Hello, I am a long time lurker on this blog, I would say probably since about half a year after I chose to leave the LLC. As I have broken my foot and have three weeks left of healing time, I figure it’s about time to share my story. Whether this is posted or not, it has been very cathartic to type my story down, to realize and remember why I chose to leave, and to think about what I have to look forward to in the future.
Both of my parents were born into Laestadianism, as were their parents and their parents before them. As both of my grandfathers were prominent ministers in the LLC, discussions of the church were common in the home and faith was always an integral part of life. When I was small, I remember enjoying going to church, and have fond memories of my parents and of being in a large family.
When I was almost six, my grandfather molested me when my mom and grandma were away shopping. He cried afterward and was angry and told me never to tell anyone or else I would go to hell. He died a year later, and I did not tell anyone, first for fear that what he told me would become true, and secondly that no one would believe me because he was a minister. When I grew older, I knew that what he did was wrong, but I did not want to hurt my mom. I didn’t and still do not want her to know that her father did that to me because she speaks of him fondly from time to time and I don’t want to ruin that bond she had with him.
I didn’t quite believe what I as being told.When I was about 12, I developed a large amount of anxiety about going to church, mostly because I was quite introverted and didn’t enjoy a large amount of social interaction, and partially because I didn’t quite believe what I as being told. I had a lot of questions with certain bible stories that no one could answer satisfactorily, and I found it hard to really TRULY believe my sins forgiven when it was preached. I figured there was something wrong with me and that if I just asked for a blessing every night before I went to bed that I would go to heaven, just in case I died in my sleep. From that time onward I dreaded going to church and would avoid it if possible.
I often felt that some believers were being so self-righteous (the very thing they say they are not!) that they said they believed without question all those bible stories which could not possibly be true word-for-word. At the same time, I also had self-righteous feelings, though I did not recognize it at the time. I would think: “Look, I am such a good believer that I don’t enjoy listening to country music on the bus” (I have since discovered I enjoy other “worldly music”). Or I would think “Look, I am such a good believer that I have no real friends at school” since my family and I were the only believers at our school. The thing was, I didn’t feel like I had any real friends at church either.
With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true.In high school I discovered that I loved science, and I rapidly devoured any scientific information that came my way, not realising this would cause me problems later on. As I continued to learn, it bothered me a little that my church did not agree with the most fundamental of scientific ideas. I decided to leave the church when I was 20. I saw what was ahead of me if I decided to stay. At some point I would get married, have a lot of children and settle into the same sort of life my mom has. I also had continued questions and no satisfactory answers from the church about science and I felt that I couldn’t commit to a life within the church and have these questions at the same time. I knew I could never be happy if I did so. I felt that my faith was dear to me, but I couldn’t reconcile how evolution and facts about astronomy, the beginning of Earth which have no other reasonable explanation could be true in regards to my Laestadian faith. My parents and siblings had left for a trip to summer services, but I stayed behind because I had to work that whole week (never mind that I had purposely not gotten the time off because I didn’t wish to go and my parents would have never taken that as a suitable reason). I decided to solve this problem once and for all and spent the week reading all of the LLC literature in my parents’ house and reading about science. With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true. When they came back, I told my parents with a feeling of numbness, “I am not a believer."
My grandma pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?”It felt like a hole had been physically ripped through my chest, and it ached for weeks. There was an immediate rush of phone calls, letters, emails and visits. My grandma called and pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?” and I couldn’t get her to understand that a person cannot force themselves to believe something, otherwise the person does not truly believe. You believe something or you do not, and whether you have doubts or not, there is no middle ground. I learned that though I thought I had no true friends in the church, I do have one. She is the only one who continues to stand by me, and though she is busy with her new family, she respects my decision and remains friends with me anyway.
On some level, I still feel guilty when I go to my parents’ house and they have company over and people say “God’s Peace” to everyone except me. I still feel left out, but it is no different than feeling left out as a teenager. Sometimes my mom will make comments about my nail polish or my recently dyed hair, but she doesn’t seem to realize that while these things are superficial, they make me feel free. It’s so freeing and amazing to be able to do things because I want to, to have friends from very different backgrounds but still have a deep connection, to learn and not worry about whether learning things will be detrimental to my faith. It’s freeing to know I am not required to spend my life having many children and taking care of them. I can have a relationship and know that I can still keep my career in science if that is what I wish to do. I have a lot of my life ahead of me and I am so grateful I chose to leave sooner than later.
I am glad I chose to leave at the stage in life when I was still attending university, because it was at a time in which I could make new friends. Friends from school have become closer to me, and while from time to time I feel like they don’t understand where I’m coming from, they are still there for me. For those who are considering leaving, I would say having a group of friends outside of the church is very important. It would have been more helpful for me if I had built my group of friends outside of church first before leaving. After leaving I had no support system and it was very hard at times.
Sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back.
I have heard many stories through the years about how “unbelieving” family members don’t come around anymore, and I understand why they don’t. Most of my extended family no longer talks to me, it seems to be a sad reality of leaving the faith. If cousins see me at my parents’ house, they avoid me, but I don’t blame them for it. I know how awkward it is for them, because it used to be very awkward for me when I was in the same situation. I have a mostly good relationship with my close family, and I’m glad for that as I have seen how many people who leave are shunned completely. Sometimes I wish I could tell my family how my grandfather molested me, but I do not wish to hurt them. Sometimes, the decision I’ve made regarding that bothers me, and sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back.
I don’t regret leaving the church, I only regret not leaving sooner, but I also feel I left at the time that was right for me. It wasn’t easy but I’m happy I did so.