Last week I was sitting in a Gospel Principles Sunday School meeting. An investigator was there sitting between two missionaries, and I saw him whisper something to one of the missionaries. The missionary sort of nudged him and said, “Ask it. Church is for asking questions and learning.” Somewhat hesitantly, the young man asked his question, prefacing it with “I don’t want to seem combative, but I was wondering…”
It was a sincere question about something he didn’t understand. He didn’t sound combative at all. After several responses and insights from other members of the class, he announced that his mind had been blown. The experience was a positive one, not only for him but, I believe, for everyone in the room.
I liked what the missionary said. Church is for asking questions and learning. As a teacher in a university setting, I can say that in a typical 50-minute class period, I spend anywhere from 5-15 minutes responding to student questions. I answer many more questions via email and office hours. Questions are essential for learning.
Unfortunately, as a gospel student, I’m not good at asking questions. I’m reluctant to do anything that makes me feel like a Bad Mormon™. I want everyone to think I’m a Good Mormon™ who definitely has everything figured out and never has doubts about anything ever.
Some years ago, I was in a Sunday School class that was a decidedly less good experience than the one mentioned above. It was at a time when I was struggling a lot with depression. I don’t remember what the topic was, but I remember one girl making a comment to the effect of “I just feel bad because I’m not doing enough family history work!”
I remember sitting there and thinking “Family history work? I’m in the middle of a complete crisis and you’re worried about family history? Excuse me, but I have real problems! Really Big Bad Problems!”
It was the first time in my life I had ever felt out of place at church.
The depression eventually ended, but the feeling of not fitting in at church came and went. Sometimes it still does. The reasons for feeling this way change depending on the day: I’m too liberal, too feminist, too single, too focused on my career, too fond of swear words, etc. etc. etc.
At the end of the day, though, I love being Mormon. I love learning about Christ and trying to be more like Him. I like the peace, hope, and comfort faith brings. I like serving others and learning to love them the way God does. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
The Gospel is for me. The church is for me. Sometimes I still feel like a black sheep. But I’m not at church to impress the other sheep. I’m there because I love The Shepherd.
Church is for imperfect people. Because it’s nice that Christ can save people who are good. But the fact that Christ can save people with Really Big Bad Problems? Now that’s a real miracle.
So I stay. I keep learning. I keep growing. I keep trying my best to love those around me. And as I do, I find that I’m not the only person struggling.
If, like me, you sometimes feel a little (or even a lot) out of place, just know that I want you there. You can come sit by me.