1. KEEP THE STANDARDS: I believe that God functions through laws; if I want to be entitled to His Spirit so I can discern between right and wrong (and that includes right and wrong within my faith), then I need to be obeying the laws. Even if I don't "know-know" about all the rules/laws I keep as a Latter-day Saint, I figure that I'm not any worse off personally to keep the commitments I've made.
2. SEEK GOD: The same reasoning applies here as in #1. I still keep up my daily prayer, scripture/conference talk/manuals/church magazines study, as well as LDS books like The Infinite Atonement, Believing Christ, Jesus the Christ, etc.
- But in addition I have found it especially helpful to read books on my religion and history that combine the intellectual AND the spiritual. They help me work through my doubts and learn without fear. My recommendations: Crucible of Doubt (I'd read this before anything else. The main thesis: doubt is apart of true faith); Navigating the Mormon Health Crisis (A human development expert sees faith through this developmental lens--both fascinating and helpful); The Eternal Ghost of Eternal Polygamy (I especially loved how this author could pair her knowledge with the messy parts of LDS history, but still love and honor it; Also, the message that it's OK to know our history!); And here are some books I'm in the middle of reading that I'd also recommend: When Mormons Doubt, Weakness is Not a Sin, A God Who Weeps
- There are SO many ways to seek God. I have found myself the closest to feeling the Spirit when I'm either sweating hard in the mountains, or listening to (or even making) music. In fact, I need to write a whole post on the Lamb of God alone--that soundtrack changed my life. What works for YOU? Music? Nature? Exercising? Meditating? Serving others? Painting? Time with family? Creating? In order to feel God, you must understand that there are MANY ways to do so--explore them!
3. BE CAREFUL ON THE INTERNET: It's very very easy to get sucked in to all the Internet has to say on the LDS faith and its history. I am all for searching for truth and I think that is an important part of true, deeper commitment. However, I find these internet wormholes are most often far from helpful, especially if the authors tend to carry a vindictive sentiment (although this is not always the case). I'm not saying that you can't study, that you should be scared of learning. But I am saying that it's a good idea to be extra careful about the source, as well as your own state of mind while you are searching (and the latter thing there can be the most important, in my experience).
- I personally am a big fan of Fair Mormon, and I do indeed find it to be very fair. These really are my people, I feel. Additionally, the Rational Faiths website and podcast are awesome, and I also have listened to a few of the Mormon Matters podcast. I have listened to maybe three episodes from the Mormon Stories podcast, but honestly, I just tend to weed out most of what is offered there, more because of my own state of mind. I have listened to the ones that I felt I could relate to and where I feel like it wasn't a one-sided discussion. I know what I'm comfortable with because I've already made my choice; so do what's truly best for you! But just know, I think it is essential to be careful about what you read and know your source and your source's intentions.
4. LOOK FOR REASONS TO STAY: This is not me promoting blind faith, I promise. I believe that you CAN have doubts, questions, and criticisms of the Church and its history. I do! But I also think that you can find the good in it, and that that good can be reason enough to stick around. And for me, there is so much good! This can entail me looking for the good in anything from my spiritual study, my prayers, to listening to talks at church and attending the temple. I can search for truth AND use a healthy dose of compassion. There was a very painful time where I only seemed to be surrounded by evidence that this church was driving me insane and that I was an outsider; but I don't feel that way now. It's easier for me to see the positives in it, and that came with time.
5. MAKE PEACE (!!!!): In order to stay in the church, you first have to know your "why." Figure that out! And after that, you have to make peace with some things. Here are the biggest things I've made peace with, and where the majority of this post will be spent:
- BELIEVING is Just as Acceptable as KNOWING: Do I "know" the church is true? Nope. Do I believe? I do my best to believe. And honestly, I think that my choice to BELIEVE is 100% acceptable before God. That has not always been then case for me, but it's what I feel good about now.
- But how do I get through those temple recommend interviews? With honesty. The closest I've come to feeling the Spirit the past ten years was while renewing my recommend a year ago. I was able to really talk to my leaders and I left feeling that they truly knew my heart, that I was not a counterfeit, that my faith was acceptable. All the leaders I have had the past ten years have found that my answers are sufficient to enter the temple. And to many of those interview questions the answer is, "I don't know, but I want to."
- I know that I am lucky this way and that many people have experienced the opposite of me. But maybe that's a lesson to our leaders--if you can really look at the people's hearts who are arriving for their recommends, then you know whether they WANT to be in the temple. If so, then they are seeking to learn. And what place is better to learn than in the temple?
- One of the best scriptures on this topic (and actually one that a leader used as we discussed renewing my recommend): "But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of fight, yea, even if you can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a matter that ye can give place for a portion of my words." Alma 32: 27 (I recommend reading this entire chapter.) If even the desire to believe is good enough for God, it's good enough for you.
- Living with Doubt: The Crucible of Doubt book I referenced did wonders in helping me make sense of this. Having a healthy faith means you also have a healthy amount of doubt. The perfectionist in me did NOT like the gray--any of it. Even having a hint of a doubt in my mind meant that I was instantly going down the path to apostasy. THIS IS FLAWED THINKING. True faith goes hand in hand with doubts. If you study theology and theological giants, they were often riddled with doubts, many in complete torment over it for many years. Even Mother Theresa felt that God had abandoned her for almost 70 years of her life. If you're doubting, then welcome to the club.
- Pressure to Align: There is a lot of pressure--both inside the LDS Church and outside it--to choose your "group," if you will. Are you going to be a Progressive Mormon? A dyed-in-the-wool, true-through-and-through Mormon? Are you going to be a never-doubt-or-speak-against-the-church Mormon? Are you going to be a better enlightened and leave the faith Mormon? A spiritualist, but not religious? A full-grown intellect? An atheist? An anti-Mormon?
- There's a lot of pressure to choose the group you "fit" into and subscribe their own set of doctrine and viewpoints, hook line and sinker. When I felt like I no longer aligned to my goody two-shoes Mormon identity (because of my doubts and my own beliefs), I immediately felt pressured to choose "my group." But you know what? I decided to forget that pressure. I CAN be an intellectual, open-minded, faithful, devoted, and happy Mormon. I can believe in knowing my Church history and asking questions, but that doesn't mean I have to carry a harsh skeptical eye to all things in my church, nor does it mean that in choosing to be careful of what I ingest shows that I am a "blind follower."
- I am ME. I am not anyone else. I'm not going to allow people to push me to choose. I know that I am faithful. I know that I have questions, criticisms, and frustrations. I don't need to align with a group--both in and out of the Church--to be of value.
- The Seeming Unfairness of God's Involvement in Our Lives: LDS members believe that God is intimately involved in our lives. I grew up believing this. But as an adult--and one whom has felt that the heavens are closed no matter how carefully I seek for the Spirit's influence--I have really struggled seeing how some people can SO easily recognize God's involvement in the minutia of their lives, while others are left in the dark.
- One memorable sacrament meeting for me entailed a sister bearing her testimony that she knows God exists because He once spoke to her and helped her when she was lost and couldn't find the airport. While that was a sweet story, I only felt anger. "How could God answer her dumb prayer to know which exit to take, while He won't even answer my decade-long pleadings to even know if He exists?" I was feeling very frustrated; gipped, even. (See here.)
- I don't know why God seems to be involved in varying levels in our lives. But you know what? I've made peace (mostly) that this will look different for everyone. Perhaps my greatest test this life is whether or not I'll be true even when the Spirit is withheld from me? Or perhaps my greatest test is my own blockage of that Spirit? Who knows. But I at least know that I'm going to allow other people to have their "airport stories," to be happy for them, and to look for my own.
- God is the Head of the Church, Through His Leaders on Earth: This line of thinking is either the reason people STAY with the Church ("That's God's leader speaking--He wouldn't let Him lead us astray!"), or Leave the Church ("If that's God's voice, then this is all a mistake.") This is how I view it:
- God is the head, but He works through weak vessels. (Look to the Old Testament especially for maaaaaaaany examples of this--we were allowed to show our prophet's weaknesses then, somehow.) He does the best He can, but He honors agency so much that He allows misdirections and mistakes to happen within the Church, because in the long run He will fix them.
- Our leaders are doing the best they can. They are inspired in what they do, but yes, they do make mistakes. Because they are human! Pride, narcissism, and power-seeking can get in the way of God's real will. Not every call is or was the right one.
- For some Mormons, this view is dangerous. For me, thinking this way has freed up SO much of my turmoil. I can hum in my mind whenever a general conference address goes a weird direction ("Ponderizing," I'm looking at you!), but I can also fully accept those beautiful moments where leaders share their true hearts (Elder Nelson and Sister Marriott from the last two general conferences were wonderful, in this regard). That means I can ignore a lot of the missteps our church culture has taken and chalk it up to human frailty. (Before you criticize this line of thinking, just remember that people who used to question blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, and Joseph Smith's use of a steer stone were looked at with the side eye. The Church is doing better at owning up to our mistakes from the past and I find that encouraging!)
- This lines up with the biggest tenants of the Mormon faith: personal revelation. When I listen, I listen with an open heart; but I also do my best to discern what rings as true, right, and good in my own heart. I don't HAVE to accept what my leaders say at the end of the day; but if I have done my part to understand what they've said and if it is God's will in my mind too, then I can do just that.
- "Put It On a Shelf": If you're not LDS, you're going to be really confused by that statement. In our faith, if someone has some nagging issues, things that make them question/doubt or that they want fuller answers to, they are often met with the advice to "put it on the shelf," meaning to place those worries/doubts/questions on the shelf and keep going. Sometimes, this thinking makes me angry. How else would President Spencer W. Kimball have ever finally received revelation on blacks and the priesthood if he had put his own questions and worries "on the shelf?" In my mind, he could not have. Those questions nagged at him for decades of his life--and I'm sure that many times he was instructed by well-meaning members to simply not worry about his concerns, to "have faith."
- Here's what I think about a question/doubt/concern: Don't "put it on a shelf," but make it your friend! Accepting that there are things we will NEVER have answers to this life, doesn't mean that you can't still keep coming back to them or carry them in your heart. They don't have to haunt you, but they can drive you to seek for answers, to study, and to be worthy of revelation from God. They don't have to be a whip, but they can be a poker--nudging you to find God more fully than before.
- I know that many people mean "make it your friend" when they say, "put it on a shelf." But I do think that there is an underlying message too often for people to basically let go of important questions that can someday lead to transformative revelations for the entire Church. For me, I certainly hope that my leaders haven't put their questions on the shelf. Things like homosexuality as a "trial," women and the priesthood, eternal polygamy, and more are things I hope are continually on their minds. If we want to increase in our knowledge, we have to have questions!
- The Biggest Bet of My Life: Underlying ALL of this is the biggest bet of my life that I have made: that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's church. It might not be fully "true" here on this fallen earth with fallen people as its members and leaders, but it WILL BE.
- The thing I've had to make the most peace with? The flip side of this. The Church isn't "true." You know what? I'm fine with that possibility. Truly. If I get to the other side and an angel tells me, "Oh, a Mormon! How fun! Well, go pray to that Hindu God over there, because that's who really is in charge. But, you did a good job!" I'll be A-OK with that. I will have lived a good life; I will have done my best with what I best understood; I will have no regrets.
Well, there you have it! Another novel-length post for you. Did you make it to the end? If so--or if not!--what are your thoughts? As always, I ask for compassion for both me and whoever comments. I hope to hear from you!
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