Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Powerful Lesson on the Atonement from an Ex-Mormon Coming Back

A great deal of insight into the Atonement, the importance of forgiveness, the traps the adversary sets for us, and the need to treat one another with charity comes from some fascinating comments by "Books of Mormon from Indy" under my completely uninteresting post, "Apologies - Comments Problem Fixed." Here are excerpts from two of his comments that I especially want to highlight:
I joined the church in the early 80's (when I was in my 20's), and two years later went on a mission.

I had a "difficult" mission, to put it nicely, and to be kind to myself.

I loved the people among whom I served, but couldn't stand some of the missionaries with whom I served. I had some great companions, but there was always at least one "problem missionary" in every apartment who made life hell. (Typically there were 2 or 3 sets of missionaries per apartment.)

It was very frustrating to have one of those "burned in" testimonies that the Book of Mormon and the church were true, but at the same time to be constantly offended by people in the church, even though the "offenders" were in the minority.

A year after the mission I went inactive, and four years after that I requested to have my name removed from church membership records.

In 2002 the Lord started to make it painfully clear what the eternal consequences of willful disobedience would be, and DC Section 19, specifically verse 20, started to come into play. I had already lost the Holy Ghost, but then the second definition of "his spirit", the Light of Christ, started to be withdrawn. I probably tasted a little of what Martin Harris tasted, and I decided that repentance would be the easier way out.

In other words, the Lord kicked my butt back to church.

While researching the church on the web, I've come across a few ex-member web sites, and the apologetic web sites. I can identify with some of what the apostates say. I've been there and done that.

I understand how those who grow up in the church without a testimony can fall away.

And I understand how those who join the church based on faith (an "I believe" testimony as opposed to an "I know" or a "burned in" type of testimony) can fall away.

In the interest of full-disclosure I'll state that I have not been re-baptized yet. But I've been as active as an ex-mo can be, and have been blessed beyond what I deserve.

There's more to the story, but I've wasted too much time online today anyway.

{Next comment:}

More on my story. I can't entirely blame my problems on the problem elders or those "less than valiant." Once I lost the Spirit from being in a constant state of being offended, I turned bitter and became a problem elder myself. I was so bent out of shape over what others were/were not doing, that I neglected to weed my own garden.

One item of contention led to an elder spiking my food with drugs (Rohypnol, the date rape drug), which knocked me out for 24 hours, and all 5 elders in the apartment, including my companion, refused to call an ambulance or take me to the hospital. It wasn't until years later that I found out Rohypnol was a "date rape drug", and wondered "how did a supposedly temple-worthy Mormon teenager know about that?"

In the mission country, no prescription was needed in order to buy any medicine sold at drug stores, so it was available to anyone who knew to ask for it by name.

The result of that was that I learned to never trust someone just because they are a member of the church. I couldn't even trust the mission president at that point, and probably should have bought my own ticket home then. From my point of view, it was an out-of-control mission. I decided to not report the incident to the president, but felt sure that it did get back to him. I didn't report it because I didn't trust him, but I also knew that if I started to talk about it, I'd go off the deep end, threatening law suits if he didn't send that elder home, etc. If I gave the president an ultimatum to send one of us home, he'd have just said "bye."

I contemplated gutting the other elder with a knife and strangling him with his own intestines, and decided it wouldn't be shedding innocent blood. But I also decided I didn't want to spend time in an Ecuadorian jail while I tried to prove it was self-defense. I just decided to "let the Lord handle it" and prayed that that elder would pay (SUFFER!) for it.

But that was a major point of my down-hill slide. Once I started hating missionaries, not trusting the mission president, resenting Monson for what he said, I was a goner. The Atonement lost it's effect in me because I wouldn't let the Atonement pay for the other missionaries' transgressions.

I tried to stay active after I got back, but I sort of knew that I wouldn't stay in the church. So I kept sliding downhill, with the Spirit withdrawing more and more. I became overly sensitive to the small ordinary every-day offenses. Every little thing wrong that others did was magnified because I stopped repenting of my own sins (mote and beam thing). Until one Sunday I woke up and decided I didn't want to be around "those people" any more.

And I completely justified everything in my mind. All my problems were the fault of the other elders, of the mission president, of Elder Monson misrepresenting missionary requirements, of morbidly obese single women who hounded me when I got back. There's an excuse for leaving the church: too many crazy fat women!

But I honestly wouldn't have applied for a mission had I known the true nature of the average missionary, or of the bottom 1/4th of missionaries. I never associated with those kinds of people (frivolous, arrogant, selfish, snotty punks and hypocrites) before I joined the church, and I resented having to live with them for 2 years, when Monson made it sound like those kinds of people would never be called on a mission.

In 1999, after a visit to my parents, I saw a negative trait in my father, and realized I had that same trait. Then it dawned on me "why everyone hated me." I inherited or picked up some personality and emotional problems from my father. I had turned into him, after swearing I wasn't going to grow up to be like him.

In a way, it was liberating because having realized what my emotional/psych problems were I knew that they could then be worked on, but by then I didn't want to change.

By 2002, I sank to the point where Section 19 kicked in, especially verse 20. And when that happened, it finally dawned on me that my transgressions were greater than those who transgressed against me, and that I had lost my excuses.

When the Lord withdraws "his spirit", meaning the Light of Christ, that's when the buffetings of Satan come into play. That is, literally, Hell. What a wake-up call. I had forgotten the section number, but the verses came vividly to mind.

It took several months after attending church before I figured out how to forgive others, but I knew that I had to.

Then as I processed forgiving others in my mind and accepted the Atonement as payment for all the past offenses and things that caused me flashbacks, from the Rohypnol elder to an unrighteously dominating Branch President bully in the MTC, a marvelous thing occurred.

As I forgave each person who offended me, I stopped having flashbacks on that event. I started getting calmer, and even my friends noticed the difference.

A key in all this was the "burned in" testimony, my anchor, my pearl of great price. I somehow knew there had to be a gospel solution to it all, and that God couldn't have set me up to fail.

And that's the missing key in the lives of a lot of apostates. They either never had a testimony, or they want to keep on blaming others for their own problems.

Sorry this got kind of long.
This is very heavy. It's tragic that such things should happen to a missionary. I truly hope that the raised bar for missionary service will reduce the presence of problem missionaries that make life painful for others. But the more important lessons, for me anyway, are the importance of forgiveness. "Once I started hating missionaries, not trusting the mission president, resenting Monson for what he said, I was a goner. The Atonement lost it's effect in me because I wouldn't let the Atonement pay for the other missionaries' transgressions." How true this is! And we can also ponder these words: "I sank to the point where Section 19 kicked in, especially verse 20. And when that happened, it finally dawned on me that my transgressions were greater than those who transgressed against me, and that I had lost my excuses."

We have all lost our excuses. We must not let the sins of others stand between us and the Lord, though it's so easy for that to happen. I rejoice that "Books of Mormon in Indy" has broken out of the stranglehold of bitterness that our Adversary uses to hold us down. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the only hope for all of us. Welcome back!

15 comments:

Charles said...

I was particularly touched by the reminder that we not only need to allow the atonement to work in our lives but that we also need to let it work in the lives of others.

Its a very human thing to hold onto our grudges and not trust others, but we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and pray the atonement will work on their sins and that they are repent of those actions, even the ones that offend us.

Its very difficult and another reason why the natural man is such an obstacle.

Rick said...

Jesus spoke of the relationship between apostasy and offense in the parable of the sower. Matt 13:

[20] But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
[21] Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Note the ordering: shallow testimony, tribulation, then offense - just as happened in this story. Note, too, that by working on his testimony, the offense he felt itself melted away.

Bookslinger said...

Rick,
Correctomundo. Pres Hinckley once said something like "One of the biggest problems in the church is lack of _depth_ of conversion." (Emphasis mine.) I think that applied to me.

Oh I had a testimony all right, not just a burning in the bosom, but the burning all over, your bones feel like they are melting, and pure intelligence flowing into you, kind.

But I didn't understand the difference between testimony and conversion. They are two separate processes. Even Satan has a testimony of who the Father and the Son are.

My conversion was shallow, (along with other problems).

Now I try to look on the bright side. I figure I'm in the company of famous men; Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Thomas B. Marsh. :-)

Anonymous said...

Brother BOM in Indy, it's so kind of you to share your experiences. I hope my kids will do all they can to be kind to their future missionary companions and others throughout their lives.

Thanks for your courage to reconsider and come back. You're awesome!

Bookslinger said...

I didn't tell all the events, nor everything about why I left, why I came back, and the surrounding cirumstances.

I wonder, suppose in future retellings of my story, if I fill in a little more here and there, and leave out some of the less important things and emphasize different aspects, someone will accuse me of lieing because I gave somewhat differing accounts and didn't mention every aspect in every telling of the story?

I completely left out my teenage experiences with other churches which eventually led me to joining the LDS church.

Or am I just giving myself airs? :-)

Bro. Brandon B. said...

BOM Indy -
I just want to thank you for sharing your experiences with us all! If you go ahead with getting rebaptized this whole experience sounds like prime material to be put in a confrence talk! :) ...wish I could be your home teacher, but I also wish you the very best from PA!

ruthiechan said...

BOM Indy, I hope that you write a detailed account of everything you've gone through.

It would be wonderful for your progeny to read. :)

Anonymous said...

Charles is such a special guy.

A Sister in Indy said...

Very touching! Thanks for sharing.

Todd Jumper said...

Read it. Returning to the Lord, brings back the spirit. Not church, well church brings back old feelings, friends etc. But it was returning to the Lord that healed me, and he never lost the gift of the holy ghost, never lost the Light of Christ - that is impossible. He only believed he did because they tell you that you do.

It's interesting that when someone leaves the church because they no longer believe its true, yet they believe because they left it they lost their blessings, holy ghost, intuition. That makes no freaking sense. It is a residual side effect of brain washing and guilt.

They toss the good beliefs but hold onto to the negative ones. If you are going to leave, drop all the baggage and find the spirit in yourself. You do not need any man to give it to you, nor your name on any records.

Then when something in life goes wrong, that brainwashing is still in effect, guilt sits in and they believe they must return to the "structure" in order to right everything.

Bookslinger said...

Todd,
I guess I'm one of the odd ones, because I never stopped believing/knowing that the church was true when I left. I lost a lot of faith, things that I took on faith. I started to "unlearn" a lot of things I believed.
But what what I knew due to a burned-in testimony, I couldn't "unknow".

The basic reasons I left were:

1) I strongly hated some people who hurt and seriously offended me, and was just plain ticked off at many more.

2) I felt that certain members of the church "ruined my life."

3) And the "bottom line" is: I sinned and didn't want to repent. Which is the _real_ reason, both for me, and for most people who go inactive and/or leave.

But I never stopped knowing that 1) the Book of Mormon was true, 2) Joseph Smith was a real prophet, 3) the modern organization of the LDS church was still God's only official church.

Perhaps I thought God didn't want me in his church because I wasn't good enough, and therefore he allowed all those bad things to happen. I often thought that God set me up to fail. It didn't occur to me that if I just repented of my sins, then I could "get over" all the offenses and hurts.

And, I honestly didn't know that the Atonement could heal and "pay for" the wounds of the victims. I had thought it only applied to sinners and the perpetrators, not the victims.

Now throw into that mix some childhood emotional abuse, my own inability to get along with others, and my lack of people skills. It's no wonder that I had to be completely torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.

Although the offenses and assaults (physical, emotional and spritual) were the surface level reasons why I left, I also had deep internal problems which left me unable to deal with the surface problems.

I imagine some of my former fellow missionaries reading my story, and piping up that I wasn't the perfect elder either, and was difficult to get along with. They would be right. I've given enough information so that those who knew me will know who I am. If any read this, I'm sorry.

Looking back, they were putting up with me as much as I was putting up with them.

As for brainwashing, I was a member only 2 years before I went on a mission. Not much time for brainwashing.

Most of the 19 year old "lifers" at the MTC didn't know bupkus about the gospel themselves. I remember thinking "What church did they grow up in?" because they didn't act like any members that I knew.

I honestly thought you "had to" have a testimony before you could go to the temple and go on a mission. I misunderstood. Yeah, you should have a testimony, but it was not an absolute requirement. I didn't know that 19 year olds were sent on missions in order to get a testimony.

Elder Monson used the word "must" instead of "should", and that threw me off. I didn't know that in reality that that requirement was not enforced.

It wasn't until years later that I realized I didn't know any teens in the church in my first two years. I had only associated with adults (age 23+). I only met one guy who had just returned from a mission. All the other guys in the Elders Quorum had been back for years, or had not gone on missions.

And the missionaries I had associated with in my first 2 years in the church were always "on duty". I didn't know they acted completely differently behind the backs of investigators and members or when "off duty." It's good for elders to be on their good behavior when around investigators and members. But I didn't realize it was just an act for about 20% to 40% of them.

One of the things I developed early on in the church (actually it started when I was 14, but that's another loooong and interesting story) was an "Internal Holy Ghost Meter". I could tell when I had the influence of the Spirit, and kind of to what degree.

I knew pretty much who/what the Holy Ghost was and what he did before I even investigated the church. That's why I recognized the Holy Ghost's "voice" telling me the Book of Mormon was true.

Even before the missionaries and Sunday School teachers taught me about the Holy Ghost, I already knew and had felt his four purposes, 1) testifier of the Father and Son, 2) revelator, 3) comforter, and 4) sanctifier. I probably didn't use those exact words, I knew just on a gut feeling level.

So when I did hear those words to describe the Holy Ghost, and heard things like being "burned clean", I knew what they were talking about.

Page 38 of Gospel Principles (page 35 back then), describes, in part, my experience with the Holy Ghost.

The closeness of the Holy Ghost is not like an on/off switch. His influence is in degrees of strength, clarity and closeness. It's a scale, not black and white. We cannot "turn off and on" the Holy Ghost at will as some people try to, or pretend to.

I remember three points in my mission when the Holy Ghost told me to do different things and I refused. That third time was the last straw, and I completely lost the Spirit from that point on. I was on my own after that.

Up until that point my companions and I had some marvelous experiences such as being given, by revelation, a couple addresses to go to, and one resulted in 2 baptisms. One time a companion and I were told by the Spirit we were going to teach a nun. We saw nuns on the streets in the next two weeks, but they didn't want to hear our message. But one day, the Spirit told both of us that the nun across the street was her. I said "That's our nun!" and my comp said "Yeah, I know." We went up to her, and as soon as we said "Buenos Dias", she said, in perfect English, something like "I've been looking for you guys, I've got some questions."

Losing the Holy Ghost is a cold, isolated and depressing feeling, just the opposite of the warmth, companionship and uplifting feelings of when you have communion with him.

To clarify what I wrote earlier, I only lost the Light of Christ for about 30 seconds at a time, up to few times a day, over a period of 2 weeks. And that didn't happen until I had been inactive for 15 years (11 years after name removal) and was "ripe in sin."

Over those 15 years I still occasionally got messages from the Spirit such as "You can come back any time you want." Then in 1999, after I realized some of my major problems (it was a real epiphany), the Spirit started to say "It's time to come back."

Then in early 2002 the Spirit started to say "It's past time to come back."

Those 30 second events were the removal of "something" and were far more powerful and worse than losing the Holy Ghost. It was utter terror, worse than a panic or anxiety attack. I knew taking a pill wouldn't fix it. I knew that even suicide wouldn't fix it because it was a spiritual thing.

That's when the "taste of hell" of Section 19 came to mind. Some of the words of Mormon came to mind about "the spirit that inhabits your body at the time of death will be with you for eternity".

If those 30 second experiences were a "taste of hell", then people will definitely repent in hell, but it will be too late. Yes, people will repent (confess, feel sorrow, try to make restitution, etc) in hell, but they will also suffer the pangs of hell, and not come out until the uttermost farthing is paid.

Those 30 second experiences made me think that the shame and humiliation of a gut-wrenching confession-session (actually, it was going to take several) with a bishop was going to be easy in comparison.

Those 30 second experiences made me think that confessing to a caring bishop in private would be much easier than having my sins "shouted from the rooftops" as the scriptures describe. (Read the rooftop thing from the Bible way before I ever heard of the Book of Mormon.)

Those 30 second experiences made the scriptural promises of what happens to the non-repentant come alive.

Those 30 second experiences gave me a "bright recollection of my guilt" which caused me to know "the judgements of God are just."

Yes, the confession, restitution etc, of repentance can be painful and costly, but, dang it, it's cheap compared to the alternative of not repenting!

I never believed that the structure or outward trappings of the church or the physical participation in the church brings any forgiveness or salvation. I knew it had to be an internal thing. The church is a framework, or scaffolding, for building the inner man. But at the same time, once you know it's God's only official and authorized church, you can't reject the outward organization and claim to have inner communion with the divine.

This church (the whole program, the gospel, not just the physical buildings) is where we have to be to do our part in working out our salvation and come to the Lord and lay claim to his Atonement.

Stephen said...

In Hebrews, it is interesting how the warning (in all the talk about tribulation) is against letting bitterness spring up.

Once I lost the Spirit from being in a constant state of being offended, I turned bitter

Thanks for the sharing.

Anonymous said...

When one fully understands and applies the Great Gift of The Atonement then one is on the way back Home...where we belong. Of course we all know it does not stop there, much work needs to be done but at least we are on the right path. And...Father WILL permit challenges and trials to His children and the strongest may fall but they need to stand up and continue walking back Home. I will never settle for anything less then the Celestial kingdom and I know ALL the work, the pain, the tears, the heartaches it involves BUT I also know ALL the GREAT BLESSINGS for those who endure to the end. This time on earth is but only a moment in time...

AlexG said...

BOM Indy, what was the talk of Elder Monson that you refer to? I have searched the Ensign for May and November of 1983, specifically looking for Thomas S. Monson's addresses but I can not find it. Would you be so kind as to indicate the title of it?

AlexG

Bookslinger said...

AG:
I've looked for it too, and couldn't find it. I definitely remember seeing it on the big screen at the chapel, but it may not have been a conference talk. It may have been some other kind of broadcast.

Also, his remarks that I remembered could have been ad-lib, and therefore would not be in the Ensign, or on-line, because those versions reflect the prepared talk, not the actual words spoken on the air.