By Katie Steed, From lds.org/blog
Never before had two flights of stairs seemed so long. I was coming back to church after a long absence, and my excitement had been replaced with fear. My desperate hope to believe in core doctrines of the Church, like Jesus Christ’s Atonement and the sealing power of the temple, had driven my return, but I worried that with a visible tattoo and extra piercing I would no longer fit in with my peers in the young adult congregation.
While my time away from church had some extremely dark moments, I honestly consider it as one of the most important times of my life. Never had I prayed so hard, examined myself and my beliefs so thoroughly, or faced my uncertainties so head-on as I did then. Once I came to terms with my struggles and questions, I realized how much I wanted to believe in the things I had been taught in the Church and decided to go back.
After making the decision, however, I started to worry about what others would think of me. I had a tattoo, and I wondered how I’d be judged because of it. I wondered if my questions about the gospel would seem silly to others and if I’d be labeled as undateable, unfriendable, and ignorable.
I finally made it to the Relief Society room that first Sunday and slid into the back row. I recognized a few people, but I avoided eye contact because I didn’t want them to ask where I had been or about my tattoo or piercing. My peers seemed to have perfect testimonies, and I marveled at the intelligent comments they made in classes. I felt like I was the only one with insecurities, and I worried that none of my peers would ever understand or accept me. I made it home that day without having to answer too many questions about my absence, but I wondered, would I feel like I had to dodge everyone and stare at the floor every Sunday for the rest of my life? Would my testimony ever grow?
During this time, one of my goals was to grow closer to and learn more about the Savior. I was reading the Gospels in the New Testament in addition to the Book of Mormon, and I came to the story in Mark chapter 2 when Jesus is eating dinner and is joined by publicans and sinners:
“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
“When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (verses 16–17).
That story went straight to my heart. I realized that if publicans—outcasts in the Jewish community—and sinners could fit in with Jesus, so could I, and that was all that really mattered. Never before had Jesus Christ’s Atonement meant so much to me. I realized that He was the only one who knew exactly how I had felt during my dark times—and exactly how I was feeling coming back to church. I still worried how I was being seen by my peers each week at church, but as I tried to focus more on following and getting to know Christ, those worries lessened.
As I felt better at church, I started to wonder if, like me, others felt afraid to share their questions and experiences. I thought that maybe if I spoke up and was more open and vulnerable, others might feel more comfortable about having questions as well.
It was difficult, but I began speaking up and was honest about my uncertainties and experiences. If anyone asked about my tattoo, I was happy and open to talk about it. My fear of being different began to disappear completely, and, without fail, any time I talked about my trials, questions, or thoughts, another person always came forward with similar worries and expressed relief that the subject had been brought up.
I was amazed to find that I had more in common than different with my peers. I found some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I have never felt closer to the Savior. I love the quote by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin: “The Church is not a place where perfect people gather to say perfect things, or have perfect thoughts, or have perfect feelings. The Church is a place where imperfect people gather to provide encouragement, support, and service to each other as we press on in our journey to return to our Heavenly Father” (“The Virtue of Kindness,” Apr. 2005 general conference). Now, more than ever, I know this is true.
To anyone who feels they don’t fit in at church—you truly do. We all have imperfections, and we all need each other’s support. Your experiences and faith are a needed part of the Church. Our questions help us find out what we truly believe, and sharing them in church can help us find answers. Our trials and experiences help us relate to one another and make connections that enrich our lives, especially in a ward family.
To anyone wondering how they can help people feel like they fit in at church, please don’t be afraid to talk to anyone you see who might seem different. Be loving, accepting, tolerant, and patient with those who look and act different. Vulnerability and genuineness are important elements in forming real and lasting relationships. The best friends I have from church are those who didn’t let my tattoo or questions get in the way of truly getting to know me, and those relationships helped me come to church on weeks when things seemed especially hard. I am forever grateful that my friends saw past my differences.
None of us is perfect, and none of us should expect anyone else to be perfect. Life is hard enough without setting too high of expectations on ourselves or others. If we support, accept, and love each other in spite of some differences, we will be more like the Savior. We are all on the same path with the same goals of happiness and returning to our Heavenly Father. Though we are all in different places on the path, with those goals we all fit in together.
Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. She can usually be found hiking, reading, or biking. She loves pizza and dogs.