One of my local feminist friends was asked to speak on Faith in church a few weeks ago. She turned it into a talk about faith crises and used her own experiences as well as those of her friends to help illustrate the points. To support her, I attended the meeting and was so proud to see her deliver this talk to a group of fairly wealthy, white, suburban Mormons. While it seemed like some of them (particularly the man grumbling behind me) were not in agreement, Christine has since received much positive feedback, including having her talk quoted by someone else the next week! Our local AZ WAVE group met and discussed the impact of speaking our truth in church meetings and it was a really positive experience. We even thought about joining each other in wards to provide back up and support. I’ve considered sending it to my bishop and telling him that I’d be willing to give a talk if I could give THIS talk. I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I do. –Jessawhy
Guest Post by Christine Leavitt
Our Journey for the Fruits of Faith – January 26, 2014
I was asked to speak about the topic of faith. When contemplating this topic, the following three thoughts came to my mind concerning faith which I would like to discuss:
Faith is a journey, and everyone has a unique faith journey in which their faith will change and develop throughout their lifetime
Faith is a principle of action and loyalty to that which one chooses to have faith in
Faith is hope, not knowledge
I. Faith is a Journey
Faith changes and develops; faith is not static; faith is a journey, and we are each on our own unique journey. Where is our faith journey taking us? What are we seeking?
One of the things that we most often compare faith to is a seed – which comparison can be found in Alma Chapter 32. This seed swells, sprouts, grows, puts down roots, and develops into a tree – a tree with fruit. The fruit on this tree of faith is described as being “most precious…sweet above all that is sweet…white above all that is white…pure above all that is pure.” And we are told that we shall “feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”
This tree of faith bringing forth fruit is just like the tree of life bringing forth fruit as described in Lehi’s dream in Nephi, Chapter 8. When putting these stories together, the fruit of our faith, which is where our faith journey leads, is having the love of God felt and recognized in each of our lives with its accompanying peace.
Over the last eight and a half years or so, I have been on quite a faith journey myself. This faith journey has included a major faith crisis. My journey has included what is often referred to as a “faith crisis”, which crisis has been a huge trial and source of pain. It has not been an easy road, and it is certainly not one that I would recommend for anyone, However, I have learned a lot from my faith crisis and have gained knowledge, understanding, moments of peace and love, and perspectives that I would not have otherwise found. I have learned to be much less judgmental towards those who struggle or who I may disagree with.
Before moving on, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about faith crises. While you may not have ever personally experienced a faith crisis, I hope that what I say will be useful for understanding those who are in the midst of a faith crisis and how to help them. Always remember, no matter which side of a faith crisis you are on, that relationships come first. Remember, first and foremost, to have respect and unconditional love for each other even if you completely disagree in your beliefs or feelings.
How do faith crises arise?
Every faith crisis is very different and complex. In speaking with many friends who have had faith crises, such crises have been sparked from historical facts learned, a tragedy such as a death in the family, an abusive relationship, research for a church talk or lesson; even reading the scriptures and being on a mission have sparked crises for some. My faith crisis was sparked from participation in a church ordinance before I got married. Still others do not have a single point or event they can trace their faith crisis back to but have struggled to find faith in the Church throughout their entire life.
Elder Uchtdorf stated in his October general conference talk,
The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved. One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?” Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
And, I promise, that for most this decision of whether or not to separate from the church is not a light decision that is made with ease; it is a heartbreaking decision for all parties involved.
How can we help those in a faith crisis?
First, we can listen and try to understand what they are going through; it is called a faith crisis for a reason. It has been found that the stages of a faith crisis parallel the Stages of Grief model that was introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages include: 1) Denial; 2) Anger and Frustration; 3) Depression; and 4) Acceptance and Reconciliation. These stages vary in length depending on the person, and they may be cycled in and out of or skipped all together.
In the first stage, denial, it is unlikely to have any inclination that someone is experiencing a faith crisis; even individuals in this stage do not feel that they are having a faith crisis (hence the word denial). Individuals in this stage often have some sort of uneasy feelings about certain doctrines that may create some sort of internal distress or cognitive dissonance. They may start to ask difficult questions or seem upset about certain principles. As the internal distress grows, the wall holding up the shelf on which doubts or concerns may have been placed begins to crumble to the ground. This leads into the second stage of a faith crisis: anger and frustration.
Anger and Frustration
This stage is the most likely stage to greatly strain the relationships of those closest to an individual experiencing a faith crisis, including the relationships between parents and children, spouses, and amongst friends. At this point the crisis has led to feelings of anger and betrayal, and many individuals in this stage feel very hurt, yet, at the same time very insecure and vulnerable. This is the stage where many discover that a loved one is in a faith crisis; and, rather than being able to see the great pain and heartache that the individual is experiencing internally, anger, rage, and incendiary remarks come out externally from such individual. In this stage, some individuals experiencing a faith crisis will jump to the other end of the value spectrum and lash out in rebelliousness against the standards, for example, drinking, smoking, getting tattoos, or other actions that are completely contrary to those taught in Church.
When someone attacks or disagrees with something that we hold sacred, our most natural response is to become defensive and attack, or argue, with what the individual is saying. However, just as most missionaries can attest to Bible-bashing with investigators as not being a preferred method of conversion, arguing back and forth over certain doctrines, principles, and historical facts is not likely going to resolve in consensus. In such “battles,” each party leaves feeling more certain that their “side” is correct.
Further, what will likely seem to be a personal attack by someone who is in a faith crisis is not often meant to be a personal attack. More likely, the attack comes because the person in the faith crisis feels so inferior and defective in their beliefs and in their surety of those beliefs in comparison to their projection of your beliefs.
Instead of focusing on facts and what we consider “truths” when dealing with those in a faith crisis, it is much healthier in maintaining good relationships to focus on how the other person is feeling. Ask them, for example, “How are you feeling?” “Is this really hard for you?” “How can I help you?” – just as you would with someone experiencing another trial or crisis.
The best thing that has helped me in this stage is finding good mentors who have been through a faith crisis and felt the accompanying pain. It is SO helpful if you are having a faith crisis to have people close to you who have gone through faith crises. Their perspective is invaluable, and difficult issues are able to be discussed in a way that does not involve emotional fights but rather understanding and non-judgment. If you know someone who is struggling in a faith crisis and you do not want to discuss anything that may be offensive to your faith, find them a mentor. As in any trial, hope can come as we find those who have similarly struggled and yet have found peace.
It is easy to feel as if God has abandoned you during a faith crisis. The things that you used to find comfort in become a source of confusion and loss. Even praying and reading the scriptures can be painful when your religious paradigm is flipped upside-down.
It is hard to find hope in a faith crisis. It is hard to find peace in a faith crisis.
It is hard to feel any sense of belonging to your church community, including family and friends. Depression in a faith crisis can be very real and very damaging. The best thing that we can do to help those in a faith crisis is love them unconditionally, and love them at whatever point they are at.
4. Acceptance and Reconciliation
This stage is the light at the end of the tunnel where the individual having the faith crisis finally finds peace and resolution in where they are at. A dear friend and mentor of mine who went through a faith crisis wrote,
I know I will never find clear evidence to support my theories on the organization of this church and I’m not sure that matters. What does matter to me is that I practice faith because to me it’s trusting in something larger than imagined. Many of the ward members have checked in on me, helped me with dinners and befriended me. I’ve had great friends over the years that haven’t even done as much as the ward members did for me. And why? Why would church members do this? Because they love The Lord and have faith in this church. These simple acts of good deeds have made me want to continue my practice in faith.
II. Faith is a principle of action, loyalty and love
As my friend’s experience with ward members illustrates, faith is a principle of action, loyalty and love. The English word “faith” traces back to the Latin root, “fid” meaning “to trust”, “to believe,” “to put confidence in” and “to rely upon.” We show our faith in Christ when we are Christ-like in our actions and when we honor our baptismal covenants. Faithfulness to Christ implies our loyalty to Christ. How are we loyal to Christ? How can He rely upon us?
In Elder Uchtdorf’s October General Conference talk, he extended an invitation for ALL people, regardless of their current beliefs, practices, or life situations to “Come, Join with Us.” He stated:
Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church…None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us! … If you seek truth, meaning, and a way to transform faith into action; if you are looking for a place of belonging: Come, join with us! If you have left the faith you once embraced: Come back again. Join with us! If you are tempted to give up: Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here. I plead with all who hear or read these words: Come, join with us. Come heed the call of the gentle Christ. Take up your cross and follow Him. Come, join with us! For here you will find what is precious beyond price.
Let us respond to Elder Uchdorf’s invitation by making Church a place that is welcoming to all people, especially those who are struggling in their belief. Our Baptismal Covenants, found in Mosiah 18:8-9, read:
And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God…and have eternal life.
Are we honoring our baptismal covenants?
Are we mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort?
Are we reaching out and loving others as Christ did?
Are we able to get beyond our judgments of people to truly love them and serve them regardless of their situation?
Let us show our faithfulness by creating an environment where others will want to join with us and where they are not threatened, even if we disagree with their beliefs or lifestyle choices. We need not feel threatened by those who make different choices than we do or believe differently than we believe. Also, let us not look down upon those who struggle in their faith, or judge parents whose children have had faith crises or have left the church. Everyone has their own unique faith journey, and our duty is to love everyone where they are at and to not judge them. Personal agency allows us to choose to make different choices from one another and believe in different beliefs; we do not all need to be the same or to agree on every issue to be a community of one heart and one mind.
III. Faith is hope, not knowledge
Alma 32:21 states, “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Hebrews 11:1 further describes faith as the “substance of things hoped for.”
The life and Atonement of Jesus Christ give me great hope, which hope is the substance of my faith. The Gospel of Jesus Christ helps me to have that fruit of faith and feel the love of the divine personally and uniquely. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I find:
A hope for renewal; a chance to start over again
A hope that my faith and belief are sufficient
A hope for peace
A hope for mercy, grace and forgiveness
A hope for love
A hope for a life hereafter where I can be with all of those whom I so dearly love and connect with here on this Earth
A hope for a loving God that loves me, and each of us, infinitely and unconditionally