Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4 acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caron has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the Relief Society President in her Montana Ward.
I was just listening to The Clash’s hit from my youth, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, and wondering if this quandary is as timeless as their music. It got me thinking of how many decisions basically come down to this question of remaining or leaving, whether it’s as simple as a conversation with a group of friends, or our beds in the morning, or something more serious such as a relationship, a job, or a group.
It Is Not Simple
I was listening to a podcast interview the other day and the lady was talking about the culture of our church from a variety of angles and at one point mentioned people who had left the Church. She talked about how hard that was, which is something I do not know that we consider much.
I felt how perceptive she was.
Maybe some just make a clean break, move on and don’t ever look back, just relieved they’re done with that part of their lives. But maybe it’s not that simple. I can understand how they might feel that they have been misled, misinformed, or misjudged—and how painful that would be.
I thought about her observations for a while. What would it feel like to leave something I’d given so much of my life to? I think I would feel grief, that I had wasted my time, that it was all for nothing, that certainly I had been duped. I thought about the people I love who don’t want to be a part of this religion anymore and what they might have felt as they extricated themselves from a culture and an identity they no longer want to associate with.
Having Empathy and Compassion
From the assuming but awkward questions like, “What ward are you in?” to the more insensitive and even invasive ones, they may feel that they are having to constantly explain themselves to those who assume they have a right to ask.
Maybe it is hard because they aren’t sure where they sit or fit spiritually or what exactly they want to take with them (if anything) as they leave, and what they’re willing to leave behind. I think it would be hard to have mixed families who make this transition even more difficult by withholding love or refusing to listen to another perspective and to accept a choice not in alignment with their own.
Difficult, I imagine, to explain things even to themselves, to find the words to express their experience, to secure appropriate and compassionate support, to be different from how they used to be. I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot to learn.
I’m trying. I’m working on being an open-minded listener, to educate myself, to increase my empathy and compassion. I don’t know exactly what it feels like firsthand or even what my friends want and expect from me, but I can try to be safe and to understand where they’re coming from, to recognize their pain, anger, distrust, and whatever else there is to process. I’m grateful for this podcast woman, for pointing out how difficult this transition can be.
It Can Be Tough to Stay
I also appreciated that she mentioned that it is just as difficult to stay.
I mentioned this to my sister, and all she said was, “Harder.” What were they talking about? This was super intriguing to me. I had no idea anyone felt like this. No one’s ever asked me why I stay. I assume because they think they already know what my answers will be. Which is totally, totally fine. Just interesting. I asked myself if I think it’s hard to stay. To be completely honest, I think it would be harder to leave. Staying has never been anything I would consider difficult. But there have been many ways staying has taken some strength and courage and work.
Although I’ve never, ever felt anything but complete respect from my friends who believe a little differently than I do, I feel as though I may appear naïve, brainwashed, and swayed by a culture I’ve always known and that I refuse to think for myself and am uneducated. I don’t think many know what my questions are, what my journey’s been like, and what I grapple with. And while I personally wouldn’t call it exactly strenuous to stay, I was interested in the idea that for some it may take more effort than it looks like.
It Takes Strength to Stand
There’s a lot to wade through and process regardless of which side we’re on. It takes strength to take a stand, to be decisive, to explain ourselves, or even to hold back and not share what’s in our hearts and to act as if all is well. But maybe the hardest place of all is to admit we just don’t know for sure, we don’t have all the answers we wish we did, that even though we’ve made a decision to either stay or go, we still have questions and maybe even mixed feelings about it all.
I never knew this was a thing, but Elder Andersen spoke about this in our recent conference. He said,
“As we have all learned, even after savoring the precious fruit of the restored gospel, staying true and faithful to the Lord Jesus Chris is still not easily done. … We continue to face distractions and deceptions, enticements and temptations that attempt to pull our hearts away from the Savior and the joys and beauties we have experienced in following Him.”
He acknowledges that people will continue to point their fingers and mock and scoff at and verbally attack us and that we may be tempted to feel ashamed of our beliefs. We will still have questions, friends [who think differently], disappointments, mistakes, and the enticements of the world to face.
A Continuation of Love
I think this is like the breakup of a friendship or a marriage. Maybe we’ve decided there’s no better option than to sever ties with—or even temporarily step away from—a relationship that is no longer working for us. There is rarely such a thing as a clean break in this scenario. Maybe we still have fond memories of earlier years and times together, maybe we’ll miss the companionship and what used to be. We will likely grieve the change. There are required and unanticipated details and logistics to work through. And on top of all the emotions, there’s nothing that causes more anxiety than having to tell those closest to you, your family, friends, the people you’ve loved through so many years.
It’s awkward, it’s hard for them to understand what’s going on, and they think they can help by giving advice or something to read. But all we really need during painful times like these is the continuation of love, more of the same friendship and family-ness that we’ve always enjoyed, as well as a chance to talk—when we’re ready, if ever at all.
I remember finding out some of our friends were splitting up; we were heart-broken. We were on the other side of the continent on a trip, but I told Todd to pull over immediately so we could call. We sat in the car for an hour just listening. And crying together with this friend. We didn’t understand how they’d come to their decision or what they were feeling, how could we exactly? Todd never offered advice or counsel, he just absorbed the pain as a friend and listened for a long, long time.
But I have just as many other friends who remain in marriages that continue to be a trial for them nearly every single day. I think they would respond as my sister did, that it is harder to stay. And yet no one on the outside would have any indication that there might be difficulties. I think of the tenacity it takes for these couples to hold on to a love they believe is real and true, but can’t see as clearly anymore, to cling tightly to what they know they felt at one time even though they haven’t felt it for a very long time. It is difficult for them to keep the flame burning, to remember why they got married in the first place, to sort out the complexities and misunderstandings and questions and pains. They would say it’s definitely not easy, yet they choose to remain anyway.
How many stay in jobs or relationships or circles or organizations out of habit or duty? How does fear of the unknown come into play? And how many leave with heavy or wistful hearts, still unsettled and unsure? I wonder if many divorces have this element, just as moving might or breaking things off with a long-time friend might.
I guess I’m just more aware this week of my own thoughts as well as the feelings of the many friends and family members and associates I love so deeply. I recognize we are all doing our best to make the decisions we feel are right for us.
Maybe it seems that someone is taking the easy way out when they extricate themselves from a relationship or organization. And maybe it looks like others are being complacent and taking the path of least resistance by staying—whether it’s a marriage, a job, or a religion. We just don’t know what is going on in the hearts and minds of our loved ones and friends. And I can’t think that we will know any better until we can respect each other and trust each other enough to share our most tender feelings with one another. Rather than sit across the room and judge another’s decision, we must move in close, love unabashedly, listen intently, and wrap our arms around each other, reminding one another that we’re here to stay regardless of which way we each choose to go.