Monthly Archives: April 2014

Open Letter to Doubting Missionary

Somehow an email got passed along to me from a mom asking for prayers for her son who was on a mission and had encountered anti-Mormon material for the first time and was seriously doubting his foundations.  She asked if we felt inspired to write him a note of testimony to do so.  To my surprise, I did feel compelled to write this stranger to try to offer what had been helpful since I had suffered my own testimony blows.

Might as well share it for anyone else in the same situation if it can offer any comfort.
Hello, I’m not sure how I got
your mom’s note asking for prayers of support for you, and I don’t think you
are in my ward and maybe not even my stake, but I feel like I should write. It
seems you might be experiencing something I ran into myself several months ago
and I felt impressed to offer some thoughts from someone a few steps ahead of
you in a similar unsettling situation.

My name is Valerie, and I am a 42-year-old married mother of four, a lifelong
member who has always had great faith and a solid testimony.  It may not
seem we would have much in common, but faith is a universal thing, as is a
crisis of faith.

For me, it was a good friend from BYU that looked me up on Facebook and I found
out that while he is still active to some extent, he is the founder of a rather
large and busy blog that brought up all kinds of questions for me about the
church. I was already in a very difficult place of trial and upheaval when I read several things on there and it turned everything upside
down. It was so sudden. It was like I was one day safely and happily in my secure
place of faith and it all made perfect sense, and he somehow shoved me out of
it, and the next day I was looking in from the outside through a thick window
of glass. I suddenly had no foundation, I went to look for my testimony and
couldn’t find it.

I was flailing and scared.

The well-meaning advice to just keep going and moving through the motions and
it would all work out, it wasn’t working for me. When I prayed, I didn’t feel
an answer forthcoming. Those who are close to me became afraid; it started to
affect my relationships.  It was like I couldn’t understand the language
anymore, even though it was my native tongue. 
The discrepancy between what I felt before and after was painful and
sometimes I wanted to just avoid it and hide and not deal with it—the convenient “Sunday
headache.”  Yet all this time I had been praying, fasting, and going to the temple constantly–could so much darkness result from so much effort?  I thought storms like this could only happen if I did something wrong.

So I’m writing to give you a few thoughts that have been anchors to me at a
time where I felt like my foundation disappeared and things felt very
turbulent.

If you imagine that your belief structure is comprised of a tower of blocks on
a table, moments like this feel like the table has been tipped over, and when
you set your table back up, you’re not sure what you can safely put on it.

On the other hand, we all have gaps in our perception and none of us have completely
solid foundations. This clean slate might even allow for a new opportunity to
build it consciously as an adult, and carefully to avoid putting things back on
the table that should never have been there–the fluff, the family baggage, cultural
elements.

When you stand looking at your empty table, you may feel compelled to hurry and
find the box that says “the church is true” as fast as possible and put it on
the table. But that can’t happen first. It is not the first block. Others might
disagree with me on this, but I think recognizing this could help you to make
sure you’re asking the right question when you pray.

The purpose of the church is to lead people to Christ, it’s the purpose of most
churches. The church is not Christ himself, it is a structure by which we learn
about him and come to him. Again, many churches try to do this, most of them
well meaning. All our religion and devotion and our ordinances and rituals, are
designed  to point us to a direct and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

One thing that can get in the way is when kids get testimonies of the church
before they get a testimony of Christ. Their conduit to God is through the church. So in a moment of a crisis of faith in the
truthfulness of the church, it’s hard to reach out to God, because all of the
previous connection has been done through the church. But what
do you ask investigators to do when they’re wondering about the church? They
reach out directly to God. And sometimes the first step is for them to realize
there is a God to pray to. This is the universal truth, that there is a loving
God working patiently with you and who has gone before you and knows and feels
everything you think and feel, even your fears and doubts, and understands perfectly.
This is your anchor and is an easier first block.  

When doubt comes in, especially when church=God, it is common for that doubt to
come into everything you believe—is there a God at all?  Even with
everything that has happened in my life that has shown me over and over God’s
personal hand in my life, as my faith in the church wavered, even my faith in
God would sometimes take a beating, and the darkness of confusion and fear can
even overshadow any direct experience we have had with God and make us question
our own perceptions.

Remember Moses, when he looks at Satan and fears, he looks into hell. Fear is
the enemy.  Read about the New Testament Christ—he is always preaching a
doctrine against fear.  Doubt creates fear and darkness, but at the same
time, you don’t want to blindly believe things that aren’t true.  How do
you eliminate the dangers of fear while still determining what facts you can
rely on?  There is no fear in love, which is why Christ preaches love of
God and man.  You need to first access God’s love.

For me, the thing I
see that saves us in moments of doubt is that we can take the hand of God, and
he will patiently walk us through whatever needs to be walked through to
understand whatever he wants us to understand. And it might take longer than
you would like, but he, the Savior, is not the one who condemns, especially not
for your doubt.  No, he is always your
advocate.  He is near
you—he is brow to brow with you in prayer, he feels everything you feel. 
And while this may seem crazy, his plan for you cannot be derailed if you are
looking to him.  It is even possible he allowed this crisis of faith
purely as an essential way to connect you more firmly to him as the author and
finisher of our faith.  I have felt that may be the case for me, at least.

Do you see in the Scriptures how often when Christ comes across someone who
needs him, he will ask them first if they will believe what he has to say, or
do what he asks them to do? He asks this before he does the miracle or performs
the act requested.

If Christ were to ask you now, “if I tell you what is true, or if I simply
ask you to do something–even something that doesn’t seem to make sense, like
putting mud on your eyes or washing seven times in a river–will you do what I
ask you to do? Will you cling to the doubt or the fear, or will you trust me?” 
He may be waiting for your answer before he gives you his.

That answer can be a key for you. If your faith in the church takes a beating,
will you still do what God himself asks you to do?  Will you take his hand
in the sudden darkness and not demand to see every step, or throw your hands up
in despair that you can no longer see?

What I have learned over the past several months as I have prayed for my faith
to magically be restored and my understanding to be quickened again, is that it
hasn’t worked that way. I have begged to be either safely brought back inside
the room where it all made perfect sense, OR be allowed to throw the whole
thing away. The Lord has not given me either. But he has gently talked to me
and asked for things. He has reminded me that my loyalty is to him. He is
reminded me of the times he has showed me his love. He has reminded me that I can
trust him, the creator of all. He has reminded me that the first principle of
the gospel of faith—and faith is not knowing Faith is trusting.  In our church, we
always talk about knowing, and it is scary when you realize you’ve got to go
back to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ instead.

And sometimes, when I think I want to ask if everything is true and please just
restore my testimony, sometimes I feel like He is still working on the
foundation, and probably this time making it stronger, and based on the
fundamentals: Do I trust Jesus Christ? Will I be loyal to him?

I look on what I have come to know about God, his amazing power and love and
compassion, and I don’t believe there’s anyone in this world, in our church or
out of it, who can call upon him and not have him answer. And even in my most
doubtful moments, I knew that even if this entire church was founded on lies, that
the God I knew would happily take 15 million people who wanted to serve him and
would still bring things about to his purposes. I joked with my husband,
“even if this wasn’t his church to start out with, God would never turn
down 15 million volunteers.” I say this jokingly, but there’s some truth
to the idea that wherever people want to serve Him, he will accept it and make
it his. Including you, there on your mission.  He has the power to transcend
even the most baffling of human weaknesses.

This is a very good thing, since our church, as well as any other organization
involving human beings, is rife with them. How can something with real flaws be
of God? It’s a question we could ask about the entire earth, about each other,
about ourselves. But I see that he will work with anything willing to work with
him.

So, if I were to offer any advice, it is to be firmly and faithfully loyal to
your Savior, Jesus Christ. Trust him, trust that if you put him first, you will
not be led astray. No matter what crazy story, true or false, you might hear
about the church, nothing can separate you from the love of God, Paul says so.  If the Lord’s hand is ready to hold and guide
you through whatever you need to know, you don’t need to feel you have no
foundation.

It’s too easy to throw it all away -everything our ancestors sacrificed so much
for.  I was so close to just bagging it
all.  It would be so much easier in some ways. It got to a point where I
almost did not want it to be true. Some things were too painful and too hard.
But I tried to stay loyal to Christ himself, and I put my hand in his, first and foremost, and I
feel okay.

But this isn’t because he opened the heavens to give me a great vision about
how ‘it’s all okay and everything is perfectly true just as I always thought it
was.’ I feel him asking me, “If I tell you, will you do what I ask? Do you
trust me?”  

One day he says to me, “Keep paying your tithing,”
and I think, “What does that mean?  If you want me to do that, then the
church must be true, and this follows, and that follows . . .” and he tells me
that tithing is a law of sacrifice to God that aligns our hearts to him and
away from selfishness.  I have felt him asking me to keep the promises I
have made to him.  I think, “Well, the church must be true then if you
want me to keep my promises made in the church . . . “ and he says, “the
words and promises you spoke are made to me, and your obligation is to me.”  
I can’t back out on
the promises to love and serve God, just because doubts have come
up. 

I have also felt him telling me that he put me here for a reason, that I was
born into this church, this time and this place and with these people and with
this culture for a reason, because he wants me here. This is my place in the
world.  And that makes sense, because we can stand as a witness of Christ
in all things and all places.  Why not
then here?  Why not in this church? If our whole mission on this earth is
to feel and reflect the love of God (which I believe it is), then we can do
that anywhere, with anyone.  And this is where he put me.

That is not to say it doesn’t matter if we stay or if we go. It really does. I
have felt him telling me that there are some opportunities and experiences He
wants to give me here, things he wants me to participate in here, where he put
me, that wouldn’t be available to me if I changed course midstream.

And as I have thought on it, I feel that the Lord really is doing something. I
feel him really using this church to move forward a  greater purpose. 


I did have a pretty big reminder lately—several years ago I was folding
laundry and watching Thomas Monson be sustained. As I stopped folding to sustain him, I felt an overwhelming
and intense witness that he was called of God. I remember almost laughing and
saying to the Lord, “This is a little bit of overkill, don’t you think? I
am in the boat, I don’t really need you to hammer that home.”

Famous last words. 🙂

I hadn’t even remembered this until recently as I struggled with these things,
and the Lord brought it to my remembrance, gently reminding me that I told him
it was overkill.  

There’s something about this church. There’s something he’s doing with us that does
matter. It could be all of it is fundamentally perfectly true, no matter what
all the stories are. But regardless, I do feel him working
with it, and I feel him asking me to stay and follow Christ and love God and
neighbor here, in this church.

I keep imagining Peter on the water, how could he not look at the wind and the
waves and the impossibility of walking on water—a foundation that seems
completely not solid? This may be what you are feeling now. It seems an
impossible walk—to walk in the darkness, by faith (the first principle). Where
is the solid knowledge we so heartily profess over the pulpit? Who needs faith
with that?  But now you find yourself on liquid ground.  What does
Christ ask? Christ asks us to look at him and be not afraid, just look at
him—keep focus on him. We will sink when we look at the waves in the wind—aka fear. 

But if your eyes are
on Christ, you will be safe and you can walk this difficult, seemingly
impossible walk.  A walk of
faith.

Friend, be loyal to Christ. Trust him, even if it feels like your foundations
are shaking and you’re walking on something as unstable as water.  Look at him, and not the waves and you will
not be led astray. 

Of course Christ is pleased with you desiring to teach people about him.  You don’t need to worry that you’re wasting
your time or doing something he would not want you to do. His compassion and
his love is what will save you, and telling others on your mission about his
compassion and love will help save them. The church exists to bring people to
Christ, if you’re a missionary for this church, whatever its possible failings,
you can still bring people to Christ.

I don’t know if this was helpful in any way.  But I feel compelled to tell
you that if you decide to push forward and keep your hand in the Lord’s, and
trust that he will teach you and lead you and give you clarity in his time,
that there might be a time in the future where you look back and realize that
you needed to have your table turned over so that your foundation could be
built stronger for the things that might lie in front of you.  

Don’t tell
the Lord what he needs to tell you and how.  Ask him what you need to
know.
When he sees that you
really are willing to do whatever he asks (and won’t go away sorrowing like the
rich young man who couldn’t let go of something), when he sees that you will
believe what he tells you, the answers will come, even if they take some
time. 

I do feel for you Brother–the wind and waves are real, loud, and very scary.
Keep your eye on the Savior, be honest in your prayers about how you are
feeling, and when you are ready, tell the Lord you will do whatever he wants.
You will be okay.

Your sister in Christ,

Valerie

Get in the car

(For my atheist or agnostic friends out there, go ahead and swap out the word God in this one for “reality.”  That is my idea of God—the I AM—what IS.)

We are told not to get in the car with strangers–obviously.

Yet this is the perfect analogy for what Life/God/Reality asks of us, to get in the car, without really knowing the details of how it’s all going to play out, where we’re going to go, how we’re going to get there, and how rough the ride will be. Just the promise that it will be better if we get in the car than if we try to go it alone—that cooperating with I AM is a better approach.

When God pulls up and asks us to get in the car, if he is a stranger, we will say no. If we are full of fear, we will ask for a trip itinerary first. If we see God as a taskmaster intent on breaking us, we will stand even longer at that door before getting in. It is my sense that many of us “faithful” are faithlessly standing outside the car, looking in, and maybe have been for some period of time.

Maybe not even looking in, maybe looking around, maybe holding him up, like a cabbie, while we decide what’s best—or perhaps look around for other, better offers.  Still, we don’t want to miss our opportunity, should we decide to get in.

In my case, I will wail and argue self-pityingly that my destruction is inevitable, even as the chariot awaits.  I know that my refusal to get in in the name of inevitable hopelessness and destructive self-pity while my world crumbles around me is simply false, needless, and empty martyrdom.  Yet this is my delaying tactic of choice.

God is patient.  God IS.

Sometimes getting in is expedited by the fears, disappointments and traumas in life that chase us down—we jump in and say, “Go!  Get me out of here, and fast!” God, driving the getaway car.

Count on God to go very slow in that circumstance, half smiling.

At some point in life, we learn the hard way that we can’t drive and never could, and that any moment we thought we were in the driver’s seat was a delusion.

Bruised, broken and banged up, it is painfully clear that cooperation with reality will hurt less than resistance.  This is a wild river, and careful navigation comes through respecting the current and seeing the river as it is, not as what we wish it to be.

Further, I myself will always become more with eyes wide open in the embrace of WHAT IS than frantically cranking my wheel (think toddler in the back of the car with the toy steering wheel—ha ha, he thinks he’s driving).

God, grace, basic goodness, the universe, reality—we cannot turn toward any of it with a long list of prerequisites. We can get in and ride in comfort or be dragged behind it.  Foolishly we demand assurances—answers to all of our petty concerns, our intellectual quandaries. We see through the glass darkly, and demand an answer for the darkness we see, an answer before we get in the car, before we accept what IS.

But really, what other choice do I have anymore? Now, other sources have ceased to make me whole? If I continue to resist the driver, the car, the road, the planet, I see now there will be no healing, there will be no peace. Self direction is destruction, and leaning on others, I fall. When the world is crumbling beneath our feet, now I get willing to jump in the car — when it appears there’s no other choice.

I want to get in, I don’t want to hold back anymore. I want to take hands with WHAT IS and not ask for prerequisites.  This is the life that I choose. To stand, shoulder to shoulder with I AM, come what may. But even this, this level of sacredness, is not created, only uncovered.  Not by any striving on my part, but by surrender to what is and has always been.

From outside the car, I peer in. I look into the face of the Teacher and see love, searching, questioning, a comprehensive empathy, a deep, understanding of everything that keeps me out of the car and everything that drives me toward the car. He gets it. He asks me gently, even as the world loudly crumbles about us, to come with him.

Not a stranger—a friend, offering a ride, the only ride, the last car out of town.

It’s time to get in the car, and trust the driver.