Salt Lake City, UT, April 2010
Blue married Doc thirty-five days after he returned home from his mission. Nine years later, he revealed to Blue that he didn’t actually believe in God. Blue discusses how spiritual laziness in her early marriage contributed to her husband’s crisis of faith, how her family now functions with its unusual dynamic, and why she stays in her marriage and in the Church.
Tell me about meeting your husband.
In my patriarchal blessing I was told I would be led to a righteous young man who would love me, and that we’d be married and have a family. As eighteen year old freshmen in college, Doc found me and we quickly became best friends. While he was basically in love with me from the start, I had zero interest in waiting for a missionary and kind of resisted letting my feelings evolve in that direction. But the better friends we became, the more impossible it was for me to resist falling in love with him.
Did you ever have any doubts that marrying Doc was the right choice for you?
That year as we grew closer, I knew that if I was supposed to marry him I’d need to know for sure that he was the one. So for the first time in my life, I really fasted, intent on getting an answer. And to my joy, I got it. I just knew. The spirit showed me my answer in a way that confirmed he was my match. I couldn’t have made it through the years he was gone without the assurance that it was the right thing to do.
We got married about a month after his mission ended, and quickly settled into a busy life that included church, work, and school. Unfortunately, we didn’t establish a habit of reading the scriptures and praying regularly together. Today I have a testimony of the importance of regular scripture study because that is our armor; it is the way that we can protect ourselves every day. But Doc and I weren’t doing that at the time, which I feel led to what happened next.
During the first year of our marriage, Doc decided to look into some questions that had come up during his mission about the church. He went to the BYU library to research topics and find answers to his questions. Quite unexpectedly, as he delved into the history more deeply, he began to lose his faith in God. But instead of mentioning anything to me about it, he just kept it to himself, because it was painful.
Pretty much within that first year, he went from a true and faithful member, to not believing in God anymore. But again, he didn’t tell me what was happening within, because he didn’t foresee where this road was going. He thought, “I can compartmentalize this. I can live the Mormon life, even if I don’t believe it and it won’t be a problem.” He didn’t realize that as time went by it would become harder and harder for him to live at odds with himself; that he would eventually grow weary of it.
Did he live as if he were a believing Mormon for many years?
Yes. He continued to attend church and serve in callings. He told me once, when I asked him why, “It’s a good journey and the journey is the reward.” There are a lot of things about the church that he likes. It teaches good principles in general, and it’s his heritage since he comes from pioneer stock.
After college we moved to Chicago where he continued his studies and earned a Ph.D. We both really loved our ward there. He found friends in the ward who he could relate to, members who had questions and weren’t just “swallowing the kool-aid” (his words). Many of them had found a way to reconcile their questions and doubts with their faith.
When did he finally tell you about what he’d come to believe?
About nine years after we were married. I was pregnant with our second child… He sat down next to me one night and somehow it just came out that he didn’t believe in God. This caught me completely off-guard. I’d realized he wasn’t as gung-ho about the gospel as some people, and had various questions about our church specifically, but it had honestly never occurred to me that he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
He suggested that I only believed because I had been raised in the United States, and if I’d been raised in Japan, I would believe in Buddha. If I had been raised in India, I would have believed in Hinduism. I’d never even thought of that.
This was an earth-shattering realization for me. Doc was studying to be a scientist, and I thought, Scientists don’t have an agenda, they just want truth. So if I had read and studied like he has, I’d have concluded what he’s concluded, and therefore he’s probably right. I was just devastated. My whole life shifted in an instant. My whole belief platform was yanked away from me. I could see the possibility that everything I had believed wasn’t true; that maybe I had imagined it. Maybe it was all in my brain. I suddenly couldn’t trust any of the spiritual experiences I’d ever had before… except one.
When I was fifteen years old I was at the beach, and got sucked far out to sea. After considerable time trying to make it to shore, my energy was spent and I was struggling to fight for my life. Suddenly, the suggestion came to my mind (when I was so tired and fatigued) that I should just take a little nap to get my strength back, and then I could keep trying. I wasn’t really thinking clearly, and I thought, “Yeah, that would be a good idea.” I had just shut my eyes to do it when what sounded like an audible man’s voice pierced through the fog in my mind and decisively instructed me, “Pray!”
I instantly jerked back to alertness, and replied in my mind to him, saying, “I can’t pray, I can’t get to the bottom of the ocean to kneel.” Then I saw my whole life flash before me. That’s such a weird and amazing experience. You would think that it would take a long time, but it was almost like an instantaneous awareness of everything, with certain things highlighted all at once, in this case all the lessons I’d heard about how we can pray anywhere, about anything, no matter what. This experience didn’t seem to use up any time, and it was the first time I realized that I didn’t have a clue about some of the ways God has of communicating. I simply said, “Heavenly Father, please help me.” No typical formalities, or even “amen” at the end. And I don’t know what happened, but that was the last thing I remembered before I woke up on the sand, with a bit of a sunburn from being there a while.
This happened on a blistering hot day during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the beach was utterly packed. When I woke up I looked around. No one was paying attention to me. No person had rescued me or they’d have been with me. When the recollection of what had happened out there hit me, the realization that God was real, and not only that, but he knew me, simply overwhelmed me. Somehow I was saved from a watery grave. I’d been snatched and preserved for some purpose. My life mattered. I held onto this experience for years.
So that night when my dear husband told me he didn’t believe in God, even though I could almost explain away all the others, that was the one spiritual experience I couldn’t disregard. There was simply no other explanation.
At this point did he tell you that he’d been doubting for nine years?
Yes. For nine years he had a secret that I didn’t know about… which in and of itself felt like a betrayal. I thought, “But we tell each other everything. How could this be?” He has since said many times that he wished he’d told me from the very beginning of his crisis of faith.
After he told me about his loss of faith, not a lot changed in our day-to-day. I had my own crisis of faith in response to his, but we still lived like active believers, paid tithing, attended church, served in our callings and enjoyed the fellowship of our ward. But after he finished his Ph.D., we moved to New England, and Doc had difficulty finding any kindred spirits to connect with in our new ward. We were both suffering spiritually. He didn’t want to disappoint his family and hadn’t disclosed his loss of faith to any of them. So it was this big secret that I had to bear alone. After struggling with it for a few years, I encouraged him to talk to the bishop about where he was with his faith. Eventually he agreed to, and our bishop (who was also scientifically trained) encouraged Doc just to compartmentalize his beliefs. That helped for a little while.
And by “compartmentalize” you mean live as a Mormon and work out his theological issues within himself?
Yes. But for my husband, it didn’t feel like there was anything to work out. He just thought, “I don’t believe. I don’t know there’s a God. I don’t think anyone can know.”
Did he ever go through a time where he tried to fast and pray and read his scriptures to work out his spiritual problems, or do you think he faced it with a scientific approach?
I think that he concluded that he’d spent two full years reading, praying, studying and teaching the gospel every day as a missionary, and there wouldn’t be any point in trying that route again. He also studies the human brain in his profession, which he says is an amazing organ that we know almost nothing about even now. He told me “I wouldn’t trust any answers I got because our brains are capable of producing amazing experiences, and we interpret them through our life experiences. They don’t necessarily mean what we think they mean”. I always felt like this was a tidy and convenient excuse, because it leaves no room for faith in his life, only evidence-based beliefs. But that said, his seems to have been an honest fall from faith, despite the common perception that “he must have sinned or done something to lose the Holy Ghost.” I admit, I thought that too at first.
But I believe we can lose our way by giving into carelessness, doubt and sin. My husband and I were careless about reading the scriptures and saying prayers. We entertained doubts, and we all sin everyday. We need the Atonement and regular repentance in our lives if we’re to keep the Spirit with us. If we don’t guard ourselves against those things, then we’re in danger of things we don’t even know are out there. It’s the small and simple things that bring great things to pass, like a strong testimony and sense of purpose. What’s “smaller” than prayer and reading the scriptures? What’s simpler than studying His word and feeding our spirits and remembering Him every day?
Please talk about how you struggled with Doc’s loss of faith.
After my initial shock wore off, I confess trying to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with God. I prayed, “Okay, Heavenly Father, if you need to blind me or maim me or give us some trial to humble him, it’s a small price to pay for my husband’s soul.” It didn’t take me long to realize that this wasn’t how God works (and that I wasn’t all that humble myself).
Time went by and his agnosticism became an enormous wedge between us. It’s not entirely his fault. A lot of people look at me and say, “Oh, you’re a saint for hanging in there,” but the fact is that I did a lot of things that contributed to the situation, too. After my initial crisis of faith passed, I determined to stay close to the Church and I had Doc’s blessing and support in this, but from then on my position was, “I’m right and he’s wrong.” I thought that clearly I’m the believer so I’m in the right. Smug sure is a clever form of pride.
So for a long time I operated as though all our problems were entirely his fault. I thought things like, “If he’d told me when it happened, before we had kids, this would be a no-brainer. I’m not strong enough in my faith to be married to a closeted apostate! I need a man I can lean on.” But now we had our lovely children to consider, and we both want what’s best for them, to say nothing of the fact that he and I love each other.
My attitude only served to make him feel like nothing he did was good enough. I remember him saying, “I will go to my grave knowing that I’ve disappointed you. There’s no way that I can undo this, and it’s just tragic. I didn’t want you to be the star of your own personal Shakespearean tragedy.” It’s just sad, and from his perspective there’s no way around it. He didn’t expect this to happen. Neither of us asked for it, but it is what it is.
So what happened next?
Things degenerated a lot. Our relationship became very rocky. I wasn’t doing well spiritually on my own, and finally things were so bad that one day I thought, I can just leave the church. No one here would care, and it would remove this big wedge in my marriage, it would be a way to improve something in my life.
I remember I hadn’t been studying the gospel on my own for years at that point (outside of church attendance), including reading The Ensign magazine. But for some reason, as I was wrestling with my relationship with the Church, the Ensign came in the mail and I started reading President Hinckley’s article where he promised certain blessings would come into our lives if we’d read every day and finish the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. For some reason, I thought “I’ll take this little challenge.” It’d be kind of a parting “Hail Mary” to the Mormon Church. I had no idea this challenge was going to become a church-wide movement.
I started reading the scriptures consistently everyday, and after a few months I somehow developed a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I remember the moment it happened. The book became almost like an epic movie while reading the Alma war chapters. Before this, I couldn’t keep anyone straight and most of it didn’t make sense to me. There were nice verses here and there, but I didn’t get all this talk of war. So how surprising that it was in the war chapters that the spirit of that great book started to work in me! Suddenly I could almost “see” the people, they were alive and distinct individuals to me and it was as though I could feel and sense what they were experiencing vicariously. It was an amazing spiritual experience. I spent all day reading… I literally got lost in it and it was delicious in a way that people had described before, but which I had never experienced.
So I finally had this tiny little Book of Mormon faith, and I was almost like, “Oh, great!” Honestly, I kind of hoped it wasn’t true so I could leave the church with a clean conscience. But now I had to stay. I knew something in a way I never had before. And that was hard but it was also good. Because for the first time I had this kernel of bonafide faith…. and it was the smallest little kernel… but it was real. Finally my testimony wasn’t just based on belief, or acceptance or upbringing or social friends. I was staying in the church because darn it, it is true.
Were you upset because you didn’t end up with the life you had envisioned for yourself?
No doubt I’ve spent a lot of time hosting a glorious pity party! My attitude was, “I did everything right. I got married in the temple and did all the things I was taught. This shouldn’t have happened!” No one ever told me “Set your goals, but if life doesn’t work out the way you planned….”
So when things didn’t work out the way I expected, I was caught off-guard. I think that’s something we can do better—to prepare our children and ourselves–with skills and awareness needed to handle unexpected life events. Talk about how to live happily with unanticipated changes, especially in families. Satan will use anything he can to tear apart families, and the adversary started using my husband’s decisions and beliefs to cast doubt in my mind about whether I should stay in my marriage or not. I mean, wouldn’t it be better for me to leave him and go find a righteous man who wants to raise the kids Mormon? That’s the idea that I had to fight and wrestle with.
You and your family moved to Salt Lake so Doc could attend medical school, even though he was already well-established in his scientific career. How have things changed for you as a family since making that decision?
I knew medical school would be hard; I thought I knew what we were in for as a couple and family. But I had no idea how rigorous and demanding the process would be. I had accepted where we were as our “new normal”, and figured we would just ride out forever, with Doc as a closeted heretic living like a believer. But after we’d been in school a couple of years, he came to me and said, “I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t live the lie. I need to start edging my way out of the church.” He stopped taking the sacrament, and made some other changes that were very disheartening for me. I had gotten so comfortable with how we’d been, and this was yet another change. I was having a really hard time with some other struggles already, and this just tipped me over the edge. I fell into a deep depression, that required me to pull in and let go of a lot of things just to survive.
Why was it so hard for you to see Doc actually leave the church, when you’d known for years he didn’t believe?
It was hard because I love the guy! I also felt like it was my job to fix him. And that as long as his only struggle was not believing, then he’d be able to have his change of heart and no one would ever know what we’d been through. Edging his way out of living like a Mormon terrified me like nothing else. I worried over his soul like never before.
Then I had lunch with a friend who was in a similar situation, but after they were married her husband actually became totally anti-Mormon. He never set foot in the church, and began making a lot of the same choices mine had made. She finally decided, “I can either accept him for who he is, because he’s a great father, a great husband and I love him, or I should let him go because it’s not my job to make him feel like he’s not good enough.” She said it was the hardest process, but she finally made peace with their situation. It was hard to break those habits of judging him, but once she did, their relationship got closer and things really improved.
In that moment I had an epiphany that what I had been doing was holding back my love, being critical of Doc, looking at the motes in his eye and ignoring my own beams. I had a lot of repenting to do because of that, and felt truly humbled for all the hurt I’d caused him with my judgment and pride. I wrote him a letter and expressed how much I love him, and how sorry I was for all the years I had held back my love and acceptance and made him feel bad about things. I thanked him for all the wonderful things about him, including how he’s stuck it out with me through everything when so many other men would have just walked away and never looked back. It took a lot of weight off my shoulders to finally have that insight, and I was so grateful for that tender mercy.
How has it changed things?
It is really hard for me to change habits, and I’ve had to work at not saying things I would have said in the past. But we are sealed together and I want to be with him forever. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of all that, but I believe that if I live as well as I can, that’s all I have control over. If I love Doc as unconditionally as I can, like our Savior loves him, that’s all I can do. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I’m somehow not worried about it the way I used to be. I’ve felt peace about it finally.
As I mentioned, I used to think it was my job to save him. I still have a lot to learn about the atonement, and I worry about how his choices will affect our children through their teen years and beyond. They may struggle in ways they might not have if he’d been a strong member leading by example in the church., and that scares me just like it would any mom. I don’t know what kinds of things they’re going to have to deal with, but I do know that no one gets through this life without our own customized set of circumstances and opportunities to learn and grow and prove ourselves. We will all make major mistakes, but Heavenly Father loves us anyway. I’m just trying to become like Him.
What things have helped your marriage the most?
I think the thing that helped our marriage was me helping me. This included finding a good therapist to work with. There were so many different things I had to address—things that happened during my upbringing that affected my self-esteem and my sense of identity, as well as all my relationships. Developing genuine faith in Christ has been a big key. He has always been near me, even when I didn’t know it. I’m discovering that everyone struggles to figure out who they really are and why they’re here. I know now that there isn’t just one way to be a Mormon. Realizing that you can try to do everything “right” but you’re still going to have trials, and that they’re actually a blessing in disguise. The Savior actually did everything right and he still had trials. Without Doc’s experiences I wouldn’t have gone through the journey, which has resulted in a little bit of bona fide faith that continues to grow. Despite how painful it has been at times, I am very grateful to have my dear husband, lovely children and a testimony in my heart. Doc was right, the journey is the reward!
At A Glance
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Marital status: Married 20 years
Occupation: Flight Attendant
Schools Attended: Brigham Young University
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “How Firm A Foundation” especially the last four verses that we never sing!
Interview by Shelah Miner. Photo used with permission.