Every once in a while I run into something in the church experience that causes me to stop and question. Will I be able to find an answer? Will I be able to stay in the church? Will I be able to keep my calling, or even my temple recommend? Do I really believe any of this at all?
It’s unsettling. More than unsettling. It’s like the entire fabric of reality is disintegrating around me and I have nothing to stand on. Hopefully I’m the only one that experiences this, but I anticipate that I’m not, which is why I’m sharing.
I grope in the darkness reaching for anything to hold on to. There just has to be something I know. My mind begins to untangle everything I thought I understood and eventually I can usually find a place to stop and start over.
Like when I’m french braiding my daughter’s hair and I realize there’s a loop of hair out of place… so I’ve got to back myself out of the braid until I get to the loop, straighten it out, and start again. Sometimes, though, the loop out of place is so big that when I go back and try to fix it I lose my grip on the hair and the entire braid falls out. I feel frustrated by the lost time, and, depending on my mood, even angry.
This happened to me this past week. I totally lost my grip.
What caused the loop and subsequent restart is perhaps the topic for another post. Or ask me about. I’m more than happy to be open and honest, I just don’t have the words for dissertation on it yet. And it’s not important to what I want to share here. What I want to share is probably the single greatest truth I’ve learned so far in my earthly sojourn. Like it’s probably literally the only thing I ever need to know in this life.
I lost my grip and everything crumbled.
The darkness felt scary and lonely. I knew nothing. No parts of my testimony seemed to be intact. Rationally I could say that I didn’t need to reject everything, but it was slipping away nonetheless. Elder Holland once spoke on doubts,
In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.
I was trying to find some ground, any ground, and this time I couldn’t seem to find any. There had to be a single belief that I thought I could stand on, but nothing was there.
So, alone in my crisis, I went back to the very beginning. If I have nothing, then let’s start over and create something new. What do I want? Do I want there to be a God who loves me? Do I want there to be a Christ who walks with me so I can grow and learn without anxiety and depression? Do I want there to be a Spirit who can help guide me day by day? I do have a future life to live, so do I want to live with these things or without them?
Honestly, my initial answers to these questions were, “I don’t know”. But “I don’t know” wasn’t going to be good enough. I was still unhappy trying to live with “I don’t know what I want”. Another question presented itself. Do I want to be happy? This one I knew the answer to. Yes! I knew I wanted to be happy. Perhaps I’ve finally found a little ground to stand on.
I went back to the questions about God… If I say no, will I be happy? If I say yes, will I be happy? I discovered that wanting there to be a God who loves me, a Savior who sustains me, and a Spirit that guides me made me happy. Just wanting those things sat a little better than sitting with the idea of not wanting them. I felt a little relief.
It was jarring to think that these were things I thought I knew before, and somehow I found myself not only not knowing but not even believing. All I could do was want to believe.
The words of Alma came to my mind. I reread Alma 32 a few weeks ago when I was studying the tree of life. I didn’t know that I would find his sermon to be so needed and so real weeks later.
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:27)
These words brought so much comfort to my heart. All I could do was want, and that was enough. So, I just kept moving through my days, sitting with myself every morning and every night, not being able to address a Heavenly Father as if I knew he was listening, but just expressing to whoever was listening that I wanted God to be there.
Over time, I could feel that there really was a loving God on the other side of my meditations. Maybe I didn’t know it yet, but I was beginning to believe. My desires had worked in me and there was beginning to be space for belief.
As I continued to just be okay with my wanting, and the fits and starts of belief, without trying to force anything or demand that I know things the way it’s often portrayed in church, I found myself being authentically happy. Just that kind of peaceful happy that makes all the sticky parts of life a little easier to deal with. Nothing exciting or exhilarating, but also no darkness and loneliness, just peace.
So, that’s where I was at this morning when I was reading 2 Corinthians with the kids.
For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. (2 Corinthians 8:12)
God counts what you have, not what you don’t have. Even if all you have right now is a desire to know that he’s there, your offering is acceptable. Let that work in you. You may find that your path curves back around and you can regain the ground you had. But it doesn’t need to. All good roads lead to Jesus. And all paths that point towards God are covenant paths.
More than likely you’ll find that it doesn’t curve back around at all, but the new path you find yourself on can be this great adventure in discipleship you never knew was possible. You didn’t know it then, but perhaps you can know it now. All it took was stripping away some presumed knowledge so that you could work on your honest desires to build something beautiful. Demolition can be a bit painful, but there is joy in building.
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:3)
If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. (Alma 32:41)
You may need to repeat this process a few times throughout this life, like I have and will, but who knows what you’ll know in 10, 20, or 50 years? Now, there’s some fruit to look forward to! Start with what you want, the deepest and truest emanations of your own heart. Build piece by piece, brick by brick, all with the nourishment of daily bread. It doesn’t matter what you don’t have yet… only what you have. We got this!