A long time ago in a student ward far, far away, my bishop stood at the pulpit and called a few members out of the audience to share their testimony. I relaxed, because no way this Bishop even knew my name and listened as one by one these students shared their beliefs that the Church is true, President Hinckley is a prophet, and they loved their mom and dad. Well okay, maybe not the last part. Sorry, Mom.
I remember that everything felt safe. Everything felt normal. That was until the last young man got up and said, “I don’t know the Church is true. I pray every day to know. I hope it is. But that feeling that you’re supposed to get when you know it’s true? I’ve never felt that. I want to believe. There is nothing I want more than to know that God is there and I’m not alone, but I don’t.”
I was shocked. Is he allowed to say that? I don’t think this is okay, not during Sacrament Meeting. Not with everyone here. Isn’t the Bishop going to stop him? How do I know, how does everyone else here know, but he doesn’t know? What did he do wrong?
That testimony had a profound impact on me. It’s the only testimony meeting I can remember, including the one this month…Well, there was that one where President Nelson attended and a man decided to sing his testimony, but that didn’t have the same impact. It didn’t wake up a part of me that hasn’t slept since. The part of me that questions, “Do I believe?” The answer is not always yes. Sometimes it’s a plea of, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Latter-day Saints have a complicated relationship with doubt
Doubt is a scary thing. We fear it. We run from it. It’s the leprosy we outlaw from our chapels. It’s better not to associate with anyone suffering from doubt. The shadow doubt casts is so encompassing that we no longer see the person beyond their doubt. The doubt of others we love is so painful we avoid them, we mourn them, we close the door on them and hope that somehow one day, they will be cured. That somehow magically they’re going to wake up, and when we open the door to the Celestial Kingdom, they’ll be standing there.
If we have no doubt, then we’re not working hard enough on our faith.
The misconception I had then is that doubt is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that anymore. Now I believe one cannot exist without the other, and that through one, we may end up at the other. I once thought faith was better locked up and unquestioned. Childlike faith is best, right? Stagnant and innocent, trusting and unwavering. But is childlike faith better than tried faith?
A tried faith allows me to grow and evolve into something stronger, with greater understanding, and more Christlike empathy towards others. Or maybe childlike faith is all I need. Maybe I don’t need to be tested. Maybe the test is just seeing how far I can get by knowing, and never needing to be tested on that knowledge. Maybe Satan’s plan was a good plan.
Now I have your attention. The thing with just knowing is that we never have to grow past the not knowing. We never have to learn for ourselves the difference between the two. We can be happy in the Garden of Eden forever.
I’m not encouraging anyone to go and eat forbidden fruit in the hopes that being kicked out of your faith will lead to something greater. If you are looking for a reason to abandon your faith, you won’t need to look for long.
A faith crisis, no matter where it takes you, is one of the most painful transitions you can experience. It has the propensity to negatively impact every facet of your life. It can be a lonely road to travel when you feel no one can relate to what you’re going through. In the end, it can be one of the most powerful pillars of your faith, or it can destroy everything.
If a faith crisis chooses you, do your best to be thoughtful, mindful, and pray for wisdom and comfort. You cannot control how others react to your faith crisis, but you can control your sensitivities to them.
Doubt your doubts
Doubt is part of our journey of faith. It’s the beginning of faith and it’s the end of faith. Doubt comes when we aren’t seeking. It comes when we are doing everything right. It comes to those who are looking for further light and knowledge.
When we look back on our journey, it’s those moments of “not knowing” that stand out. It’s those moments when we don’t know, but we keep going, we course correct, we don’t give up. It’s part of the daily journey on the road that leads us to where we want to be. Without the role of doubt, faith just doesn’t seem as meaningful. Does it matter that I have faith if there is no possibility it can be lost?
The important part of doubting your doubts is that doubting is an action. It’s a challenge. It’s not complacency or acceptance. It is to take ownership of your journey. You can be spoon fed into your faith, and you can be spoon fed out of it, but the real challenge comes when you decide to start feeding yourself.
How you treat others will determine if they will choose to be with you
Maybe none of this applies to you. So maybe not you, but definitely someone you love is going to face doubts. And maybe that someone will change and never come back to where they once were. Maybe their doubt will take them on a journey that’s completely different than your own. Maybe they’ll be happy, truly happy, and that will be hard for you to believe.
But all that will matter is your decision whether or not you will still love that someone, as much as you loved them when they had faith. Love them where they are, so they can love you where you are. If you want them to be there when it matters most to you, you can’t run away when it matters most to them. Because Heavenly Father’s focus is on His children, and He loves them, we too can simply focus on loving one another, and stop worrying about the rest.
Then, and maybe only then, Doubt doesn’t win. Always remember that our Heavenly Parents will never abandon us, even when we abandon Them.
I don’t know whatever happened to that young man. Maybe he found what he was praying for. Maybe he didn’t. But what I learned from him is that knowing isn’t always what matters. What matters is never stop learning, never stop seeking, and never be complacent. If you have someone in your life you have abandoned because of a faith difference, call them. Tell them you love them. No excuses, no justifications, no blame, no demands, no if onlys. Just love them.