“You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.” ~ Mary Oliver
For most of my life, instead of looking forward and staying on my own path, I’ve looked at others and what they are doing on theirs.
Find my path?
I didn’t even understand what “finding my own path” meant.
I’d been told, “The gate is small and the road narrow, and few find it,” implying that my childhood religion, Christianity, was the one and only road.
I stayed on that road.
But I felt like an outsider, precariously teetering on the edge at times. I felt dissatisfied. I had questions. I felt disconnected from family and peers who still believed, while I was still conflicted.
When I was 18, I thought I found my answer in Mormonism.
Church members graciously accepted me into their homes, telling me things I wanted to hear:
I could be with my family forever.
I wouldn’t go to hell.
God loved me.
It sounded perfect—but I slowly learned that “perfection” is an illusion.
I learn this as I progressed deeper into the church. The doctrine started to disturb me, but the members reassured me that I was learning “line upon line” and “precept upon precept.”
I thought that the cognitive bias was because I didn’t really understand what was being taught. I felt unworthy because of my non-understanding. After all, everyone else “got it.”
So a terribly harmful cycle started…
I pushed harder and harder, thinking that the more I gave myself to the Church, the more I would “get it.” But the harder I pushed, the more I crossed the personal line of what was acceptable and what wasn’t, the more I became a stranger to myself.
Instead of the talkative, inquisitive person I used to be, I was a quiet shell of submissive obedience. My inner wild had been tamed.
That was until my world turned upside down.
I was 28. My then husband was on deployment in Afghanistan and I had just had our 4th child. My days were filled with caring for our kids and battling the grey monster of postpartum depression.
The church kept asking me to serve, but I didn’t have it in me. I could barely take care of myself and my kids. I told my leaders this, but they refused my truthful narrative of exhaustion.
All of the questions I’d held inside for years flooded out. I began researching and reflecting with safe people. And piece by piece the faith that I held fell away.
To call the loss of my Mormon belief painful is an understatement. I lost part of my identity—the part that I thought was “the answer.”
My husband and I formally left the church when he returned from deployment. Initially, we went toward Christianity, but I still didn’t feel resolved. So this time, instead of pushing myself into a box I didn’t fit in, I did something different.
I asked questions.
And I remained open to where the answers led me.
I felt lost, but in that lostness I found my own path. The answers were hard. They were outside the realm of anything I’d considered before.
What I finally came to understand for myself, and sometimes let go of, is this:
>> Take personal responsibility: I gave up the idea of Satan (as well as the concept of Hell) as a scapegoat for misdeeds, and took personal responsibility for my mistakes and their implications on those around me.
>> Love: I started seeing all humankind as equals to myself. Through this transformation, I was able to truly love another as myself.
Or better stated: love myself as much as I love others.
>> Animal rights: I started to understand the sapience and empathy that exists throughout the animal kingdom which drives me to be an increasingly more conscious consumer of animal products.
>> Environmentalism: I learned to be a steward to the Earth. To understand that my impact upon her surface will affect those around me and many generations beyond my death.
>> Uncertainty: I learned to embrace it, stay curious, and be okay with not having all the answers.
>> Presence: I’m still learning to embrace the now and not to worry about the past nor the future, but rather treat each present moment like it’s sacred.
Most of all I learned this:
This is contrary to everything I’d ever been taught I thought that if I wasn’t on the one path, then I must be wrong and need repent
But the lesson of the “one true path” was bullsh*t.
Finding my own path is so much sweeter.
Author: Lindsay Lock
Image: Author’s own; @elephantjournal on Instagram
Apprentice Editor: Becca Close; Editor: Caitlin Oriel