In the past week I have seen more posts about people choosing to leave a religion I love, than I have in my whole life combined. Not everyone is leaving because of doctrine. Not everyone is leaving because they decided they don't believe anymore. Some of leaving because they do not feel welcome. They are leaving because they felt too much pressure to be perfect and to "Keep up with the Jones'". Because members are hypocritical and sometimes downright mean. They leave because sometimes, we push them out.
This breaks my heart.
We tell them, "Well if you don't believe, why don't you just leave?" So they do.
We tell them, "If you don't want to be here, then go." So they do.
We tell them with our actions that we don't care, because we don't introduce ourselves. We don't welcome them. We don't say, "Thank you for serving!" We don't say, "I'm so glad you're here!"
I grew up in a wonderful Young Women's that consisted of all my girl friends. I never had an issue with church. In my single's ward in college I loved it too. Everyone was welcoming, everyone wanted to get to know each other, serve each other, love each other.
In my first married ward I was introduced to Relief Society over 8 times before people started saying, "Haven't you been here before?" Nobody knew who I was. One lady asked where we lived and when I told her we lived in apartments she said, "Don't be offended if I don't bother to get to know you. It's just that the apartments have quick turn over and it's not worth my time." I was not worth her time. Then I was given a calling where I worked under a woman who told me I was not good enough to be in the position I was in. She made church hell for me. You can bet I was "sick" on Sundays more often than I've ever been in my life. I made every effort to attend church elsewhere with anyone else.
In my second married ward, I felt so young. My visiting teaching companion set up all our appointments and when I told her I felt too young and I felt like no one wanted to listen to me she said, "Do you think that God thinks you're too young to make a difference? I think he's so grateful that you are willing to minister to His children in ways that he cannot right now." BAM. I felt important because some one reminded me I was important. I was so happy when I received a calling in Relief Society Stake Presidency and so sad when we moved out. I felt needed, even if I was 50 years younger than the rest of the presidency.
When people leave I feel anguish for every judgmental comment I have made about another person. I was not the nicest most welcoming person in high school, I judged others for their mistakes. I feel sorrow for anyone I may have ostracized and pray to be forgiven of those sins. I wonder if I should spend more time getting to know those I attend with. I try to make sure I say thank you and say, "I'm so glad you're here!" to the women and young women I serve with. I now realize that just because my sins might not be as visible as someone else's doesn't make me any better. I am a SINNER in need of a SAVIOR just like you, just like the young man I dated with an addiction to pornography, just like my girl friend who went too far with her boyfriend, just like my friends who use vulgar language, just like the friend who drank in high school and I kept my distance from because of that. I need a Savior just like them.
I'm not perfect now. But I've figured out that I could have friends who have different beliefs and values than me. In fact, they make life interesting because I learn so much from them. I learned every Latter-Day Saint is not saintly, many can be devilish and seem to be on Satan's own agenda based on how they make you feel. I recognize now that the basis of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to simply LIVE like Jesus Christ. I pray that in all the gospel fluff, we (and especially I) will focus our lives, our lessons, our testimonies, our relationships on Jesus Christ.
And when people leave, I hope we choose to love them like Christ would. Without being pushy, judgmental or ostracizing. I hope we will welcome EVERYONE with open arms. Because if Christ were here today, I believe that is exactly what he would do.