Wednesday, December 12, 2007

stepping outside.

A few weeks ago I mailed my temple recommend back to my bishop with a brief note explaining that it wasn’t right for me to have it because I had lied to him during the temple recommend interview. It took me three months to get up the courage to do that. I am so ashamed that it took that long, and even more ashamed that I actually did lie during the interview. See, I though I had more time… more time to figure out if I was ready to be an outsider to my family and friends, basically more time to slide along keeping a foot on both sides of the line. But when the church switched out the old temple recommends for the new bar coded ones I was caught off guard, caught before I was emotionally ready to become an outsider. So I lied.

Let me back up a bit.
I first went through the temple just before I went on my mission. Clueless, totally clueless to what was going on, and quite shocked at what actually happened in the temple but I had a lot of trust in my folks and the church. And I was going on a mission in a month so it was not a time to question but to increase my spirituality. Plus, all my life I had heard that going to the temple was the crowning spiritual attainment one could achieve. I was really big on being spiritually intune. So I went back several times in that month before going to the MTC, keeping my mind open, trying to feel the spirit, and trying to 'really understand' what the temple was all about.

Then I went on my mission. I worked hard, memorized a lot of scriptures and church doctrine, really polished my teaching style, and prayed all the time to be guided by the spirit. Before I came home I wrote my folks and told them I wanted to go right to the temple and do all the ordinances from baptism to sealing for some of out ancestors (we did this right after they picked me up from the airport, before I ever got home). I asked for this because that is what it seemed that a really spiritual person would of course want to do.

I went to BYU and became a MTC teacher (so I could be a good, spiritual, returned missionary) and went to the temple lots and lots. I decided to take it to the next level and become a temple worker too. Because I wanted to be ultra spiritual. (Also because I really desired to be able to perform ordinance work, to use my hands to bless and anoint another person… but that is another post altogether.) I was doing all of this to try to be a more spiritual person… but more and more I was feeling that I was a fake. I was feeling more and more alienated from God in spite of my best efforts at being spiritual. (It was during this time that I began work on an installation about approaching God.)

(Am I overusing the word 'spiritual' here? Well I was over-obsessed with it then.)

I got engaged my last semester at BYU and was married a few weeks after graduation. And then I started experiencing all the doubts and concerns and issues that I had so successfully blocked before. I don’t know why it happened this way, it was horribly unfair to this great man I had married. But that is how it was. As time went on I began to hate going to the temple. Perhaps it was that while a single woman I really could let the more misogynistic language of the endowment slide off me, but as a married woman I felt so much more the disparity. I am not sure. But over the next couple of years it became severely emotionally distressing to go to the temple. (both Caroline and Chandelle have written posts about their experiences in the temple that have many similarities to what I was going through.)

There was one particular time, however, when I discovered a reason to go to the temple. After a particularly depressing endowment session, we were finally all in the celestial room. Parents and adult siblings and spouses, we were all there smiling (or faking it) and wearing the same weird clothing. All one, all on the inside. How proud that made my folks. How much they loved to see all their adult children in the temple. Well, not all… there was one sister who had left all activity in the church. When everyone got together for marriages, she stayed outside and watched the kids. Outside. Not part of that group on the inside. When every other reason for attending the temple was gone, that desire to be part of the in group, to be included, held me for a good little while. The worst possible reason in the world.

As my disaffection grew (questioning the temple lead to questioning all sorts of things that had been a given growing up) it was that change of status from insider to outsider that started to haunt me when it came time to renew my temple recommend. I was able to justify quite a bit with mental gymnastics during the interviews. Interpreting the questions and answers a little differently (the questions in the interview do seem to allow for that). Technically honest. I really hated that… but was very fragile about the idea of not having that little piece of paper that made me part of the in crowd.

By Sept 2006 the recommend process had become quite the ordeal to drag myself through but I did. I wrote this in my journal after getting my recommend: “I am cleared for another two years. Two more years of thinking, reading, exploring, defining… who knows where I will be, spiritually speaking, in two years.”

January 2007, I was at a point in my ‘exploration’ that I decided to stop wearing my garments and to sample previously forbidden substances, like tea and alcohol.

By August we had heard that all the temple recommends were being changed out for ones with bar codes on them, and that we would need to get the new ones from our bishop and stake pres. It was too soon! I was supposed to have at least another year and a half to figure out where I was going with this! It felt like a big joke on me by God. Or perhaps a big test. Supposedly they wouldn’t to through the TR interview questions, but would just ask if we were worthy. What a question. What a question for me, who was trying so hard at that moment to define just exactly what it was that God wanted of me. Was I worthy before God? I felt so. But I was no longer worthy in the eyes of those men who would sit in judgment of my worthiness. Did I care? I no longer believed in their view of my worthiness… but was I ready to become an outsider? What a stupid question. Of course I was an outsider. Did I really think that I could go to the temple now and not feel like an outsider in spite of the fact that I may technically be on the inside? It was already so hard just putting up a good face at church and at family gatherings. I was being dumb. I was no longer just interpreting things a little differently, I had crossed a line only to find that I still wasn’t emotionally ready to be out. I had thought I would have more time to prepare mentally for that. I am pretty ashamed that I made that step while still being so ill prepared to deal with the consequences… but that is how it happened. I went in for my new recommend, the bishop actually did asked all the questions again, and I lied. I hate that. I hate that I was so caught up in trying to be what other people wanted me to be that I would do that. That i cared so much about appearances and trying to fit in, and that I didn't have enough strength to be authentic.

It really disturbs me, how this story plays out. I wish I could have played the roll of the intellegent, self-aware woman who knows her mind and is not afraid to act on her convictions. Instead I feel I play the part of a coward, a cheat, and a flip-flopper. In real life, it is not quite as black and white as all that. I think that I have been bits and pieces of both of those characters. I may always be some of each. I am hoping to in the future be so much less of the cowardly cheat.

It took me till November to worked up the nerve to write a brief note, and mail my temple recommend back to my bishop. I didn’t go into details, mostly just apologized for lying to him. He may want to talk to me about it; in fact I am sure he will… I am still working out what I will do if/when that happens. I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Likewise, there will be invitations to attend weddings, or to just go to the temple with friends and/or family, and I will have to find the best way to negotiate those waters. These things will be challenging for me. But for the moment, I am just enjoying the relief of having come clean in this matter. I can at least say now that I am honest in my dealings with other people.

[I wasn't sure where to include these in the body of my post, but over at fMh, Janet wrote two beautiful posts (part I and part II) with a touching interpretation of the endowment. While they didn't change my course of action, I found them helpfull in being able to appreciate other individuals experience in the temple.)


Lessie said...

I so know what you mean about these new recommends being a curve ball. I was going to keep mine up to date until it expired in the hopes that I would still get to go to my sister's wedding and avoid that major discomfort, but then they came out with these electronic ones and since I had already gone inactive, and told the bishop why, I knew there was no way he'd issue me another one. Alas, dirty joke indeed. It kind of seemed that way to me too.

(chandelle) said...

our recommends expired a couple of years ago and we weren't active enough at the time to get new ones before my BIL got married. so my husband lied about having to work and i lied about not getting in with the SP in time before their wedding. i was the photographer at their wedding and i had to sit in the temple lobby feeling like SUCH a shit for lying about my temple recommend. a few weeks later i did get cleared for a recommend and it was only by doing quite a bit of mental gymnastics myself. it really feels gross, doesn't it? you are so incredibly brave for being honest with your bishop instead of just not-using your recommend, which is what i ultimately did.

Anonymous said...

Returning your recommend was very brave. I'll eventually have to take that step as well. I've struggled with the same issues for several years. My husband is my bishop and he got my barcoded recommend signed by the stake president. It will expire in the spring and I don't know what I will do then. Except for weddings, I've not been to the temple for over a year and a half and that was to see my son do my dad's work, which, although I've lost the faith, I wanted to have done. I guess I didn't want to make the decision for my father.

I've always prided myself in my honesty and this has been a tough thing to go thru. My husband knows of my ambivalence; two years ago, I could still talk myself into believing. Now, I can't do that anymore. What do you do with a bishop's wife who is unbelieving?

He's a good man and a good bishop; the ward loves him. I don't want to do anything that would cause him to be released before his time but pretending gets more difficult every day.

Ziff said...

Wow, G, I really appreciate you sharing your story. I admire your courage in returning your recommend.

Anonymous, I'm so sorry for the position you're put in by your husband's calling. Is he getting anywhere near to being released anyway? Either way, I hope you can figure out the least difficult way to handle what sounds like an agonizing situation.

G said...

the best of wishes to you, anonymous, your position is not one I envy at all... I hope that your husband is understanding and supportive.

it is, after all, our family and friends that affect us the most, and are affected the most when a we have to renegotiate our faith and belief systems. very difficult stuff.