I was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) near the end of April 2017 on a Saturday evening. It was a surreal experience hearing the Stake President, after prayerful and painful consideration, say, “It is my responsibility to inform you that you are excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…” followed by some instruction that I don’t recall paying attention to, which I later received again. I knew it was coming, but that did not ease the burden.
At that moment I had empathy for Adam (Doctrine and Covenants 29:39-45) the first of all mankind when God expelled him and Eve from the Garden of Eden for disobedience…I mean, we are all in a fallen state because of our first parents, but it’s mighty different when you are told to leave, no matter how much love and compassion is shown and expressed by the leader.
I sat with my family in sacrament meeting the next morning in a pew near the back of the chapel. I was sitting there with a smile on my face, silently berating and chastising myself for the pain that I brought to my wife and (although excommunications aren’t made public) the embarrassment I brought to myself.
The opening hymn began playing and Satan began capitalizing on my thoughts by reminding me that I didn’t belong—a feeling that I had most of my life.
He was whispering into my heart that I didn’t belong. I didn’t belong in this church, which was evident from the decision the night before. I didn’t belong in my family. I didn’t belong in this life. He fed off of earlier experiences in my life, before I was married, when I was depressed and suicidal, something that will be a surprise to most of my family if they read this.
Satan’s berating whisper turned into a scream and I almost got up to leave when the Spirit whispered, “You know, he’s right….you don’t belong here.”
WHAT!? I spent a majority of my life feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, I was just excommunicated from the only faith that I have known, the Adversary was nagging me with his insidious discouragement and deceit, and now the Holy Ghost sided with the devil to tell me I didn’t belong! Confused, hurt, and broken I just sat there, baffled enough to hear and receive the words of the hymn that was playing.
Yet ofttimes a secret something Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,” And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.
While Satan was beating me with his constant shaming, the Spirit revealed an eternal truth. I don’t belong here. None of us belong here. We come from eternity to return to eternity. We had to gain a body, be tested, and choose Christ, among other things, but we belong in holier places.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has been quoted as saying,
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
This comes with great responsibility. It comes with the need to gain certain spiritual truths and to act on them. Elder Larry W. Gibbons taught this truth in a similar fashion but offered more guidance.
Now, young men and young women, as you begin to set your priorities in life, remember, the only true security in life is living the commandments. Financial security and public position are hollow without righteousness. I promise you that.
You lived with your Heavenly Father in a premortal life. You were there with Him. Your spirit knows what it is like to live in celestial realms. You can never be truly happy in an uncelestial environment. You know too much. That is one of the reasons that for you, wickedness never can be happiness. What a great thing it is to decide once and for all early in life what you will do and what you will not do with regards to honesty, modesty, chastity, the Word of Wisdom, and temple marriage.
Brothers and sisters, stay on the straight and narrow path. No, stay in the middle of the straight and narrow path. Don’t drift; don’t wander; don’t dabble; be careful.
Remember, do not flirt with evil. Stay out of the devil’s territory. Do not give Satan any home-field advantage. Living the commandments will bring you the happiness that too many look for in other places.
Satan lost his power over me that day. He had spent my entire life convincing me that I didn’t belong here….and in a simple tender moment I learned that I don’t belong here and that is a good thing.
I am a son of God, whether I was excommunicated or not. I was one of his children. He wants me home. He wants me happy. He wants me to choose His Son. I have a divine heritage.
And this moment taught me to look at others the same way. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. Maybe we all feel, or at least have felt, like we don’t belong. It is important to note that though we don’t belong here in this life, we do belong together and we have a responsibility to each other. We need to be kind, exercise compassion, and help each other feel welcome.
C.S Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory,
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
I sat in that church pew on that very difficult day, loathing my existence, when I should have been celebrating the fact that a way was provided for Adam and Eve to be redeemed from their fallen state and that way has been granted to all of us.
All of us can be redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ as we accept His conditions for salvation. I was removed from the records of the Church, but I wasn’t told that I couldn’t attend. I only had some limitations. I should have been focusing my attention and effort toward my sweet wife, who was hurting more than I could possibly imagine.
A person could be disfellowshipped or excommunicated for a number of reasons, but none of those reasons are easy on those we love, and some will hurt more than others, I could have spent my energy, during that meeting helping her feel like she belonged, that she was important, and that she was divine. It is still something that I can strive for today.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:16 – 18).
The Spirit bore witness to my spirit that day that I have a divine potential as a child of God, and he will do the same with anyone if they humble themselves enough to slow down and listen. We don’t have to do this alone…in fact, we can’t endure this life alone. We need each other.
If you are struggling, alone, and hurt, please pray and ask God to tell you that He loves you, because I promise that He will tell you. I can’t guarantee the manner in which He will reveal His love, but you will recognize it when He does if you are listening.
And it will change your life….like it has mine.
It is hard to convey in writing how much joy I have in my life from accepting the call to return and “Come Follow” the Savior, but it is real and it is constant. I feel like the missionaries in Alma chapter 31 of The Book of Mormon who suffered all manner of afflictions save they were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.
That same Spirit guided me back to the waters of baptism, back to the covenant path, as the fruit of repentance is baptism—a new creature, born again.