It took ditching church to find out what I was missing. Let me set up some backstory.
I was sleeping in the guestroom; my wife and I had been fighting for months. My parents were on the verge of separating just as my maternal grandparents had done after 40 years of marriage.
I struggle with the looming question “Why was I miserable?” and “Why was the family I grew up in, that professed to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ falling apart while us the members were not happy but miserable?”
This sent me on a journey of questioning everything I had been taught and believed in.
As a family we read the scriptures every day without fail. We were ritualistic in our worship, Church meetings every Sunday, home teaching every month, Family night every Monday, family council every Sunday; we did everything that we were supposed to do. But I never felt joy in the home. I wasn’t happy.
Before this time I had never expected to be happy. Oh I knew that the Scriptures said, “Men are that they might have joy,” but I assumed that was after I had “endured to the end”. I was taught that enduring meant suffering as Christ did or like the Saints. Was Joseph Smith happy because he seemed to have had a miserable life, getting persecuted, tarred and feathered, and killed and all that? So who was I to expect happiness in this life?
With the disintegration of my family I wondered if the gospel was a pack of lies used to control and manipulate people. So one day I ditched church.
I went to the mall and sat down in the courtyard and people watched. The mall was filled with a ton of people all breaking the Sabbath Day like me. Then I noticed that they weren’t miserable, but seemed to be happy, smiling, as they were spending time with their families. Husbands and happy wives and children were playing, talking loving each other. What had I missed?
I longed to experience what I saw. I wished so badly that my wife and kids were with me and that we were enjoying each others company instead of in the middle of a marathon fight filled with contention and hurt feelings.
My religion called this journey the Plan of Happiness. And that the ultimate prize was living together forever. We claimed to have all the answers. But if I were being honest I never saw so many smiles at church as I did at the mall.
Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe living my religion was to suffer and be miserable in this life and then receive my reward in the next. Was I suffering and miserable because I was chosen? That is what I’d been taught. But the scriptures say something different.
In the Book of Mormon, 2nd Nephi Chapter 2 verse 25-27 it reads:
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
I looked back in my life and asked myself if I had ever truly been happy. I felt joy on my mission when I saw the atonement affect people’s lives. I felt joy when my children were born in witnessing the miracle of creation. I felt excitement and happiness when I wrote a song, a poem, or story. I felt some level of happiness when there was peace in my life and harmony and love. So what was I missing now? Harmony and family seem to be complete contradictions in my life.
Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables:
“The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one’s own sake–let us say rather, loved in spite of one’s self; this conviction the blind man possesses. To be served in distress is to be caressed. Does he lack anything? No. One does not lose the sight when one has love. And what love! A love wholly constituted of virtue! There is no blindness where there is certainty.
In plainer English, the answer to happiness is loving and being loved.
This answer was confirmed to me again in this latest general conference where Elder Andersen talked about dancing without hearing the music.
If our children learn the dance steps without learning to hear and to feel the beautiful music of the gospel, they will over time become uncomfortable with the dance and will either quit dancing or, almost as bad, keep dancing only because of the pressure they feel from others who are dancing around them.
Even though I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing, checking the boxes of righteous behavior, I wasn’t hearing the music. But why not?
In each of the cases where I felt joy and happiness, there were shadows of God. Each aspect involved God’s children. I felt joy in their service. I felt joy in showing and sharing God’s love for them. I felt happiness because I was about something more than myself. In the times that I was miserable I was selfish. I was worried about my own mansion in heaven. I was judgmental and envying and puffed up. I was proud and unforgiving.
What is the opposite of pride? Is it humility? I had considered myself humble and lonely, heck I was suffering through life remember?
In Moroni Chapter 7 it states:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Reading the Scriptures, saying our prayers, going to church and doing everything that we are supposed to do is all well and good but without charity are we not like those who professed to having done many things in Christ name to which he replied “I never knew you?”
Since that day that I ditched church I have reaffirmed my testimony in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have found it is true and that in living the Gospel there is joy, not only in the life hereafter but in this one, here, now.
And best of all I have found myself enjoying moments of peace and fun in love with my wife and children. I haven’t stopped dancing but now I can hear the music.