With a name full of the weight of Mormon heritage, it's not surprising to find Thomas Wirthlin McConkie's pedigree includes Bruce R. McConkie, a former apostle and Mormon scriptorian, and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, another beloved apostle.
However, what is surprising is this man's story of how he left Mormonism, traveled to different countries, found Buddism, then came back to Mormonism after almost 20 years.
When he was 13 years old, McConkie told NPR he began to have doubts about the Church. Up until this point, he says going to church was "like breathing." His family members were devoted Mormons, and it never occurred to him that he could even skip church. However, the idea quickly became more and more enticing until he decided to see what would happen if he stayed home.
"I found out three hours, five minutes later," he says on NPR, referring to his parent's reaction.
This internal conflict and family tension continued during his teenage years. In fact, McConkie says after missing church that one time he never went back as a teenager. Then, at age 19, McConkie left the Church.
Struggling with feelings of isolation and invisibility, McConkie left his home in what he says was an effort to survive, reaching for something different in a new environment.
This led to his work as a human rights consultant traveling abroad and becoming what McConkie calls a "Buddhist adoptee", where Buddhists taught him how to meditate and practice mindfulness. But McConkie kept searching for something, a tradition he longed for.
While in Spain, McConkie attended church and came to a realization that would shape how he would return to Mormonism.
"You live in a little pueblo in Spain and every 10 blocks there's this gorgeous cathedral that's been standing for at least 500 years," McConkie says of his time in Spain. "And you walk in and you breathe in the air that's been breathed in by saints over the century and you know coming in through the stained glass. I could feel the subtle energy of what a church actually is. It felt like a meditation chamber to me."
Then in 2011, McConkie had a turning point. While processing the pain he had experienced in his childhood and teenage years with Mormonism, McConkie was meditating in a Zen monastery in California when he felt something deep inside himself relax. In that moment, all the tension he had toward Mormonism unknotted and he experienced something profound.
"Everything became really simple, everything became illuminated," McConkie says. "Like the world itself, everything felt like it was bathed in light and all was well and all matter of things will be well."
Within a matter of days after this experience, McConkie says he was back in a Mormon church. And after almost 20 years, McConkie found himself coming back to the religion of his childhood, blending traditional mindfulness, journaling, and introspective questions with his faith.
But his time spent outside of Mormonism was not without spiritual development. In fact, in McConkie's case, it helped him realize the perspective of others and change how he viewed Mormonism.
"As I learned to take on the perspective of a European, of an atheist Spaniard, or you know, whatever perspective I was conversing with, I think I started practicing taking the perspective of my father more deeply and my family of origin, my Church," McConkie told NPR. "And I think that was the beginning I think of a kind of compassion that edge of these people are crazy just started to smooth. And this new voice was coming up in me saying these people have a perspective. People are wise. People mean well. And I would do well to listen to their perspective. And that was a really significant shift for me growing up in Europe."
For the full NPR interview with Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, click here.