I’ve felt prompted to bear my testimony this upcoming Sunday, so in order to avoid emotional outbursts, I figured I’d organize my thoughts here:
I’d like to share an experience I’ve had over the past couple of years, as well as the things I’ve learned from it. Some people call it a crisis of faith, others call it a faith transition. For some people this process is no big deal, they’re able to handle doubts and questions with steadiness and openness and they just process the new information and move on without much much disturbance to their spiritual health. My husband is one of those people, and I’ve met several others like him who handle it quietly and gracefully with great faith and trust in the Lord. Others, for various reasons I won’t go into, don’t accept change as easily and experience faith crisis as a violent upheaval that can be disruptive, destructive, and even spiritually fatal. I am one of those people.
Before experiencing it personally, I saw faith crisis as a spiritual disease – a contagious one that you catch by doing things you’re not supposed to be doing. Then when it first happened to me a couple of years ago, I felt it as a spiritual injury – I was just reading through some documents on the official church history website. I didn’t see it coming, it was like I got hit by a bus on a country road in the middle of nowhere and I suddenly felt like I was bleeding to death on the roadside with nowhere to turn for help. Now that I look back on it, I can actually see the Lord’s hand in every step of my faith crisis and I see it more as a corrective surgery. Surgery, when you boil it down, is a purposefully-inflicted injury designed to correct a problem and prevent future pain, and that’s now how I see my faith crisis. I can see how the Lord strategically, surgically removed flaws from my faith, starting with little teeny ones, protecting me from dealing with bigger issues until I grew stronger and better able to recover and work through the pain.
Because for many people, thousands upon thousands within our church, faith crisis is very painful. In a lot of ways, it’s a grieving cycle and you go through phases of anger, denial, bargaining, etc. In some ways it’s like mental illness in that you can’t always see the symptoms on the outside. People in this emotional state aren’t always on their best behavior. Some make mistakes. They say things they’ll regret later. They’re hurting, they’re desperate, they feel as if they have no other option. I bet each and every one of us here knows someone going through this process. I’m one of them. But to turn our backs on them, to assume that they’re unrighteous or rebellious or deceived, is to pull someone out of the recovery room right after surgery and dump them on the side of the road with no medical care.
But that’s how most of us have to recover from crises of faith. It wasn’t until very recently that general authorities started speaking up in defense of doubters and questioners. I think it will take a while for the membership to get up to speed on that. Having sought out more people like me, people with questions and spiritual sutures still healing who want nothing more than to remain faithful, I’m noticing some patterns. One major one is the way different people react to faith crisis – the difference between members choose to fight for their testimonies and those who choose to avoid the pain and not undergo the surgery at all. The difference there is spiritual experiences. I testify of the importance of real, meaningful spiritual experiences – not to protect us from faith crisis, but to fortify us against discouragement so we can survive faith crisis.
Another difference is that between those who fight for their testimonies and fail, and those who win the fight and overcome faith crisis – and the difference there is support. Just as someone recovering from surgery needs skilful medical care, therapy, medication, and other support they can’t provide themselves, someone recovering from a faith crisis needs their family, their friends, their neighbors. They need patience, they need love, they need a safe place where they won’t fear judgement and rejection. If they don’t get it, they will give up. I’ve seen it a hundred times in people just like me. I have such a strong testimony that this is why we covenant to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We don’t covenant to agree with their opinions, or condone bad decisions, we just covenant to love them.
Even though they have questions, what they need from friends and family is NOT ANSWERS. Those can only come from God. What people like me need is friends who will remind us of what we DO believe when the world will point out all the things we don’t, or aren’t sure of. We need loved ones who will remind us of our strengths when the rest of the world will point out our weaknesses. We don’t need to be lectured or preached to. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who searches the scriptures or studies the words of the prophets more diligently or more desperately than someone with doubts and questions. I testify that doubters and questioners are in the Lord’s hands, every step of the way. But He can’t save their souls without US.
Brothers and sisters, we can save souls. Mine has been saved over and over by family, friends, and ward members who withheld judgement long enough just to love me and strengthen me. Who didn’t make sarcastic jokes or self-righteous judgements about my motivations or the reasons behind my faith crisis. Who didn’t talk disparagingly about other people like me who also ask questions, or speculate about their motivations. I relate more closely to them than I do anyone in this room. Anything you say about them, you say about me, whether I agree with them or not. I am bound to them by common experience and I feel their pain deeply and personally.
I am so grateful for my support system. It is the power of the atonement that healed my spiritual wounds, but it was the power of their love for me that kept me from giving up. For me, the hardest part hasn’t been the questions and doubts. I know that I can live with those and still stay faithful. The hardest part has been the fear, wondering if I could ever belong in this church again, wondering if anyone would still like me if they knew the pain I felt.
So I’ve felt prompted to stand today and plead with you, my brothers and sisters, for mercy and compassion on behalf of others like me who are recovering from spiritual surgery. Please don’t abandon them. Please mourn with them, please comfort and strengthen them. I have witnessed over and over that they WILL NOT WANDER as long as they feel they still have a safe place within their flock, even the ones with the deepest doubts and the most troubling questions. I know that most of them are too scared to talk about it openly and publicly like this. Most will just quietly give up and leave before you even know what they’re going through. So please be kind and compassionate. Please assume that everyone you meet is in serious trouble as Elder Eyring once said. Because most of the time, you’ll be right. Strengthen your testimony and the testimonies of those around you. Strengthen the bonds you share with those you love. It can mean the difference between spiritual safety and spiritual death.
I testify from my own experience and from powerful personal revelation that faith crisis is survivable and even beneficial, with the right support, and that our words and actions can have eternal ramifications, for good or for evil. I testify that it’s up to us to make our wards and families a safe place for the people who desperately need to feel the love of the Lord.