Dr. Terryl Givens describes these trials of faith, or rather trials of doubt, saying, “Most of the impetus for disaffection does not come from new information per se [...] It comes from feelings of betrayal when church curricular materials are found to have presented an incomplete account of the Mormon past.” Once upon a time I wrote about my trial of faith here on this blog. I described it in this way:
I felt like a canyon had opened up in my heart, I walked like a zombie through church, hearing the same words I had heard before but just letting them all drop into the giant crevice. I am happy to report, though, that, through counselling and a good bishop and sheer force of mind, that rift healed over. It did not disappear. I keep the scar hidden, but I know I will have to show it to others some day who also struggled. I accepted the idea of having a shelf to put my questions on. I found answers or at least balm, little by little, which was most certainly extended to me in answer to sweet prayers uttered on my behalf by loving family members, and maybe a little in response to my own strangled prayers. Most importantly, I stomped down on feelings of guilt about certain choices I had made and refused to ever let them spring up again. I go to church and, the much more effective spiritual act for me, I go to the temple. That is my point of rest.
And it still is. I go there and speak to God, and he listens. Just this past week he listened.
I found it interesting how closely my experience of doubt mirrored that described by Hans Mattson, a Swedish LDS leader, in the New York Times: “I felt like I had an earthquake under my feet, [...] Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.” A friend of mine posted Mattson's story on facebook with his own thoughts, which eloquently sum up my own feelings about it, too:
I appreciated this look into some of the more questionable sides of my church. I'm saddened by many cover-ups that my church has performed; but I am uplifted by a more open honesty I see coming out of church leadership. The new introduction to the Second Official Declaration was just the opening of a floodgate. The more honest we are with our history, including the darkest chapters that have been destroyed or glossed over in the archives of the church's history department, the more we truly understand the nature of man, and how to become better followers of Christ.
To me, there is no such thing as blind faith, and we do ourselves and His chosen servants a disservice when we don't personally seek truth. There is not one thing I have faith in that does not have a personal physical manifestation or experience to support it. My faith is founded in my experiences and my personal connection to God, not to anyone else.
Sometimes, men are wrong, and there are countless examples in this dispensation of God's prophets and apostles being wrong. Does that mean we're excused from listening to them? Sustaining them? Does this mean we can pick and choose the commandments we're to obey? Absolutely not. But we are commanded to seek out truth in our own mind, to create a personal testimony. The spirit is the ultimate guide, and if we are truly in line with God's will, we will know for ourselves through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to face doubt and work through it. The pain of that experience was real, and excruciating. But miraculously, I cannot feel it anymore. I believe that my Father in Heaven pushed a giant delete key in my heart, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and allowed me to return to peace and faith. Pioneer Day happened recently, and as members retold the many famous, tragic, and beautiful stories of physical hardship that those saints of the 19th century endured for their faith, I felt comforted and proud, knowing that my own way has had rocks thrown up, in the form of historical facts that cause doubt. I am proud to report that I have pushed hard and overcome and am still striving towards Zion, and that God still attends me on my journey.
One last thought: I found it interesting that Dr. Richard L. Bushman, probably the most famous and fair Mormon historian (not employed by the church, but in academia), opined that, “you could [not] prove there is more disaffection from Mormonism now than before.” I've had several friends point to the perceived rise in dissatisfaction among church members, and a concurrent silence from church leadership, as examples of the church's faultiness. To me, the presence of the Mormon blogosphere, the publishing of the Joseph Smith papers, the recent review of the scriptures' introductions and references, Michael Otterson's magnificent columns, the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) and the Sunstone symposia all point to an active and faith-sustaining conversation rising among members. I also believe we are witnessing an improved and honest effort by church leaders to make bare past leaders' faults and yet affirm that this church, full of flawed members at all times, nevertheless contains God-given principles designed to bring the ultimate peace and happiness to man.
In the words of historian Don Bradley, whose trial of faith took him out of membership of the church and back into it, “The central claim of Mormonism is not that God spoke to a fallible human being in 1820, the central claim is that God can and will talk to fallible human beings today. When we reach out to him, we will find his hand reaching out toward us, waiting.” I know this to be true. I'm headed to church today to affirm my belief in God and to ask for his help navigating the days and years. I love Him, I love His Son, and I am grateful for their patience and kindness, it makes the difference in my life.