I was raised Mormon and even though I'm no longer a member of that religion, pretty much my entire family is. And I'm certainly not knocking anyone that has a fulfilling relationship with God regardless of what "religion" it is, this is simply MY experience.
Growing up there were always rules; don't drink caffeine, don't smoke, don't drink, don't say certain words, wear a dress to church, go to church, go on a mission. Not that those are necessarily BAD things to live by, I just never really understood why except for 'because we said' and because that is how I felt like God loved me. If I could follow the rules, then God would love me. If I didn't follow the rules, then I wouldn't get to live with my family in Heaven forever, I wouldn't be allowed in the temples, I might even get kicked out of the church! So can you imagine as a kid how I might have felt when I didn't follow the rules?? Which was, quite honestly, often. I felt like I was unlovable by God and those in my religion and I didn't really have a firm understanding of why those things were "bad". So needless to say, when I coupled my constant guilt of not being a "good Mormon girl", like all the rest of them seemed to be able to do so effortlessly, with the feelings of abandonment due to a Dad that hightailed it out of our lives, it was a recipe for disaster and a cocktail of guilt.
And I struggled and struggled. I did a lot of the things I wasn't supposed to on the weekdays and then went to church on Sunday feeling unlovable and unworthy and never feeling like I belonged in either place. And then I got pregnant at 15 and good Mormon girls don't have sex outside of marriage and good Mormon girls definitely don't get knocked up at 15. But I continued to go and the shame grew and grew with every sideways glance from the "good" people. Now, I recognize that some of this I may have built up in my own mind...they may not have been judging me, and some definitely went out of their way to let me know I wasn't un-savable. But it was like putting a black sheep in the middle of the regular ones...they kind of stand out as being different.
Then our kids grew and my husband and I wanted to establish a better relationship with God. My husband had been raised in various non-denominational churches and we often had major debates on religion. We were definitely not equally yoked and it put many a strain on an already strained family. But at a particularly low point in our lives he ran into an older couple that he knew from his childhood church days and they invited us to join them at church. So we did and I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever!! If you've never been to a Mormon church they are very reverent people. Music is accompanied by a piano or organ and there may be laughter, but you definitely aren't hearing shouts of praise during a speaker or seeing folks raising their hands in worship. And talking in tongues? Oh goodness gracious NO WAY! It's just not the way they roll, in my experience. So as someone that was coming into it from that perspective and upbringing it was pretty crazy and I just had the hardest time wrapping my brain around it - a BAND for worship? People raising their hands and shouting amens and hallelujahs? Rowdiness in church?? A Multimedia Presentation?? Where were the folded arms, bowed heads, and soft hymns?
However, my husband really enjoyed being there and the kids all survived...and honestly, our little family needed some grounding in faith, so we kept going back.
And little by little I let the voice in my head, the one that said this was the WRONG way to sing, the WRONG way to pray, the WRONG way to be, to just quit being so judgmental all the time. After all, one of the things that I felt growing up as a Mormon was constantly judged, so who was I to decide that the way these folks were worshiping was wrong? I eventually even allowed myself the occasional "amen" and a slight hand raise during worship. And then one day it just happened. God hit me like a freight train in the middle of worship and I felt like I was completely FULL. So full that my tears of joy could not be contained. All of the judgment that I had felt, all of the times I felt like I was "bad", all of the times I felt like the black sheep, they just lifted away. My heart SANG like it had never sung before. I finally felt like God wasn't this far-away, unknowable figure, but that he was my friend. Someone that wasn't judging me, but someone that was there to pick me up when I stumbled. Someone that wasn't shoving rules or religion in my face, but was asking me to have a relationship with Him. Come close. Listen deep. Feel loved.
And on that day my heart surrendered and I have been His since then. I walk with Him, and talk with Him, and feel His warm embrace as he guides me; always reminding me that he is my Yahweh. It doesn't matter that my real Father abandoned us, because I have my Father who will never leave nor forsake me.