Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm trying to improve my relationship with God, but I'm not sure where to start. I've had serious reservations about the church since I was 9. Now I'm 25 and feel essentially no connection to the church.
I try to go to church at least once a month, but at this point I feel like my apprehension and discomfort while at church are hurting my relationship with God. In what other ways can I be close to God outside of going to church? I try to practice my religion in ways that have historically made me feel more spiritually in tune (such as paying tithing and serving others). But I'm confused. Should I not pay tithing if I'm not active in church? Can a person have the companionship of the spirit/be prompted as to how to serve others if they are not taking the sacrament? I believe that God hears the prayer of any faithful person. But will he still hear mine if I don't believe in Mormonism? Are my prayers for guidance or for the safety of my loved ones less "effective" if I am non-specifically spiritual?
I've been thinking myself into circles over this for 15 years now. Any writers (or writer contacts) have experience finding themselves religiously outside of the LDS church?
-Trying to be a Good Person
I think it is really commendable that you are wanting to improve your relationship with God. Even some active members of the Church aren't necessarily wanting to do that. I think that is such an important desire! Here are my basic answers to your questions. I do not think that the LDS Church has the monopoly over God's blessings, but I do think we know more about how things work and why. The doctrines contained in the LDS Church have given me comfort and have brought me closer to God in my life. Enough about me though, here are your questions:
In what other ways can I be close to God outside of going to church? I would suggest reading scriptures, loving others, and serving. Praying is a big one too. I think it is important to do things that draw us near to God outside of going to church.
Should I not pay tithing if I'm not active in church? I don't know why you shouldn't. I mean you did say that paying tithing has historically made you feel spiritually in tune. If you support where the money is going, and you feel good for doing it, then by all means continue donating!
Can a person have the companionship of the spirit/be prompted as to how to serve others if they are not taking the sacrament? Yes. While I do believe taking the sacrament worthily increases the magnitude of the Spirit in your life, I do believe that you can be prompted by the Spirit.
I believe that God hears the prayer of any faithful person. But will he still hear mine if I don't believe in Mormonism? Absolutely. God loves you, and because He loves you, He will hear and answer your prayers!
Are my prayers for guidance or for the safety of my loved ones less "effective" if I am non-specifically spiritual? I believe God works on our behalf according to our faith. Therefore it would depend on if you believe you have less faith.
My overall advice is to keep on trying and don't give up!
-Sunday Night Banter
I firmly believe that God respects and rewards us for trying our best, even if our best doesn't always seem up to scratch. It sounds as though you believe in a God similar to the one described by the LDS faith, even if you don't feel a connection to that particular church. And if the God you believe in is kind, loving, forgiving, and uplifting, then I believe that he will guide you as best he can, no matter the state of your testimony.
Our relationship with God is perhaps the most important facet of religion, whether you choose to attend organized services or not. Your ability to pray and be heard by a loving God is not dependent on whether you've attended Sacrament meeting lately. But I do believe there are ways you can improve your relationship with him without aligning yourself with a specific denomination, and those ways involve trying to be like him.
I think charitable giving is a wonderful way to emulate God, because it develops both a sense of sympathy and a sense of gratitude. The tithing funds of the Church do fund some wonderful programs that bless the lives of many people, so paying tithing is (I believe) still appropriate. But if other charitable giving of your time or money feels more appropriate to you, there are plenty of other options as well. Serving those around you is a wonderful way to draw close to him as well.
I feel in a similar position to you at the moment--I definitely consider myself religious, but I don't feel any strong connection with the LDS faith. However, I do believe in the God that I described above, one who is my Heavenly Father and who loves me and wants the best for me in this life and the life to come. Therefore I believe that he respects my efforts, even if those efforts don't involve attending church right now. But when I try to show love to those around me, I feel close to him, and when I try to be an uplifting and positive presence for those I care about, I believe that he's proud of me.
I find it comforting to remember that I don't have to box myself into any definitions right now, because I don't know where life will take me. You don't have to define yourself as an ex-Mormon or less active or agnostic or any other arbitrary title. As long as you're trying your best to be a good person (and it sounds like you are), I believe that God will take care of the rest, and will provide any guidance that you need.