I’ve been thinking a lot about loss and Hope lately and invariably my thoughts turn to the lessons I’ve learned about religion and faith, both in and out of church.
I learned a long time ago that Hope is fuel for the soul. Actually it was about six years ago. I’d had a particularly difficult time managing my depression and anxiety and was seeing a therapist on a pretty regular basis to help me deal. I was still mired in all things faith and God at that time, fat lot of good that did me but I digress. The therapist I had was not affiliated with any church.
One particular appointment was pretty heavy. I was talking about the reality that I wouldn’t have any more children and what a struggle it was for me to find happiness when I looked to the future without the possibility of new sweet baby sounds and smells. I was turning 35 and it was the death knell for more children. All I could see in the vast wasteland of a future ahead of me was my kids growing up and moving out and being sort of “left behind”. I couldn’t see past my role as a child-bearing woman to see that there was a wide expanse of future possibilities open to me that didn’t include wrecking my body with a new growing life every couple of years. It was in the middle of this fog of depression that my therapist said this thing about Hope being fuel for the soul just as food is fuel for our body and that I needed to find something to Hope for. It resonated with me, the realization that I needed Hope to move me forward out of my funky spot.
After that session, I went to Target to do some shopping and found a pillow in the home decor section. It was a beautiful white pillow with the word Hope stitched in the most beautiful red. I bought that pillow without even thinking about it and for the last 6 years, that pillow has either been on my couch or my bed or on a chair. Someplace prominent because it reminds that I need that Hope. It isn’t optional for me.
Since leaving the church, now some two and half years ago, I’ve had an interesting relationship with Hope. I have Hope that I can raise my children without the angst and pressure that this particular religion seems to place on people. I have found Hope in the ability to live in the moment. Hope that I can find joy in little things.
But there’s something I lost when I left the church and lost my faith. Something so big that it constantly threatens to drown the Hope that I so desperately seek to kindle.
I lost Forever. The Mormon church, most churches actually, sell the Hope of Forever, eternal life, heaven—it goes by lots of names—for a mere 10% of your income and absolute obedience to a set of prescribed (asenine) rules. For that bargain-basement price, you get to keep your Hope. When you think of your kids growing up and what a vacuum that will leave in your life, you have Forever to look forward to. When someone you love dies, you have the Hope of Forever that you will see them again somehow. That there will be a blessed, sweet reunion. ’Til We Meet Again is a church hymn that I used to sing over and over again. It’s about taking comfort at times of loss and death in the concept of Forever. In the knowledge (see me roll my eyes) that death is but a temporary separation and one that should be celebrated because that departed loved one is now chilling with god. (choking on my own vomit) I sang this song and found comfort here because I believed. I Hoped. I thought about the friends I lost to suicide and sickness and accident and I thought about the babies I miscarried and I thought about the grandparents now gone and I had the promise of Forever to look forward to. All wrongs would be made right. All sorrows would be overcome. Joy would prevail in this Forever that I’d clung to. I would see all those I’d lost again.
But when I lost my faith in the teachings of the church and then subsequently stopped believing in any kind of god or heaven or eternal life, I lost Forever.
It was just gone.
One day it was there in all its resplendent, Hope-giving succor and the next it was gone. Just gone. I have felt it’s absence deeply and profoundly since that day 2.5 years ago. Every time one of my kids passes a milestone, like my 6th grader not wanting me to walk him to his class, I remember that Forever is not a promise I have anymore.
Every fleeting moment, once gone, is gone. It is really hard to hang on to Hope in those conditions. Every person, once buried, is gone. Every broken relationship weighs more because Forever isn’t a thing I have anymore. There’s not some magical time or place where I’ll be able to repair damaged things. It’s now or never.
Are you super bummed yet? Because I totally am. Which is not the point of this. I’m trying to circle back around to happy, Hope-filled sentiments. Let me take you full circle for a minute.
I was talking to my husband recently about all of this. We’ve got an interesting dynamic going on with us. Before we left the church, I was an eternal optimist. Maybe that’s because I believed in eternity. Who knows? But he was the pessimist. He tried to couch it in a label of realistic, but really he was just negative about shit.
Since leaving the church, our roles have flipped. He’s so optimistic now it’s practically nauseating. And I’m all like “woe is me…we lost Forever….blah, blah, blah”. Even I’m sick of hearing myself talk about what I don’t have anymore.
So we were talking about this strange phenomena. I was trying to understand where his cheerful disposition comes from when we’ve lost so much. Forever, after all, is a lot to lose.
And then he told me a story. One that explained so much and put his annoying cheer into perspective for me.
He never believed he would get that fairytale Forever. He never believed he was worthy enough for it. Sidebar: Worthy is now a word that makes want to chew nails and vomit simultaneously. I try to limit my exposure to it. As I was saying, the celestial kingdom (as Mormon’s refer to the best part of heaven) was never something he thought he’d be granted admission to.
He thought about girls and sex. He even had sex outside of marriage. I know, right? Cue gasp. Roll shame, guilt, fear.
Lights. Camera. Action.
You want to know why he is optimistic now? It’s because he finally has Hope. And that was something he never had before. After all, if you’ve lusted after a woman in your heart, you’ve committed adultery already. And if you masturbate, well, I mean that’s second to murder. That shit’s not gonna get you into the presence of god and all the other made-up blessings that the “best” heaven brings with it.
He shared with me (and I share this with his permission) that the only teensy bit of Hope that he was ever able to grab on to was the notion that the people in the church will recognize immediately. Some will argue that it’s not doctrine, but only lore. But anyone who has been in the church very long and learned about the nature of the “departments” in heaven knows that there are three levels. The best one, the Celestial Kingdom—that’s where god hangs out and married folks get to dwell together with their Forever families there—is where everyone aspires to go. The middle level, the Terrestrial Kingdom, is for folks who are decent people but just didn’t have the light and knowledge of the true gospel (I’m gagging as I type). But the lowest kingdom, the Telestial Kingdom, that’s where the murderers, rapists, and the Mormon’s who knew the truth but turned their back on it get to go. That’s a cheerful lot, I suppose. Back to the common belief amongst Mormons, that lowest kingdom where the rapists live, even that kingdom is hailed to be so beautiful and so amazing that mere humans on this earthly plane, if they saw that place, would kill themselves to get there.
So he had Hope as a teenager that even though sex and girls occupied much of his brain function that at least the place he ended up maybe wouldn’t be so bad. And that the most righteous of his family would at least still be able to visit him. This is where I lose my shit and offend everyone reading this. Jesus H. Fucking Christ. What the fuck is wrong with people that we teach this shit. And that it’s supposed to be comforting. Holy gods of all awful things.
No wonder he was negative and pessimistic. Every time in our marriage where I spoke about the excitement of being together Forever and how sweet that would be, he would think only about the heartbreak that his wife and children would find upon resurrection that Jared hadn’t made it to the celestial kingdom. Even in death, he would be an utter disappointment to those he loved.
What an absolute mind fuck that is. In case you wonder why so many who leave the church, speak out against the church, it’s to protect innocent people from that shit. I tried to edit myself there and use a different word, but it’s just one big pile of shit that this church is covering their people with. And I hate them for it. Hate.
But we aren’t talking about hate today. (Oops!) We are talking about Hope. Did you forget? So did I for a second, but I’m picking up the thread again. (This is maybe a giant metaphor for my life. Possibly.)
Today I have Hope that because my kids won’t be raised in that “you’ll never be good enough” environment, they will love themselves and be able to be full participants in their relationships. I have Hope that because I’m living every single day like it could be the last in my existence, I won’t take a moment for granted. I won’t take the love and friendship that people offer for granted. There is no real future that is worth mortgaging today’s happiness for. Because there is no guarantee of that future.
Forever isn’t actually a promise that anyone can make to you. Not for any amount of money or time they may say it costs. The fact is that they don’t actually have it in their possession. How can they sell something they don’t have? They can’t.
So I find Hope that even though I lost Forever, it was actually just a myth. I never actually had Forever, I just thought I did. Nothing actually changed about the nature of the universe, just my understanding of it.
The reality of my life is this. Losing Forever wouldn’t be a sad thing if I didn’t have people I cared about, right now, that I don’t want to lose. The truth is that we have vital, precious moments in front of us right now and we can choose to find Hope and happiness in them or we can whine about what we don’t have. (I’m lecturing myself here, don’t get your panties in a twist)
I don’t have Forever anymore. And it sucks. There isn’t really a word strong enough to describe the loss I feel when I think about someday saying goodbye to my loved ones with no idea what waits beyond. I love my husband and children with such a force that I can’t imagine that just ending someday.
But you know, I can be optimistic. I can say that I don’t know that for sure it will just end. Maybe we all turn into stars upon our death and we hang in the galaxy within view of all those people that we care about. That’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? Watching my loved ones twinkle and glitter and light up the night. I can find Hope in the unknown. And I can find joy in right now. Joy that I get to spend these moments with people who matter to me. And these moments are even more precious now that I now that they are in limited supply.
Losing Forever is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face. And finding Hope in the midst of that loss has been a challenge. It will continue to be a real struggle because there is still a void where Forever used to be.
But I choose to stay Hopeful. Hopeful that my life will matter in some way. Whether it’s to my children or my husband who I’ve loved with every ounce of myself or maybe to the people who read my books or who watch me live my life in the moment, every single day. I Hope that my existence will have mattered and I Hope that while I’m here I live with all the life I’ve got in me.
I’ve still got that pillow with the word Hope stitched into it. The white is dingy now because life has kicked it around a little bit, sort of like me. But the message it gives me is as powerful now as it ever was. Find something to Hope for.
If I had to trade Forever for something, I suppose this moment is just the thing.
Let it Be,