12 October, 2010

"As strong as our faith is, with all the mixed messages attacking it, it can also become very fragile."

On Saturday, I road-tripped down to Portland with the lovely Erin. We were there for less than a day but were able to squeeze in eating Lebanese food, buying terrible movies at Deseret Book and being with the equally lovely Cassie as she went through the Temple for the first time.* It was, of course, unspeakably lovely, albeit a trifle whirlwind. But that's how I like to roll.

Erin and I were discussing some of the frustrations of life in a singles ward during the loooooong drive back, seeing as it was so rainy one could not drive at an acceptable speed. Whilst we were talking, ELC said something that stuck with me.

She said, "Some people come to church for external reasons."

The conversation went on from there, but I kept thinking about that sentence the next day during Sacrament Meeting.

I am not sure if everyone goes through this process like I do, but I have to talk myself out of leaving the Church on a fairly regular basis. It almost became a joke between me and some of my friends at BYU. "Hey, Wills, what are you doing later? Well, after you have dinner at your grandma's, would you mind talking me out of leaving the Church? Thanks, I appreciate it. Bye."

I have written before about my many intellectual struggles with the Church, which have only been made worse by my serving a mission (hilarious). Conversely, the more I struggle, the more I realize that if I leave the Church, it would all be for nothing. Well, not for nothing, but if I really wanted to leave, I would have done it already, right?

The fact is, I don't want to. And hopefully, because I don't want to, I never will.

Here's where the external vs. internal binary helped me out so much.

So, lots of people my age go to church for social reasons, to make their family happy, to find people to date, to have local support system, to have someone to go to for help when you move, etc. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it does kind of miss the point of worshipping Jesus Christ and serving others and all that idealistic Bible business. Those would be external motivators to be involved with the Church. They aren't bad, just motivated by things other than your own thoughts and feelings.

Internal motivators, on the other hand, would be introspective things like a love of God, a desire to improve, etc. Obviously, hypocrisy plays a role here as well, because some people go to Church with the goal of seeming pious when in fact they do whatever they want when no one's watching. That's more obnoxious than the kids who come to Church looking for friendly times. Thus, it is possible to have a seemingly internal motivator actually be an external one. But generally, I hope you get what I'm saying.

Here's the thing. I have NO external motivation to go to Church. I'm not crazy about most of the people there, bless their hearts. I would have a perfectly viable (and less arbitrary) social circle if I hung out with people I actually had things in common with besides belonging to the same church. My family doesn't care one bit whether or not I'm Mormon, in fact many of them would probably be delighted if I cut loose with them once in a while instead of being a Mormon stick-in-the-mud.**

In fact, most of the reasons I have for wanting to leave the Church are external ones. Get it? It's not like I don't believe in God or struggle with the possibility that the Church isn't true. When I want to leave the Church, it's because I feel so fed-up with some embarrassing policy or some obnoxious people that I feel like saying I GIVE UP. Jesus shouldn't have to put up with this crap and neither should I.

But the trouble is, He does. The trouble is, it's still true.

My reasons for leaving are external, but the things that keep me from doing so are all internal. I believe in God. I love the Book of Mormon. I love the Temple. These people are crazy, but most of them mean well. Abandoning my internal motivations for external reasons is just as immoral as doing things for external reasons when no internal motivation exists.***

Additionally, the things that I love the most about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are some of the most internally focused. Take family history work. If the doctrine about eternal families isn't true, do I gain anything from doing it? Nope. Don't make any friends or meet any hotties at the Fam. Hist. Library, I can promise you that.

Ditto with the temple. If this is all a gigantic hoax, no one has been hurt by the things we've done in the Temple. But no one has really been helped, either. Either these things mean nothing, or they mean EVERYTHING. Those are the things that I feel the strongest attraction to.

Here's to doing things because they're right, and not because anybody cares except God, assuming He exists.

I feel that He does.

I'm not giving up yet.

*Erin was actually going through the temple with a separate friend at a different time. But saying it up there would have messed up the narrative.

**Except then who would be the Designated Driver?

***Which isn't ALWAYS immoral. But that's a post for another day.


TheMoncurs said...

Such good points. I feel like I was mostly an external reason person for a long time (I think it's a teenagery thing to do...a lot of us don't get real testimonies until later) but lately I've been realizing how much I go just for the internal reasons. It's kind of a nice feeling to know you're motivated by a love of God and Christ than by the fact that you have friends in the ward.

Jasie said...

This is a carbon copy of my thought processes in the last 3 weeks. I'm glad to know I'm not alone. Thanks for sharing this!

Rachel. said...

Amen and amen.

Cassandra said...

Elisa, you make me smile. No one can put things into words in quite the way that you can. I am always surprised and amused, and glad to call you my friend. This post reminded me why we are. Internal AND external motivation = buddies.

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