Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Simple Belief is OK: or, You Can Stay Even if You Don't Know

I want to share the beginning of a conversation I had once with a friend who was struggling to accept the fact that he hadn't had an undeniable spiritual witness, even though he loved the Church and his life in it.  I hope it helps someone, somehow, who reads it - and I think it says something about our culture that de-emphasizes and even de-values faith in its near obsession with knowing

First, his description of his dilemma (bolding is mine):

I joined the church two years ago and I have never really known that the church is true. I was baptized as I believed everything I was taught (It all made complete sense to me) and I wanted so much for it to be true and thought I would get the confirmation as I lived my life as the best member I could. I love the church and I love the gospel, but I have still never had it confirmed to me that this is the true church. I have never felt the spirit, and as much as I want to stay in the church, having now been a member for two years and still not having confirmation is making it difficult to remain and making it difficult to keep lying to my friends.

I don't know what to do anymore. Everyone thinks I am this super strong member with a wonderful testimony, but in all reality I am just following the crowd. I have tried so hard and prayed so sincerely but have had no response. I have taught lessons on recognizing the spirit many times and know for a fact that I have never felt the spirit.

I am still active within the church as I love my life as a member and I love everything that I stand for as a member, but I am struggling so much with the basic fundamentals that I don't know how much longer I can continue lying.

Now, my response:

Just some questions for you to consider personally. Don't feel any pressure to answer them in writing, unless you want to do so. They are meant to cause introspection and challenge what I believe are unrealistic expectations.

1) Why do you need a strong spiritual witness if you love the Church and the Gospel taught in it? I mean that sincerely. Stop and consider why you feel you need something to justify your happiness.

2) Why do you need more than what you describe having? What you describe is wonderful.

3) Why do you feel you are lying? Are you saying things in a dishonest way - or do you equate others thinking differently about you than you feel about yourself as lying? If so, realize that nobody sees you like you see yourself, since they don't know you like you know yourself. It's unavoidable; it simply "is"; it can't be changed - and it certainly is not dishonesty for it to occur.

4) Think of this simple statement:

"To some is given to know . . . to others is given to believe . . ."

Why aren't you OK with believing without knowing, if the scriptures of your faith tradition say it's totally natural and acceptable for that to be the case - and go even further by calling your ability to believe without knowledge a "gift" from God?

5) For what it's worth, expectations are two-edged swords. My suggestion: Stop using the sword of unrealistic expectations against yourself. Easier said than done, I know, but at least recognize in hindsight what you are doing, so you eventually can work on letting go in the moment.

I think it would be a tragedy if you allowed yourself to guilt yourself out of the Church over something where there is no "wrong" about which to feel guilty. After all, God is credited as having said that to some is given to believe. Thus, according to our scriptures, you are completely "righteous" (right with God) in that state of simply believing.

1 comment:

DSB said...

Great post. Practical and realistic responses. I wonder if your friend isn't, for lack of a better phrase, calling out members to be a little more honest in their expressions of testimony and admit a little more often that they really don't "know" in the strictest sense of the word. I believe I have felt the Spirit often but still find it very difficult to use the word "know". I have a belief, a hope, an inkling, an affinity, a comfort-with, and a state of being at peace with the Gospel and my feelings of the Spirit. These terms seem more in line with the tender and fleeting nature of the spirit than the more harsh "know". However, these terms don't often cross the pulpit during your standard testimony meeting.

I would also be interested in your response to the statement that your friend hasn't felt the Spirit ever. I suspect that he he/she has but didn't recognize it for what it was just like I'm sure I miss identifying the Spirit often. I don't think being able to teach a lesson on feeling the Spirit necessarily helps one (either the teacher or the student) actually feel the Spirit. It's a little like the common statement about pornography (ironic?): I know what pornography is when I see it. Likewise I know what the Spirit is when I feel it. It's nearly impossible to pin it down a priori.