There might not be a place for you in the church: And that’s a good thing

If you know me at all–whether it’s just through my blog or whether you’re one of my co-workers or even my best friend back in Idaho–you know how I feel about fitting in. Scratch that. I simply don’t fit in. And chances are, neither do you. If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you know very well that I’m an advocate for the black sheep. And often times, the black sheep can even wear the white wool. Believe me.

Over the course of keeping this blog I’ve had the honor of meeting so many kinds of people. People who homeschool their children and can peaches on Sunday. People who struggle with mental illness. People who have had everyone in their family die and who literally live alone and have no one to call. People who were raised in Utah and long to break out. People who run businesses and people who never graduated high school. People who have never missed a single Sacrament meeting or church activity and people who don’t own a single tie. People who struggle with autism, depression, anxiety, or shame. People. All kinds.

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And a common thread is simply: There is no place for me. Some of these people feel like the black sheep who will never fit in and some people feel like the white sheep that blends in all too well, meandering through life unnoticed and often unwanted. Just one out of a million look-a-likes.

But no matter what these people define it as, I’ve realized–more and more actually–as I read through these letters and comments and get blessed with the opportunity to meet some of the thousands of people who are united through faith or even struggle, that maybe there really isn’t a place for you. Or me, for that matter. But that is actually a good thing.

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We’re all called instead to create our own place. The church of Christ has nooks and crannies, mountains and ravines, places behind the pulpit and places inside of quiet walls; places in the dusty roads of South Africa and in group homes and orphanages across the street; places where some sing loud and places where some can’t sing at all. Places where money isn’t an issue and places where Pasta-roni is a gourmet meal. Places—created by you and me—that make up this church.

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I’m thinking about this a lot today mainly because I had the opportunity to go along with the missionaries in my church and visit a mother and her little girl today at their home. The whole time we were talking about the reason she fell away from the church, she kept shaking her head and saying, “I didn’t belong. There just wasn’t a place.” And then she followed up with, “But I still believe.”

When she said that I didn’t feel a need to preach to her about why she does belong. I could have easily whipped out a couple scriptures, told her to not care about what others say or judge you by and just get back to church. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt a connection to her because I too have felt the longing of just wanting to have a place. And then I realized–slowly, but surely–that we’re called to make our own.

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Sometimes we don’t realize it, but there isn’t one of us who hasn’t made our own niche in some way. So why are we so quick to judge those who dwell in a different kind of corner of the gospel? Make your own place–because chances are, you’ll need to let someone in to it and let them know they can share that spot.

Bonnie D. Parkin, a former Relief Society president in my church once said, “We cannot change nor take away the burdens of others, but we can include and belong to each other in love.” 

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And how true it is. That’s the beauty of it when you really think about it. So many of us, from all different walks of life and with all different dreams and pasts and ambitions, are children of the same perfect Father in Heaven. And that didn’t happen by accident.

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Through my writing I feel like I’ve been able to welcome some people into my corner who were searching for a place to be. And through whatever you do–whether it’s through your artwork or your cooking or your ambitious heart or your knack for listening–you can etch out a niche too. A perfect niche in a perfect gospel.

Because we’re all welcome here. It’s just up to each of us to decide where we’ll settle in.

 

97 thoughts on “There might not be a place for you in the church: And that’s a good thing

  1. Per usual, thank you for always writing carefully and beautifully.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a difficult place to ‘belong’. Whenever I struggle, I’ve always had someone say, “The church needs YOU, not who the culture of the church wants you to be.”

    Although those words are sometimes comforting, it doesn’t always make you feel better. It doesn’t make it easier to be the girl that’s different. It doesn’t find you friends, and it certainly doesn’t help you see yourself differently (Because let’s be honest, no Dove or American Eagle campaign will ever TRULY make a woman love her body, either). It doesn’t take away the hurtful things that have been said to you.

    What our sect of faith needs is a reminder that the only thing we need to be alike in is our faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us. It doesn’t matter if we’re LDS, Methodist, Catholic or anything else–none of these is better than another.

    So often we hear leaders and members of the church warn converts, “The biggest reason that anyone leaves the church is because they get offended.” The blame needs to shift. Our members need to be more cautious of the things we say and do that hurt others.

    Thanks for always being a little bit of sunshine, Miss Lemmon. I’m so thankful I found you and your blog. 🙂

  2. Wow, finally someone who articulates what I think and feel. I have a son who has never been accepted by members even the Elders on his mission as well as his Mission presidents because of his social phobias, anxiety, and OCD. He is 27 now, no one ever checks on him other than his family with whom he lives with. He does not attend but believes. We are in a new ward now for 5 months, the Elders Quorum doesn’t even know he exists I guess. A very lonely guy that is loved dearly by his family.

  3. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! Darn straight, you hit it on the head. So many of us feel so different and alone. If that is the case, then don’t we have THAT in common?? Does that mean that we have more in common than we even realize? Why is this human thing so hard??!!!??!!!!!!!

    But I completely understand. I moved so many times growing up and always was envious of others who had lived somewhere their whole life and just seemed to belong…where I always felt like the outsider. As an adult, I have still yet to find “where I belong”. I pretty much just gave up and decided to just “not belong”. I am sure I can still be happy and live this way, right? And maybe, just maybe, I AM “belonging” and I don’t even know it!!

    Sigh. It’s a good thing I didn’t write this post. You did it so much better than I could… hehe. Thanks!!! And many blessing to your lovely self ❤

  4. Excellent blog entry. I’ve been in so many groups–church-related and non–where every single person feels she doesn’t fit in. I agree that perhaps we don’t need to fit in as much as create our own niche and realize that, in itself, is valuable. The greatest compliment I ever received was from a stake Young Women’s president who said, “We never quite know what Kaarin is going to do, but we’re never worried about her girls.” 🙂

  5. I really like your essay. It rang true to me. I want to follow your blog but I see no place to subscribe. Thanks for being such a great writer and believer.

  6. Thank you again for this wonderful timely post. I too feel like I don’t fit in to our church, and I’ve been a member my whole life! But the one thing that does comfort me is to find the good and also the fact that we are all united in our faith in Jesus Christ. That’s all that matters in the end.

  7. You are a very gifted writer. I love your style and the way you have with words. Thanks for provoking some thoughtful conversations. While I am no longer a member of the mormon tribe, I did fit in for the most part while growing up. When I moved more to the progressive end of life, I became less and less connected to the tribe. I used to believe my thoughts that I should stay because the church “needed” people like me…. but that simply was a narcissistic perspective and led to lots of bloody forheads by the constant beating of my (symbolic) head against the organizational aims. I will say that I have found a much more progressive community which truly does welcome others who are very diverse from the norm. I never truly knew what a welcoming community was like until I started participating with the Unitarian Universalists who are truly a welcoming community. So while I can appreciate your message of inclusion through encouraging those who don’t fit the mold to create their own niches, I don’t find much support for that in a franchise which creates homogeneity of dress, thought, action…. etc… difference is the spice of life… and somehow I think you really get that…. but encouraging people to create their own space within a very authoritarian structure is no easy process… nor frankly welcome very often in my experience. But I thank you nonetheless… your thoughts are a breath of fresh air.

  8. I was lead to this blog via a Facebook posting from my cousin – active member of this church and mother to a young gay man. Myself? A member of this church and mother to a drug addict. We live in California. We spent time living in Utah, attended university there and fondly speak of the culture of the church. My grown daughter married an active member if the church – how could it be? – from our hometown in California. We share funny Mormon You tube videos because – well, we can laugh at ourselves. And therein lay the key, the culture is very different than the Gospel. The greatest thing I have come to witness as our members faces have changed color and our dialect not so ” valley” is the wealth of humanness and shared pains, struggles and joys our walls now experience.y husband and I did not hide when our son became an addict and was living on the street. We accepted callings as ARP facillitators in our Stake and have been doing so for the last 4 years. Our group is not limited to ” members” . We have active, participating “nonmembers” that meet together weekly to share, uplift, learn, and strengthen. Our only glue is the Saving Grace ( to our neighbors ) , the Atonement ( to the Mormons) of Christ to heal the broken hearted. And this is all done within the walls of the local church house There are swear words, there are tears, there are heart wrenching torments, there are soul stripping and humiliating but humble revelations, there are prayers uttered by lips that have never prayed. This is not a homogenous group. But it is a group of brothers and sisters that took a difficult step forward to want to make a change. Do they feel they belong? To us they do and in turn, to their Heavenly Father and that us what my gospel is about.

  9. To one of my dearest friends in the world. Thank you. I truly appreciate this message, and I love to see how much your testimony has grown over these years. Thank you so much for always being a strength to so many who need that extra push, the extra smile and the extra encouragement.

    I totally hear you. I’ve been a member of the church my entire life. Some people say that being from Utah, it makes it easy to be LDS, but I know that I have had to forge my own testimony, especially through moments of isolation and sorrow. Looking back at my life, I know I haven’t always fit in. Even amongst many wards I’ve felt like a black sheep. The single shy and klutzy guy who wants to help heal the world, but can’t for the life of himself be seen or heard, (or much less talk to girls as you definitely know. Haha). I know that for me it’s been a crazy and difficult road, and sometimes hard to feel like I fit in, but I look back and see how much Heavenly Father has blessed me, and the potential that he blesses me with. I think then it’s when I realize that I fit in. We’re all unique piece of His puzzle. Each of us fits in a different way, but we are all special and have different gifts that He needs. I may not be a part of every group, but it is comforting to know that He needs each of us. If I am invisible, it’s OK. I just look at it as being able to sneak in and serve without people knowing. I prefer it that way to be honest. For me knowing that I can change a life, even just one makes that worth it and I don’t look back at all with regrets.

    One of my favorite scriptures is in Ether 12:27 when it mentions that “I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” For me I guess I just look at those moments of inadequacy, of feeling lost and use that to know that Heavenly Father needs me to learn something, to be something more, and I can only do it with His help. It’s been helpful to me knowing that I am nothing, but I am something and someone important to Him. Knowing that the Savior atoned for each and every one of us and not just for our sins, but for those lonely moments, those moments when we feel inadequate and alone. For me that sacrifice by my Older Brother and Hero means the world. Looking back, for me it hasn’t ever been the social aspect of the Gospel, but the strength and knowledge and love from Him that helps me to pick myself up and know that I can make a difference with His help.

    Thank you so much Kayla. Thank you for being my friend. I sure miss ya and hope and pray that everything is going well. Keep smiling. 😀 Hope you and Matt are well!

  10. I was randomly led to this post by an acquaintance I barely know on facebook. I feel that it is very well meaning. But as a homosexual who grew up in the church, I can’t help but interject (even though I don’t know you and I’m sure you are awesome) that I feel this is a lovely idea which is impossible, at least for homosexual people. Try as they might, there is no place, guidance, or direction for homosexuals who might want to make a niche for themselves in a church which frequently speaks of them, but never to them. Growing up in the church, I did not struggle with finding a place for myself. I had lots of friends and loved being at church. I struggled with the fact that my existence was glossed over and no questions were answered about what I was supposed to do with my life or what my role as a priesthood holder was. This neither was nor is a cultural phenomenon. It is an institutionalized dogma of the religion. When I looked to church literature or leaders for guidance, I found vague statements and pamphlets which offered no actual help and mostly chose to omit the existence of homosexuals, much as this blog entry did. As I say, I’m sure you are a fantastic person and this is clearly a very positive and edifying blog. I’m just saying, there are harder questions you could be asking yourself. There are really people who do not have a conceivable place in the LDS church and varnishing over it, or placing all of that responsibility on their shoulders, especially in a church which receives no input from the bottom up, is quite unfair and unrealistic. Consider your homosexual brothers and sisters. They probably need someone to talk to. They don’t need to feel like they are unmentionable. If they feel that way forever, they will and do abandon the whole business as I did.

  11. A wise 16 year old boy once told me, “Life isn’t like a puzzle, we don’t all have a specific place we fit in. You fit in if you think you fit in.” We don’t have to change ourselves to fit others expectations. Don’t we learn most from people who are different than us?

  12. Kayla, this was beautifully written. I was actually speaking with a friend yesterday about this exact thing.

    The truth is this:

    we’re all broken, we’re all struggling and we’re all trying to etch out our space.

    And that’s okay.
    It really is.

    Blessings to you,
    Dani

  13. Wonderful blog…and such a great insight into the purpose of life, we are all unique and need to accept who we are, how we feel, and why we believe as we do. “To thine own self be true!” That means we must learn about ourselves.

  14. I’m not sure how to feel about this… I like to consider myself just as much of an advocate for black sheep and underdogs as you are, but my opposition towards the church is much greater than yours. I used to go to a Christian school and I remember being told I wasn’t allowed to write a sermon for church – despite having the best grades in the year – because the boys would stare at me too much and what I had to say wouldn’t register in their minds, no matter how meaningful it was. So for me, anything that has anything to do with Christianity anymore is a big no-no. Congrats on being freshly pressed, by the way.

  15. May God bless you for raising someone’s hope in life again. We all have something to offer or work with in life. “There is a place for everyone”

  16. im happy to see these(you) latter day saints 🙂 we were different people, different nationality, different culture but we have the same standards 🙂 the same faith.. and of course we are the same sons and daughters of our heavenly father 🙂

  17. Wonderful post, I often have felt as though I never have my own niche, never do fit in to anything. But then I realized that I was surrounding myself by the wrong people and trying to fit into the wrong things. Thank you for your wonderful words!

  18. There are many paths to God, and many faces of God. It always amazes me that we insist on sameness all over the world. He didn’t create us the same:).

  19. I really appreciated this post, as all too often I meet people who don’t fit in and myself feel I too don’t fit in. Even though I am the pastor. Lol

  20. Amazing post some churches ask people to leave not to cause offence to big givers. Seymore had to seat behind door in church to study and train as pastor yet prevailed in Jesus Name.

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