday School teacher. I give 10% of everything I earn to the Church tithing funds, I am responsible to “visit teach” two other sisters from my ward every month, and am told to frequent the temple as much as life allows.
I’m trying to sketch the drawing for you without completely teaching Mormon 101. After all, it wasn’t my intention to list the thousands of things that make my Church unique, but I do want to tell you why I love it so much.
The things I listed above aren’t things that we tally up on a sheet of paper so that we can say, “Check, check, check, I’m getting into Heaven!” (Despite popular belief, we don’t believe it works that way.) But I’ve found that everything that is asked of us is to help someone else. Isn’t that the gospel of Jesus Christ? To lighten the load of another? To look outward instead of inward?
The thing I love the most about my Church is that it has helped me to know God. Really knowHim. Not as a mysterious, abstract being, but as an actual and literal Father in Heaven. A perfect Father that loves me, cares about me, and listens to my prayers. A Father that sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save me from my sins on the cross. My Church taught me that Jesus did save me. And that even if mine were the only soul that needed saving, that he would have died on the cross to atone for my sins alone.
Knowing about Heavenly Father’s love for me and Christ’s atonement has shaped my life. Because I’ve messed up. A lot. But never did I feel that I strayed further than His infinite love reached. Being forgiven time and time again has helped me to forgive when it seemed impossible. Being shown so much compassion has helped me to feel compassion more freely. I’ve always had this sense of knowing who I am because I’ve always known whose I am.
I’m grateful I have such a strong foundation, because to be honest. It’s been hard for me lately. Church starts right when Ellie is supposed to go down for a nap, and boy is it a struggle trying to keep her entertained in my lap during those three hours. (In 6.5 months she’ll be old enough to go to nursery. Bless the souls that have that calling!) Sometimes I leave without knowing what was said and feeling like it would have been easier to stay home. On top of that, I’ve seen a few people I grew up with leaving the Church as they’ve decided to take a different religious path. Sometimes my faith waivers and I wonder if there really is purpose in any of it. But a few weeks ago I was sitting in Sacrament meeting, feeling a little blue. I was tired of the staggering amount of times I fall short. I seem to always mess up in the same ways and break all of my well-meaning goals. A young and smiley missionary got up to give his testimony. (Once a month we have a sort of open-mic day where young and old alike can share their convictions about the gospel.) He was skinny and baby-faced and just the happiest looking person I ever saw. He said, “I’ve been thinking, you know, that I could leave this Church…but where would I go? If the point of life is to become more like Jesus Christ, then there really is no better place to be.” I left feeling lighter. And even though I continue to struggle with faith and humility and kindness to all, this beautiful Church of mine urges us, “Don’t give up. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is health and happiness ahead.” This church I love isn’t just for the strong and it certainly isn’t for the perfect, it’s for people like me. People who struggle but who want, so badly, to be good and kind and as loving to our fellow man as Jesus was to the woman who was caught in adultery.
And so—I carry on.