My family moved to Provo when I was 3. I went to Provo High School growing up, and almost all of my friends were Mormons. When I graduated, I never had any question that I’d go to BYU. All of my friends did, including my girlfriend at the time, and my dad taught there, which gave me cheaper tuition. I’d spent my whole life rooting for the BYU football team. I was so decided on BYU, I never even applied to any other schools.
I’d been a pretty good Mormon, too. I hadn’t ever drunk alcohol or smoked a cigarette or done drugs. I went to church every week, read my scriptures, even graduated from seminary. I didn’t watch pornography. If anyone had asked, I would have said that I had a testimony, but the truth was that I always felt out of place. I had a lot of very liberal views towards some Church topics, like gender and homosexuality, and I liked to watch movies and listen to music that some might have thought inappropriate. However, with my testimony being on the liberal side, I found it tough to connect with people in my student ward. I tried going to the extra-ward activities, but it was really tough to make friends with people who thought that I was sinning every time I watched a PG-13 movie or listened to Metallica. I found myself uncomfortable and even bored in the same sacrament meetings where I was told that the spirit was “especially strong”.
Whenever anyone tried to press me to say what the Church really meant to me, I balked. I could rehash the same testimony I’d heard on fast Sunday a million times, but my heart was never in it. I really did try, but I never was sincere. As I approached my last year at BYU, I decided that the relaxed “testimony” that I had wasn’t enough, and that I had to really mean it if I was going to live in this religion my entire life. So I went to my Bishop.
My Bishop was a wise, kind man, of whom I still have fond memories. He didn’t judge, or call me a sinner. He told me to reread some of the standard works, and to meet with him every few weeks to discuss my progress. So I did. For the first time in my entire life, I wasn’t going to live on anyone else’s testimony. I was going to get my own if it killed me.
For the next month, I was the best Mormon ever. I knew that my testimony would come if I kept at it long enough, so I sat in the front row in church, read my scriptures, the whole 9 yards. However, nothing ever came. Whether it was a big vision or a still small voice, my hours of prayer came to naught. I never could feel any semblance of the love that I was told so often my Savior felt for me. All I could feel was neglected. 5 minutes prayers became 10, then 20, then 30. Asking turned into pleading, and then into tears of frustration. Why could everyone else call on the Spirit as if it were an old friend, while my hours on my knees gave me nothing?
I began to dread Church. Every week, it was a constant reminder of my failings. Everyone else was more spiritual than me. Everyone else could feel the Spirit. This was a loneliness I had never felt before.
By the time my senior year started, I had given up hope. I’d even found a group of people at BYU who felt exactly like me. I wasn’t alone at all, it turned out. Many students, once true believers just like me, who were trying to survive until their graduation. For the first time since I’d enrolled at BYU, I felt comfortable. I fit in, and could finally be honest with friends.
I can’t say whether my actions had integrity or not, but I spent that whole year at BYU in a constant state of deception. It wasn’t enough to simply attend Church every week. I had to feign sincerity. I had to learn how to lie. I had to look into the face of the Bishop whom I still respected, and be convincing when I said “I believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. The alternatives were daunting – a loss of several years of school credits, an inability to field job offers, and the shame that would occur when my friends and family members found out what I was.
I wasn’t ready for that. So I lied, every single day. And I hated myself for it.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve graduated now, and I’m at peace. I’ve moved to Salt Lake, and I’ve found that I enjoy going to Temple Square and looking at the lights. I’ve been fortunate to maintain all of the friendships with the people I loved who do believe in the Church. I’ve dated Mormons, and my parents and family are still Mormons. I consider my relationship with the Church and its members to be excellent.
But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of students who currently go to BYU who know the feelings I’ve described all too well. If you go to BYU, you may know someone who lives with this secret, but who can’t talk about it for fear they’ll be expelled. That student should be able to speak up in class to share a contrarian viewpoint, and to confide in their friends.
Loneliness and fear are terrible things to live with. It doesn’t have to be that way.