My name is Leah Young, I was born in “happy valley,” aka Provo Utah and I am 38. I met my husband at the ripe old age of 19 in our singles ward in Los Angeles and we were married by the time I was 20. We’ve been married for 18 years and have four daughters ages 16, 13, 11 and 8. My husband Cody is a pediatric radiologist and I am a Mama and Life Coach.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
I was raised by a single mother who was very busy earning an income to support our family and the Mormon infrastructure provided stability, adult mentorship, friendships and moral guidelines that helped me feel included, seen and guided.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
I connected most with the lessons that taught about being like Jesus. I was taught to be kind to the “outcasts,” to stand for the “right thing” no matter how others viewed me, to forgive, to love, to love, to love. I always felt that above all, if I could be kind, loving, accepting of others, selfless – that if I were to care for and tend to the “lost sheep,” then it would all work out – my salvation would be okay.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
I never questioned IF the church was true or not, nor did I seek or expect experiences to solidify my belief in it. The church was everything I knew. Although there were many times when I’d say “I felt the spirit,” for me it was more the practical knowingness of what I’d been taught. This was the only true church, it was the only way to be “happy,” and the only way to get to “heaven.” The church was the only way to be “the best” human and wife and daughter and mother I could be. The Mormon roadmap was handed to me upon birth. Everyone around me said “this is how you do life best,” and I didn’t question, I just followed the map I was handed.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?
My friend Nicole was emotionally falling apart after she learned new things about the church. In an attempt to support her during what seemed like a very painful experience, I asked what I could do to understand her journey. She told me to read the CES letter and listen to the Tom Phillips Mormon Stories interview, and I did both in two days. The next 6+ months were a blur of incessant reading, listening, meeting with an apologist, crying and talking to my husband Cody about it all. It was clear to me very early on that the church wasn’t true, but it took months and months of research to unravel the full depth of deception, and even longer to heal my heart from the brutal betrayal of it all.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
I was born female into a religion that was not created by my gender or for my gender. Their holiest books are filled with stories of men. The local leaders are men. The mission leaders are men. The prophets and apostles are men. The person I was taught to “confess to” was a man. Those who served the holy sacrament and baptized and gave blessings and came to teach us in our homes and sat in front of the congregation – they were all men. Above all of that, in lessons about womanhood and motherhood and wifehood, I was taught to become like my brother Jesus and my father God.
I was handed a map, made by men, for men – but I was to become a woman. I grew up swimming in a pool of patriarchy that I couldn’t name back then. I had to stop treading water and step out of the damn pool to see it all clearly. When my vision cleared it was healing to realize that I was not crazy or selfish or “the only woman” who saw what was happening around me. The most harmful part of Mormonism is that it was not created for me.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
According to google we currently have an estimated 4,200 religions on this planet – and that’s just right now. Take any person, from any religion (especially a high demand religion) and they will have one thing in common – their inner knowing tells them that their religion is the one and only “right” one.
We all have an “inner knowing.” Muslims call it one thing, Jews another, Mormons another, Catholics another, Atheists another. Cultural and religious backdrops inform what cage we subscribe to our inner knowing until we go on the kind of journey that unlocks the cage and allows that knowing to be free and complete just as is.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it?
Beyond the heartbreaking feelings of betrayal and the terrifying reality that the foundation of our lives was false – THE most painful part of our transition, the part that kept us up at night with aching hearts and swollen eyes, was having to face our children with what we were learning. Red hot fury filled my body as I considered the cruel position I was put in by the “One and only true church on the face of the earth.” Having to break my children’s hearts because truth and honesty mattered most to us – this was the grandest betrayal of it all.
But in breaking their hearts I realized what a gift the Mormon faith crisis gave to me and my children. The church forced me to realize that I could sit in burning hot fury and betrayal and the condemnation that came from others and not be killed by the fire. I sat inside it, we sat inside it, and we rose above it. This experience has helped us to realize that we could walk through fire and that the burns would become our growth to help us rise.
What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
The most joyful/healing parts – where or where do I even begin? I unlocked my cage and I stepped out. It was so scary and so sad and so hard, but I did it! Each painful step offered me a new brick that I’ve laid to build the path for my own authentic yellow brick road. These bricks have been my stepping stones into healthier relationships, happier motherhood, a greater understanding of myself and more compassion for humanity. When I stopped believing I had all the answers, I started asking questions again, and those beautiful questions are unearthing a new world for me, this is a priceless awakening, a glorious and sacred rebirth!
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
We were excommunicated by our leaders as we felt that we were embodying the essence of who the church taught us to be, by creating a local support group for those who were sad, lonely and felt heartbroken after learning about the historical issues.
Through this experience I realized that I was never a member of the church I thought I was a part of. I was never taught about the asterisks* during all those lessons about Jesus — Love* Forgive* Mourn with those that mourn* Do the right thing no matter the sacrifice* Seek for truth*
*Only IF you first and foremost agree that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and IF you still believe that the church is led by a prophet inspired by God and IF you pay your tithing and IF you NEVER talk about facts regarding church history and especially IF you never create a support group to offer love, healing, community and support to people who are suffering – then of course you are permitted by us to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
Before we were excommunicated our bishop came to our home and met with us several times. He was kind and he listened. We felt that he tried to understand our journey, and we appreciated that. One family in the ward had us over to eat before we were excommunicated, and that was nice.
We sent a brief email to some of the families in our ward that we were closer to (email is linked in our Mormon Stories interview show notes). A few of the responses were wonderful, expressing love and acceptance regardless of our relationship with the church. Brinley had a spanish teacher at school who was in our ward; he has been kind to her and to our family throughout.
I also received kind emails from a few of my cousins who expressed unconditional love and acceptance. I appreciated those messages so much!
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?
I am linking here a comprehensive document of resources that have been helpful to me.
Additionally, we did coaching sessions with both John and Margi Dehlin that were instrumental in helping to guide us through our transition. Our oldest daughter Brinley also did one-on-one coaching sessions with Margi, and those sessions helped her to gain newfound self-awareness and develop emotional tools, which made a profound difference for her. Investing in professional guidance when it came to our transition was worth its weight in gold for us!
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
I feel fortunate because as I look back I don’t feel that I would have done a whole lot differently, which I would attribute to our coaching sessions with John and Margi Dehlin.
One change I would have made – In the beginning, when I was drinking from a fire hose of new information, I could have been more gentle in sharing the information with Cody, not pushing him to read it. In coaching John helped me see how my passionate desire for Cody to engage with the new information was actually hurting more than helping my cause. When I changed my approach and focused on helping him feel safe, everything fell into place. As soon as he felt safe, his guard came down and he eventually plowed into the phase of incessant study.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Many of our friends and loved ones have condemned us, without asking anything about our experiences. We have close family members who refuse to listen to our podcasts on Mormon Stories (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Their reactions are rooted in fear and programming, and we know this, but man, it’s an experience like no other.
A few years prior to our transition I had grown a large networking business and a majority of my team are members of the church. Top leaders in my organization who had once looked up to me, whom I’d loved and helped to succeed, quickly unfriended and blocked me on social media. Some reached out and told me they never wanted to talk to me again. Our corporate headquarters received phone calls from church members within my organization; they were asking to be placed on other teams because I was no longer a member of the church. Clearly this didn’t happen, but I did very quickly go from a leader within my business to being seen as lost and fallen. I have been cut out of many of their lives.
All of this said – I wouldn’t do anything differently, TRULY! I felt like I was forced to relinquish control of how others viewed/view me in order to stay emotionally healthy – and this has FREED me! I am thankful for the personal growth and relationship awareness that this journey has provided. The relationships that I choose to invest in now are healthier and more fulfilling than before – and this transition led me here!
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips for keeping those people in your life?
Here’s the truth – we can’t change or control anyone else – and leaving Mormonism gives us an upfront and personal experience with this reality. Pretty early on I decided not to engage in a tug-of-war with believers because, in my experience, a) it doesn’t work, b) it damages relationships and c) it causes unnecessary emotional stress and frustration. It’s been empowering to step into a variety of conversations with believers and demonstrate what unconditional acceptance and differentiation in a relationship can look like, sound like and feel like, even when it is not reciprocated.
Those triggering feelings that come up for me during the “let me help you see the way and come back to the fold” conversations – I use them like jet fuel to propel me towards my higher self. I breathe. I pause. I remember WHO I want to be and I respond in mindful ways that feel both self-honoring and others-honoring. Some examples of how I approach sticky situations may sound something like:
Member: “Oh Leah, I love you and your family so much and I feel prompted to tell you how much your Heavenly Father wants you to tune into general conference”
Response: “Thank you for your love, that means a lot to me. I know that conference is a sacred experience for you, and I want you to know that I honor you and love you right where you’re at.”
Member: “Oh Leah, I am so heartbroken that your daughter will not be baptized and receive the holy ghost.”
Response: “It sounds like this is really hard for you. I am sorry you are feeling so sad. Please rest assured that we are doing great and feel at peace with our decisions. Thanks for checking in.”
Member: “Without the guidance of the gospel just think of how you are robbing your children of happiness in their future.”
Response: “It sounds like you are really worried about our family. I know this comes from a place of love – and we sure appreciate your love. Please know that we have never felt more calm and confident about where we are headed as a family.”
Women especially have been conditioned to feel responsible for making others feel comfortable – and this often leads to oversharing, over-explaining and being vulnerable in relationships that have not earned our vulnerability. This transition gives us ample opportunities to practice relinquishing that perceived responsibility. We can be kind AND not offer information that others do not need or deserve. We can be kind AND have boundaries. We can be kind AND firm. We can be kind AND not have to explain our journey.
Lastly, if a close family member or friend seems to pester for more information than you feel safe to share, I’d recommend trying out something along these lines, “I want to engage in conversations that are supportive of our relationship, and this conversation isn’t helpful for us right now. I love you and respect you right where you are at, and I want you to know that. Let’s focus on what’s best for our relationship.”
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I actually feel quite thankful for my Mormon roots! Family is still my top priority and focus. We’ve replaced many of our Mormon specific rituals like FHE and nightly family scripture study, but the structure was laid and we still have rich and wonderful rituals that feel even more beautiful and real to us.
I thought I was always taught to seek for answers in the church, and while I now realize that this was not necessarily true, it’s what I believed was true. Now that I don’t have “all the answers” anymore, I ask so many questions and I get to grow everyday as I seek for the answers. That questioning spirit, for me, has its roots in Mormonism.
I was taught to be kind and long-suffering, to stand up for what I believe in, to mourn with those that mourn and to be a force for light and good in the world. I hope to always retain and embody these qualities.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I see people as enough, as whole, and I see their paths as valid, so many different paths! I feel more connected to humanity and I believe that we are all a part of something so grand and so complex and so mind-blowing that I am not sure how to comprehend it all, and I don’t need to. I have come to accept that I don’t have all the answers, not for myself, not for my kids, not for others – and I am at peace here.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
What aligns with me right now is that there is something grand and purposeful and ongoing about us. I feel connected to the idea that all living things, humans, nature, animals, that we have purpose and meaning which began before we were in these bodies and that will continue on after we leave these bodies. It’s incredible how science is helping us to understand that our planet is just the tiniest speck in this universe. My mind and heart are just awestruck at how much we don’t know.
How do I make sense of it? I don’t feel like I need to know the answers or have it make “sense” per se. I guess a part of me feels that if we were intended to have the answers we would, but no one does, so I just try to accept that reality. I never again want to think I have all the answers. I’ve been cracked wide open through this experience, and I want to stay this way. What aligns with me now may change, it may not – I feel like an explorer ready to learn and listen and think and expand myself and my knowledge as I journey onward.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
Reading books like The Historical Jesus and Sapiens has helped me deconstruct how, why, and when religions were created. I now see the Christian construction of God and Jesus much like I view the vast array of other cultural constructions of God and their various saviors/saints. We’ve told stories throughout history that glue our tribes together and help us to create meaning, rules, order, power, etc… We pass these stories down, and they change throughout time to fit our evolving ideas and rituals.
I bet a Jesus, or many Jesus-like people (men and women) lived – and they still do. I appreciate the teachings that encourage us to step into higher awareness about ourselves and others as we seek to live many (not all) the teachings of Jesus-like people.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
It is so much fun to step out of Mormonism and realize that all humans are just good! I think our set point is goodness, love and wholeness. The vast array of complex circumstances we encounter, experience and internalize teach us new stories about who we are, what our new culturally/religiously programmed purpose is, and often we learn to cope in unhealthy ways.
The concept of “right” and “wrong” feels surface and depersonalized to me, because those concepts have been handed down by cultures and religions – they have defined this for us. What is “right” in one religion is “wrong” in another. What is “wrong” in one country is “right” in another.
For me, I connect with my inner knowing. I understand what my core values are and I understand the dense and complex landscape of my life, therefore I feel quite qualified to make my own thoughtful decisions. The church told me that creating a support group was wrong, my inner knowing told me it was right. The church told me that it’s wrong to have sex before marriage, my inner knowing tells me this is not how I am going to teach our girls about responsible sexuality. The church told me that women had one grand role in this life, my inner knowing wasn’t strong enough when it was in their cage, but it is now, and I am NOT teaching my daughters that they have one role and one destiny.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
Yes! Spirituality for me is no longer linked to a white male God in the sky, and it feels more real and nourishing that it ever did before. Yoga, meditation, choosing intentional relationships, unrushed making of meals, being present, reading, podcasts, long walks with my dogs in nature, choosing understanding before judgement, there are so many ways that I feel connected to something bigger than myself. For me, that “something bigger” is the collective us (all living things) and the idea I shared above about the vastness of what we cannot seem to comprehend or grasp.
Another aspect of spirituality for me is striving to comprehend and unravel the programming we were all born into, both religious and cultural. As I am able to unwind and detangle myself from those stories, I uncover a little more of what makes us all so one-of-a-kind in the most amazing ways and I feel alive and curious and free!
To what extent have you found a healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I (we) haven’t, but we aren’t necessarily looking/expecting to. I always felt a bit overwhelmed with all of the activities and expectations of Mormon life. Being freed from those has offered us more time as a family, less rushing and less distraction. Yes, we have less relationships, but the ones that we do have mean more and they feel more real.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
For me the meaning is growth, expansion and understanding. It means waking up to see the forest from the trees. It means learning about who I am and finding ways to flourish given my unique past and present. It means doing the best I can with what I know, with how I feel and with who I want to show up as today and who I want to grow into tomorrow.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
I am waking up into greater connection with my children. I ask them questions more than before. I pause more than before. I see unique, growing humans and am so excited to see who they will become—their options are endless. I have taken time to deconstruct and rebuild my ideas around parenthood. I no longer feel that my children came to the earth as empty vessels requiring the “right recipe” to become the “right” kind of people. They came to the earth unique and enough. I see myself as more of a guide now, encouraging them to tap into their own inner knowing.
HERE is a list of books I’ve compiled that can be helpful for transitioning parents.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
We are fortunate in that we both found the information, devoured it, and ultimately felt the same way in how we view the church. With that said, our relationship feels more real and connected than it ever did before. We are able to see one another without the “worthiness” glasses on – oh such a gift! We share more in general, and it’s definitely more authentic because there is less fear around judgement or “right/wrong” labels.
Cody always felt somewhat responsible to get us all back to the right heaven. That “duty” felt heavy and suffocating to me at times. As he has completely let go of feeling responsible for our salvation, I’ve felt more understood, cared for, seen and valued than I did before.
My experience and observation during our life in the church is that there are just so many spoken and unspoken expectations that we are taught to place upon ourselves and others, in an effort to do all that “God” has asked of us. Brene Brown says that expectations are just disappointments waiting to happen; I agree. It feels much healthier and happier to accept people in their individual magnificence and embrace the humans we are doing life with for who they actually are!
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
I feel more rooted and at peace than I did in the church. I remember times when I would sob to Cody saying “I will literally never be enough or do enough in this church.” Cody was in medical school and residency for the first ten years of our marriage. During this time I was being “the right” kind of righteous Mormon woman by having four babies and staying at home with them. He was being “the right” kind of righteous Mormon man by accepting intense callings, home teaching, helping people move, being a medical resident AND working additionally in the evening to provide for our family. It was utterly exhausting for both of us, yet we never felt like we were measuring up.
Stepping outside of the perpetual hamster wheel to breathe and reset what “being enough” means is LIBERATING and I wish all to partake of it, wink!
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
I think I ought to create a second list of books that I’ve read to learn (literally for the first time ever) about female sexuality. Leaving the church helped me realize that I knew little to nothing about sexual health in general. I have been a busy bunny reading and reading AND reading to catch up in this realm, it’s been fascinating! Cody and I are taking a course by Esther Perel right now called “Rekindling Desire” and it is wonderful, I’d highly recommend it!
Again, we talk more openly, no shame, no “right” or “wrong,” and we are working to understand our previous programming so that we write a new future that feels even more enjoyable moving forward.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?
Leaving Mormonism helped me feel like I am enough just as I am. This alone has been tremendously healing. I stopped measuring myself against an unrealistic measuring stick handed to me by men who actually knew nothing about being a woman living inside the roadmap they’d crafted. I am free to be me, and I have come to feel perfectly enough since leaving the church, perhaps for the first time in my life.
I feel seen in a new way in my marriage now that “faithfulness” parameters are out of the picture. Our conversations are more stimulating, more real and just MORE in general.
My parenting has evolved in healthy, conscious ways, and my relationship with our girls feels more grounded. I don’t carry the same worry about their futures as I did in the church. It’s such a gift to step out of feeling the need to control outcomes and into a focus on connection and supporting who they actually are, rather than who they were supposed to become based on the religious roadmap. Our girls each have this wide open map now, and it’s blank, because they get to be the author of their own story moving forward, and this is a gift that they feel thankful for.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
I don’t think that we are alone in feeling some loss when it comes to the community. The last several years that we were in the church I felt less and less connected to the women there, but I always appreciated the examples that my children had in their teachers and leaders. Community feels like a bit of a hole in our hearts.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
The sun will shine again. During months of tears and heartache I would sometimes wonder if life would ever feel good again – hang in there because it absolutely does get better!
As I navigated the various and complex layers of my transition I often asked myself “What lesson is this experience offering me? How can I grow into a higher version of myself right here, right now?” It was helpful for me to infuse meaning and purpose and growth into circumstances where anger and frustration could have easily been the focus. I believe that any situation can be like a step on our ladder of life, helping us climb a little higher and see a little further. My greatest piece of advice would be for you to choose to see the steps and to climb your ladder, one painful and breathtaking and freeing step at a time.
Note: This post is part of the THRIVING Beyond Orthodox Mormonism project. See here to browse other profiles. To submit your own THRIVE profile, click this link.