Yesterday we took the kids to our ward Christmas party. In one room they were serving dinner and in the room down the hall you could line up to go visit Santa. My kids ages 9, 6, 3, and 1 ran as fast as they could down the hall, waited impatiently in line and then practically jumped on Santa. My 3 year old was so enthusiastically hugging Santa that she pulled just a little too tight on his beard. It didn’t come off (thank goodness) but he did have to adjust…and apparantly it didn’t go without my 9 year old’s notice.
She walked out of the room and you could tell she was upset. I was a little bit confused at her sudden change of demeanor and so I asked her what was wrong. She mumbled under her breath “Santa’s not real” and then she started walking more quickly down the hall towards our dinner.
Now I know it wasn’t just the beard that tipped her off…this has been coming for a long time. Maybe even a few years. A few years of questions like “hey, this toy says it was made in China not the North Pole” and a few brave moments when she actually asked me if Santa was real. I always responded with “what do you think?”…I guess a part of me was unsure about telling her. I didn’t want the magic to end. I don’t think she did either, that’s why she “chose to keep on believing.” It was easier than acknowledging the truth.
That night when we went home and talked about it…my heart felt broken. Her tears were so real, so disappointed, so hurt. I felt hurt too. Hurt because I had hurt her…in a way because I had perpetuated a lie, because I had purposefully deceived her for as long as I could. I don’t know if that was right…it was fun…but was it right?
…I still don’t know.
But even in her hurting, and my hurting, there was something miraculous taking place. Her ability to put two and two together, to reason inside her own head and figure out a puzzle that had been placed before her, her entire life. She questioned at first…but then ultimately she knew, even without me confirming it. Her own logic figured it out. She realized that her parents could lie to her and she trusted herself more than she trusted me. That’s a big deal…an important deal.
Maybe it’s not the same thing, but my own heart ached because of all the things people told me…things I was supposed to believe, things I kept believing long after it made no sense to do so. I was in awe of Audrey’s ability to trust herself, even though it hurt so much. I guess in some ways I look at my experience of leaving the LDS church the same way as Audrey is now viewing Santa. For most of my life I could dismiss that beard that had to be adjusted, I could find a way to not worry about the fact that Reindeer can’t fly, or that I never once in my childhood lived in a home with a chimney. I was 32 years old before I could trust my own heart to point out everything that didn’t line up for me in the LDS church. I was 32 years old before I realized that leaders aren’t perfect, and even if they don’t know they are doing it…leaders too can lie.
As I was sitting at dinner yesterday surrounded by old friends, one of them made a light hearted joke about polygamy. In my believing days perhaps I would have laughed. Just another misaligned beard that needed to be adjusted…no big deal! But this time I looked at them, and my heart started up with that familiar ache…and it just made no sense. Polygamy wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t what they thought it was…not even close, it wasn’t what my church leaders taught me it was, or what I was supposed to believe it was. And I remember vividly that day a little less than 1 year ago, when I was finally brave enough, like my daughter, to murmur under my breath “polygamy was wrong…Joseph Smith was wrong.” I felt so guilty when I said it. So unsure. And yet so sure all in the same moment. Like I wanted confirmation…but really I didn’t need it.
I hear active members of the church talk about how those of us who are doubting need to “choose to believe.” For a long time I tried…and now, just like I can no longer choose to believe in Santa, I no longer view believing in the church as a choice either. Maybe that sounds sad…maybe it is…but maybe it’s not? Maybe I needed to be reminded that my own heart knows more than I think it does. Maybe I needed to be reminded that I have truth within my own soul, a light within my own body, and perhaps all I need to know resides deep within my own heart. Maybe that’s better than looking at others and asking them to guide my way. Maybe it’s better to know I can find my own answers than it is to always expect them to be given to me. Maybe I needed to show myself that no matter what those around me say…I would choose to listen to me. We all know what we know…but I needed to find my courage to acknowledge it. And when I finally did…well, that was a big deal. A really big deal.