When I’m in Alta or when I’m traveling, I never (or very rarely) hear or talk about Mormonism. I am allowed to be Marie, free from being defined as a “former Mormon,” "Non-Mormon,” “Exmormon,” or whatever label you prefer. It is wonderful. If you wonder why I live my life the way I do, that is one reason. I feel free being a vagabond, making strangers my friends. Strangers have no expectations of me because they don’t know who I was in the past or where I came from. They have no perception of who I am based on old habits. They embrace me for who I am now because they don’t know any different.
Though it is important to me to spend time with my family, I find it, at times, to be rather frustrating. Most of my siblings have accepted me for who I am now, and even my mother has for the most part, which is great. We’ve come a long way, and time with family is fun and meaningful most of the time. I love my family. But there are still times when side comments are made about my “lack of faith,” religious terms are referred to in a way to chastise me, and even my morality is brought into question. It doesn’t happen as much as it did before, but it still happens. When I come to Salt Lake I feel a bit out of place as well. Even though I love this city for so many reasons, Mormonism is brought up in the headlines, podcasts, new reports, and everyday conversations. Those of you who are still members of the church, hear me out: if you wonder why people who leave the church “can’t leave it alone,” these are the reasons why. I WANT to leave it alone, I love leaving it alone, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, have no desire to attack it, but if I am hearing snide comments about my lifestyle, or I’m being told that my “sins” make other people sad, how am I supposed to leave it alone? I feel I must constantly defend myself, which means talking about Mormonism. If it is exhausting and frustrating for you, imagine how tiring it is for me.
I did not leave the church because I wanted to “sin.” I didn’t leave because I was offended, or led away by Satan, or stopped going to church, or stopped praying and reading the scriptures. I didn’t stop attending the temple and I didn’t stop fulfilling my callings in church. If anything, I did those things more, desperately trying to hold on, trying to retain my belief. Those of you who know me well knew how faithful I was. So, anyone who says it is easier to leave a religion than it is to stay in one obviously has not been through a faith transition. I can tell you right now: it is not easy. It is one of the hardest things a person can go through.
Think about it: you have been given a template by which to live your life. You have been raised to believe a certain way, been given rules to follow and guidelines to go by. You’ve been told what to do, how to do it, when to do it. You’ve been given a narrative that makes sense of life and death, giving a meaning and a purpose for everything. Then you learn something that shatters this template, this story, and you are left a completely clean slate, usually well into adulthood. You are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what you believe your own, with no certain, clean narrative. I can tell you right now, from experience: that is not an easy thing to do. Especially if your family is still in it, and mourning the loss of your soul. It’s hard.
I truly envy the people who can stay in a religion, especially an orthodox one, and still retain a sense of self. Those who never felt held back or stifled, who felt free to do and be who they wanted to be while retaining their faith. Those of you who stay in a religion, whatever that religion may be, determined to make changes from the inside, kudos to you. Truly, truly, I look at you with awe and amazement, and I love you. Fight the good fight, pioneers, I will not stop you!
I just could not do it anymore, and guess what? I am all the better for it. Those who say people who leave a religion will never be as happy as they were in the religion probably also have never gone through a faith transition. Again, I can tell you from experience, it is possible to leave a religion and be MUCH MUCH happier without it. I didn’t even realize how stifled I was by Mormonism until I finally left. I feel like my happiness can be seen from the outside even! I am healthier, more physically fit, more in-tune with myself, more comfortable and confident with myself. I feel much more peaceful, I have chilled out. I don’t hold myself back anymore, I go for adventure anytime I can. I am doing things I only dreamed of doing. I’m becoming the Marie I’ve always wanted to me. Sometimes I wish I could go back to sixth grade Marie and be like, “Look little Marie, you made it! You are a chef (which is something you always wanted to do). You are running marathons (also something you wanted). You are traveling (your dream). You have fallen in love, many times. You are beautiful (finally out of that awkward stage). You are becoming your own version of Joe March.” Sixth grade Marie would be so proud.
Within Mormonism I didn’t feel free to be this Marie.
This Marie has finally come into herself, and has embraced the fact that she is imperfect, very, very imperfect, and constantly changing. This Marie realizes that she knows nothing, NOTHING, and that there are no certainties in life. This Marie has come up with her own template that seems to be working, but probably still needs tweaking. So with that as a disclaimer, fully owning that what works for me may not work for you, I present to you my 10 commandments. These are meant for me and only me, but if they resonate with you, cool man. Also, I should say that I am not perfect at these, not by any means, but I’m trying. Here we go:
1.) BE KIND: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Give of your time and money when you are able. If you feel inspired to send a text to someone telling them you love them or are thinking of them, do it. It takes 30 seconds. Compliment people. Smile. Talk to people, ask them how they’re doing. Take time to listen. Turn freaking water into wine because wine makes everyone feel better. Just, you know, be like Jesus and hang out with everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.
2.) BE OPEN: Be open to people, experiences, and perspectives. Being open to other ideas does not mean you must embrace those ideas and believe them as gospel truth. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but don’t be afraid to engage in those conversations! Be open to the unknown! Being open allows you to understand people more, it causes you to be more understanding and compassionate, which helps with the first commandment, to be kind. Also, be open to exploring new places and trying new things! Don’t hold back!
3.) BE IN TUNE: Listen to your body. Listen to your heart. Listen to your mind. Take time to be still and peaceful. Being in tune means knowing what you need to be happy and healthy, but is also means being aware of others and their needs. It means being aware of the energy you put off and others put off. It means listening to The Spirit within you, whatever that spirit is.
4.) FOLLOW THROUGH: Actually act on the good things you are inspired to do. We can sit and talk all day about how we want to make the world a better place, but if we don’t act on those words, then they are just words. Go do!
5.) YOU CAN NOTHING DO ABOUT IT: Learn that we have very little control over what happens in life, and little to no control over other people. Trying to control other people is just going to bring you and them frustration and unhappiness. Let bygones be bygones. Live and let live. Now, of course there are exceptions to this. If you know someone is suicidal or physically hurting themselves or others, by all means, step in. However, when it comes to lifestyle choices, political or religious beliefs, taste in music or movies, or whatever it may be, you have no control over anyone else, and trying to control them will just hurt you. You can’t make anyone love you, or love the things you love, or do things the way that makes sense to you. People are going to do things their way. They’re going to love who/what they want. Let them.
6.) BE GOOD TO YOUR BODY: Eat healthily, whatever that means for what your body needs. Be active. Walk instead of driving, if you can. Be smart about what you do with your body. Live a long, full, able, and healthy life (however long that may be).
7.) LOVE YOUR BODY: Realize that no matter what the beauty standard in society is now, it will inevitably change, therefore it is better to appreciate and love your body for what it is, naturally. The fact that your body can heal itself, that is it healthy and you can climb mountains with it, think with it, make food with it, kiss and hug people with it, etc, is miraculous. So love it!
8.) GET OUT IN NATURE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE: Nothing brings more peace than being in the mountains, surrounded by trees and plants and animals. The sounds, the sights, the smells, all of it brings peace, gratitude, and joy. Nature is medicine. So get in it! Get dirty!
9.) RUN: Get into the rhythm of your body, your breath, the sound of your feet on the ground. Let your mind go. Be in the now. Run run run run run.
10.) OWN YOUR IMPERFECTIONS: You are not perfect. You will never be perfect. You will still hurt people, let people down, do things that don’t make sense, no matter how hard you try. It’s okay. Own it, forgive yourself, try harder next time. There is beauty in embracing and owning your imperfections. They are what make you human.
So, there are my 10 commandments. The gospel of Marie. These are the things I find most important right now, things I want to focus on. I don’t want to tear anyone else down. I don’t want to take anyone away from whatever they believe that brings them happiness. I’m not trying to convert anyone to or from anything. Except love. I do want to convert everyone to love. I guess that’s my agenda.