Removing cages

I have wanted to write more about my wrestle with my faith, but it feels very vulnerable.  I am going to try to do that today and I hope, as readers, you will remember my post about the wound that is still healing.  I am in the middle of healing this wound, maybe even at the beginning of that process, so I trust you will be kind and stay open as you read.  The thought that made me feel able to write about this today was one I heard from Glennon Doyle, “My only job is to let other’s see me learning.”  That is what I’ll try to show today. 

I have spent my life, to this point, more or less immersed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I have liked most things about this.  It gave me a good set of values and beliefs that helped me through my youth.  It gave me an identity.  It gave me a place to make friends.  It connected me with people in my community who needed help and a way to know how to help them.  It gave me a pattern for connecting with God and it gave me lots of truth.  There has been a lot of good.

My struggle began when I started removing the cages I’ve put around myself.  The first to go was the cage of my marriage.  My decision to end my marriage really originated from the tiniest flicker of reconnection with God.  At first I didn’t notice the distance I had put between myself and God.  It happened slowly over years.  I created that distance because I believed God expected me to stay in my marriage.  And my marriage situation made my happiness almost impossible.  So I slowly backed away from God, not in my actions, but in my heart.   About two years ago, I got a glimpse of God’s love for me.  I think it was related to having a child and realizing how much I loved him.  I don’t remember a specific experience but a crack started to form in the 6-foot-thick, stone, battery wall I had placed around my heart, and the light started to seep in.

I realized that God loved me and he wanted me to be happy.  I felt the truth of this deep in my core.  It was the knowing. It was the still, small voice.  It has become the foundation for me.  I separated from my husband.  I began to explore what it meant to be me.  I spent the first year of our separation being extremely busy.  I served as a counselor in the Relief Society presidency (an organization for women within the LDS church), which gave me lots of opportunities to serve.  I really learned how to serve others during this time.  To love others without scarcity, which is how God loves us.  It was a gift to me. I needed the constant motion in my life.  I built confidence in my ability to love others and formed amazing connections with friends. 

Then last Spring, I hit the wall. I could no longer sustain the motion.  It was at this time I was asked to serve as Relief Society president.  I knew I couldn’t.  I felt that it would bury me.  What I needed was rest and time and space to understand the other parts of myself.  So, for the first time in my life, I said no to a church calling.  And I knew it was right.  It was around this time, I suspended most of my extracurricular activities and started to focus on writing.  I wrote only for myself for about six months.  It was the single, most-therapeutic practice I’ve ever done.  It allowed me to start to be honest with myself.  This is when I first recognized the cages. 

The second cage that I removed was, what I thought were, my family’s expectations.  I spent a lot of energy worrying about what my actions would do to them.  How would they feel if they knew what was really inside me?  Slowly I began to let them know what I was thinking about myself, the church, God—really everything. I started to integrate my actual self with the self I show them. My experience has been incredibly sweet and humbling.  As I’ve shown the things about myself that I thought would be unbearable to behold, I’ve been met with unconditional love.  This is a gift that I still struggle to feel worthy of some days.  So I realized the second cage didn’t really exist anywhere but in my mind (and that’s probably true for all cages). 

The third cage I removed was religion.  I choose the word “religion” carefully.  I am still attending church.  I like the community there.  I know these people and love them and I am blessed to be in an incredibly accepting congregation.  I get a lot of strength from associating with women who have been through what I’ve been through and am GOING through.  Some weeks, going to church is really difficult.  It stirs up a lot of shoulds and should nots.  There are things I’m doing and not doing that are outside of the orthodox-Mormon template.  I spend time intentionally teasing out and questioning those shoulds—keeping the ideas that serve me and letting go of the ones that don’t. 

As I have done this, something has happened.  I have found peace and quiet.  I am able to quiet, what before was constant chatter in my mind.  I have had to learn to trust my connection with God.  It has been so difficult, I think, because the Mormon faith can be so prescriptive and I have relied on that prescription for most of my life.  There are answers for most of life’s predicaments in the word.  So my connection to God has become even more important at this point in my life.  I have started to realize that trusting him means trusting myself. Trusting that, if he created me, and he is perfect, then I have some of that perfection inside of me and my job is to find it and listen to it.  That is the knowing.

So I am trying to tease out the rest—what I will keep and what I won’t.  I am not sure where this leads.  I don’t put this out into the world to say that I’m doing it right.  I honestly wonder what I’m doing on regular basis.  I’m struggling with Christianity, with the idea that Christ actually needed to atone for our sins.  That’s how deeply shattered my foundation is!  Several days ago, I was reading and thinking about Christ.  I didn’t come to any great conversion or insight, so I went ahead and made breakfast.  Then, standing in the kitchen, I heard the knowing and it said, “Even though it feels like you are father away, you are actually closer than you’ve ever been.”  Thank you, God.  If that is true, then I can keep going. 

I’ll keep moving toward understanding love, discerning truth and honoring myself and that can’t be a bad thing. Namaste.

8 thoughts on “Removing cages

  1. Cassidy says:

    Thank you for sharing and showing yourself in your “learning”. It is real and beautiful and brave and powerful. ❤️

  2. Jodie says:

    I really related to your thoughts on “the cages that exist in our minds.” I have experienced this in my own life. I also have been on a journey of finding more of the ‘why’ in my spiritual life. I’ve always been afraid to question, but I now believe that questioning, when done with sincerity, honesty and love for God, has brought me closer to him and deepened my conversion. Wherever this “wrestling with your faith” leads you, I hope it brings peace and comfort to your life. I really enjoy learning from you Michelle. Thank you for sharing even when it feels scary. Love you! Jodie

    • Michelle Whipple says:

      Jodie, thank you for commenting. We all have to go through this, I think. I’m glad I’m not alone. Thank you for the encouragement. Love you!

  3. Eddie says:

    I felt at one point in my life the cracks in my foundation were so deep, it all had to be ripped up. I had to relearn and unlearn many things. I still have to tear things away, rebuild, examine. It doesn’t end. I’ve built Walls, windows, basements. They were needed and the right thing at the time. But when I’ve gone back to remodel, sometimes they are not right any more, so my house changes. Right now is sooo important for you. You’ve had to RIP up and gut so many things. You’ve become as a little child again. And so, of course you are close to God because he is especially close to his little children. And that is my rambling for the evening….

    • Michelle Whipple says:

      Tears. I love you, Eddie. You are wise soul. I will keep working on my structure. Thank you for sharing a part of your journey with me. xo

  4. maggierapid says:

    It is so moving to read about your family’s unconditional love. Your parents are so gifted at loving, showing their love, making others feel special, etc., etc. I’m sure watching you go through any struggle is difficult for them, but they are showing their true, loving colors. This is so inspiring to me.
    And I love that you are feeling close to God. Vulnerability helps that along, I believe. You are a wonder! Keep writing!

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