Live Through This

Losing My Religion

Quitting Mormonism meant a lot more than leaving my faith. It meant saying goodbye to eternity with my family.

Illustration by Leanna

Lately, when my parents call, I let it go to voicemail. I know this is bad of me, that people get older and someday my parents (who are only in their 50s) will die and I should cherish the time I have with them now. It’s just that every time they call, I get this sinking feeling that if I pick up, I’ll be in trouble. Whether I wrote something they read and disapprove of (like this article, inevitably) or did something that Google Alerts kindly informed them of—I seem to make them mad a lot. The rest of the time they’re goofy and funny and it’s like the old days—when we were a happy Mormon family that was going to be together forever—before I went astray.

I should say right off the bat that I love my mom and dad and I grew up in an awesome home. My parents married young—21 and 22—and immediately had five kids. Because Mormons don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, drink coffee, or have sex outside of marriage, pranks and family get-togethers are our equivalent of a wild night out. I grew up in a home where family water fights, pillow fights, and eating-whipped-cream-out-of-the-can contests were the norm. Saying prayers every morning and night as a family, reading scriptures together at least once a day, and going to church every Sunday were also the norm. Three solid hours of church, every single Sunday. This was non-negotiable.

When I started high school, I had to go to a 6 AM scripture class every day called seminary. I hated it and would do anything to get out of it. My sister Tina was responsible for getting me out of bed and to church every morning. One night, I discovered that if I snuck into her room, unplugged her alarm clock, then plugged it back in, it wouldn’t go off, and then, oops, we’d miss seminary! I used this technique every few nights. Eventually Tina caught on and started locking her bedroom door. That’s when I discovered the circuit breaker to the entire house was located in my bedroom. On nights when I really didn’t want to get up the next morning I would wait until everyone was asleep and then flip the power switches back and forth. This was incredibly selfish of me. My dad would be late for work, all five kids would be late to school, everyone would be running around in a panic, and I’d be grinning from a full night’s sleep.

Over the course of the next six months, I pulled the power-switch move so often that eventually my parents hired an electrician to rewire the house. They also bought battery-operated alarm clocks. There was no way around it: I had to get up at 5:30 every morning to learn about God.

I’m making it sound like my parents forced me to go to church and I hated it all. This isn’t true. I believed in Mormonism. Sure, I questioned it all the time—I thought it was weird that some of my ancestors were polygamists, and that someday, if I was real good, I’d be a god and get a planet of my own. But I also had several spiritual experiences that bolstered my faith. When I was 14, I went on a church hiking trip. We were told to go into the woods by ourselves to pray and “gain a testimony” that the beliefs of the Mormon church were “true,” literally. Having a testimony is the same thing as having faith in something, only it usually consists of a story that you can share with other people—a big religious moment that happened directly to you. If God answered your prayer or gave you some sort of sign, this meant that everything Mormons believed was true: Joseph Smith was a prophet and all the events in the Book of Mormon actually happened.

I found a quiet spot and prayed, and I asked to know if God was there. I looked up at the moon and felt the presence of something bigger than me. I felt someone wrap their arms around me, as if they were hugging me, and I started to cry. As I cried, my body rocked back and forth, and I knew it wasn’t me who was doing the rocking. It was such a peaceful feeling that in spite of my doubts about Mormon dogma and my constant kicking and screaming when it came to other church stuff, I felt obligated to be Mormon, out of respect to that feeling.

When I was 18 I moved to New York City for college. My mother was terrified. To her, New York was a scary, dangerous place. A month before I left home, she sat me down for a mother-daughter talk.

“Elna,” she said, “the first thing that will happen when you move to New York is you might start to swear.”

I wanted to say, “Oh shit, really?” but I knew that only my dad would think that was funny. So I nodded and said, “Mmm-hmm.”

“And Elna,” she said, “swearing will lead to drinking.” I had somehow missed the connection. “And drinking will lead to doing drugs. And Elna…what would you do if a lesbian tried to make out with you?”

“I’d say, ‘No, thank you…lesbian.’”

My mother rolled her eyes. “There’s one more thing,” she said. “There are these clubs in New York where men pay women to dance with very little clothing on. Don’t do that.” Thus ended our mother-daughter advice talk.

I didn’t admit this to my parents (or they would’ve sent me to Brigham Young, a Mormon university in Utah), but when I got my acceptance letter to New York University I felt, in my core, that I was being accepted into an entirely new way of life—one I secretly longed to lead. Instead of being a home-ec major and then a mother and a housewife, I was going to pursue acting, writing, and directing in New York City.


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  • purplebabaushka April 10th, 2012 3:25 PM

    amazing, just so amazing- loved it

  • lastlong April 10th, 2012 3:40 PM

    Excellent article. I left the Catholic faith about a year ago. My family never actually attended Mass, but they still devoutly believed in Our Lady, God and all the saints.

    Sometimes I feel like it does create some issues, especially with my sisters, but I feel I made the correct decision. I think lying to yourself is the greatest sin of all.

  • Ludo April 10th, 2012 3:42 PM

    Thank you so much for this thought-provoking article. I went through a similar experience of self-awakening and exploration when I graduated Catholic high school and lived on my own in university. I’m so impressed with Rookie for talking about a lot of these types of tough issues this month. Please keep it up!

  • christinachristina April 10th, 2012 3:46 PM

    Oh, Elna. This article was amazing. I feel like it’s a little more extreme version of my own story. I, too, was raised Mormon and, while my parents weren’t as extreme and were a little more accepting of my long term (probably forever) leave of absence from the faith, I can totally relate to what you went through—questioning everything you were raised to believe. I hope that your family will come around and you can be as close again, just in a different way. Mine did! But I’m also happy that you are finding a way to make a religious free lifestyle work for you. I’ve gained the same appreciation for small things like you mentioned, and my personal spirituality—that’s not related to a God of any kind—is so strong and means a lot to me. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Maddy April 10th, 2012 3:52 PM

    Wow! This is really well-written and my favorite on Rookie so far. I never knew very much about Mormonism. It sounds very closely knit (and thus unaccepting which is unfortunate). Religion—not that I have any problem with others being religious—can drive people very strongly. I guess I’m glad your parents said they still loved you, but the way your church excluded you. You can’t even go in your church anymore?! I guess the rules are so strict, they sound almost cultish to me. I’m becoming friends with a girl who’s Mormon. Are all Mormons as devoted as your family and community was?

    Anyway, great article, but sad.

  • Ktkellz April 10th, 2012 4:07 PM

    Ah, I love this. Over the past year I have been struggling with the same sort of Mormon guilt. Except I am not 28, or out of my parents’ house.

    It is so hard to stray from something that you have grown up believing. & the hardest part for me was rejecting the distinct set of rules and path to follow. It is the strangest feeling to have to figure things out on your own. It honestly did not occur to me until very, very recently that I can create my own set of morals that are drastically different from those I have been taught. And also that I don’t have to know everything about the after life & eternity in order to be happy. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know!

    Anyway, that might not make any sense, but the article is excellent!! Thank you for writing it.

  • Krista April 10th, 2012 4:10 PM

    Ohhh Elna! I’m an ex-Mormon tooooo! FOREMONS UNITE

  • alix April 10th, 2012 4:18 PM

    I’m the same as lastlong and ludo. I don’t think I’m a catholic anymore. For ages I was thinking about my religion and I realised that pretty much anything the Catholic Church stands for is the opposite of what I feel. I haven’t actually told my parents, I don’t think they’ll mind. My family never goes to mass and I don’t think they are very religous.

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini May 26th, 2012 6:44 PM

      Good luck!

  • Dylan April 10th, 2012 4:27 PM

    such an incredible story. Why did I read this during class! Hiding tears is hard!

  • tomfoolery April 10th, 2012 4:30 PM

    really fantastic!
    The imagery of you sitting alone in a car wearing a bridesmaids dress outside of the chapel was really poignant and quite beautiful really

  • EmilyJn April 10th, 2012 4:39 PM

    This was very moving, especially your description of a religious experience – and I learnt a lot so thanks! x

  • maddzwx April 10th, 2012 4:55 PM

    simply fantastic

  • Kathryn April 10th, 2012 5:00 PM

    I was raised Catholic, but I don’t consider myself one anymore. I don’t agree on the catholic view point on most things. I still consider myself christian, but not catholic. I feel like religion should be a more personal thing, I guess. I feel the most spiritual with all of those cheesy things you said… Nature and stuff. I’m 16, and my parents aren’t super religious… We miss mass often… But they want me to get confirmed next year, and I don’t know if I want to. It’s a tough thing to question your religion, though much less drastic in my case.

    • Kathryn April 10th, 2012 5:21 PM

      sorry for how awkwardly written that was! my mind was elsewhere, I guess.

      Just want to add that this is fantastically well-written!

  • mattilduh April 10th, 2012 5:02 PM

    Elna! I was in your ward when I was a freshman at NYU, I was so inspired by your honesty in church meetings.

    Thanks for articulating my complicated and emotionally fraught relationship with my religion through telling your story. It’s complicated and lonely.

  • Aunt Patsy April 10th, 2012 5:20 PM

    Well done on a great article! I’m a former Mormon who spent several years in NY also. I, too, sat outside while my siblings got married. (we’re allowed in the churches, but not the temple. little kids aren’t either, so I usually play babysitter.)

    I often compare leaving Mormonism as coming out of the closet. It’s not just a religion, it’s your entire way of life. Suddenly you have to make your own decisions and forge your own path, and it is truly terrifying.

    I waited to make my announcement ’til I was 18 and out of the house. I’m 28 now, and ironically, the most stable of all 7 kids. I’m super close with my mom, and she now “gets it”. I never could have predicted that. Ultimately, you have to follow your own heart, and hope the people you love can grow to accept you.

  • Samantha April 10th, 2012 5:31 PM

    Beautiful. I just told my Baptist parents that I live with my boyfriend on their last visit. I really feel for you. Balancing faith and family and your own spiritual journey is really difficult. But you’re not alone, and I think that’s just as reassuring (if not more) as most churches.

  • cherrycola27 April 10th, 2012 5:49 PM

    This is beautifully told. I can’t imagine how hard that was for you, but it was very courageous to walk away from Mormonism like that. I hope you find what’s right for you.

  • Tara April 10th, 2012 6:00 PM

    this is incredibly powerful. I don’t have an experience like yours because I grew up in a non-religious household (other than our non-religious celebrations of christmas and easter and my mother and my observations of church but not interaction) so unsurprisingly I am unreligious myself. however to hear this story, a story that’s not one usually told that really comes down to ‘self discovery’ as cheesy as that sounds-it stuns me. I like it because it’s not preaching DO NOT BE RELIGIOUS or MORMONISM IS BAD but is just a really real depiction of your relationship with religion and how you chose to break from it. and for that I am appreciative and I commend you. because it’s not easy to say and you said it so well.

    • Birdie-Mads April 10th, 2012 10:55 PM

      I am Mormon. I think it is great. But I believe that there is no 100% true religion out there. I think that we as people all have flaws and things that we need to improve. We should choose a religion that helps us become the people that we want to be.

      • Tara April 11th, 2012 12:06 AM

        I am glad you said this-I think religion is definitely a personal choice! (and which one as well)

      • Moskje April 11th, 2012 1:25 PM

        Thank you for stating that, it’s so true!

  • Kristen April 10th, 2012 6:46 PM

    Wow, this was beautiful.

    I’ve recently strayed from the Catholic faith. During an Easter meal, my little brother told my parents that he didn’t hear me renew my beliefs during mass (saying “I do” after the priest says something about Jesus and God and Satan)

    My parents got really upset, and told me that after all that they do for me, its not right to forget the values and beliefs they’ve raised me with. My mom started going off about how if I don’t marry a Catholic man or have baptisms for my children it will be a huge disappointment.

    But I can’t help it… I just don’t believe anymore.

  • samuellb April 10th, 2012 6:46 PM

    This brought me to tears. I had to face the enormity of coming out as a gay boy to my conservative religious family a little over two years ago. The huge gap that has formed between myself and certain family members is something I wasn’t really prepared for. Some days are okay, but the loneliness that comes with going against the family grain is pretty rough. You’ve written a beautifully honest piece and I admire your courage to no end.

    • Sputnick April 10th, 2012 7:46 PM

      You’re so strong for doing that. I have a friend (who lives with my family and I in the NW) who had a similar situation a couple of years ago. His family is Mormon and lives in Montana, so they didn’t understand at all when he came out. Kudos to your courage& forge on!

    • qcam April 10th, 2012 9:11 PM

      I, too, applaud your courage. Coming out for the first time is unbelievably difficult. I know because I went through it too, and I want you to know you’re not alone. Nobody is. ♥

  • kendallakwia April 10th, 2012 6:59 PM

    This is why I’m not raising my kids with religion. Wow I’m so glad I wasn’t brought up mormon…

  • missblack April 10th, 2012 8:26 PM

    This is a really, really great article. I appreciate Elna not being judgemental about her parents’ religion because as a person of faith myself I’m just so used to getting ridiculed, put down, ignored, whatever. It’s refreshing to hear someone who really IS nondiscriminatory.
    It’s funny, I’m just now trying to figure out where I stand on my beliefs, having had a bit of a bad spell with a really legalistic church and I’m trying to figure out how I want to live my life and how my faith fits into that and it’s hard because all of my church friends kind of shun me now. I can totally empathize with Elna :D
    For a while I was really jaded and cynical but I’m starting to figure it out and quite frankly I’m relieved to be finding my footing again. I’ve settled somewhere on the ‘looser’ side of Christianity, and I’m happy with it. It’s definitely been hard, though.
    So what I’m trying to say is, THANKS FOR THIS.


  • Biggie L April 10th, 2012 8:29 PM

    Ahh! This American Life!

  • dearmia April 10th, 2012 8:36 PM

    This article really is amazing. I can relate so much. I’ve been an atheist for almost two years now. My family doesn’t know, though. I don’t think I’ll ever tell them. It might not even matter, either, since none of them are super religious. But I feel so much more free now. I’m less scared about silly things like spirits and demons. I feel more confident, too, like I don’t have to try and please the all-perfect creator.

  • forgottmyself April 10th, 2012 8:37 PM

    thank you so very, very much for this article! my parents are extremely devout Catholics, and although they realize that I no longer am, and only attend Sunday Masses for their sake (I still live under their roof after all), they still expect me to follow their strict, moral rules. I really needed something like this to help me straighten my muddled thoughts about announcing to them that I plan to go on vacation with my boyfriend this summer (both of us already tried telling them, but they just ‘won’t allow it’). I know they are convinced that I am still ‘pure’ after nearly two years together with him, but this is a step that needs to be made, whether or not they care to realize what goes on between us. thank you once again!
    p.s. I am 19, so it’s not like they really have a right to decide for me in this matter, although I respect their feelings about it.

  • Devon Wolf Sings April 10th, 2012 8:38 PM

    I cried, because for forever I’ve been wondering if anybody at all knows what it feels like to try and not be a Mormon anymore. Thank you so much.

  • missmadness April 10th, 2012 8:42 PM

    oh girl, you have me crying. When I was younger I was a full on fundamentalist-born-again-bathed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb christian. I got sucked into a very cult-like church (NOT saying all churches are like this…but this one was). After some really traumatic events there, I dropped it all. No breaks, just -poof- no religion. I still attended a religious school and so the tension was, at times, unbearable.

    I completely understand what you mean about questioning everything, constantly, all the time. I understand having to walk out on someone because you feel completely alone and you feel as though they will never understand. The second half gets better, but the first never really goes away.

    As an atheist/agnostic (depends on the day…) I constantly have to decide MY beliefs and opinions on issues. I can’t talk to a pastor or open a book and have it tell me what to think– I’m totally on my own there. And sometimes I hate it…but usually? I love it.

  • ams April 10th, 2012 8:46 PM

    I also grew up in a conservative Christian family. It is incredibly lonely to “come out” to your family as a non-believer, and to experience rejection for normal, healthy behaviours, both sexual and non-sexual.

    I try to remind myself that religion is something my parents get solace out of, but I don’t. Having an open and flexible mind is a beautiful thing, and it takes a lot of courage to go out into the world and figure out what precisely works best for you.

  • qcam April 10th, 2012 9:07 PM

    I’m not Mormon, so I found your insider’s look into the lifestyle & beliefs enlightening.

    It’s hard to be forced to choose between your family’s beliefs versus yours & your personal freedom.

    I didn’t WANT to choose between my family & my girlfriend, but when my dad forced me, I chose her. I told him it wasn’t a contest because I loved & needed them both, but he wouldn’t accept that, so I left home to be with my girlfriend & escape my stifling, Christian-to-the-extreme, homophobic, abusive environment.

    It’s been 9 months since I’ve seen my family.

    I email my parents, but their response is always the same. They “love me,” but won’t take me back or allow me to see my siblings until I’m who THEY (and by extension, God) want me to be: straight and/or single.

    So they don’t love ME, they love they person they want me to be. That’s not love & I’m not that person; I’m me, I’m bi, & I’ll never hide again.

    I consider myself theist now, because I believe in God, but God doesn’t hate me for being me; God loves me as He made me.

    It takes courage to “come out” as genuine. It’s hard, but it feels better. It IS better–you don’t have to pretend to be anyone but yourself anymore.

    Nietzsche said it best:

    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, & sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

    I feel you, girl. Thanks for writing & sharing this honest article. Know you’re not alone on this journey. Keep doing you! ♥

  • rhetoric April 10th, 2012 9:18 PM

    You write beautifully. I’m a Christian and I just wanted to tell you that Jesus is there for you. NOT TRYING TO AFFLICT MY RELIGION ON YOU. Just giving you and option and a choice.

    Keep writing! :D

  • Mags April 10th, 2012 9:40 PM

    I’m not religious. I was raised Christian but my family was never devout. When I completely let go of all my Christian beliefs they never judged because, to be honest, they were never big believers either. The truth is, religion has always fascinated and frightened me, intrigued and repulsed me. I still don’t know if it does more harm than good or vice versa. But I do know that hard-core religious beliefs are not for me. I think people should believe whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt others. I think you’re very brave for living life on your own terms. Like you said, your life, at least to you, is more honest now.

  • lyrarose April 10th, 2012 10:19 PM

    A lot better of a reaction than my mother’s when I came out as an atheist. Wait, let me back up, we’re not Mormon. My dad is atheist, but will never say it to my scary-as-hell, practicing-Catholic mother.

    Until they sent me to Catholic high school (which I didn’t really agree to, but there were knife crimes at the public high school in my area, and the Catholic school was academically a really good school, so I didn’t mind much), I never went to church. At my school’s first all-school mass, when everyone went up for communion, I had no idea what was going on and panicked. I knew I wasn’t Catholic, but I just never knew how to tell my parents. Well, technically I did…as a 7 year old. I guess I did go to church before then. I went for a few weeks to get my communion as a 2nd grader, and only what was required, then I had my first communion, and immediately afterwards I told my parents that church was stupid, I didn’t believe in God, and that I wanted to change (Communion dresses are basically little wedding dresses) and go play with my friends at the pool. I think my parents rolled their eyes, and that’s it. Then in high school I realized that they thought I was kidding back then, and that I would have to “come out” to them again.

    Logically, the best time to do this to your crazy mother is while you’re driving. She screamed at me the whole way home, told me endlessly how dumb I am, and hit me so hard in the face (while I was driving) I almost swerved and hit the…whatever is on the side of the road. We don’t talk about this anymore.

  • back2thepast April 10th, 2012 10:34 PM

    I’m Mormon and was raised a Mormon, but I never really believed everything. I had moments of spirituality but there was always a blockade in my ability to move on in my religious growth-the church’s discrimination against homosexuality. However, my mom sent me a video clip a while ago I feel like after my spiritual “break” from Mormonism was coming to an end and this video helped me decide that I would try it out again. I’m glad you’ve made a journey that has made you more honest to who you really are, that’s extremely brave and I look up to you. I’m also very sorry about the family situation but I hope you’ve developed friendships/support systems along the way :) incredible writing and story, thanks so much for sharing!!!

    • Anaheed April 10th, 2012 11:00 PM

      Wow, thank you for posting that video. It is pretty great.

  • Birdie-Mads April 10th, 2012 10:49 PM

    This touched me so deeply, it moved me to tears. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but I am very liberal and free-spirited. I believe in being accepting and non-judgmental of absolutely every idea and belief, no matter how crazy it might seem to me. I recently moved from New York to Utah and it has been a crazy transition. When I attend church services and seminary, I feel completely numb. One day after class, my seminary teacher held me after to ask me about my the honest answer I gave to him when he publicly asked me if I was going to be Mormon for life. It was supposed to be an empowering lesson, everyone was enthusiastically shouting “I WILL!” When he got to me I looked at the floor, gathered my thoughts, looked him straight in the face, and said “I don’t think I will be an active member.” The class went silent. My seminary teacher held me after, looked at me intently and said “you will.” It creeped me out. I have mixed feelings about the church that I have grown up in and that all of my friends and family participate in. I am scared to be myself. I feel this burning rebellion deep inside. I feel the chains of the Word of Wisdom holding me back. I love that the church stresses charity and volunteer work but I often ask myself why I am here? Am I going to church to avoid confrontation or do I really believe in it? I really need help with this. I feel lost, like a stranger to my own family.

  • Bren April 10th, 2012 10:54 PM

    Oh, what a fantastic article. I’m Catholic and my family doesn’t actively practice the faith or anything, but sometimes I find myself doubting it a lot. This was such a great read.

    I was halfway through the article and thought to myself “Huh, this girl and the girl from that Glamour article should get together and have a nice kindred spirit chat.” And then I realized you are one and the same. I enjoyed that article very much as well. :)

  • DriesVanNotenAddict April 10th, 2012 11:10 PM

    I can completely relate, as I came out as gay to my Calvinist parents at the age of 16. The years that followed were misery, as my seven siblings were encouraged not to interact with me. When I was accepted to Brown it was a chance to experience life as I had never thought it could be.

  • marit April 10th, 2012 11:18 PM

    Just wanted to say this article is great and all the comments are really inspiring. But it’s important to remember not all religion is a cult. Honestly I don’t know what I believe, but I go to the most wonderful, welcoming Episcopal church and I absolutely love the community, even when I don’t feel super religious. Everyone is so open to new ideas and new members and everything. You’re free to doubt and discuss and decide for yourself, and anyone is welcome to come regardless of their background.

    Good luck to everyone, stay strong in whatever path you choose.:)

    P.s. I love the illustration!

  • Calypso April 10th, 2012 11:18 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I have been a loyal reader of rookiemag since the beginning but I never felt inclined to comment. This article has come at a crucial time of my life. I have not come out yet and I don’t know when or if I ever will but I am a bisexual. It is also really difficult to be a bisexual when you are a Mormon. I love god and I love many aspects of my religion , but in Mormonism any form of homosexuality is a sin. I find it difficult to go to church every Sunday, go to seminary and go to mutual every week without feeling guilty for the way I am. I find it hard to suppress my feelings and I know I am not ready to tell my parents. I know that the relationship will
    never be the same. I know I will be kicked out of my house if I told my mom I am bi. I don’t know what to do and I wish I didn’t have to leave my religion,family and lifestyle but if I said anything that will ultimately happen. Mormonism is not only a religion but a lifestyle and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this a secret. But thank you rookie. You are truly an inspired magazine and you have helped me throughout this year. I hope to continue to read amazing articles in the future.

    • LeilaniG April 11th, 2012 2:29 AM

      I’m sorry that you would be kicked out for your sexuality. You should watch the BYU It Gets Better video someone posted here – it’s truly beautiful how much perspectives are changing. However, I just want to say that mormons don’t believe that homosexuality itself is a sin, only homosexual acts. I don’t know that this fact changes anything for you, though.

    • HeartPlant April 11th, 2012 5:21 PM

      I struggle with similar themes, trying to maintain a relationship with God whilst seemingly going against His laws in that I’m a lesbian. I suppose that my church is much more about a personal relationship with God, so really I don’t care much for what other people want to say about that relationship. After all, sexuality is only one aspect of your personality. Also, have a look at Romans 8:1, 33-34. And then perhaps Galatians 2:16-21. In Christ there is no condemnation. I find these very comforting! You aren’t alone. Also, you do deserve to be happy in your life, no one else is going to live it for you so you might as well make the most of it! All love & I hope you eventually get to happiness!

  • tobiasfunke April 10th, 2012 11:48 PM

    Thank you for this. Really. I’m twenty years old and in the middle of a frightfully similar situation – I was raised mormon, my entire family is mormon, and I’ve been struggling with their faith since middle school. I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever be able to tell them my views and the many (many) beliefs they hold so dearly that I’ve broken, especially since I started college and making friends who I didn’t grow up with. I’ve been going to church for the last few years while at home (and lying about it when they ask me when I’m at school) mainly because I don’t want to crush my parents, but also because I know they’ll just get angry about it and it won’t be dealt with rationally for a good long while, if ever. Again, thank you. I feel so much less alone now, and it’s a bloody good feeling.

  • lelelikeukulele April 11th, 2012 12:31 AM

    I actually read both the Glamour articles on this, and it took me a while to realize this was the same woman (I kept wondering why it sounded so familiar!). Reading about your journey was enlightening in a way the articles weren’t. I am so, so glad you wrote this.

  • sobrina April 11th, 2012 1:40 AM

    This article was really wonderfully written and thought-provoking, but I just wanted to make one correction– you actually don’t get excommunicated for premarital sex. It is something you’re supposed to talk about your bishop about (and I’ve never encountered a bishop that made me describe sexual experiences in detail like yours did, that’s super weird and not the norm) but you certainly won’t get kicked out of the church for it, and once you repent and all that Mormon stuff, you’re totes back in the club. Just wanted to clarify that.

    • LeilaniG April 11th, 2012 2:23 AM

      Glad you cleared this up- I was especially thrown off by the bishop deal. I’ve never heard of anything like it!

  • LeilaniG April 11th, 2012 2:20 AM

    This is a great article! Probably my favorite on Rookie. As someone who is an almost-mormon and who has become very fond of the mormon faith and the LDS church (even with all the flaws that come with the mormon culture- because there ARE many), I appreciate the fact that you didn’t speak badly about the Church in this. I am glad that you are able to reconcile with your past as a mormon and I hope that you will find your own path of happiness, because I’m sure you will.

    As for some of the comments that I’ve read here, I just want to make it clear that the Church never advocates alienating anybody who may not be in agreement with the mormon belief system or lifestyle. We are always encouraged to be understanding of the perspective of others and if we ever seem “pushy” or inclusive, we hope that others may understand our perspective as well. There always will be, however, imperfect people in our church that will make mistakes and act in a way that isn’t admirable. But that’s just inevitable. Please understand, the faith is perfect, the people are not.

    Thanks again for writing this, Elna!

  • wassup April 11th, 2012 2:40 AM

    I think this an important decision to make, and I am trying to make this decision myself I applaud you for your courage to leave your family behind, because this isn’t my issue. My family will always love me and they wouldn’t bring it up very often if I left the Church. I know this because I have a couple of siblings who have left and my parents are very cool about it. My siblings are very much apart of our family and my parents believe that the promises they made in the Mormon temples are so strong that if they keep their promises, that they will always be able to be with their children, whether their children left or not. I actually love the Mormon faith, and I think that it brings a lot of people happiness. My issue is I don’t know if I have enough faith to commit to it forever, where I would have to commit in a Temple, which is taken very seriously. I’m scared of committing in the temple and then messing up. But I loved this article and the insight it brought. Beautiful job!

  • lydiajamesxxx April 11th, 2012 5:15 AM

    Wow, Your story is truly fascinating!!! It must’ve been so hard to take such a big step in life!!
    While reading this, I couldn’t stop thinking about a movie I watched recently. It was the world premier at a film festival here in Berlin, so It’s not out yet, but I think you should definetly watch it! It’s also about a Morman girl who isn’t too happy with the culture and lifestyle surrounding her religion. After getting pregnant (she claims it was an imaculate conception), she is thrown out/runs away from her home in Utah to Las Vegas, where she has her first encounter with the real world, etc. It’s a really great movie, and absolutely hilarious.

  • Margaret April 11th, 2012 5:56 AM

    This is amazing. I grew up in a very open minded family, with no religion, but I still feel like I’m letting my parents down If I don’t get a great corporate job, get married to some business man and have a bunch of babies. I think that even when religion isn’t involved, our parents will always have expectations for us that are not always what we want to do.

  • illonablyton April 11th, 2012 10:45 AM

    Wow. Love this so much. It takes a lot of guts to do what you did. Going up against one’s parents is something that I think few people can actually do.

    I love that they still love you but I can’t believe that a religion can “keep you away” from a family member’s wedding. Still, that’s probably my religious upbringing talking. We include a lot.

    Me, well, I am also having a bit of a testing of faith thing going on. Getting older (I know I’m only 18, but still) I guess religion sort of changes. You see that it’s not always black and white but grey too.

    Good luck with everything!

    • back2thepast April 11th, 2012 5:35 PM

      I love that comment, that not everything’s black or white. My mom constantly says that about religion, that not everything we’re taught has to b believed exacccttly one way. You can find the grey, the middle ground.

  • karastarr32 April 11th, 2012 12:15 PM

    This was really beautiful. I’m a Anglo-Catholic but I think religion is a very personal choice. I thought this article was really good and it really helped open my eyes.

  • handbehindthepen April 11th, 2012 7:12 PM

    I am also what you might call a “free thinking” Mormon. My three older sisters managed to find husbands that aren’t “typical” Mormon guys. And they are now pursuing career goals of their own, apart from that of the stereotypical Mormon housewife. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there are such things as moderate Mormons. There is a golden mean.

    • back2thepast April 12th, 2012 7:59 PM

      Thanks for making that statement! My older sister and her return-missionary husband live in San Fransisco, my sister works with autistic children and he’s in law school. Both are super Urban OUtfitters esc, “hipster” style-wise and people are always surprised to find out they’re LDS!

  • neon_rattail April 11th, 2012 10:50 PM

    I loved this! As someone who was raised largely without religion, I find it so interesting to hear about other people’s journeys and family dynamics regarding spirituality. I read Elna’s book a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it. If you liked this article I definitely recommend her book!

  • music_is_love April 11th, 2012 11:17 PM

    wow.. this is so strong

  • Abby April 12th, 2012 3:58 PM

    Thank you. Just… Thank you.

  • wannabetavi April 12th, 2012 9:33 PM

    I loved your article so much! I found it super relatable. I mean, I’m still only in my teens so haven’t experimented with most of those things, but I am mormon. I’ve become pretty inactive since Christmas, and the church keeps trying to get me to go back! Ah, but thanks! I loved the article and it made me more confident. You are a fab writer.

  • Mixolydia April 12th, 2012 11:36 PM

    This article made me want to register and comment. Just to say that, I’m just about to finish college and, along with all the life changes that entails, i am started to drift away from my faith, and i’m not really sure how it is going to work out. It all started with this thought: Is religion just a superstition we made up to make some semblance of control and comfort in this chaotic world? And then i questioned: does it even make a difference if i pray or not–it all works out the way it’s supposed to work out anyway.
    I could go on, but my point is, just to try, i’ve recently stopped praying, and i started cursing like a sailor (i haven’t cursed in 13 years. not even damn or crap, because then “i would have to report that in confession”), and Elna’s “Mormon break” is similar in terms of: is this a temporary thing, or is it a gateway to more “sin”? to cursing forever? to adultery and murder??? But i like cursing. it’s liberating. And i realize, i actually curse a lot in my head, and now i just say what i feel instead of repressing it.
    It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this sort of thing. Religion is a murky subject. Being a good person for the sake of goodness, and not arbitrary rules or fear of punishment, is what I’m after–it’s more important than whether one has sex before marriage or prays correctly every morning. Its the big picture that counts, not the little details.

  • Alyssa3996 April 13th, 2012 12:13 AM

    This was such a great article for me to read.
    I am an active member of the LDS (Mormon) church, and I love it! I remember when I was younger I would always dread going to church on Sundays with my parents, like you. The only true memories I have of that time is of how unhappy I was. People would say comments to me all the time, asking if I was okay. Now as a full fledged member I notice the difference in the way I feel and project myself toward others.
    Growing up my parents never really forced the religion on me, and they never said “your not allowed to do such and such,” or ” you must get married, have kids, and be a stay at home mom.” in fact, it has always been the opposite. Pretty much her motto is, “You’re going to college.”
    Honestly probably the only reason I have for not doing the same thing you did is because my brother did the same thing, took a “break.” Right before he decided to come back to the church I just remember just holding him, and having him cry on me because he was so unhappy.
    At this moment in my life I believe in this religion with my whole heart, and even if it happens to not be true I will never regret following the “guidelines” that it has set for me to live.
    Your choice is a very respected one, and I totally believe in women empowerment. And you can ask for, and regret nothing if you are truly happy with what you choose to do with your life.

  • NavyAndTeal April 13th, 2012 7:32 AM

    I loved this article. I am a 22 year old gay man who is going through the same struggle with Catholicism/Christianity.

    All though I offer no words of advise because I feel this is a lone journey a clever (I say clever because I believe all clever people believe in something) must take, I would like to say that I bet it feels great to write for a magazine like Rookie rather than Glamour!!!

    Good Luck with your journey!!!

    Andrew (Under Construction)

  • RachelTri April 14th, 2012 4:38 PM

    Great article. I have some Mormon friends who have broken away from the LDS faith and are going through a hard time with their families too. Even though it’s hard, I think knowing that other people face the same challenges can make people hopeful. Keep up the good writing, and of course, your happiness.

  • diana94 April 15th, 2012 4:06 PM

    elna i remember reading your glamour article about having sex for the first time! this article is amazing too!

  • amyhoff April 17th, 2012 12:36 AM

    LOVED the article. I recently left mormonism after 33 years. I studied all the history and realized I had been lied to all along. Please go to to get all of the information they DON’T tell you at church. This will allow you to move on free of any guilt. It takes a lot of bravery to do what you did. My family has shunned me..but I’m living an authentic life now, and I’m SO much happier for it.

  • sasha jade April 17th, 2012 5:17 PM

    this is lovely, gives such an insight into a religion i knew nothing about before, it sounds beautiful

  • Raydawn April 18th, 2012 4:55 PM

    Elna, I can’t thank you enough for this. I cried as I read your story, because I feel less alone now. Most of my friends didn’t grow up in religious households, much less very strict ones, so I sometimes feel like my stories are unbelievable to them. People often ask me things like “are Mormons really like that?” My experience was similar to yours, except I did go to college in Utah and hated every second of it.
    I’d like to recommend to everyone who enjoyed this wonderful article a book- “Leaving The Saints.” It helped me to feel less crazy and alone at a very difficult time in my life.

    Also, if you like, my own account of growing up Mormon is here:

    Thank you.

  • Hedwig April 22nd, 2012 12:22 AM


  • Eliza April 22nd, 2012 8:23 AM

    “It may not be forever anymore, but we are still a family.” Aww!

  • jazian April 25th, 2012 11:02 AM

    Wow…. your story is just beautiful… I love it! i grew up in a catholic house, did my communion and then confirmation. When i was 14 i was baptized a Mormon, but i never felt like a belonged there, like i had made the right decision, so i went back to being a Catholic and now I’m at a crossroads, my husband is Muslim and wants our baby to be Muslim and i don’t have a problem with that, but my family does. They feel the baby should be both so they want to baptize him with out him knowing. I don’t feel like a catholic anymore there are many things that don’t agree with, But I’m afraid to disappoint both i love my family and my husband, and i cant chose because i am not sure of what i believe. I know that there is a God and that he love is infinite, but I’m sure that by not having a religion i will not be with my family forever.

  • llamalina June 12th, 2012 1:09 AM

    amazing and relatable, though my being raised catholic wasn’t as extreme as being raised mormon, i guess. my family doesn’t know. i think they have the idea in their heads that i’m simply not practicing but still believe. i’m just not ready to tell them yet, especially since i’m still stuck searching for answers. someday i hope i’ll be able to talk to them about god without the shock factor, but until then, i’m stuck going to mass on easter and christmas, listening to the choir sing of their love for jesus like it’s a foreign language.

  • stolenthieves July 24th, 2012 5:00 PM

    This sort of happened to me, except that I was Muslim, not Mormon, and I figured it out when I was 11. And then there’s also the fact that I haven’t confessed to anyone in my family except my sister. I’m 15, now.

    I grew up with very strict, over-protective, traditional, rather oppressing parents who were/are continuously paranoid, narrow-minded, and quite selfish, to be honest. They tried to force their culture and religion onto me, and although I love my heritage, I disliked the traditions. Unlike them, I am ridiculously liberal and open, experimental and reckless, but they can’t really deal with that. They don’t even want me to live by myself when I’m older. If I get married or have children (which I do not want to), they want me to live with them. And honestly? I don’t want anything to do with their culture or religion, even if I was part of both once. But basically, in a nutshell, my parents and entire family except for my siblings are exactly like your Mormon parents.

    Elna, you have no idea how happy I am to know that someone else has been through the same thing. I just hope that I’ll have the courage that you had to confess to my parents without worrying about them murdering me with an axe.

    “he got on his hands and knees, and said, in a thick Italian accent, “I beg you to stay. Let me make love to you.”” – This made me giggle uncontrollably for five minutes straight. So, so cheesy.

  • taliapaulette July 25th, 2012 5:50 PM

    Everyday I’m straying from Catholicism but I avoid any religous coversation with my family, especially my mom, because it’s so important to them. More so, I think, because they don’t go to church. I have such strong beliefs nowadays that just don’t place in, well, any religion really but I can’t find a way to just say that.