First things first, this is not an anti-Mormon post. So, if you’re really in the mood for some heavy bashing, look elsewhere, you won’t be satisfied here.
I grew up in small-town Idaho where you were far more likely to come across cows in the street than you were to find somebody who wasn’t a Mormon or at least related to one. It was a tight-knit community that of course had small town hurdles, but I’d take those problems all over again to grow up in that amazing place with equally amazing people.
My hometown has a population of about 3,000 people. My sister and I were fortunate enough to grow up not too far from my grandma and grandpa’s farm. Just a few miles outside of town sits a place that is the backdrop for a large portion of my childhood memories. My grandpa was a former Marine and to this day one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege of meeting. He was tough, unapologetic, but absolutely succumbed to my grandma who was the sweetest lady I knew, until you pissed her off. He was tough, she was tougher. They made one hell of a couple.
They were strong in their faith and always encouraged us to do what was right. In elementary school I got caught stealing a small toy car from a local store. After getting reprimanded by my mom, the store owner, and a police officer, I thought I had heard the end of it…until grandma, of course. She didn’t yell at me, nor did she explicitly tell me what I did was wrong. She simply reminded me that as a boy scout, and a member of the LDS church, I had let her down. She said that she was “disappointed” in my decision. She didn’t skip a beat in treating me like her grandson, it was just a reminder that my actions did not fall in line with the expectations of either organization I was a part of.
The Mormon church is full of people like my grandma and grandpa: good, honest, hard-working, fair, genuine, and very loveable. I met many of these people attending church with my grandparents in the Garfield 3rd Ward outside the city limits of my hometown, Rigby. I met a lot of these people throughout my school years. I met even more of these people when I served a two-year church mission in the Hawaiian Islands. Some of the relationships I made via my church membership are people I would die for, kill for. Absolute blessings in my life. The relationships alone are one big reason somebody should appreciate the church. Luckily for me, submitting a formal resignation letter to have your name removed from church records does not sever any of those relationships that matter.
While on my church mission I had the opportunity to listen to and meet Elder Boyd K. Packer. He was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the highest governing body of the church. It is believed by those in the church that these men receive revelation directly from God as to what He wants done with the church on Earth. Needless to say, it was a great experience listening to him give instruction. He ended his time with us with a little Q&A. One of my fellow missionaries asked President Packer how we could decipher the difference between whether we were receiving revelation, or if it was just a “good idea” that popped into our heads. President Packer gave a simple, stern response: “What difference does it make?” He let that sink in for a moment before he continued, “Whether it is revelation or a good idea, if it works, it works.” He expounded on that thought for a bit longer, but the gist of it was that if something is effective, or works, then do it. If it is not working, don’t. I loved this direction.
Switching gears, if you know anything about me, you know that I am a fan of Jim Rohn. He was a major influence in the arena of personal development. His books and seminars had the purpose of enriching people’s lives, and helping them become better leaders. One of my favorite quotes from Jim Rohn is “make sure what you do is a product of your own conclusion.” He derives this thought from a story he told at a weekend seminar about coming across two books on diet and exercise. The first book gives very specific instructions on the best path to a healthy lifestyle. The second book says that if you do what the first book says, you’ll die. Jim Rohn continues, “Which book do you follow? The answer to that question, ladies and gentleman, is one of the great thoughts for this weekend. Neither one.” He continues to instruct, “You must read both books, and then decide.” This is a principle we must all work on. In each aspect of our lives you have to get as much information as possible, and then decide. I will die with his line in my head: make sure what you do is a product of your own conclusion. This seems so simple, but it is so uncommon.
On this idea of personal development, Steve Jobs gave arguably the greatest commencement speech to Stanford University’s 2005 class. Of course he is best known for his development of Apple, Inc., but I believe this address is more beneficial for humanity than any electronic device his company will ever produce. Here is the part I want to share:
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Of his 15-minute delivery, the second sentence stuck with me the most. “Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking.” Dogma exists everywhere. Sports, education, religion, business, exercise, literally EVERYWHERE. In life, it is easy to stay between the parameters of dogma. And, for some, that will be their entire story. But for you, somebody who is smart, capable, and motivated, this can’t be what defines you. ‘Because’ can never be the answer to any question ever asked of you.
My sister and I had the same upbringing. Today she has a very active LDS family. Her incredible husband is the second counselor to their ward’s bishop, and she is the Relief Society President (The Relief Society is a part of the church’s organization specifically for women). Conversely, the church plays no part in the life of my wife and me. So what differed? Two kids, same family, same upbringing. The difference is simple. The church works for her, it makes sense to her, and her involvement is a product of her own conclusion. She is an inquisitive person who can look at things spiritually and empirically. Her husband is the same way. They are reasonable, logical thinkers. They have decided through years of study and critique that the church fits into and improves their lives. It has a message they not only hold on to, but enjoy so much that they share it with others. They do not attend because of an expectation, they attend because they believe. I also consider myself an inquisitive person who can look at things spiritually and empirically. My wife is the same way. We are reasonable, logical thinkers. We have reasonably concluded through years of study and critique that the church does not fit into our lives. It does not have a message we hold on to. Simply put, the church does not work for us. We can relate it to a diet. One diet does not work for all people. I would be absolutely insane to suggest that my diet is the diet everybody should follow since it works for me.
In any of your life decisions I encourage you to think of Elder Boyd K. Packer, Jim Rohn, and Steve Jobs and ask yourself these three questions: Is what I am doing working for me? Have I considered all the facts to make this decision? Am I doing this for myself, or somebody else? If you can answer those questions, you will be well on your way to live your life the way you want, the way it was meant to be lived. You only get one of these experiences, might as well make it your own. It is worth noting that when I told my loved ones the truth about my stance on the LDS church, I was 100% supported by anybody who mattered to me. If you know WHY you are doing what you doing, people are accepting. If you can answer WHY you want to go to church, study medicine, travel the world, or become a tattoo artist, even your toughest critics will respect your decision. So, honestly ponder those three questions, and whether you are on the fence about a church, or just trying to figure out something small, let the answers shed light on your decision-making process.
Finally, I find comfort in knowing that I am defined by what I do, how I treat people, and how I make those around me feel. That is who Ali Goljahmofrad is. I am not defined by my favorite sports teams, my political or religious affiliations, or even my career choice. Those are parts of my life that add to my equation, but by no means do they define me as a human being. We are not defined by our thoughts except for those that lead to action, because again, what we do does indeed define us. So, do what you conclude you should do. If it makes sense to you, do it. It is not popular to be a religious person in 2015, but if that’s what makes sense to you, be that, and be that proudly. Anybody who opposes you does not understand those three questions, and that’s okay. Les Brown shared an ultimate truth when he said, “Somebody’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”