Lila Tueller

John Dehlin THRIVE 16 Comments

My name is Lila Tueller. I’m a single mom of seven mostly grown children, and I’m living in Orem, Utah. My two youngest kids live with me full-time. I’m 58 years old and was born and raised LDS. My parents were both converts to the church. I was married in the temple and I stayed married for 33 years. Divorced in 2014. My ex later passed away in 2017.

(Lila’s Mormon Stories Podcast episode can be found here.)

What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?

I think I benefited from the structure and framework of the church as a young person. I’m pretty sure the guilt and shame attached to moral transgressions kept me out of trouble for the most part, and I had no problem keeping the word of wisdom. I think it basically kept me out of danger and from making serious mistakes I might later regret.

What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most Important to you?

I believed in the Godhead, most importantly in a Savior who was also my loving elder brother who was my advocate with the Father. I believed in the power of the spirit to witness truth to my soul. I believed in repentance and forgiveness and in the eternal family unit. I believed in the saving ordinances and in doing the work for the dead. I believed in the millennium and that I would be able to be a part of the winding up scene prior to the second coming of the savior and the establishment of Zion. Etc…   I definitely believed the true church had been restored. And I believed that the leadership were being led by the spirit and ultimately by Jesus Christ himself.

What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?

I think I had what I considered to be spiritual experiences quite often, where I felt touched by music or someone’s testimony, or a moving scriptural account. Mostly I loved reading the scriptures and I felt I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon specifically. I believed it was God’s only true church on the earth and especially that Jesus was our Savior, and the gospel he taught was true. I felt moved to bear my testimony often in church.

How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?

I think it started young although it took many years before I was able to recognize all of the items I had put on my shelf. Over time that shelf became very heavy with contradictions, a lack of evidence of the truth claims, being marginalized as a woman, seeing how the church treated blacks, and LGBTQ members, etc. It all came crashing down when I listened to some podcasts on polygamy and the other messy historical problems that I felt had been effectively brushed under the rug for decades, even since Joseph Smith and when I read the gospel topics essays and the CES letter… I was just done.

What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?

The way women had been treated as less-than, which carried over into my marriage.  Also the guilt and shame that is used to manipulate and control the members. The way that my parents were expected to devote their lives to the church which caused them to neglect and even often times abandon their own children to the care of others in order to fulfill their callings. (My father was an LDS General authority)

How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?

I understand that people in all walks of life and in every religion or belief system have the very same kinds of “spiritual” experiences that have witnessed the same kinds of things to their hearts about their own beliefs. It is not just a Mormon experience. It’s simply a manifestation of warm fuzzies that everyone gets under highly emotional circumstances. I have felt the same feelings watching athletes or musicians perform, watching the “Lion King”, or watching a video of someone doing something heroic or especially kind and caring. Therefore… it’s no longer an effective determiner of truth.

What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?

I think there was an equal mix of pain and relief, once the initial shock wore off. At first it was devastating! I was angry and hurt and wanted to rant all the time! But after I went through that and felt all those feelings, I became sad at times at the loss of direction… but also elated! It felt so good to let go of all of the pressure and the heavy burden I felt from trying to do everything that I felt was expected or required to be righteous. The guilt I had carried from my mistakes and my weaknesses was finally lifted! It was exhilarating and freeing… as well as sad and sometimes painful.

In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?

I think their sincere efforts to rescue me became annoying and frustrating, and triggering! I wanted to tell them how misguided and confused they were but I also knew it would do no good. The bishop wouldn’t stop trying to bring us back, the “ministers”, the plates of cookies with the “we miss you” notes on them… all became irritating and created a feeling of being the new “project” in the ward.

Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?

I wouldn’t say helpful, no. Maybe genuinely concerned, but not helpful. I did appreciate that the bishop finally backed off and stopped sending us “ministers” after we asked him to do so repeatedly. Prior to becoming inactive we did have kind members help us with moving and things like that.

What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?

I think the Mormon Stories Podcasts were at the top of the list. Also Radio Free Mormon, Bill Reel, the CES letter, Dan Vogel’s YouTube page, and many books on the subject of church history, also other helpful secular books from too many authors to try to mention here. I love Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations Podcast too.

What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?

I think I could have been more considerate of believing family and ward members during my angry stage. Luckily it didn’t last very long. Also, being so public did some unnecessary harm to my family, which I could have avoided. But hindsight is 20/20, and there was also a lot of good that came from that.

How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?

I guess I kind of answered that in the last question. But to be more clear, I do think it has affected my believing children’s respect for me, as well as my own siblings. They see me as lost, confused, struggling. Blinded. I think they don’t realize how much happier I really am after leaving! They don’t want to see that. I’ve probably lost some friendships, but they must not have ever really been my real friends…

How have you navigated communication with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?

I’m still working on this one. I get very frustrated when they send me talks to read or quotes they think are going to help bring me back. I should say nothing. But just today I told my sister that it wasn’t helpful for her to send me that stuff. Because I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t think she appreciated my candor. Not sure how to do this gracefully. Probably best to say nothing in these situations.

Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?

I still don’t drink alcohol, I rarely drink coffee, I still believe there’s some sort of a creator but I don’t know about the other members of the Godhead. Trying to figure out Jesus, but honestly I’m not sure about any of it. I still believe in the golden rule, and I still believe in some sort of moral compass although it’s very different than how the church defined it for me. For instance I don’t think sex outside of marriage is a sin next to murder anymore. I still believe in honesty, charity, brotherly love and behaving responsibly.

In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?

I sometimes swear now.  I don’t pray the way I used to.   don’t attend church and don’t want to join another religion.  I allow my children to make their own choices based on the morals I teach them now.  I don’t apply guilt or pressure or shame, although I don’t think I really ever did.  I sometimes drink coffee with lots of almond milk and Stevia. I am open to so many more viewpoints and ideas, and I feel like I’m much more loving and accepting.

What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?

I’m still trying to define what “God” means. I’m not sure that I believe in Joseph Smith’s Anthropomorphic God, but it’s hard to imagine what God does look like if not like a human. I do feel like there is something greater out there… maybe a highly developed being in the universe, who Is very wise and caring and watches out for us. Or maybe even a supreme creator but that theory is problematic too. I’d love to believe in a Jesus who paid for our sins and who is our savior. But I am afraid he may have just been a really enlightened thinker, who challenged the regime of the day and whose ideas were way before his time. I do think he was exceptional. And I think I would have been a follower had I lived back then where he lived.

How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?

I do think maybe there’s a greater reason for our existence than just to be born, live, grow old and die. I sure hope so! I had a near-death experience, which if REAL, gave me hope that there is more after this life for all of us.  I also believe that matter/energy doesn’t just go away.  It changes form…but it continues. I believe that is true for our spirits when our bodies die.

WIthout the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?

Well I try to use my own sense of right and wrong… and I try to take the church teachings out of it. That’s not always easy, but I do my best. I listen to my own reason and sense of decency. I like to consider how my actions affect others and take that into account, although we usually cannot please everyone.

Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?

Yes I do value spirituality. But not the sappy Mormon definition of the word. I believe we are all spiritual in our true nature, because we all have a spirit that exists in our bodies. And that spirit is who we really are. I seek to learn and grow and be open to truth from all kinds of sources because I don’t want to stagnate and waste this experience. So I look for things that resonate with my spirit, while using my brain to reason things out. 😁

To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?

I have created a supportive group of like-minded friends who I interact with almost daily. I listen to podcasts, read good uplifting books, and try to find joy in this amazing experience called life. Meditation can be very helpful. Relaxation and positive self-talk also helps me during stressful times.

What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?

Life offers so much to enjoy, along with difficulties to learn and grow from. I think it’s about how we treat one another… showing love and concern for our fellow beings, and doing our best to improve the world we live in, within our circle of influence. I think we are supposed to be moving to a higher state of consciousness and becoming more evolved through our lives… and maybe we live many of them… until we learn the lessons we need to learn.

If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?

I think I’m a better parent now. I am more respectful of children’s differences, and of their chosen paths. I try not to judge, pressure, control, or guilt them into anything. I just try to be a teacher of things I have learned through my own experiences.

How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
I think I’m much more stable and content. Depression is no longer a problem, and I feel free to choose my own path.

How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexuality?

I feel differently about “sexual sin.” I see sex as a very normal, healthy and beautiful part of life, as long as it’s caring, mutual, and respectful, and done responsibly. I’m not in a relationship right now so this is in theory but I do have a different feeling and belief about it now, regardless of my current situation.

What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?

I love Sundays now! I love feeling freedom and the joy of discovery and choosing my own path! I love not having all the answers and being able to decide for myself what my beliefs are and what life will look like for me.  🙂

What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?

I’m missing being with the love of my life, my partner, by best friend. I know he’s there… I’m waiting for him. I’m still looking to find out what I want to be when I grow up!

What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?

Don’t rush the process. Feel all the feelings. Find someone to talk to… don’t go through it alone. Don’t wallow in anger longer than necessary, but find the joy of discovering your own truth! See this as a beautiful adventure… and remember YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!

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Note: This post is part of the THRIVING after Mormonism project.  See here to browse other profilesTo submit your own THRIVE profile, see this link.

Comments 16

  1. I very much appreciate Lila’s candor and courage in sharing her story, however briefly.

    Transitional exiting the LDS Church is very, very difficult.

    For me, I was nearly 40 when I joined the church, months after my former wife and I lost an infant daughter. My reasons for joining are many, varied and complex; however, I would put guilt, a desire to please, and grief at the top of the list. Notwithstanding my doubts I joined and within months of being baptized, I was asked to speak in an overflow stake conference audience.

    When I joined, my then living parents and my siblings were unsupportive. That was difficult.

    I tried during the next six or seven years, however, I am skeptical by nature; my training as a lawyer merely exacerbates that skepticism. As much as I tried to please my family and serve actively, my doubts grew. The further I researched the more I felt I had made a very big mistake in the midst of grief. As I expressed my doubts to my wife and began backsliding, our marriage eroded and finally ruptured.

    My son suspects my disaffection but has not confronted me; my daughter saw me coming out of a Starbucks and has disowned me. I’ll not print my last name because I’m still very active in both the business and legal communities and to disavow, once a convert member, is to commit societal and personal seppuku in this state.

    I’m lonely but have some very supportive friends who take me as I am. Some are active LDS and just think that I’m a lost soul; others who are not LDS think I’ve re-normalized.

    I still very much believe in God. I am more ambivalent about Jesus. Put me in the category of Thomas Jefferson: Jesus is one of the greatest leaders, thinkers, and theologians in history. I believe He believed He is the son of God. I believe is a great teacher and that his doctrines and way of being and living are worthy of our emulation.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry you have had the difficult transition of leaving and losing your marriage in the wake. This church has caused a great deal of pain for many, many people. I hope you will continue to seek out supportive people in your life who will love and accept you as you are! As a whole, strong, assertive and courageously authentic man.
      All the best to you!

  2. You have to hand it Mormonism: the wedding photo with all the family and kids is beautiful. Secular communities ought to figure out how to capture that beauty. What happens after the photo, of course, may be a different matter. Secular values value everyone – or we at least strive to.

  3. John, there is no need for me to formally “file” my answers to the questions you are asking of former Mormons. For my answers to your questions, simply use the exact responses that Lila Tueller used in this survey form. My answers would “mimic” Lila’s answers almost verbatim. She is a very smart, direct, and intelligent lady of distinction. One variance is that I have been divorced for 35 years after being married for 10. My three adult children and I are very close today like I always dreamed we would be. My middle son Legrand Kimball (Mormon name sake) and I live together. I chose to take Legrand under my “wing” in 2007 following his 100% disability retirement from the U.S. Army in 2003. We have a “blast” dissecting religion and philosophy and playing with Suburban, Legrand’s cocker spaniel who lives full-time with us.
    Charles Rugg, Shreveport, La.

    1. Thank you for your comments. Nice to know someone resonated with my answers! Good to hear you have your son with you and you are enjoying that supportive and fulfilling relationship together!
      All the best to you!!

  4. Lila:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I related to what y0u wrote. My answers to the questions are different from yours, yet they might as well be the same. I understood the aspects of Mormon beliefs you held dear, and your description of losing y0ur faith and transitioning out was all too familiar. I have many wonderful and positive memories from my time in the LDS community. Now that I have been Post-Mormon for 20 years, it is hard to look back and think about how much control I ceded to the church, and how much I let the LDS organization dictate my feelings and worth. I am glad that is behind us!

    Thank you again for putting yourself out there.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I’m glad that you have succeeded in moving on so successfully and can look back in awe at how it all ever happened. Thank goodness we can grow and change and become wiser as we move through life.
      All the best of everything to you!
      Lila

  5. Lila’s split from the church makes me happy because this is what she wants to do, I feel sorry for her family not because of what Lila did. They just believe what they want to believe and just like the rest of the church they are narrow minded. If you are not a destructive person in your own life you can be just as happy in your life then being in the church. I do appreciate Lila authenticity, I understand it was a struggle for you but you know for lots of reasons it seems to be a struggle for all ex-mormon leaving the church. I see you are angry, but I am glad we are in a world where we can be part of the world instead of just the church although the church has some good ideals. With the church every one sort of think the same with the rest of the world more people think differently which makes you feel at ease instead of following rules and worrying if you measure up, now that is sad.

  6. As a former Jehovah’s witness, a convert in my late teens (fifty years ago), I had an almost identical experience. I lost all my friends when I left; only to have my wife leave me. Should any of you desire to make contact with “a pilgrim” who lives here, in Scotland, I give permission to John to release my email address.
    Warmly, Alexander aka Sandy

  7. Wow, I could relate to so much!!! Being single, almost exact same age, I’m 57 but 58 in a month. I stopped dating last year because I could no longer live with the constant judgement job interview, show me your current temple recommend or I won’t date you, or our first date as to be at the San Diego Temple! thank you for sharing. I hope to share my story soon . God I feel blessed this corona virus reset!

  8. I listened to your whole story today. Itls been a bit of a podcast maratthon with 6 hours straight. Lila, you’re my hero. Strong, capable and resilient and seem to have lived up to the saying, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. John, another “epic” podcast. Sincere thanks for all you do.

  9. Good morning. I was drawn to Lila’s story especially when I heard her speak of a somewhat loveless marriage and how that all played out for her. It warms my heart that she was able to separate amicably and help as much as she could, her former spouse, in his last days. I am struggling in my current situation and am hoping for resolution in the coming few months. Covid has impacted life and has also allowed me to step up more and serve selflessly even in the absence of romance. Feel free to pass on my email if you feel led to. I appreciate your story, Lila, you are strong beyond measure – loved the facts of walking and being an introvert! As I once heard stated, “Life is not for the weak.” All you’ve been through displays your strength. Blessings.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments! Sounds like you are enduring something similar. I hope you can find the strength to continue to follow your heart and find your path as you have done so far. Life doesn’t end till it’s over so it just keeps on coming at us 🙂
      All the best to you and your family❤️

  10. Hello Lila,

    It’s hard to express how much your words resonated with me. As a lifelong member, I’ve journeyed on a somewhat similar path. My father (also a military guy) progressed in the church throughout my childhood to reach a position of an area authority. I was also brought up to fervently protect his/our family name, seemingly above all other priorities. For me, this came at the expense of a close relationship with my father. Though he is a hard working, generous and honorable man, his overriding desire for respect of others, and to do and be everything the gospel mandated caused a significant degree of strife in our household.

    I can’t forget getting repeatedly hit with a stick by my (then-Bishop) father for indiscretions. These occasions were painful and confusing to my ~10-year old mind, and I fully believed that I was deserving of the treatment. After all, so many people respected and loved my father, sought him out for counsel, blessings, and to feel closer to the spirit. Through the years of my youth, I continued to feel personally ashamed for having been so insubordinate and disappointing to my dad, and I believed myself undeserving of being ‘The Bishop’s Son’. I am his namesake, and accepted the necessity of such corrective measures from my father, priesthood leader and resident church authority. Even so, I would make myself scarce whenever he was around, fearful of his outbursts and violence. Hearing you describe similar experiences (e.g., after being ‘caught’ watching an unapproved movie), and learning of your brother’s unwanted haircut was all too familiar. Speaking of my own experiences, both as child and adult, I do believe now that the church (and religion in general) can unfortunately be a catalyst that cause men to exert a power and authority over others that is far-too-frequently expressed in damaging, angry ways – often and particularly to family members.

    I recall meeting Paul H. Dunn as a youth and feeling the awe of of being in the company of the ‘Lord’s anointed’. Likewise, when meeting your father after he spoke at the MTC in Provo in 1986, I was tremendously impressed, and carried his book with me throughout my mission. Both influences, and others, resulted in extensive personal journal entries reflecting on the truthfulness of the gospel, and served to support my testimony whenever it felt in need of bolstering.

    Having served in the church in various teaching and leadership positions myself for the bulk of my life, I am now a recently disaffected member, having partially made it through the the same process you’ve described so candidly and eloquently here and on other forums. Now that I’m in my mid-fifties, it feels terribly late for me to become aware of so many of the troubling historical and doctrinal problems that somehow have eluded me. I frequently feel embarrassed – that I should have known – that I should have opened my senses and mind to the possibility that things were not quite as simple as the plan of happiness conveyed. The ‘all or nothing’ question was answered long ago. I was ‘all in’, and I turned away from the opportunities that periodically arose to embrace reality. Instead, I ante’d up – relying on all those around me to reinforce my testimony and temporarily eradicate doubts (again). Yet my shelf, like yours, continued to accumulate various ‘articles of unfaith’, waiting to be dusted off and addressed at some future time.

    Despite the dawning recognition that honesty and truth have been methodically and purposefully hidden from me by those whom I’ve trusted most, that search for meaning and real truth continues. Ironically, it’s the philosophy repeated in the LDS church – the ideal of a fervent desire for and acceptance of truth in all its forms and from all sources – that has held me committed to the gospel for years. The 13th article of faith was the one I chose to recite at the podium upon graduation from Primary, and that ‘admonition of Paul’ is perhaps what has led me here today.

    At this point, I’m torn, and your experience with your family and ex-husband comes to mind when I consider my own situation. My parents, both alive but in poor health, have the ongoing understanding that I am still a solid follower of gospel doctrine as reflected in the volumes of church books on our respective library shelves… your father’s books among them. I love my mother and father, and my overriding feeling and concern is for them to enjoy peace and happiness during their last years. As their eldest son, with whom they have pled through the years to maintain a strong testimony, doing so means hiding truth myself – that is, the knowledge I now have that divinity is not the source of our common religion. I know now that the very foundations of the church are based on fraudulent, weak, severely flawed underpinnings. And I’ve seen case after case where ‘living the gospel’ can and does result in fractured, damaged families. I need only look at how the church (and my father, to be honest) have marginalized women and others, and the strong desire to correct those views (at least in my own family) seems paramount. I have felt and acted upon that desire, entreating my father on several occasions to treat my mother gently and with equality, and to seek forgiveness from her for past mistreatment.

    Although I suspect that my parents have noted that my views are changing, I have stopped short of revealing that my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, Joseph Smith’s prophetic role, the Book of Mormon, and the veracity of the beliefs that led our pioneer ancestors (both sides) into the Salt Lake valley is void. Supporting my parents completely in their desires will necessitate continuing to provide priesthood blessings when they ask them of me, and assuring them of a testimony which I no longer truly have. Perhaps loving them enough to fake it for a few months or years is the right thing to do. As their eldest son, I feel some compulsion to do so until they are no longer with us, despite the inherent hypocrisy that comes with that choice. Besides, it’s not as it I haven’t been a hypocrite for quite some time, as it turns out, given how many times I have professed knowledge of things that are verifiably false. Anyway, despite my clear lack of credibility on religious issues after decades of doing so, I believe my moral compass is intact… it’s just a little stuck I think.

    Thank you again Lila for your strength and honesty. I appreciate your willingness to share your enlightening experiences.

    1. Wow that was so eloquently put! Your story does resonate with me. I can only say that I understand and I’m so sorry you are out in such circumstances not to have to be inauthentic with your parents. This is not easy… I actually lied in a temple recommend interview because I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s temple wedding! I wasn’t going to allow anyone or anything to keep me from my own daughters wedding.
      Thank you for your honest heartfelt remarks. I hope you can feel that you have many people on your side pulling for you in the post Mormon community.
      I wish you all the best!

  11. Dear Lila,

    Thank you for your courage and honesty. I hold an incredible, almost head-shaking, belief that in the history of time all persons are unique.

    Yet somewhat conversely, born in Germany and having lived across the world, I’ve found the Mormon cultural experience not so different from all others. Humans universally want to reduce chaos, uncertainty, and pain, which leads groups to create ever-increasing and ever-entrenching dogma. For some, a point comes when cultural restrictiveness, of thought and action, can collapse one’s faith in any life view—be it Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, native, atheism, etc.

    When this occurs, a person must then choose to abandon, accommodate, or rebuild. To me, adhering to or disassociating with any group or all groups is justifiable—if not beneficial.

    My personal motto: “Never marry an idea,” leaves me inclined to associate with no group. However, 40+ years of exploring theology formally and as an avocation has brought me to “Mormonism.” This is my bumpy road of choice.

    Life is, for each of us, at times brutal, at times beautiful. A little compassion (which reminds me personally of that sip of ancient, cool well water while crossing the hot plains of Galatia) is as rare as it is relivening. For some, it is like waking to the smell of hot coffee in grandma’s kitchen. For others, it is the waft of sea air to fill the sails off Coronado. I wish you and your loved ones many moments of attaching compassion.

    Journey on,
    Lawrence

    (Currently living with the Navajo.)

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