I'm in the Stake Young Women's Presidency and one of the things we do is visit every ward during Ward Conference. I'm not so close to being translated that I welcome 3 extra hours of church. I don't. I spurn it. But my Stake President, Richard Williams, is an inspiring speaker. I found that I actually enjoyed hearing his talk 7 times. This is the opposite of what I would have expected to have happen.
Every time I heard it, I was very moved by it. He changed it up each time but the main message was clear. He explained that you have to put yourself in the position to have revelatory experiences in order to have a spiritual confirmation of faith. I think this is true.
When people become offended or burned out or just start to feel tired and apathetic about the church they naturally stop going or doing the little things. They're just little things. And they are almost cliches (read scriptures, pray, go to all your meetings) but doing those things positions you to receive confirmation not only of those things but also to open you up to larger, affirming experiences. It's the same with a lot of stuff. When I get tired and stressed out I don't read as much and then I forget that I LOVE reading and that it actually sustains me and refreshes me and makes me happy and helps me deal with feeling tired and stressed out. Apparently it's the same with exercise.
I can see that a naysayer or non-religious person would say that my stake president and all people who teach this type of thing—essentially, that you have to do it to believe it—are using a form of brainwashing just to get people to do what they want. Like, my stake president might have a vested interest in our stake members paying tithing so he's going to preach that the only way to get a testimony of tithing is to pay it so he can get a bunch of money. I can see this criticism of the testimony-gaining process, but I reject it. My stake president is a good, smart, hard-working man who doesn't get his thrills from planning youth conferences and is not getting rich off of tithing. He is not self-serving. Asking people to live the gospel is not self-serving. (It only creates more work for him.) He is asking people to live the gospel because it makes them happier and because he believes it's true. He believes the best defense against the evil of the world is knowing the joy of the gospel. I believe this too.
It is an unfortunate irony (like me not reading when I feel overwhelmed and too stressed to read) when people stop going to church when they are having trouble because, as my stake president put it, they are turning their back on the very thing that can heal them. Aside from the healing power of the atonement, which I believe in, being outwardly focused and engaged in the cause of helping others does help you gain perspective and forget your own worries. And if you are disillusioned with the church because of some outrageous person or weird Sunday School lesson, why not hang in there and be the more liberal voice or more reasonable voice or less certain voice that you are criticizing the church for not having? President Uchtdorf has literally said, Come, join with us. He says that diversity within the church is one of its greatest strengths. I totally agree with this.
President Williams made the comment that people sometimes leave a "cartoon-version of the church." Speaking from the pulpit about lapsed faith has become more and more common among church leaders. I don't recall it ever being mentioned openly as much. I feel like there's a new wave of understanding, compassionate leaders (my bishop, my stake president, Dieter Uchtdorf, Jeffrey Holland, Henry B. Eyring) in the church who want to address concerns and bring people into the fold. Again, I can see how naysayers might think this is weird. Why can't they just mind their own business? Why are you always trying to "bring people into the fold"? I get that sentiment. I can't really explain it other than to say that believing it is living it and living it, inherently, makes you care about other people and want to help them to be comforted and happy. I know that members of other faiths and atheists care about people, too. The new pope is one of the most caring people I've ever heard of. But for me and for my family, the LDS church is the way to become better, happier people and for friends who have lost their faith and are struggling I think the LDS church has something to offer. Would I try to convert the pope? I wouldn't. Would I try to convert a happy, good atheist? Probably not. That's why I'm calling this post "Don't Leave the Church" and not "Become a Mormon, Pope." I am not that bold of a missionary. But there are people who are and I think they have good intentions.
In theory you could feel resentful about a Stake President who nags you to come to church. But that's a cartoon version of the church. Because you can't actually go to 7 ward conferences and listen to that stake president trying to help and encourage the members of his congregation and explain his hopes for them—that they might have a higher vision of this world and their place in it—and not feel moved. I fully expected to be bored and sick of ward conferences by the end. But I wasn't. And I get bored and sick of a lot of things. I'm not mature. I don't have a lot of scriptures memorized. My stake president said you need to go to church and put yourself where the word of God can sink into your heart. I go to church every week. I don't feel the need to go to 7 extra sacrament meetings. But I'll be darned if what he said was not only true but actually happening to me while he said it, over and over. I always believed he was a good man and a capable stake president but now I believe in the gospel more profoundly and it makes me want to be better and do more good things.
Don't leave the church. It's good for you and you're good for it. There are lots of issues, guys. I know. None are insurmountable. You can handle it.