The Pain of Lost Faith

Poor Wayfaring Man

A reader posted a comment recently, asking two questions. Good ones. I will answer one of them here, and the other one in my next post.

Mormon Woman Wondering asked:

Please help me understand how you bore the gut-hole created by losing your faith.

I am not sure I understand what “gut-hole” means in this context. I have some guesses: Is it the psychological turmoil a person goes through when the philosophical basis for her lifestyle and choices is revealed to be deeply flawed and unreliable, and needs to be replaced? Is it the anxiety that accompanies the realization that she doesn’t know what to replace it with? Is it the nagging worry that she has set her children up to fail–to trust people and ideas that are not trustworthy? Is it the disappointment at finding that so much of her life has been spent earnestly pursuing and investing in what is ultimately a high-stakes fantasy?

I think I relate to each of these possibilities, but the intensity of my experience has probably been tempered by the fact that I could never really fully commit to the social aspects of the LDS Church. I grew up in Salt Lake City, but never went to a stake dance, never attended a single’s ward, and never had friendships that started at church. In fact, a large proportion of my friends were not active members of the Church, and I spent my weekends with a mother who left the Church when I was four years old. The social experience was not why I went to Church every week, so changing my mind about Mormonism didn’t require much of a change in my lifestyle (i.e., I didn’t lose any important social outlets, business relationships, etc.). As an adult, I went to church in an effort to test and prove Mormonism as an exceptional and holy way of life–I lived my life as if Mormonism was everything it claimed to be, but I never forgot that I was making assumptions about it that needed to be confirmed. I also took a few years to gradually scale back my participation, and I left while my kids were small (all below 5 years old). I think all of that has taken an edge off of the angst that other people who stop believing have to deal with.

Even if my angst was tempered by the happy accident of my personality and life circumstances, I’ve still had my share of inner turmoil as I considered my terribly flawed reasons for making huge life decisions (marriage, kids, career, etc.), and the likelihood that they would turn out to be bad risks and huge mistakes. I’ve found a bit of comfort, however, in a very strange place (for a Mormon). In high school, I read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, and a central theme of the novel has always resonated with me: paths we take in life, things we commit to, choices we make, situations we find ourselves in, even if they end in disaster, are experiences that give us more insight into reality. Thus, neither successes nor failures are wasted experiences–we gain wisdom and understanding from both.1 Once I accept that idea, it’s hard for me to get too worked up about having spent a couple of decades in an authoritarian religion. The experience taught me valuable lessons that apply to broader aspects of humanity (business organizations, government, etc.), and have helped me better understand how the world works.



  1. Mormonism actually teaches a species of this concept too, in D&C 122:5-7. []

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