I have permission to share the following poem anonymously written by someone who has experienced a faith transition (changes in belief) for many years. This was written towards the beginning of their process while this person was still a college student.
Is it destiny
That’s making me?
Am I breaking down?
Or am I breaking free?
I feel so out of place when I’m in my element
Can’t find the words to say... like I’m betraying an old friend
So please tell me why it used to feel so right?
Cuz I hate the things I see, and can’t believe it used to be me
I’m gonna break your heart
When I open mine
Don’t wanna play that part
But don’t wanna live a lie
What is always so painful for me to see as I work with people dealing with shifts in faith, belief and testimony… is the extreme pain it brings for both the transitioner and their family or friends who still very much find strength and meaning in their religious worship. As well as the intense conflict of interests wrestling from within. I wish we were better adept in some of our religious communities at tapping into available doctrinal understandings regarding the importance of honoring personal agency and authority as individual necessities towards the return to and connection with divinity. Even when transitions take people away from the idea of divinity being a reality at all… it still seems important for those who hold on to belief, to be able to honor other’s journeys as we would want our own honored. And I wish people would also be better able to offer this type of respect and honor towards those who convert towards religious belief and practice as well.
The part that cries out to me the most in the poem above is the following line… “I’m gonna break your heart, when I open mine.”
The tension between “me” and “we” is often present… and in many more arenas than spiritual practice/belief. This is a normal part of life for sure. And yet, it seems so tragic when family relationships or friendships are profoundly shifted towards a negative bend due to something that cannot be more individual at its core… personal belief. You can change your behavior… you can change your attitude… you can challenge your own biases and possible misperceptions…. all for the betterment of relationships and personal quality of life. But at the core, you usually won’t be very very successful in changing a “belief” to please another person. Especially a belief that deals with your relationship or non-relationship with God.
Yes, beliefs are influenced by culture, by loved ones, by our experience with loved ones, etc. And yet, our beliefs are personal and sacred. We each have the right to experience them. And I’m hopeful that in a time where many shift in either conversion towards religion or transition from religion, we can honor each other’s hearts. So that even if hearts do break… we can allow for the opening and healing necessary to keep our most dear relationships flourishing.
Leaps of faith or from faith can both be honored.
I'd love to hear ways you have found ways to either honor your own leaps of faiths... or others... even when difficult to do so.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST has been in practice as a mental health professional for over 20 years, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, and sexuality. She writes a blog called "The Mormon Therapist," and hosts the podcasts "Mormon Mental Health," and "Mormon Sex Info."