To Some it is Given
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Can you speak in tongues? Work miracles? Heal? Prophecy?
What would you say if I told you that you had to be able to discern Spirits to be a good Mormon? What if being able to interpret tongues was a temple recommend interview prerequisite? That would be crazy, right? Because those are really specific (and uncommon) gifts of the spirit that not everyone has been given, “For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:11-12). Faith and belief are also a gifts (D&C 46:14, 1Corinthians 12:9). Yet, we discuss faith and belief as if they are supposed to be given to everyone. This has always confused me because I have never been great at believing.
I remember embarrassingly walking off of the hypnotist’s stage after I couldn’t pretend any longer that it worked on me and scoffing at ghost stories while all my girls’ camp pals screamed in horror. I asked at my baptismal interview “If I’m completely sinless after baptism, can’t I wait until I’m old and about to die? Doesn’t that make more sense?” And when I hear other’s testimonies of certainty I think they are nice, but I don’t believe them. Belief is very difficult for me. Because of this I have often felt out of place and at times, even unwelcome in the gospel. At different stages in my life I have tried to feign belief or couch it in the appropriate semantics of a proper testimony, but I have never had the gift of believing.
Sure, I have had wonderful, moving, spiritual experiences, but it is difficult for me to see those as isolated from the context and emotions of those moments and to cling to those memories in times of doubt. I have also devoted years of my life to increasing my belief, with dedicated scripture and prayer regimens, fasting, temple worship, and priesthood blessings. In all of my efforts, I have sometimes felt calm, peace, clarity, and even joy, but I have never felt unwavering belief. I have the desire and I have put in the time and effort, which means that for years I blamed myself for my failure to believe. If only I was less logical, more open. If only I could ignore some things or wait for the next life to ask others. The only thing consistent about my belief is that it changes. A lot.
These constant undulations have made my faith journey different than the typical LDS story. I cannot relate to many people’s testimonies, approaches to lessons, or life decisions. Mine rarely have anything to do with belief, but more to do with trying to be a good person and alleviating the suffering of others. I have justified that that is an acceptable approach to religiosity and have lived for years legitimizing my inherent lack of belief by reframing the concept into a choice, I can either choose to believe or not. I choose to believe (on most days) and so the choice becomes more important than the belief itself.
A few recent experiences in my life have caused me to reflect on the idea of believing. I had a stake president’s interview a few months ago where he prefaced the conversation saying, “Many people’s beliefs and actions don’t match up. I want to make sure that yours do.” I quickly stopped him and confessed that he probably did not want my beliefs and actions to align. I am temple worthy, but I believe very little. He was supportive and nice, but I could not help walking away from that interview wishing that temple recommends had lifetime memberships. I hated feeling like something was wrong with me, like I had not done enough to shore up my faith, and like all of my efforts at righteousness were in vein because I was unbelieving. Then I read Apame’s beautiful talk at Zelophehad’s Daughters and realized that I wasn’t necessarily alone.
Shortly after this experience, a close family member was in an accident. I was lucky enough to be by her side the week afterwards. I tried to care for her, alleviate some of her pain and discouragement, and to lift her spirits. I experienced enormous joy doing this and I could tell she appreciated it. One night another family member, a woman of great belief, chastised her for vomiting up her pain pills. I could not fathom why anyone would respond in frustration or impatience to someone so obviously helpless. It struck me that maybe I wasn’t taking seriously enough the gifts of the Spirit. Maybe it was true that “there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” (1Corinthians 12:6-9). Maybe this woman had the gift of believing and I had the gift of healing.
Since then I have been evaluating my possible “gift of healing.” I always assumed that meant you were a doctor, health professional, or traditional healer. I am none of these, but I am someone who people can come to for comfort. I am the person who held my sister in my lap during her wedding fiasco. I am the person that struggling strangers reached out to when they were in need of a friend. I am the person called at midnight to empathize with tragedy. I am the person who lies awake at night after watching the news or a documentary because I want to do something to heal the hearts of those who hurt. As I contemplated this new possibility I read through my patriarchal blessing which says very little about belief but confers this blessing: “I bless you with the gift of charity, the gift of sympathy, the gift of empathy; That your heart will be turned towards those in need; toward those who are less fortunate than you; toward those who need that help. I bless you to be a helping hand to strengthen the knees and hands of those that hang down, to help Heavenly Father’s children on their sojourn in life.”
Instead of spending all of those years seeking to believe, maybe I should have been learning how to heal.
1) Word of Wisdom 2) Word of Knowledge 3) Faith 4) Gifts of Healing 5) Working of Miracles 6) Prophecy 7) Discerning of Spirits 8) Divers (or different) kinds of Tongues 9) Interpretation of (different) Tongues
There are approximately nine different gifts of the spirit, why do you think we focus so often on just belief? Which gift of the spirit do you have? How can we better recognize and utilize the gifts we have been given?