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Josh Packard, his wife Heidi, and his parents Cindy and Blair Packard join Kurt to discuss Josh’s faith transition away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the lessons learned from the entire family about maintaining love in the family while respecting decisions.
Josh was raised in a traditional Latter-day Saint home, serving a mission, marrying Heidi in the temple, and attending medical school. While in medical school, Josh encountered areas that caused him to question his faith, ultimately leading years later with him deciding to resign his membership. Cindy and Blair, then serving as mission presidents when they learned about Josh’s decision to leave the faith, struggled (along with the rest of their family) with how to engage with Josh and Heidi regarding not just Josh’s faith status, but the impact to their family. Through learning from their mistakes, the Packard family came out even stronger by learning how to love unconditionally, engage in thoughtful and respectful discussions, and understand the other’s perspective in this difficult faith transition.
Kurt Francom (LS): Today, I have the opportunity through the powers of the internet to connect with two couples who know each other well. Blair and Cindy Packard in – I’ll get this right this time – Gilbert Arizona. Is that right guys?
Blair: Actually it’s wrong. Now we’re in Mesa right now.
LS: Now you’re in Mesa, okay.
Blair: From Gilbert. We’re in my Mesa office.
LS: Very good. Nice. Then your son Josh and his wife Heidi, who are in Georgia. Am I right, Josh?
Josh: Right. Columbus, Georgia.
LS: Nice. Cool. Obviously, Josh was raised by this great couple, the Packards. We’re going to talk about an important subject as far as the dynamic of families, especially when an individual member or members of family take a different faith journey, that many times may lead people outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I guess this started…It was interesting. I went to Mesa area and then had opportunity to visit with the Packards in Gilbert. But the night before I visited them, I had somebody that’s in the audience of Leading Saints, and they said to me, “You know what we need is an interview that talks about the dynamics of when a son or daughter leaves the church and how that impacts the family.” And I said, “Wow, that sounds like a great story, but I don’t even know who I would talk to about that but I’ll try and find somebody.” Then the next day, I met Cindy and Blair, and they said, “That that’s our situation. Let’s talk about it.”
So let’s maybe put the story into context here. Cindy, you want to start maybe where this all began? The day you held little Josh in your arms…No, I’m just kidding. I mean, wherever you want to start.
Cindy: Well, I think speaking for all of us, we’d like to say we’re very grateful for the opportunity to do this. After we kind of made our way through this journey, we thought it’d really be helpful if we could find a way to share this with people. So we’re happy for the opportunity.
It’s also a bear journey, where we want to share this personal journey – and it hasn’t been easy. We hope that we can help other people who are going through this in some way. We did some things wrong; we did some things right. And as we share our journey, hopefully, other people will be able to learn something and maybe have a little less pain or a little more hope, where they’re at. We don’t want to preach to anybody, and we recognize that everybody’s situation is unique and different. So this may not work for some people, but it may be something that’s helpful.
When we talked about the best way to approach this because we have a lot of ideas to share, we thought maybe just going kind of incremental logical order would be a good way to do that. So you can take it however you want with that.
For me, a kind of a pivotal point was realizing that I was experiencing grief and loss and that there were stages of that, similar to the stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talk about, even though I know that was [dying?]. Some of those stages, I think, match up to at least what I was feeling and I think the loss that they were feeling too. So those might come into play a little bit in this as well.
We don’t really want to focus so much on to all the hard stuff as what we did to get to the last stage, which is acceptance. Because a lot of people I think get stuck in depression or anger or wherever they are in that grief stage. I think we made it to acceptance. We’re not perfect, we don’t have everything all figured out, but I think that we’re in a good place.
We feel understood, I think they feel understood, and we understand and respect each other and love each other. So that’s what we want to focus on is how we got there.
LS: As far as starting the narrative here, I would imagine your home growing up and raising Josh and your other kids was a very traditional home, a Latter-Day Saint home with church attendance and Eagle Projects and youth advancements, things like that?
Blair: It was. I’m not sure it would be much different than most homes. We had six children at the time. We adopted one later on. But we’re busy with church callings, [00:05:00] kids were in seminary. It was pretty typical. We had a busy ward in Gilbert that these kids grew up. And so I think it was pretty typical.
Cindy: Our two sons and one daughter went on a mission and served grade missions, and they were all married in the temple at one point.
LS: Josh, anything you’d add to that as far as those developmental years of being raised?
Josh: Let me just back up a little bit. I wanted to say thank you for having me and Heidi on the podcast. We’re really excited to do this. Like my mom said before, I hope that what we say can just be beneficial to anybody out there listening, so if they have this happen in their family, they can manage it in a way without making so many mistakes like we did. And I hope we can be really honest and open about what those mistakes were, and how we learned from them and how we got to a much better place.
The only thing I want to emphasize about my upbringing was that it was great. My parents, I love them both. I love my family. I really had an idyllic childhood I would say. Checked all the boxes: Eagle Scout, graduated from seminary, I stayed chaste, went on a Mormon mission, had a wonderful experience in Melbourne, Australia. Came back, went to BYU, met Heidi, got married in the temple in Mesa, Arizona, went on to a medical school, and a career in the military as an anesthesiologist.
But my upbringing was very standard, very typical to probably what just about everybody else in the church had. I had a strong testimony. I would be able to bear myself testimony from the time I was pretty young and say that I knew God lived and I knew that the Book of Mormon is true, and Joseph Smith. So pretty standard.
LS: Heidi, what about your background? Obviously, you weren’t raised in the Packard household? Maybe give us some background on you and your faith development as a child and as a teenager.
Heidi: Sure. I had a pretty similar background actually. I grew up only, I don’t know, just a few miles away in Mesa, Arizona. We didn’t know each other growing up, but I had a very similar situation. I think I’m fourth generation Mormon – pioneer ancestors. Very similar family structure. Large family. I have 10 siblings.
My parents were just excellent Mormon parents. We all got married at the temple. All my brothers served missions, went to church every Sunday, come home in the evening, scripture study every morning at 5:30, seminary. Very, very similar to Joshua’s experience.
LS: Nice. You two got married and expected to kind of create the same dynamic and experience in your own household with raising a family, right?
Josh: We did. We got started having kids as any good Mormons do at BYU. I have two kids at BYU, and then had our two youngest in medical school. So yeah, we were all for it.
LS: So Josh, when did that story shift for you? What did it sort of begin? Well, however you categorize it, you know, a moment of doubt or questioning or however you want to classify it, when does that timeline and that narrative that you expected shift?
Josh: I started to have some initial doubts clear back in medical school. They weren’t any major doubts. I had some concerns about how small the church seemed to be. If it was God’s true church and kingdom on the earth, why was it so parochial and so small. I began to meet other people in medical school, and they were religious sometimes or non-religious. We had some Mormons that went to medical school, I went with. They were all just wonderful, amazing people. They had great families.
Some of the uniqueness of the church, I think, I started to question, they seemed very happy. What did I have that they didn’t? So my dad actually came out and visited me to try to answer some of these concerns. I also had a concern about evolution and science and religion. So he came out and I thought that was great, and kind of resolved my concerns. But honestly, my doubts, I just was so busy at the time with medical school, but I never really had time to dig into any of these concerns. It never turned into a faith crisis. [00:10:02]
Later on in our residency, this was in about 2005, 2006, I started to get more interested in church history and doctrine. I was kind of sensing that when I graduated from residency, that I would maybe start to have some bigger church callings. So I was trying to resolve some of these doubts I was having to more fully commit to the church.
And that’s when I started to have doubts that were more concerning. I started to try to talk to other people, Heidi, my friends, a little bit with my parents, but there really was no place to get those doubts really resolved or understood. But even then, I was still busy in residency that I couldn’t really devote a lot of time until I after I graduated from residency in 2008.
LS: And Heidi, were you sort of picking up on some of these questions that were becoming more paramount in his faith journey?
Heidi: I think the way I remember experiencing it was we talked about things all the time. We’ve always been communicators, and we always would talk about our feelings and testimonies and beliefs and all that. So when he started having questions and doubts, did to talk about them. So I knew about it.
I guess I kind of view those years, from the time that he first started kind of questioning things in medical school up until 2008 when he left the church, we experienced several life-changing family events that I think from my perspective at the time, it was just like, “I’m maturing. Yes, I’m questioning my faith, but it’s also kind of a maturing process.” So I didn’t really see it like a threat. Like, “Oh, this is dangerous territory.” I kind of viewed it more as we are both kind of growing up and becoming more mature, and we have our views about things are changing and evolving, but it’s on like a trajectory of growth. So it wasn’t really threatening to me at that point.
LS: Nice. Going back to Cindy and Blair, from your perspective, when did you perceive that maybe your son’s faith was changing a bit?
Blair: Well, that time when Josh called, he had a number of questions that he wanted to talk about, that’s when I thought, “Well, I think this is probably something I just want to get on the plane and go back and spend a couple of days with him.” That was probably the first time that I appreciated that there were some significant doubts. We took some time.
In reflection, I probably, even at that point, approached it wrong. I went back with my scriptures in hand, and here’s the verses in the scriptures and the chapters, and here’s why God was mad in the Old Testament. I had all these proves to talk about to try to convince Josh that those things were not correct. But we had a good discussion back then. But I didn’t fully appreciate after that where Josh had been and I think where he was going. And that probably is why it probably took us by surprise later on in the story. I’ll let Josh take his story further. It probably caught us a bit by surprise when he did announce that he was going a step further.
LS: So at that point, you sort of thought, “You know, Josh is working through some things. He’s got some questions, which are valid questions.” And then it kind of blindsided when, I guess, he announced that he would be resigning from the church.
Josh: Yeah. This is mistake number one is to have your doubts in private, and not to communicate those with the people that love you the most. I didn’t really feel that I could communicate a lot of these doubts with my family, or really with anybody in the church. I didn’t think there was an environment where I could do that without people questioning my worthiness.
I’m kind of a quiet person by nature, I kind of think things through on my own without having to process them. It’s maybe a character flaw. And I did this during residency for about four years, and then there was a period right after I graduated from residency where I was able to travel to Indiana, and work there for about a month kind of alone by myself. [00:15:00] That’s when I really dug in, got some good books and I was just reading about some of these historical and doctrinal concerns that I had always struggled with.
I really wanted to put these issues to bed, but I couldn’t. The information that I was learning totally rechanged my idea of what a prophet was, what revelation is, and really challenged those foundational beliefs of what the church was built on.
After working in Indiana for a month, I remember finishing one of the books and I closed it and I had this brief moment where I kind of admitted to myself that I didn’t think the church was what it claimed to be. It kind of shocked me.
I’ve been talking to Heidi on the phone, we’ve been having some pretty tense conversations about some of my doubts, but I came home, got involved in the ward here in Columbus, got involved in my new job and reframed the kind of Mormon I could be. I thought I could be the kind of Mormon that is okay with paradox and understands the big questions, and yet can also bear testimony at the same time.
I started to get bigger church callings. Pretty much as soon as I got into the ward, I got called to be the gospel doctrine teacher.
I put a lot of effort into my lessons and continue to study, continue to read, continue to try to resolve these concerns. Then I got called into the Bishopric as a second counselor.
I remember I just had a day where I knew that it was going to be my turn to conduct the next fast and testimony meeting. And as part of being the person that conducting, I was expected to bear my testimony in front of everybody in church. I knew that I couldn’t do that, I knew that my testimony was not where it was to the point where I could not get up in front of my congregation and tell them I believe something when I didn’t. So I think that those service opportunities were really kind of a catalyst.
I was stuck trying to resolve concerns. I was put into a situation where I needed to bear testimony, and I couldn’t do it. And so, one day after fasting, it was after tithing settlement, I came home and I just had an ashen look about my face and Heidi knew something was up. She was making dinner…
Josh: Enchiladas. And she just knew something was up. She asked me, “Josh, what is going on?” It was this fork in the road. And I said, “Do you really want to know?” She said, “Yes.” Then I told her, and things were not good for a while.
LS: I want to back up a little bit because you mentioned one of the mistakes you made was just going through these doubts quietly, and not bringing your family into some of these questions or this process as much as you should. But it sounds like between you and Heidi, that was…would you say you handled that a more appropriately with being open and talking? Obviously, it’s easier with a spouse because you live with them. But would you say that helped talking more in that maybe you should have done that more with your parents and siblings?
Josh: Yeah. Maybe not my siblings this much. I mean, a love my siblings, but they’re just not the people that I would turn to if I had a question about the church. We never really talked about that much. I felt like if I talked to my parents, I might get more bearing of testimony, sharing of scriptures. And that’s really not what I needed at the time.
Really, what I needed was somebody who understood the issues, that had read the book, and could just explain them in a way and put them in a context where you could still hold on to faith. But I didn’t feel like I had any role models. I really felt like I was suffering alone.
This was over 10 years ago so the church is probably different now. But at the time, I just felt like there was something wrong with me, there’s something wrong with my faith, and I couldn’t tell anybody because faith doubt was bad. It was bad to doubt. Everybody was getting up saying, “I know, I know. I know,” and I didn’t.
The only person that I really felt comfortable talking to was with Heidi, and then some of my close Mormon friends in medical school. But even then, I had some bad experiences where I opened up, and they kind of questioned my worthiness by expressing doubts.
LS: You mentioned that that was the first mistake you made, as far as not sharing your doubts. [00:20:00] What advice would you give to somebody to avoid that mistake?
Josh: Well, I would just say not to make doubt something that person would feel ashamed in sharing. Don’t stigmatize doubt. Really, I think that doubt shows that somebody is progressing, they’re growing, they’re asking difficult questions, they’re wanting to learn. And so I think that is a normal process of growth. Whatever you do, as a leader, as a family member, as a parent, encourage asking questions, creating safe environments so there can be fruitful discussions, and nobody would ever feel that sharing a doubt would cause them to question their worthiness or undermine their love or their relationship.
LS: Cindy and Blair, I want to make sure you get your perspective in here. Any thoughts come to mind as Josh is going through this timeline? If not, that’s fine. I just want to make sure we don’t forget you.
Cindy: I knew that he’d had some doubts. I think we’d had a talk on a drive that we had one time and I knew that he was having some doubts but I kind of thought, “He’s really stressed. He’s in residency. He’s in medical school.” So he finally got out of there and was doing his residency. We were on a mission. My husband was the mission president in Africa at the time in Mozambique.
It was harder to communicate. I mean, once we don’t live close to each other. It’s not like we see him every week.
Blair: We didn’t get to call our kids once a week like we do now.
Cindy: We were far away at that time, probably not as tuned in to what was going on. But I remember when I heard he was in the Bishopric, I’m like, “Oh, that’s great. I feel like we’re over the hump.” So it came as an even bigger shock, I think, because of the fact that he was there.
I remember just saying, “If I could have just been a back row Mormon, and sit on the back row and not had to get up and like, bear my testimony and all that stuff because of his calling, maybe I would have stayed longer or wouldn’t have been so hard. But Josh he’s got a lot of integrity. And if he believes something, then he’s going to follow that. So for him, that was what he had to do.
Blair: Let me just add to that. We had discussed that when Josh was called in the Bishopric because we’d had these feelings, we knew that there were some question that went far back to his medical school years. So we openly discussed the fact. We felt some relief by the fact that he was anxiously engaged in a Bishopric calling that seemed to mean something, a step forward and maybe his faith level. We talked about that and it set us up for when the announcement came that he was [inaudible 00:23:28].
Josh: Let me just add one thing real quick. I think one of the reasons why I took these callings was I felt that this is how you can overcome your doubts is by further dedicating yourself to the church, by committing yourself to study, prayer, scripture, service, and as you go through those events, as you do those servings, as you give yourself in those servings, that the doubt would resolve but instead they intensified.
LS: That’s a similar to the story I’ve shared with, when I interviewed my friend Heath, who is my second counselor, that that was really the catalyst for him leaving the church is he was put in these positions where he was supposed to be the one that could testify, that could share the testimony with boldness. And he just couldn’t do that.
So it’s interesting how what may seem like an encouraging step from an orthodox standpoint was actually…I mean, not that was a bad thing. Obviously, every journey is going to have these where you have to really face your integrity and say, “What is it that I believe?”
Heidi, maybe take us back to the conversation with the enchiladas? What were you thinking in that moment? I mean, where was your faith that and where did you go as a couple from there?
Heidi: Well, right before the enchiladas, I had been aware of where he was at and going back to when he [00:25:00]… I think he just been called into the Bishopric a couple of months before this. So I kind of had a similar internal response that Blair and Cindy did where it was kind of like, “Okay, I think this is going to be okay,” because I knew he’d been struggling and having issues but I understood what Joshua said – he accepted the calling with the intention of “Okay, I’m going to take this leap of faith. I’m going to serve, dedicate myself, and this is how I’m going to overcome it.” So I was in this state of like, “Okay, it’s going to be okay.”
So when he did tell me this when I was making enchiladas, my world just seemed to fall apart instantly. Instantly. I mean, I had the most horrible, sick feeling in my stomach. We were about to eat dinner, we had four kids, and I was just like…I’m not this kind of person. I’m not like a really…Well, maybe I’m dramatic. I’m not super emotional, though. But I guess I’m kind of dramatic. I don’t know. But I was like, “I can’t.” I just went, I said, “You have to handle dinner.” I went to my room laid on my bed and just cried, and just thought like, “My life is over. Everything that I have built…” I mean, that’s literally how I felt.
I tried to pray, and I just couldn’t feel anything. It was like this combination of numbness and horror and shock. It was horrible. It was horrible.
LS: Josh, is that soon thereafter you announced to your family? Did you resign your membership or did you just step away from the church for a while?
Josh: No, not at the time. I didn’t resign for another year from that point. I wanted to take my time before I made that choice. But I wrote an email to my family, and to my ward as well, since I wouldn’t be going back after what happened. I try to just explain it in a way that would minimize judgment and reaction because I felt that people in my family and in the ward might assume that I had been sinning or that I had been wicked, or neglecting my responsibility in some way, or I got to offended. You know, these common reasons.
I didn’t want them to think that about me, I wanted them to know that it had nothing to do with that, that it was all about my concerns about doctrine in history, and that I didn’t want this to affect our relationship. But was probably the worst way to announce to my family such a big thing. And that should be obviously anybody listening now, like, it was not a good idea, and I didn’t get a great reaction. But that’s understandable. Right?
LS: Yeah. What do you do when you’re thousands of miles from some of your family members? I think I understand why people would think, “I’m just going to put a well-worded email together and announced this and rip the band aid off, and we’re going to go from here.”
Josh: It seemed to make perfect sense until I executed it.
LS: So what would you have done differently then?
Josh: Well, I don’t know. I was in a difficult situation, because I was in the ward, and I was in this prominent position. So if I just stopped going to church, that would be noticeable. I think somebody…
Heidi: You asked to be released.
Josh: Right, right. One of the first questions people ask, “Hey, what’s going on your life? What’s your calling? How has it been in Bishopric?” It would just lead to many awkward conversations. So I just thought it’d be better, to be honest. That’s something about me, I believe honesty is the best policy. So I just thought that my friends and family could they be hurt, I knew they’d be hurt, but I thought that in the long run, that we could weather that trial.
LS: Cindy and Blair, is that how you found out is through this email?
Blair: We were probably about three weeks from completing our mission assignment in Mozambican. And thank you, things were fine, and we get the email. Obviously was a shock to us. I think if we can talk about other ways where you react or didn’t react well.
LS: Yeah, yeah.
Blair: Our first reaction was to try to circle the wagons with the family. I send out another email. So this was the email reaction to Josh’s email that went to a family. [00:30:00] It basically talked about what had happened, and that we didn’t know exactly all the details. I think I made some comment about how I didn’t think Josh was in the great and spacious building yet. So he’s not there yet so we can somehow work to see if there’s something salvageable here.
I think we had some genuine concerns because of Joshua’s prominence in our family. He’s just a bright and tremendous leader, and it’s always been looked up to by the rest of our kids. So I think we had some concerns that others might follow him out of the church. So that was part of our reaction, as opposed to calling Josh. We didn’t call Josh up on the phone, which I should have done. There should have been a personal conversation with Josh, but we didn’t even take that step before we sent the second email that went to our family.
LS: To circle the wagons, you said, right?
Cindy: Well, when the letter came, I was like, Heidi. I just fell apart. And so did Blair. I remember we both just cried. We were up away on a mission tour somewhere and laid in the bed, and we just cried that night, both of us. He just sobbed. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard him do that before. I mean, we were crushed, but we had to keep on going because we had all these things to do.
Then we started getting calls from our kids. Like our youngest daughter, she just called, “Mom,” and then she just started sobbing. It wasn’t just our reaction. It was our other five children’s reaction at the same time, and they’re calling us like, “What do we do? What do we do?”
My oldest daughter who’s a couple of years older than Josh, she shared a little bit when she knew that we were doing this podcast. And she said that I think one of the things that was her strongest feeling, and I think we felt that too was fear that our whole family was just going to follow him or leave the church too. That once Josh explained why he had made this decision, it would be big enough that other people would say, “Well, gosh, I’m with you.”
I think all of us, maybe we’re a little bit afraid of our own testimony being weakened, and maybe even lost. I was definitely afraid of that happening to my other children. Of course, grieving for my grandchildren who I knew at that point we’re having a struggle too. There was a lot of grief and a lot of other family things going on at the same time.
LS: I want to hit on this point to circle the wagons approach, which is a natural reaction. So, Blair, you sent out an email to all your kids, but Josh and sort of said, “Hey, let’s shower him with love, and hey, maybe let’s take turns calling them or something.” Is that how you would explain it or what did that look like?
Blair: Well, I’m not sure.
Cindy: That would have been nice if we said that.
Blair: We would have said that. It went to all the kids except for Josh. Again, it was more of a defensive email than it was, you know what do we do from here? Then one of our children quickly shared it with Josh as well. So Josh became aware of the email.
Cindy: Then that was the beginning of this circle of act and react that was bad. I mean, we should have and here’s what if I could say shoulda, coulda woulda, we should have picked up the phone and said, “No matter what you believe, no matter what you don’t believe, we just want you to know that we love you, that we love you.”
Blair: That took two or three years to get to that point.
Cindy: I don’t know.
Blair: It took a while. Well, tell you about that.
Blair: And we did love him, but there was just such a jumble of feelings going on at that time. I kind of refer to the stages of grief, I was in like the shock stage at that point. Denial, shock. It was just like I could hardly even think of anything else. It really knocked our feet out from under us. And I think the kids did too.
So as a mom, I’m worrying about my whole family. I’m far away from them. And that was really hard. I even started to have some feelings, like, “Really God. I’m out here in Africa for your mission and you promised your family’s going to be so blessed.” [00:35:00] There was just a lot of conflicting emotions about, how could this have happened?
The one most important thing in my life and the thing that I thought was the purpose of my life is now falling apart. I don’t know. It was a really, really hard time.
LS: I think it’s natural, you sort of want to, like you said, circle the wagons, “Everybody put your superhero cape on, and let’s go save the day and fix these people because they’re broken or something.” But you need to lead with love.
Josh, I want to go back to you. You picked up on the circle the wagon approach was having, obviously somebody sending you the email, and that probably hurt more than helped.
Josh: Yeah. Suddenly, I felt like I was not in the tribe. Just a day before I was clearly in the tribe, I was in the church, I was respected for who I was in the family, who I wasn’t a church, and then the next day I felt like, I was absolutely alone. I felt kind of abandoned by my family. I felt like their response totally understandable. And I absolutely forgive them.
But to me, at the time, it felt like they were more loyal to the church, and to their beliefs and to their testimony than they were to me, their own son. So it created this almost like a loyalty test, where I needed my parents and my family to be more loyal to me, their brother, their son than they were to an idea or to an institution. We weren’t communicating, and so I tried to do the next best thing, which is, start a blog. Obviously, that also didn’t go over very well, either.
Heidi: Surprise. Surprise.
LS: You started a blog to sort of vent your grievances.
Josh: No. Like any blog, I thought I had something meaningful to say to the world. I thought I’d just maybe my family would read it, and they would maybe try to communicate with me. It was this really messed up form of communication.
Heidi: Josh, this was his fantasy. He would spend two hours writing this very lengthy blog post that explained why he no longer believed in God. And then his family would read the blog post, and then they would call him and say, “Hey, Josh, I just read your thought-provoking blog post. Let’s talk about your beliefs.” That was his fantasy.
Josh: I was trying to open a dialogue. It’s almost like I was testing my family, I think. Like, “Hey, this is what I think. This why I think it. There’s really good reasons why I think it. Can you still accept me? Can you still love me unconditionally?” I mean, it sounds crazy, but that’s sort of, I think, what I was trying to do. Because really what I was craving at the time was just understanding, love, respect, and being okay with the fact that we believe different things about religion at this point. That’s really where I was going after, but we were in this vicious cycle for years.
LS: Like the blog was sort of representative of a passive-aggressive approach to it. In reality, both sides of the conversation, I should have just picked up the phone and had a conversation or started a dialogue. Right?
Josh: Right. I think we were so dug into our beliefs. I felt that I was right and that I was wronged by my family for not being loyal to me. And I know my family had just strong beliefs about the church and why I was wrong. I think we were just dug into our ideological camps. And we were missing the human connection. That love, that wasn’t being felt.
We would say, “I love you, and I love you,” but we weren’t showing it. Our favorite book is “Love is a Verb.” It’s also our favorite expression. And it is. It’s an action. You can’t just say it. It has to be expressed and felt to be appreciated.
LS: Cindy, were you going to say something?
Cindy: What was I going to say? I think this point, at least as I’m thinking about the stages of grief, we kind of went into an anger phase. I didn’t really understand for a long time that they were in grief, too. I knew I was in grief, but I was only thinking of myself.
It wasn’t until much later that I had a friend who kind of talked to me about her faith journey [00:40:02] and how she was just in grief because she was experiencing loss too. So I think we were kind of went through some anger. “Well, if you wouldn’t have done this, or you shouldn’t have done this.”
I asked Josh, initially, please don’t try to influence your siblings, or take them away from the church. And he said, “I won’t.” But we felt like that blog was kind of trying to talk people into coming over to that side and leaving their faith. Amy said, speaking kind of for the sibling, she said, “I was afraid if I didn’t read the blog, or engage in these email discussions, Josh would be mad and think I didn’t care about him. But on the other side, I was afraid of offending him if I didn’t engage, but on the other side was afraid of losing my faith, if I did engage.”
So we were all still kind of fearful that we might lose our faith too. So I think that was another reason. I only read the blog a couple of times, and it’s just too painful and I couldn’t read it.
Blair: So we disengaged. We really disengaged.
Cindy: And there was some, I think, anger feeling being expressed in there a little bit. Probably, it was going into the bargaining stage where we just felt like emails are going back and forth. “If we could just get him to read this conference talk, this would just help so much.” And he would say, “Well, if you just read this thing that I read, you would understand where I’m coming from.” So we were just doing this.
Blair: For a year we were exchanging articles back and forth.
Cindy: Back and forth. That only made us mad. We were mad. “Why do you send us that?” And we send him something. “Why did she send us that?” One time I went out, it was a [inaudible 00:41:56] I left a book in their house, never talked about it, never said anything about it. It’s just bargaining. Surely we can bring him back. Surely we can find the thing that’s going to awaken to him that he’s doing the wrong thing.
We felt like Josh was trying to pull us away but that wasn’t what he was doing. He just wanted to be understood. I kind of feel like, we were talking on the phone, and we were just disconnecting so bad that finally, Josh said one day…
Blair: In an email.
Cindy: Oh, yeah, it was an email. He said, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t even focus on work. I just got to disengage completely from you guys.” And I remember talking to Blair, and just saying, “That’s not an option. We cannot do that.” So I called Josh, I said, “Josh, I got your email, that is not an option.”
I think that was sort of a pivotal point for us, when I thought, “I’m going to lose my son completely. We’re not even going to have a relationship with them, and maybe not even our grandchildren. So at that point, I think was where we turned.
Blair: What happened, and it was a pivotal point, I think we both realized that we were losing. If we had not lost, we were losing relationship with our son and daughter-in-law and our grandkids. Just the thought came to me, “Oh, we’ve been doing emails back and forth, and I had told people for years that emails are a horrible way to communicate, that when you have something important and that might be emotional, because you can’t get all of the nuanced meaning in an email.”
So I said, “Let’s propose that we get together on a regular basis by virtue of Skype so that we can see each other, we can look into each other’s eyes and hear each other and see the emotion and everything like that.” So we don’t have another email conversation period. We stopped that. And we go ahead and go forward. And so we proposed that.
And after some discussion back and forth, I mean, Josh, came back with some ground rules, some specifics of what he wanted to see happen. He had some suggested reading material that we should take a look at before we come back. Then the main thing he wanted to do, which he’s been telling us that for probably four years, at this point, he wanted to be understood. He wanted for us to take the first few sessions, and just listen to his story. Don’t judge him, just listen to the story. So we really understood what he went through as he went through this process.
That’s what we did.
We arranged for Saturday or Sunday morning calls, and we just began to have video conferences just like we’re having right now. And we get together and have at least an hour or hour and a half conference calls. [00:45:01] Instantly things began to change. I mean, the atmosphere was completely different and be able to see somebody who lived across the country, nevertheless, but we had this attitude of great a deal more respect for what the person was saying, understanding.
So we began the process of first listening to Josh and Heidi, completely. Then they also want us to come back and talk about how we felt. So everything we’ve had we’ve talked about today are things that we launched into in great detail over several sessions.
LS: I love this emphasis on the face to face dynamic. That an email is totally not an option. Phone call, we can’t just do phone calls, but really looking into each other’s eyes, seeing the emotion, the nonverbal cues. I mean, that really made a difference in your experience it sounds like.
Cindy: I just want to back up and say that on one of the calls with Josh, when I was feeling a little bit better before we had started this, I said to Josh, “What’s that like for you to lose your faith? What’s it like when you can’t turn to God when something bad happens or you need help? What’s it like?”
Cindy: I think that was the first time I really thought about what he was going through. And he said, “Mom, thank you for asking me that. Thank you. No one’s really asked me that question.” That was, I think, a really important turning point.
But because we had been kind of angry and having all these feelings, we were really worried about if we were going to be able to do this, do this with the right heart with an open heart, a loving heart.
We went to a counselor before that, Blair and I did, and we just said, “Here’s what we’re going into, what advice can you give us?” She was really good. She said, “Just keep focused on the relationship. Try not to get pulled away into the who’s right and who’s wrong. What do you want more than anything? You want this relationship with your son and your daughter.” That was really helpful. We read a book, “The Peacekeeper” which helps you get your heart in the right place.
Then I remember the very first Skype call that we did, as soon as they got up on the screen, and we could see them sitting there, so much of the communication is nonverbal. I remember just looking at them and thinking, those poor things they have been through a lot. I could see it. I could see the pain. And it wasn’t just about our pain anymore. I just started to cry. I’m like, “I just love you.”
I felt this really overwhelming rush of love for them. And it’s just that I saw them. That’s my daughter’s, that’s my son. I don’t think of Heidi as my daughter-in-law. I mean, we’ve been through so much together. And I just love them. And that overwhelming feeling of love just came out in that very first call. And it was so easy then to say, “I love you. And let’s just figure this out.”
Josh: This is where I felt the fear that was kind of in the background of all of our interactions, this fear that I was going to infect the family or infect them. I just felt that fear go away because of the love that we could express. It reminds you that scripture perfect love casts out all fear. And I think that’s very true.
It was so incredibly healing for me and for Heidi, I know, who had really been trying in terrible, imperfect ways to express our needs in our relationship and what we wanted. And for them to get to that point where they could just sit and show love and listen, without reacting emotionally, it took away all those needs. I no longer after that really felt, you know…obviously, my blog went away, and my email ceased, sharing articles. All that went away. I didn’t need it anymore.
I was reassured by my family that I was more important than anything else, and that there was no condition placed upon their love for me. So I instantly and Heidi too, we just fell into this much more secure relationship.
And I just want to emphasize this wasn’t like two or three sessions. We did these weekly sessions every Sunday for about a year. And I would say that we probably talked about my journey, [00:50:01] and their journey and what I believe now and our issues and how we messed up in the past and what we’re going to do better going forward in the future. We probably talked about that for about six months, I would say. And we love the conversations. It was something that I know we look forward to every week.
We probably talked for an hour or two hours on the phone. It was so incredibly healing. I definitely felt that love, I definitely felt that understanding, that non-judgment, that lack of fear. And that’s what I needed. And that fixed everything.
LS: Obviously, you two were hundreds of miles apart. But I would imagine if you did live 20 minutes down the road, these interactions would have been in person. But I can see a family saying, “Okay, I need to get together with my family but really have an intentional meeting of “we’re going to talk about this.” And they go through these things. You can’t just have dinner together and say it’s [inaudible 00:51:05].
Cindy: Josh really approached this in a very organized way. He laid out some ground rules, and then he laid out topics. I think it would be helpful to share some of those with families on how to start these conversations.
Blair: These are tools that we’re talking about how do you do it, and how do you get through the difficult stages? Tools you use to do that.
LS: Let me just interject something here. Heidi, I want to go back to your story. I don’t want your faith journey to be lost in all this. What happened after those tears on the bed with your own faith journey?
Heidi: I had an interesting next day. That was a Sunday when he told me. The next day he left for work. We hadn’t told our children anything. I had a friend who I had known back during medical school, who had a family member who had left the church. She was the only person I knew who had a family member who’d left the church. And she still had a good relationship with him.
I called her, and she kind of gave me a response that was basically, “I’m so sorry for you, you’re going to have to be the strong one now in your family to make sure that your kids don’t go astray and follow their dad.” That was the worst thing I could have heard. It just wasn’t helpful at all.
So the next person I called was Josh’s sister. They were always close growing up, and they had a very close relationship. She actually set us up. That’s how we met each other. So I called that sister.
I think what I was looking for is I knew, I think deep down that of anyone in the family she really, really knew Josh. I knew that I wasn’t going to be getting any kind of disingenuous feedback from her. So I called her, and I told her what happened. I was telling her how sad I was, and all that, she said, “Josh is a good person. Even though he believes different things now, he’s still the same person.”
That really just struck me, and I was like, “She’s right, he is the same person.” Because that was part of what I was feeling was, “I don’t even know who I’m married to anymore. You’ve changed overnight.” That resonated with me and I realized that. And so we kind of were able to start communicating again.
I ended up having my own faith journey that was several years…I stayed active for a while and then I left several years later. So we’re in the same place now.
LS: Right, right. I just wanted to clarify that so that there’s no questions as we go through this. So let’s pivot back to what Blair was talking about, and Josh, maybe you lead off here as far as these rules that you brought to the table that maybe were really helpful.
Josh: I was a little skeptical when my dad proposed talking to each other over Skype. I wasn’t sure that it was going to work, because it had been five years of what I felt like was just banging my head against a wall. Nothing worked. Every time we talked, it made make things worse. Every time we emailed, it made things worse.
So I got online, I said, “Let’s look up some conflict resolution stuff. What did the experts say?” So I found this conflict resolution website sponsored by Harvard Medical School. It just had these general rules about how to resolve conflict, maybe in the workplace, maybe with a spouse, maybe with family members. And it kind of tailored what they were saying to our situation. [00:55:02]
So the rules that I set were that you need to stick to the facts, and or feelings, but don’t confuse facts with feelings. We need to say, “I think, I believe,” but don’t say, you know, something, when really, it’s just as strongly held opinion. That was important.
We needed to focus on the present and not deal with the past. There been a lot of pain in our past, and we weren’t going to succeed if we just continually re-litigated the past. Just acknowledge that we made mistakes, apologize for them, and then move on.
Third, we needed to focus on what we needed in the relationship. We needed to state it very clearly so that the other person could understand that need, and then provide us what we needed. Our conflicts are really at the base caused by unmet expectations, and we need to know what those needs and those expectations were so that we could provide it. Because I think we just wanted to, we just didn’t know how to.
We needed to manage our emotions, not let our emotions take control of the situation. And if we felt anger, sadness, resentment, acknowledge it, maybe even take a break if we needed to. We never actually needed to. But this was a rule that I thought was important because our conversations before this were so emotionally fraught and wasn’t helpful.
Then finally, we needed to not have any agenda other than just showing love and seeking understanding. No other motive other than that. Then we needed to avoid what we call the wicked, dumb paradigm where I feel that I’m being accused of being wicked or sinful, and I would be insinuating to my family, they are dumb or stupid for believing what they believe. If any of us did that, if anybody hinted at this, “You made a wrong choice, it’s sinful, it’s wicked” or if I insinuated that my parents were not informed or ignorant then that’s a no, no, and we need to call it out. So those are kind of our rules going forward.
And then I think my dad did a good job of kind of explaining our topics of conversation. The most important tool I think was just active listening, not interrupting the other person letting them speak, restating so that if I was explaining to them something, they would restate what I said to them so that I knew that the message was received, and they understood. We didn’t have to agree with each other, but we did need to understand each other. And that was helpful – that active listening.
LS: Blair, do you need to add to those?
Blair: Yeah. One of the things we did is we got to the point where the other team was supposed to bring up a topic or idea. So we kind of shared topics as we started to get into this after a while. Josh even said, “Well, you got to come up with a topic. I don’t want to come with every topic.”
Cindy: That was later on. Initially, it was…
Blair: It’s only one of those times where I had some thoughts – we would sometimes go back and visit things that happened years before just to just resolve things. One of the things, maybe this is back in our era when we were still defensive or justified or Josh was kind of testing whether we loved him more than the church, he would sometimes send a talk that happened years ago or a general authority talk from the last General Conference. “Do you believe this? Do you believe that?” It was kind of a test of where I was at with the church versus his feeling at the time.
At one point, I talked about the triangular relationship where I felt that Josh and I had a relationship that always involved the church. Sometimes it was a discussion about how I wasn’t necessarily the [unintelligible 00:59:26] because I was a bishop or I was in the stake presidency. I wasn’t there all the time. And I identified this with Josh, I think he realized that, yeah, maybe we did have that kind of feeling that gotten away of a relationship.
I couldn’t have a relationship with me and Josh only without having the church over here in the room as part of the discussion. And I wanted to have just a one to one relationship, and still have my relationship with the church as well. I wanted to be a faithful believing leader in the church, and yet also had this relationship with my son knew that I loved him, regardless of what else I was doing or where my faith was. [01:00:00]
I thought that was a pivotal discussion we had that led to us getting past…or it broke past an impasse where we could just talk about our relationships and the things that mattered between the two of us without always having to bring in the church as a third party in that discussion.
LS: Wow. That’s an interesting dynamic that I wouldn’t have thought of that Josh could have felt like the church was always with you, and you’re sort of always indirectly defending it – that became a barrier in that relationship.
Blair: That was an important transition. I think we can talk about anything now comfortably. We talk about the church; we talk about politics. During the presidential campaigns, we had some very wonderful conversations and a lot of fun about politics now. So we can talk about the hot topics because we’re not coming with an agenda. We’re just talking about how each other think and feel and react about these different topics.
Cindy: If I could just backtrack a little bit, I wanted to touch on one of the feelings that parents feel a lot is you feel guilt as a parent. You’re like, “What didn’t I do? What did I do wrong?” I think at that point, I kind of went into a big depression – again, I’m kind of moving through the stages of grief, I think – before we did this turn around resolution is I would go to church, and I wouldn’t open my mouth. I really didn’t even want to go to church. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t ever raise my hand, and we just come back as mission president. So it was like weird that I was not bearing my testimony or doing anything. I don’t know. I just felt like I had failed as a mother. I looked back and “Oh, if I only would have done this, or if I wouldn’t have done that.”
I think that’s a common feeling that parents have is that I did something wrong. And we addressed that. That was one of the topics I think we did address is, could I have done something differently?
Those talks that we had, I think initially, we just tried so hard to understand Josh’s journey. And I wanted to understand Heidi’s journey, too. I want to emphasize like Heidi mentioned, our other daughter she left the faith too, but everybody doesn’t need the same thing. I said to her, “Do you want to talk about this?” And she said, “No, I don’t.” And it’s okay, we have a good relationship. But even as a little boy, Josh, whenever anything would go wrong, we’d always have to get to the point where we have been made up at the end. Sometimes it was a long talk that we needed. So I think everybody’s different.
But coming to that point where you’re just so depressed, you feel like nothing’s going to work, I’m just going to be sad the rest of my life, I’m lost my relationship,” I don’t know, if we look back, and we say, “We wish we could have just done this at the beginning.” But I don’t know, if you have to go through some of those stages for a while. Maybe you couldn’t do it the next week, you know, call and say, “Oh, we love you, and let’s just hear your story.” Because there were some stages I think that people go through.
I think my message would be don’t get stuck in any of those. I mean, maybe you are shocked, and then you’re angry, and then you feel depressed, but don’t stay there. Get to this point where you realize the relationship is the most important thing. To us, it’s an eternal relationship.
Of course, we still hope and pray that someday, maybe they’ll see it differently and we will be together in that way again. It’s not that we don’t hope that still and there isn’t still some sadness that we did lose that, quote, family that we thought we had, where we can all stand in front of the temple and have our picture taken. But I love the closeness that we have, and I think it’s a lot closer than we were before in all of that. That we’ve been down this journey together, and we’ve shared these deep feelings, and I realized how hard it was for them, they realized how hard it was for us, and how much we love each other.
It was kind of fun as we got to the point where we kind of been through all the topics of how did this make you feel? [01:05:01] And we’ve gone through that. And then it was Blair and I’s turn to kind of share what it was like for us. Finally, at the end, we’re like, “Well, we really liked talking about this.” But really nothing more to talk about. So that’s when we came up with, “Hey, come up with a topic that we could share.” And we kind of turned to politics because we have similar feelings there. So we can talk about anything right now. I feel like it’s such a good place. Maybe it was worth going through all that to get to that good place.
LS: A big thing I’m learning here is you don’t need a family member that suddenly have a change of faith to have these meaningful conversations, right? I mean, any parent or child or family member to come together with a meaningful conversation.
I know that each Sunday I go to my mom’s with my siblings, and we have a lot of conversation. Are they meaningful? Not really, but it’s fun to just hang out. But when we do sort of have those FA [unintelligible 01:05:59] moments where we talk about meaningful things and it’s like we can connect one or the other like. That enriches all relationships, even obviously, with these circumstances that you face as well. But just meaningful conversations enrich relationships.
Blair: We see Josh and Heidi do that with their own kids. Every time I’m with them. They have this amazing relationship with their kids. And they do have deep conversations or light conversations, but it’s always part of their family dynamic – be talking with your kids. And we love to see that.
LS: I want to underscore Cindy what you said as well that there’s probably parents or family members from the orthodox perspective that are hearing your story think, “Oh, no, I was the parent that I didn’t call them right away and said, “I love you either.” It’s a perfectly normal human experience to not do that right away, right? Sometimes that’s the journey to get to that phone call. But hopefully, through the conversations like this, we can shorten the length between that, right?
Blair: I know you have a lot of church members and leaders, but I shared this with Josh and Heidi. But if there’s one chapter in one book I would love for people to read, it’s the last chapter of Stephen Robinson’s book on “Following Christ.” “Not “Believing Christ.” The second one, “Following Christ.” It’s called the Prime Directive.
He tells a story in there about some parents who come too and they had a daughter who’s gotten pregnant, and not going to get married in the temple. The whole title of that chapter, the Prime Directive, is love. No matter what you got to love those who are closest to you.
And that’s the thing that as we started this conversation off tonight is the thing that needs to be understood a lot earlier in this equation. Who are talking with? These are your children that you bore, that you raised, that regardless of the choices that children make in life, that love has got to be there.
LS: Josh and Heidi, anything we’re missing from the outline that you guys just worked on that we need to make sure we discuss before we wrap things up?
Josh: I would just add two points. One is, after you’ve had these discussions, find commonalities. I never felt like a truly changed as a person. I still was the same person I was before. I knew we share a lot of values, and I love that my parents will identify those and celebrate those with us. There’s still more that unites us than divides us. And it’s nice to feel understood in those ways and to celebrate those similarities.
Then two, when families leave the church, they’re leaving a community, and they’re leaving a way of life that celebrates major life milestones. We suddenly find ourselves not able to benefit from baptisms or having your parents come out and share that special occasion with your kid or ordinations or going on a mission, temple marriage. But I think it’s still important since we have families and we still have milestones to celebrate, to find new ways for parents and families to still celebrate those events. And my parents have done a really good job at that. That is an important point as well.
LS: Josh, I want to ask you, and Heidi you can chime in here as well. Cindy mentioned that she asked you what it was like to not believe in God when you go through difficult parts of your life and that you really appreciated her asking that question. Are there any other questions that come to mind that maybe give people a starting point to start some of those conversations that were really meaningful to you?
Heidi: I think that’s a great question. [01:10:00]
LS: Or maybe you just asked, “What is it you want me to ask you?” I don’t know.
Heidi: Yeah. That is a really good question. “What is it that you would like me to know?” I mean, I think that kind of goes back to what we were talking about when we first started having those Skype conversations was just having the opportunity to tell your story and have the other person listen, and try to understand it. That’s it. I think that should be the foundation for everything.
I did want to add one other thing related to what Cindy had said about when she was angry thinking about the grieving process. I think from maybe the believing parents’ perspective their anger is going to look different than the person who is no longer believing. And from the non-believer’s perspective, a lot of times I know it was this way to for me and Josh, we went through it in separate ways, but a common angry phase for the person who is no longer believing is they become…I remember feeling angry at the church, and feeling like I had been lied to or that the truth had been withheld from me. I’ve talked to other people who’ve been through similar things, and they have that same feeling.
I think the important thing to remember is that is a phase, but some people get stuck in it. And those are the people that you see, the angry ex Mormons that you see online or whatever, they are, they are kind of stuck in that angry phase. I mean, it’s their faith. It’s their journey. It’s their feelings. I’m not trying to discredit that, because I felt that too. But obviously, nobody wants to live that way. That’s not a healthy way for anybody to live.
And I think you can push that through that into the next phases up to acceptance. And the best way, the best thing that parents and family members can do to help that loved one progress out of that anger stage is to show love. I think that is the number one thing that pulled Josh out of that stage, it was the thing that pulled me out of that stage.
So I think it’s important for the family members to see that, “Okay, my child might be really angry right now, and they’re saying negative things about the church and they have a blog, and they are ranting on their blog.”
Josh: I didn’t rant.
Heidi: Oh, yeah, he didn’t rant. He didn’t rant. He had very thoughtful, concise, beautifully written blog. No, they really were. They were really good. But that is a phase. And it should be a phase. And it’s okay. Don’t freak out. Don’t respond to anger and get defensive about it, just show love and understanding and acceptance – all these things we’ve been talking about.
LS: I want to follow up on that. As far as showing love, you mentioned love is a verb. From your perspective, Josh and Heidi, are there any examples or habits or routines or whatever that come to mind? How did your parents show you that love? What did those actions look like?
Josh: Well, for me, I remember writing to my parents saying, “How can you love me if you won’t take the time to just listen and understand my journey.” For them just to take the time to listen in a non-judgmental way, ask genuine questions that I knew they were trying to understand me, that was what showed me the love. And that’s what I had been asking for.
That really helped me to move past that angry face. Because I felt like I was angry to the church because I felt like the church in some way was taking my family away from me and isolating me. But as soon as my parents were able to show that love and that understanding, that angry phase just blew over.
Now I’m to the point – Heidi and I talked about this often – like if we could wave a magic wand and go back and replay our life, would we do anything different? Would we choose not to be born in the church? The answer is always no. We would absolutely do the same thing a thousand times because it’s led us to where we are right now with each other, with our family, with our parents. And we love that we love. We love everything about that.
That’s how they showed me that love is just by letting me feel that I was more important than anything else, and there was no condition put on that relationship.
LS: Awesome. [01:15:00]
Cindy: I think there’s a lot of families that are hurting in the church. We’ve never got up in church and said, “Our kids have left the church,” but people know our story. And people who know us, we’ve talked to people individually. And I’ve had a lot of people call me and say, “Can I just come and talk to you?”
People need a way to talk about this. And just like Josh and Heidi said, they didn’t have anyone to talk to, we didn’t really have anyone to talk to either. And I’m so glad that this is now out, and people are talking about it and finding ways to help heal the pain everyone’s going through. I think I hope the day comes.
I’ve made a few comments like in Release Society before when people might make a comment like, “Well, you assume they’ve done something wrong like that to church.” Now I’m in a position to correct that. And I do. But I just feel like those of us who’ve been in this journey, just being willing to share…we’re so thankful for the opportunity to do it this way because we had talked about that before. After we got to the end of it, we thought “Wow, this feels so much better than where we were and how can we share that?”
So just being able to realize that families are going through these really hard things, and just offer somebody that you know, that’s been through that journey, maybe to meet with them or talk to them, we’d be more than willing to do that. And then I’m sure other people would too. The same with Josh and Heidi and where they’re at. Because it’s a lot of pain out there when like Heidi said people kind of get stuck in those phases.
I think when we first talked about, “How do we approach this?” when you invited us to do this and I said to Blair on the phone, “How do you think we should do this?” And he goes, whatever the question, the answer is love. And that was one of greatest things. And we keep that in mind.
LS: It’s amazing how many questions that answer is just love. But obviously, these are tricky situations at times and it’s tough. But I have one more question for each of you. Anything that I missed, or that you want to make sure we include in this? How do we do?
Josh: I think we got it all.
LS: Obviously, this can solve the world’s problems in less than a couple hours. Cool. I’d like to just wrap up just by asking each one of you to respond to…let’s start with Cindy and Blair first. W what encouragement would you have? Any final encouragement for those orthodox parents out there that are just really, you know, they’re on the bed crying phase? Any encouragement that you have?
Then for Heidi and Josh, what encouragement would you give to those individuals who are the family member that has left the faith? That sort of thing. We’ll wrap up there. So Cindy and Blair, then we’ll do Heidi and Josh.
Cindy: I’ll go first. I think as a mom, you have to tell yourself, “I did the best I could. I did everything the best I could. Yeah, I made mistakes, but my children are adults and they have their agency to believe what they want to believe.” As parents, we’re not parents to child anymore, we’re adults to adults, and we can respect the decisions that they have made to come to where they believe they’re living their life the way they want to live it. And to respect that. God respected that for us, for all of his children, and we need to respect that for our kids.
So lay up on the trying to change their mind. Yes, if they’re coming with questions, and they’re honest questions, and they asked you, respond. But once they said, “Here’s where I’m at, give up trying to push your faith. Don’t do that to your grandchildren. Respect that that’s their family, and those are their decisions. Just focus on the relationship, that that is the most important. And focus on the love that you have for them, and let them know that you love them above all else and you always will.
Blair: I’m not sure what more I can add. I do believe that we tend to not really forgive ourselves for things a lot in the church, [01:20:02] and we need to…I can still go forward with faith and be a believing member of the church, where I have children who are not in the church, and practice my faith, at the same time still loving not only Josh but realizing there’s a whole world out there, as Josh said earlier. We’re a small group and in the world.
If we can’t practice that love with just a small number in our family, who may think differently about a worldview or faith view, how do we do that with the whole world that we’re with? I see this is just a way of being that helps me every day, navigate my relationships with everybody wherever I’m at, and whoever I’m with. So don’t give up. Don’t flog yourself because something like this has happened in your life. Learn from it, go forward and be stronger, and faithful and happy and enjoy the times you have together.
We had a great family reunion last summer with all our kids. They gave us a present of being all together. We had them all there. And it was just a wonderful, joyous time to have everybody there and to talk with each other and to just see this kind of interaction. We’re still a family, we still love each other, we’re still just who we were before these things have happened. We may believe differently, but we’re still a family who love each other. And that’s what we tried to communicate then and always.
LS: Awesome. Heidi and Josh, any encouragement you have for those individuals that are really wrestling with this transition with some family members.
Heidi: I’m going to make you go last. I don’t want to go last. That’s a lot of pressure. My encouragement would be to borrow a phrase that you hear right now as it gets better. It gets better.
Josh: I was going to say that.
Heidi: This is what happens when you’ve been married for too long. You read each other’s minds. But honestly, you can just tack on to what I say. It gets better. It feels like it’s the end of the world, and if you put the relationship before beliefs, it’ll be okay. Because I think what often happens is you think that you no longer believe in the Mormon church, and now you know the truth. So you tend to see it as if now I’m right, and they are wrong.
You have to remember that you still have beliefs, they’re just different beliefs. And you need to respect the other side’s beliefs as well. You don’t have to agree with them, but that’s the way forward. That’s the way that you’re going to get out of the angry phase, and you’re going to be able to heal or maintain those close relationships is through mutual respect, and just recognizing that putting the relationship first needs to be the first priority.
Josh: I think we should wrap it up right there.
Heidi: No, you have to say something.
Josh: I would just say to people that may be in a similar situation that I was and Heidi was in just to expect to make mistakes. You’re going to do things wrong. I obviously did lots of things wrong. The way to fix things and make things right is to remember, like I’ve been saying that, I needed my parents to know that I was still the same person and to love me. Well, you need to do that as well.
You need to remember that your parents probably would give anything for you. They want to help you. Maybe they’re just showing it the wrong way or going about it the wrong way. They’re making mistakes, just like you’re making mistakes.
But if you can step away from the issue of “I’m right, I need to tell them that I’m right, it’s not a debate.” Really, what you need to do is break that cycle by showing love and humanizing your parents. Remember, they’re the same people they were before this all happened. They still love you even though you may not feel that. Even though you may feel that they’re more loyal to the church or an institution or an idea, they probably are still loyal to you, you’re just stuck in a phase. So keep trying. The way to break out is a show that love back to your parents and your family as well.
Following Christ, by Stephen E. Robinson
Questioning Saints Virtual Summit
Thank you for sharing so much love and empathy.
I appreciate the Packard family being so open and willing to share their perspectives.
This will help many in similar situations to reach love and understanding.
Thanks for listening, Lloyd. I’m so glad to hear that you think this will be helpful for other people.
This was amazing! I can’t thank you all enough for your willingness to be vulnerable and share your stories and tips for navigating and flourishing in a mixed belief family. Y’all are awesome!!
Your welcome, Lindsay! Thank you for listening.
I keep hearing former members saying “the Church wasn’t what it claimed to be.” What does the Church claim to be? And what evidence do they think they have for that belief?
Hi! What an interesting question. I think a person could find written truth claims, such as prophets who have said, “this is the only true Church,” or “prophets are God’s mouthpiece,” and disputes could be made in favor or against such claims. In the end, the comment, “the church wasn’t what it claimed to be,” is only a thought, not a fact. When we repeatedly think a thought, it becomes a belief, so some find evidence and repeatedly think, “It doesn’t add up,” while others choose to believe, “It all makes sense,” or a myriad of beliefs in between.
You’re right, that is a common sentiment among former members of the church, at least based on my experiences.
We didn’t really discuss that too much in this interview because we wanted to focus on how we were able to heal our relationship instead of getting bogged down in our different beliefs. At the end of the day, love and real, authentic connections are what matter, not who has the most evidence to support their beliefs.
Shaun, I’ll entertain your question as sincere as opposed to the opening round of argument. I’m sure “the church isn’t what it claimed to be” means different things to different people. For me, the first issue where I felt the church isn’t what it claimed to be was Joseph Smith and his wives. Despite four years of seminary, four years of institute, a year at BYU, a mission and full activity in the church (growing up in the ’90’s), I did not know Joseph Smith had wives other than Emma. When I tried to find a “church approved” answer to the question around 2007 I couldn’t find it. Finally, I found it in Family Search. That was like a punch to the gut and my first thought that the church isn’t what it claimed to be.
I realize that isn’t everyone’s experience. I was taught to avoid anti material and I obeyed so I didn’t come across that information elsewhere. I understand that some people who grew up in the church the same time I did, learned all that information. I don’t know how but they tell me they did and I believe them. I think we are getting better at all this.
Thank you for this great episode! It was super helpful for me. I have a question for Cindy, she mentioned they read a book called “the Peacekeeper” that helped them get their heart in the right place. I am wondering if she meant the peacegiver or the peacemaker? I cannot find a book called peacekeeper that looks applicable to Thebes situation.
Yes, Cindy meant to say The Peacegiver.
In the interview, mention was made of a list Josh made of solid, simple ground rules to make sure the skype conversation stayed true to its stated intent. Are those ground rules available somewhere on the site. Thanks so much!!
Josh talks about the rules at 55:00.
We are planning a family zoom meeting to start back on the road to good relationships with our oldest brother who has left the Church (or, as he holds, the Church has left him). Our question/concern as a family is that we are worried this first meeting will just be a session where the brother rehashes and preaches his opinion about why the Church isn’t true and our job is to simply listen and let him tell us, once again, how prophets aren’t inspired and the Church is corrupt. We don’t want to endure this again because all we feel is darkness and frustration leading to further separation, but as we really think about it we are feeling that if he really is going to feel “heard out” and understood that we’re not sure there’s any other way for him to get to a place where he feels that way unless he does take us through his doctrinal differences again. Is it simply our job to listen and truly seek to understand? Is there a way to elevate the conversation from a difference on doctrines and Church history to instead focusing on repairing relationships. Does he simply need to be heard first – which necessitates listening to his fully-aired logic and reasoning behind why the Church isn’t true – and then we can move on to working on relationships? Any advice?