My husband comes from a very large Mormon family (he has 84 first cousins- just on his dad’s side). They are like a giant group of friends that love each other and enjoy getting together. I worked very hard to get to know them and they made me feel like a part of the family.
Over the years I have grown extremely close to several of his cousins. One cousin, in particular, took the time to stay in touch, even when we moved states apart. Some years we talked a lot, and other years, not so much. This past year was very busy for the two of us, and we let a year slip by without connecting.
The last time we spoke, was a few months after my son came out, and our conversation had not gone very well. My emotions were raw (I was still worrying about losing my son to suicide) and my beliefs were evolving rapidly, while she was still the wonderful, devout, spiritual person that I had always known. The conversation was awkward and messy. She made claims about my spiritually and I made assumptions about her ignorance. Neither of us were very empathetic or understanding. It was a very hard to lose my dear friend.
Then, a few days ago, I was surprised to see that she called me. I eagerly called her back and she told me how pleased she was, that I was still wanted to talk to her. We spent several hours on the phone, discussing our families and the many changes that we had been through. She asked a lot of deep and meaningful questions about my new beliefs. I answered her honestly and avoided unnecessary discussions about topics that might offend her or make her feel uncomfortable. She was kind, understanding and apologetic for past offences, and I tried to show greater compassion and respect for her beliefs. When the conversation ended, we were both happy and relieved to have our friendship back.
Because of her honesty and openness, I was able to be open and honest. I discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions about me (and others who leave their faith). I want to clear up those misconceptions and explain the healthy boundaries that are necessary for rebuilding meaningful relationships.
First, understand me-
- When I first left the church, I was not very respectful or sensitive to others religious beliefs or boundaries. I am sorry. I want you to tell me how I may have offended you, so I can apologize. Help me understand you.
- I am not Mormon anymore, but I am still the same person. My beliefs and standards are different, but I am still Melanie. I still like to run, cook, swim, travel and go skiing. I still struggle getting my kids to put away their laundry and I still like to blame my problems on my husband (sorry babe, I’m working on it- love you!).
- I want to build (or rebuild) meaningful relationships. I want to share my joy and my pain. I want you to feel safe, sharing your joy and pain, with me. I want to have real conversations and not just surface talk.
- I am still hurting. When I learned different facts about my church’s history, I felt lied to. When my church made policies against homosexuals, I felt ashamed. When I considered leaving the church, I was scared. When I finally left, I felt alone. I am processing my pain, but it still hurts.
- I still want to do the right things. I used to believe that it was important to be good because it made me happy and because it was a commandment from God. Conversely I believed that being cruel was wrong, because it hurt others and went against God. I continue to believe that it is important to be good, because it makes the world a happier place and I think being cruel is wrong, because it hurts others.
- We still have similar values and goals. I want to be a good mother, a good friend and a good member of my community. I want a strong marriage that’s built on love, communication, great sex and laughter. I want to teach my kids the importance of love, kindness, forgiveness, respect, service, and gratitude. I am constantly trying to be a better person.
- I know that you wish I was still a faithful believer. That’s ok, I wish that you would consider leaving the church (I’m being real).
- Just because I changed, does not mean that I expect you to change. It is ok that we are different.
- Family and Friends are important to me. No relationship is beyond repair.
- I am not trying to change your beliefs. I’m not looking for opportunities to share quotes, websites or books that might alter your beliefs (unless you specifically ask). I respect your beliefs. We can talk about our differences, with mutual respect.
- I do not want to hurt you, belittle you or mock your beliefs. I love you the way you are.
- I will be honest about what offends me. If you say something that is offensive, I will gently let you know. You do not need to be afraid about offending me, I will tell you if it happens.
- I will respect your boundaries. What makes you uncomfortable? I will be sensitive to you. Tell me what bothers you.
Second, understand my boundaries-
- My son is gay and if you want to truly love me, you have to love my gay son. I support the entire LGBTQ+ community. I support laws and legislation that protect their rights and prevent discrimination. I can not have a close and meaningful relationship with anyone who thinks that it is ok to be cruel, unkind or judgmental of someone who is queer. This is very important to me. My previous religious beliefs almost caused my son to commit suicide. If you hold different beliefs about ‘sin’, please do not share those beliefs with me.
- You can’t share your testimony with me. I know that your church is important to you. I know that your relationship with God and Jesus are part of who you are. If you want to have a relationship with me, I need to feel like you are not trying to convert me or change me. Love me the way I am.
- You can still talk about your church, God, and Jesus. I will not be offended.
- Be real. If you can’t be real with me, then we can not have a real conversation. You do not need to pretend that you agree with everything that I say and do. You do not need to pretend that my choices have not bothered you. Let’s be real and talk about it. Being real is the only way to have a meaningful relationship.
Third, understand the benefits-
- It is good to have friends that have different beliefs. It is easy to be friends with people who are the same, but if we surround ourselves with only like-minded people, then we can not grow. Being around those who are different, forces us to practice greater patience, understanding, compassion, empathy and forgiveness.
- It is ok to be uncomfortable. Talking to someone who has different opinions about religion is scary, but just because it is scary or uncomfortable, does not mean that we should avoid it.
- Building a new relationship will require time, effort and understanding. We can’t rebuild a new relationship with one conversation. We need to continue to have real conversations with openness, honesty and respect.
Life can be difficult and it can be beautiful, but it is always better with real friends .