Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified six typical stages that people go through after suffering a loss. She called these the “stages of grief”. Many people who leave Mormonism experience some or all of these emotions.
Mormons who discover that Mormonism isn’t what they thought it was often experience shock. Shock can express itself as a strong physical reaction upon hearing or realizing terrible news.
People think, “This cannot be happening to me. I’m going to close my eyes and will it to go away.” They often think that they will wake up tomorrow and everything will be like it was – as if they will no longer know what they know. Sometimes denial expresses itself in a desire to run back to the church. Even after several months of transition, former Mormons may feel a strong urge to make things “normal” again.
Many who leave Mormonism become immediately angry. They go through some kind of righteous indignation and adopt some problem with Mormonism as a new life cause. If you don’t find Jesus, you can be stuck in the anger phase for a long time. You feel like someone stole something from you: years of your life, thousands of dollars of your money, your family, and more. If you’re going through these stages, you need to be aware of the anger and get beyond it. It is debilitating. You move beyond anger by deciding what comes next. What decisions will you make that will move your forward to something better? What will bring new, healthy purpose to your life? Here’s one of the major decisions in moving past anger: is there a God who is smarter than you are? Who is he? Where do you find him? What might he have to say to you?
Many former Latter-day Saints go through a deep sense of loss. This can be expressed by weeping that won’t stop, or a feeling of discouragement and depression. You might feel like the past is going away, your old life and everything it meant to you are gone forever, but you don’t know where you’re heading.
In a healthy transition, a person comes to the place of saying, “Okay, this is really happening.” It’s a giving in and giving up. This can be a time where surrender to God and his plans for your life is a mature response.
Resolution or hope
On our journey toward resolution, we need to stop obsessing about LDS history. Some former Mormons want to keep finding out more and more about all the problems of Joseph Smith. Once you’ve learned the basic picture, it’s not wise to stay mired in those issues, because they continue to breed anger and rob you of resolution. Move forward! In this, Jesus is key. Once a person surrenders his or her life to Jesus, the anger and sorrow get resolved. There is a hope and joy for the future birthed out of trusting in him.
How to help others
Learn how to share this offer of hope and joy with others. Get articulate about what it is and how it works.
Pray with people. Mormons have a scripted, formulaic way of praying. By contrast, Christian prayers are spontaneous, passionate, and vibrant – like you’re talking to a best friend. Latter-day Saints don’t have that experience of intimacy in prayer. So offer to pray with LDS friends and neighbors and with the people leaving Mormonism.
Be authentic. Because we know the unconditional grace of God in Christ, we don’t have to hide behind an image. We can be honest about our struggles. So you can become a safe place for Mormons and former-Mormons who are used to covering up and looking over their shoulder. You can model and offer the grace and authenticity that is unavailable in the LDS community.