August 29-September 4
If you prefer to listen over reading an article, keep an eye on Autumn Dickson on YouTube or various podcast platforms. I post video and podcast versions of my blog posts on my Youtube channel and on the podcast platforms: Apple, Anchor, Breaker, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
Looking for a different week in the Come Follow Me program? Check out this link to find posts by week: https://autumndickson.com/category/come-follow-me/
If you’ve been raised in the church, you have been taught from a very young age that keeping the commandments brings peace. When you’re living a righteous life, you will still experience sorrow, but you will be spared from some of the sorrow that comes from unrighteous choices. You will likewise be spared the kind of sorrow that comes from deep guilt or separation from the Savior.
This concept is true. You will miss out on some of the potentially toxic problems that come with unwise and unrighteous choices. You also miss out on having a Savior who can walk you through your problems and give you hope for a brighter future. Trials hit differently when they hit with Christ at your side.
So why do former members find joy outside of the church?
I have always believed that this concept was true. Peace comes with keeping the commandments. So you can imagine my consternation when I had friends leaving the church who felt better once they were gone. It was easy for me to grasp the idea that there were people outside of the church who were happy, but it was much harder to swallow the fact that there were people who seemed happier once they had left it.
I think the most commonly-told explanation for this phenomenon is that our friends are simply finding joy in the world for a little while, but they will ultimately be miserable if they do not repent. We talk about how they’re experiencing temporary pleasure.
This explanation is true sometimes. There are people who are simply finding a little bit of fun with their newfound “freedom.” However, I actually think that sometimes this explanation does very little explaining and tends to just make us feel better for a little while. It’s scary to try and figure out why someone left. It’s scary to take their words at face value and believe them when they tell you they’re happier, better people. It’s scary because it makes you question what you’ve been taught. How can people be happier once they’ve left the church?
I can think of one person in particular in my life who really, really left the church behind. She is the one who kind of burst that bubble for me. I have never seen her more serene or whole or happy or healed. I am amazed at how much more content she is with herself, how she can take the words of others and let them roll down her back. She has centered her life on helping others who are similar to her, and that life of service looks good on her.
So how can this be? If the church holds the truth, how are people finding such joy after they left it?
I think we often do them (and us!) a disservice when we merely chalk it up to temporary, worldly pleasure. That was not the kind of happiness I saw in my friend. For a long time, I would tell myself those words so that I didn’t have to face the possibility of everything I’ve believed being untrue. However, there came a time when I realized that I couldn’t believe that explanation anymore. Perhaps it was true for some circumstances, but I couldn’t pretend that was always the case.
The time had come for me to further explore this phenomenon of people finding joy outside the church. After all, I had always claimed that I wanted to find truth; I could no longer keep telling myself that these people weren’t truly happy.
So instead of trying to swallow my doubts and cover up my questions with a bandaid, I did the actual logical thing and took my questions to the Savior.
I asked Him: Why are my friends happier and kinder people now that they’ve left the church?
My own journey to find happiness
I think I found the answer to my question when I actually started finding joy in being part of the church. I was born into the gospel, and I was raised in a home where I was taught the gospel daily. There was peace and joy that came into my life as I lived the gospel. I was close to my family. I had a safe space at home. I felt protected from some of the things my friends were experiencing in high school. I did love the gospel.
But there was also plenty of guilt and sorrow and shame that I felt from being a member of the church. I felt like I was constantly failing and frustrating a Savior who sacrificed everything for me. He had done so much for me; why couldn’t I do so little? There were plenty of feelings of discouragement and never being enough. There were plenty of times that I felt burdened down with everything I felt like I should be doing.
I had turned the commandments into an idol. I had placed all of my hopes for salvation on my ability to keep those commandments, and they had become empty. They had become worse than empty; they started to hold me down and away from the Savior because I could not see past them.
There are better ways to live the gospel.
1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
A relationship with Christ
What does it really mean to let your heart keep the commandments?
At one point in time, I might have answered that one needed to keep the commandments and always be happy about it. I might not have said it in so many words, but I was always trying to force myself to be positive and grateful. It was ineffective to say the least.
Rather, you have to start with Christ. You have to make Him part of each and every commandment and step. Rather than worshiping the commandments and holding onto them as your lifeline into the celestial kingdom, you allow the commandments to draw you closer to Christ so that He can be your lifeline into the celestial kingdom. That is the only way to truly find happiness in this church. It comes as you build your life upon the foundation of the Savior. As that happiness and peace come, you find the commandments naturally being written in your heart. Because of the joy that comes into your life as you draw closer to the Savior, you can’t help but love the commandments. It is through this process that you start to keep those commandments with your heart.
This is probably not the case for everyone, but I believe part of the reason people feel so relieved when they leave the church is because of the hyperfocus on commandments. By stepping away from the ill-created weight of commandment-keeping, they can actually draw closer to the Savior who never meant for us to carry all of that. By letting go of that guilt, they healed in the way the Savior had always wanted them to.
Do I still believe that the church holds the restored gospel? Yes.
Do I believe that living the restored gospel incorrectly can actually have the opposite effect it’s supposed to? Yes.
I share these ideas not to insinuate that it’s fine to leave the church because some people are happier that way. I share these ideas so that we can do better with the next generation. We have to do better with the next generation. We have to teach them that the gospel and happiness and peace and blessings come from Christ; everything else is just an appendage that is meant to point us to Him.
We have to teach them that the commandments, church programs, standards, and systems are all empty without the Savior as part of the equation. I love how my life has changed since I centered my life on Him in comparison to centering my life on my ability to keep the commandments.
Teach the next generation (and yourself!) the commandments, but teach them that the joy comes from the Savior. It is in that principle that the next generation will find the commandments in their hearts.