Stacey Carruth has served as Young Women President and Relief Society President as well as a variety of callings under all the auxiliary umbrellas. Stacey served a mission in Joao Pessoa, Brazil and has had callings with interfaith relationships. Stacey currently helps managing the teaching, transportation, healthcare, education, housing, and cultural adjustment efforts for refugees in her Stake. She is a freelance content writer with interests in equity and ecotourism. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado with their four kids.
Life is messy. Faith is messy. The restored gospel and the Church associated with it are messy!
Is there a way to regain the sense of peace we once had after experiencing hurt, confusion, or betrayal in or by the Church?
I don’t have all the answers to that. I also fervently respect and honor others’ choices to leave the Church and validate that there are legitimate reasons to do so.
Finding Peace in Our Religious Affiliation
While I also have felt hurt, confused, and betrayed, I choose to stay with the Church. I love the Church and I find peace at church. Though, I must admit, it now takes a lot more work than it did before. I don’t find peace by refusing to complain. I do it by recognizing that there are certain reasons bitterness might set in. Thus, I make deliberate choices to deal with that emotion in each of those situations.
When Some Feel Betrayal
Here are a few ways that I strive to maintain peace during challenging experiences.
The Church has a complicated past and present. And because we are not a Zion people (yet), we are not a safe place for everyone (yet). We have done (and still do) many things that hurt many different types of people. For those who have never felt betrayal by the Church, I will provide some examples:
- Some feel like the Church made them more kind in the past, but then started noticing how their time in the Church taught them to be unkind (especially to certain minorities).
- Others feel the Church is a safe place but then hear about a leader abusing a child in their stewardship. Or worse, they are the victim of that abuse.
- Additionally, some feel the Church empowers women but then have repeated experiences where they feel, as a woman, belittled, hushed and unheard.
- There are those who were taught that a principle (though later labeled as a policy) is true and chose to ignore the Spirit telling them that it was not… only to find that the doctrine/ principle/ policy/ counsel changed. They then must process the shame and confusion of distrusting themselves and God’s voice for months or even years out of their lives. What’s more, they most likely made choices that had drastic consequences on the trajectory of their lives based on the “counsel” that simply changed.
Give it the Attention it Deserves
These are just a few examples of how I or people I know have felt betrayed. Hiding, shaming, or ignoring feelings of betrayal will only cause it to fester like an uncleaned wound. If we choose to suppress them, they will resurface as depression, anxiety, or a host of other mental illnesses. A healthy way that I have dealt with betrayal is to give it the attention it deserves. I express it, acknowledge it, validate it, yet avoid preaching it.
This may make it necessary to step away from speaking or teaching at church, even if I’m a Relief Society President or Sunday School teacher. I reach out to trusted family, friends, and leaders (those who have earned my trust). I study the scriptures and seek Christ. And then… simply give it time.
Acknowledging Betrayal vs Feeding It
Another thought on betrayal: know that there is a difference between acknowledging and addressing your betrayal as opposed to feeding it. I once found a clever meme that said, “If you have to talk to more than 3 people about it, you don’t want healing, you want attention”. Keep track of how many people and how many times you choose to discuss your betrayal.
One last thought on betrayal: addressing the hurt with the offender is healthy and important. It has the power to improve a relationship while also healing the hurt.
But what if our general leaders hurt us? They are too far removed for us to discuss that hurt with them. Here is what I’ve done that helps:
- Try to find a trusted leader to talk with about the issue.
- Recognize that all messages are not directed at you. Leaders’ jobs are to follow the Spirit on what to say, your job is to follow the Spirit on how to listen. The Spirit telling you that a specific message is for you feels like joy, clarity, peace, kindness, and hope. The Spirit chastising you feels gentle, understanding, hopeful, humble, painful, difficult but kind with a dash of peace. Satan warping a message (or someone preaching false doctrine) feels like guilt, shame, injustice, overwhelming, self-loathing, self-disgust and bitterness.
Unrealistic or Unfair Expectations
Unrealistic expectations are ones that are unattainable, whether by a specific person or in general. Unfair expectations are setting standards for myself that I do not hold for others.
There have been times in my life when I have struggled with perfectionism. And while I have held the same expectations for myself as I did for others, my expectations for myself were impossible to obtain. I was ruthless and unforgiving with myself when I didn’t measure up and I treated others the same way. In this situation, my expectations were unfair. And my judgment of the situation had more to do with issues I was dealing with rather than being an unbiased observation.
Other times, I have noticed that I am more forgiving of myself than others. I was a Young Women’s president years ago. There are things I did that I would never do now. But I always considered myself a good leader because I knew what pressures I had on my time and that I was doing my best. The tough question is am I giving my current leaders the same benefit of the doubt especially when I don’t know the details of their situation?
Here are the questions I ask myself to check if I am setting fair or realistic expectations:
- Do I know what it’s like to be in that person’s position? Am I holding them to the same standard that I held for myself in that same position? If I’ve never had the calling, have I taken the time to understand what it entails?
- Have I talked to the person about what bothered me? If not, why? When I spoke to them, did I do it with a spirit of humility and with a desire to understand rather than to prove them wrong?
- If I’m bothered by a policy, doctrine or behavior that negatively affects me, am I looking around to see if policies, doctrines, or behavior that don’t affect me are equally as bothersome?
- What is the tone I use when talking to myself? Would I speak to those I love the same way that I speak to myself?
Lack of Power
Some of my frustration comes simply from a lack of power. It’s no one’s fault. We all agreed to be in this church and that includes how it is run. But it can still be frustrating.
When I get frustrated with how someone is doing their calling, I’ve recently made it a habit to approach the person directly. This practice can be frowned upon in our culture and be seen as not sustaining individuals or overstepping our bounds. But as I’ve been careful to check my ego at the door and approach the person with a desire to follow the Savior, the experiences have been surprising. I’ve left with a greater understanding of the demands on their time. Or I’ve learned how I could better support them. Usually, I’ve had a chance to give my suggestions. In my current stake, my leaders have even implemented a few of them!
I am still terrified of being perceived as a busybody or micromanaging, but as I’ve approached giving feedback with humility and prayer, my fears have not come to pass and, surprisingly, things have changed!
I have spent years studying the scriptures and doctrines of the gospel. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. When I show up to Sunday School, I am ready to dive deep into vulnerability and understand how the doctrines apply and should change my life. But many times, the discussion doesn’t go in that direction. Usually, the lesson stays too superficial for me.
When I try to bring up what inspires me in the scriptures or by our leaders’ words, I am often met with blank stares.
Even though this situation can make church worship lonely and bland, it’s times like these that I try to remember that everyone is on their own spiritual journey, at their own pace. I am grateful the Spirit works with me at the pace I am willing to go and allows everyone else the same privilege.
However, to combat the loneliness, I have relied on authors and podcasters (of various faiths and backgrounds) that are able to meet me where I am.
Black and White
Thinking mostly of how I was taught, it could fall into the category of black and white thinking. You’re either active or inactive. You are either temple worthy or you’re not. You’re either a good leader or a bad leader. The Church is true or it’s not. Joseph Smith was a prophet, or he wasn’t.
I feel this way of teaching is helpful for children but can be damaging if we don’t let it expand as we grow into adulthood and life experiences. Our world is not black and white, it has hundreds of shades of gray, not to mention all of the other colors on the spectrum. Many people who I’ve seen become bitter with the Church (whether they leave or stay), have swapped their opinion, but not their way of thinking. It’s like a Republican switching to be a Democrat. After spending their lives demonizing Democrats, they now spend all that same energy demonizing Republicans. To become a Zion society, we must embrace living in the gray and abandoning negative black and white thinking.
If I’ve been hurt, confused, or betrayed by something at church, one question I ask myself is, “Is my way of thinking contributing to these feelings rather than just what I am thinking?”
For example, when I felt betrayed by things the Church has changed (or not changed), I realized that my frustration came from the black and white thinking that if the prophet is led by God, everything he says and does will be correct. But Keith A. Erikson, Director of Historical Outreach and Partnerships for the Church, gave a beautiful devotional at Ensign college that teaches how to live in the gray with our testimony of prophets. He corrected my thinking which helped me give permission for the prophet to be human while also maintaining my testimony of his divine calling.
Compassion fatigue is when you’re tired of being kind and understanding. It manifests in many ways, but for me it comes out as impatience or an inclination to harshly judge. It’s not a sin, it’s exhaustion. We all get tired, and the remedy is rest, not more service.
I give myself permission to take a break. A break can look like:
- Avoiding people who I know will test my patience
- When I know a teacher or speaker will use triggering language, I go to the foyer or a different room and study words that I know will inspire me. I keep a “quick study” scripture list for just such an occasion that I’ve collected over the years.
- If I’m struggling with a leader, I am not afraid to attend another ward (never mind that I’m not “supposed to”).
- If I feel the need to go on a hike instead of going to church, I go on a hike. Being alone in nature is one of the surest ways for me to reconnect with the Spirit. I was taught to fear skipping church… as if it was a gateway drug to apostasy. But good people are drawn to goodness. If the Church truly brings you closer to Christ, once you have healed from compassion fatigue, you will be drawn back.
Being a Better Human
The Church has taught me that the Spirit will help me to discern truth. Truth is the knowledge of things as they are, as they were and as they are to come (D&C 93:24). The more I can understand my relationship and communication style with the Holy Ghost, the better I’ll be able to discern the truth and be made more capable of being a better human to other humans. I don’t try to contort myself to fit in the Church and its doctrines. I use the Church and its doctrines to help me hear the Spirit better- to become who God wants me to become.
Because I view the Church in this way and have dealt with my hurt in the ways listed above, I am at peace and love, love, love the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope my experiences have helped guide you to be able to feel the same.