I know I have a story. I know it is a MORE story. I have struggled with myself to define just what it is though. What have I become MORE than? What labels did others place on me, that I let define me? Thinking of this has left me at a complete loss. I had never really thought of it in terms of a word(s) before. I have felt the assumptions, I have felt the attitudes, I have felt the misconceptions. I had never allowed myself to get down to the nuts and bolts of it all though and hear the word(s) they defined me as. As I thought of this, one word kept coming to mind repeatedly. That word seemed to be too simple though! I needed a more complex way and deep word that defined the labels placed on my back. It can’t be simple. The word was “LESS!” How could my MORE story just be as simple as not being LESS anymore? It seemed just too obvious that if I am MORE I am not LESS anymore. But alas, LESS is the word that stuck in my mind. I stopped to really think of this, and it hit me, the label put on me for so long WAS “LESS!” Though this may be too simple, it’s still my story. A girl who has fought, and keeps fighting everyday of her life to shake the label of “LESS!” Here is MY story.
I joined a church/ religion as a convert in my early 20’s. From day 1 I was already LESS! It was a religion that does not allow its members to smoke or drink alcohol, or coffee or even tea. These were all things that were a part of my life. While not taking harmful things into ones body is recommended in almost all religious circles, and among anyone with common sense; in this religion it was considered not keeping a commandment if you did not obstain from these things. It was considered SIN. My husband and I had our first child out of wedlock before joining this religion. This is strictly forbidden and pre marital sex is a grievous sin. One that requires its members to have face to face conversations with a clergy member. That clergy member tells you how to repent. They call it a “repentance process.” Yes, another mortal being tells YOU what to do to be repentant of your own sins. Thankfully we were not members at the time so we got a pass on that one! Whew!! All the “worthy” young men of this religion go on 2 year missions right out of high school. Those who don’t, are seen as less than. Since my husband and I joined this church after we were married and had a child, he did not qualify to go on this type of mission. Why do I start my MORE story off with this information? For one reason, to show you how I was LESS than, from the beginning. I was LESS holy, LESS righteous, LESS worthy. From the beginning. It took a while before I fully understood how far behind the eight ball I truly was. I eventually got it though, in a million ways. They were little ways, and little comments that accumulated over the years. For many years, they didn’t bother me. I shook them off. Slowly, I seemed to just accept and embrace the fact that I was LESS then others and was okay with that. Although, I wouldn’t have recognized this while going through it. It was just my reality at the time and I was seemingly okay with it all.
Life in this religion wasn’t bad. The members are super dedicated, devout and loyal to it and to each other, for the most part. People were good to us, and I made friends with nearly and entire ward (congregation) of approximately 200 people. I truly grew to love these people, and even though I was slightly LESS as a convert, I was accepted and cared for. Towards the end of my time in this church before leaving, it became my whole life. All of my friends were from the church. All of my activities and recreation were with the church and my friends from it. I said yes to nearly every task asked of me, and people knew they could count on me to show up and help. Eventually, due to my own research about some beliefs in this church that didn’t line up with what I felt was true and right, I parted ways. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. It tore me to absolute pieces. Once I no longer believed it to be true, and had what I believed to be adequate research to justify my belief that it wasn’t true, I knew I had to leave. That hurt. My whole family had grown to love it. I had spent nearly a decade of my life involved in it. It had become MY LIFE. Even though I was always slightly less, I loved being included in this group and my role in it. Upon leaving my LESS status became EVEN LESS. I was THE LEAST. Damned. Forever Damned because I turned away from this church, this organization. It became clear that all these relationships I spent time cultivating were not genuine. I was expendable to most. Loyalty to an organization was more important that my friendship, or pain. People who once had nothing but wonderful things to say about me, now gave me labels behind my back. Among these labels were words like: Apostate, crazy, anti-(insert religion name here), quitter. None of my closest friends even wanted to talk with me or ask me WHY. WHY was I leaving? WHY didn’t I believe? WHY so fast and so sudden did I have to pull out of this religion? Why would I walk away from something that I dearly loved? No one asked. I offered the information willingly though, to a couple people. But NO ONE ASKED. NOT ONE. Their was one other question that none of my friends asked me that still hurts deeply to this day. Something I longed for wished just ONE of the people who I had called “friend” in this church would have asked me. The question was. “How are you doing with all this?” or “Are you okay?” I longed for just one of them to care enough to say “I am sorry you are hurting.” Though, I didn’t think about the word LESS at the time, it was clear to me again then, I was infact, LESS. But now I wasn’t one of them so I had no place among them. Not even as a LESSER member. I was a nobody. An apostate. A quitter.
It has been a year this month that my name was removed from this church. My pain is mostly healed. It flares up from time to time in certain situations and with certain memories but I heal more everyday. I have found a like-minded spiritual community that has embraced me. People there WANT to be my friend and to love me. I love them, I do. I love this new church and community and it feels like home. But my heart is scarred. I’m flying with a broken wing. I pull away a lot. I try to have surface friendships. I have had to realize that I am subconsciously terrified of rejection. I am terrified that at any moment I won’t be who they thought I was and will turn their back on me. This is not true, they do not do that. That is completely against what this amazing church and community stand for. But I am scarred, and scared. I don’t want to be LESS, I won’t accept that role in life again. I won’t accept that role in a spiritual community. I won’t accept being LESS. I push forth every day, to heal the pain caused to me by years of being LESS in a spiritual community. I push forth in my new church to reach out to others and make relationships. I push forth because I know, I am NOT LESS. I am MORE.
I am MORE because I don’t let fear stop me. I am MORE because I have survived the pain and strive to overcome it. I am more because I recognize the cruelty done to me by others, but have chosen to still love them. They may not be a part of my life any longer, but I choose to love them and forgive them. I choose to give them grace, the grace we all need because we are not perfect. I am MORE because I have apologized for hurting people when I followed my conscious, even though they hurt me by turning their backs on me. Turning away from an organization and a belief system, is not the same as turning away from a human being. I turned away from a set of beliefs, but the people I believed to be my friends turned away from me. THAT tore me a part and left me depressed and feeling LESS yet again. I grow stronger every day and become MORE every day. This pain has made me MORE kind to others. MORE accepting of diversity in all forms. MORE willing to try new things. MORE willing to go the extra mile to show people they matter. The experience of feeling LESS, has made me more.
I was taught by the friends in my former religion to “STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE, EVEN IF YOU STAND ALONE.” I never dreamed it would be them I had to stand against or that they would be the ones to leave me alone. But it happened. AND I am surviving and becoming MORE . I AM NOT LESS.
I am not LESS Christian. I am MORE.
I am not LESS loving. I am MORE.
I am not LESS of a friend. I am MORE.
I am not LESS of anything. I have become MORE.