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?

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36 Responses

  1. marta says:

    i receive revelation in the form of shopping lists. i buy whatever it is i am supposed to buy and wait to find out who i bought it for. it usually does not take long to find out.

    • CatherineWO says:

      marta,
      I do this too (did it today, in fact), but I have never heard of anyone else who does it. My husband calls it the gift of giving gifts.

      • spunky says:

        I just did the same… a necklace from New Zealand that I bought a few months ago. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I didn’t know who it was for. Then it became clear. I love when that happens. I wish I was as in tune as you tow to have it happen more often, but please know that your comments are received by me as gifts. Thank you 🙂

      • Melody says:

        I call it “Shopping With Jesus” and I also possess this spiritual gift. Now, I’m feeling like maybe it’s not such a rare gift after all. 😉

  2. Andrew S. says:

    Great post!

    I have struggled with the idea of there being different gifts, but not all of them being equally valued. It seems as if the other gifts “go to waste” if you don’t have gifts for believing along with them…at least, from some people’s perspective. (That being said, I’ll say that I took your stake president’s advice…maybe he wouldn’t approve, but I still think the sentiment isn’t a bad one.)

    One thing that’s interesting is that Paul mentions spiritual gifts often in the NT…some the same, some different. Off the top of my head, there are some in Romans 12 somewhere, and in 1st Corinthians 12 somewhere.

    …anyway, I didn’t realize it until I started taking classes in Mandarin (and I still haven’t taken enough to really be fluent), but the language came pretty easy to me, while some of my classmates were struggling. So, I think if I invested more time into learning languages that I would have a particular gift for it.

    It’s funny, though, that I would never have recognized that as a gift. I thought that if anyone put some time into it, a new language would come just as easily to them too. I think it is often the case that we take our gifts for granted because they are often so natural to us.

  3. Diane says:

    Well, seeing as how I called my high school Spanish teacher an “ass”(accidentally of course) I think I can emphatically say that I do not have the gift of tongues.(the only reason why I didn’t get into trouble for that one is he knew I was to stupid to know what I was saying)

    • Mike H. says:

      There was a Calvin Grondahl cartoon along those lines, where a missionary in France tried to use his “gift of tongues: on a dock worker, and got clobbered.

  4. The gift of believing is way overemphasized in Mormonism. I can’t believe in a god who cares more about what we believe than what we do. The gift of healing which you have is far more practical than the gift of believing.

  5. Amy says:

    Wow! I really liked your post and the understanding of self that you have. In my opinion, what could be more Christlike than your “gift of healing.” This is just my own thought, and make of it what you will, I think that we are supposed to magnify our gifts, and as we follow that counsel, I believe that any other gifts we need will come. At times in my own life, I have wondered how strongly I believed, because I am not one who often has dramatic spiritual experiences that are so often talked about in church and testimony meetings. I was discussing this not too long ago with a friend from high school I had recently reconnected with, and she said to me, “Maybe you don’t need those big experiences because you listen when the spirit speaks to you softly.” That was a new way of looking at it for me, and it made me look at my experiences in a different way. Perhaps by your living the way you do is showing you believe and you are expecting too much from your “belief”. I think God sees our honest hearts and I also think that he knows everything is not going to come easily for us, and that includes spiritual gifts. I think that is where Satan comes in and tries to make us feel badly about ourselves and our relationship with God because of this. I think you are conquering him by recognizing a special gift and using it. Your post was very touching and I hope you can give yourself the credit you deserve.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Thank you, Amy. That was a really moving comment. I have received counsel through the years along those lines and I think there is something to be said about God not directing all of our decisions and actions, but us choosing them. I guess I just find belief to be super tricky. People in the church talk about it as if it is a given. I’ve heard people lament that so and so doesn’t believe anymore, or has lost their belief. If I am being honest, there are a lot of really hard conundrums in the church and really elaborate stories that are difficult to believe. I don’t feel like my relationship with God is altered or that there is some big moral failing in my part because I’m being honest about that. So this way of looking at things has really really helped me. It has made me feel like maybe we weren’t all given that gift and that is okay. I’m always afraid that someone is going to comment and tell me that if I don’t believe everything I shouldn’t belong, but it is just so much more complicated than that. Thanks for helping anyway.

  6. Deborah says:

    This is a beautiful post, Whoa-man. I have only met you once, but you exude empathy. You want to know people’s stories and open up space for them to share. I think that is a gift.

  7. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Whoa-man. My experience (or lack of) with the gift of belief mirrors yours. I remember sitting in the tabernacle for general conference once as a young adult, listening to all of the speakers talk with such firm belief and wondering how they got that. I think I knew at that moment that this was a gift which just wasn’t mine to receive. I too have made a choice to believe some things, but I think what we do is ever so much important and a truer reflection of our character than what we say we believe. We can waste a lot of energy wishing for the gifts of others, energy we could be using to enlarge upon our own gifts.

  8. Apame says:

    I loved this! I don’t have anything to add except to say “thank you.” I’ve thought that maybe I have something like the gift of “knowledge” but I have interpreted that to mean that some can believe through faith and I believe through understanding and logic. Something like that.

    I just think you bring up such an important point about different gifts and how we shouldn’t expect everyone to have one and no one to really have any others.

  9. Maureen says:

    (Disclaimer: I think that I may approach “faith” and “belief” differently than many. I wish definitions were given more readily so as to understand what others are actually meaning than how I am disposed to interpret. So if our viewpoints come across as conflicting it may just be semantics.)

    I have discernment of spirits and discernment of truth (not scripturally listed but named in my PB).

    I think there is so much focus on belief or faith (which I prefer to differentiate) because it is the easiest to fudge, to make claims to without actually having, and to presume ownership. It’s pretty evident if you can or can’t speak or understand an alien language on demand, heal with a touch, or perform miracles right? Plus they don’t seem to happen that much. But hey, everyone has beliefs. Then if you have (positive) beliefs about Christ/Church you have faith, right? Since we’re *absolutely free agents* then we can simply choose to have beliefs about Christ (faith). So it must be a gift everyone can have, therefore deserves the most attention. NOT MY EXPERIENCE.

    I think faith is actually one of the greatest mysteries of God, and yet it is treated so shallowly, simply obtained, and taken for granted in church. I see so many equate faith and belief, inside and out of the Church. I think it is an injustice. I see belief as an intellectual action about something. I believe the sun has set. I’m holding an intellectual element in my mind about the condition of the sun. Faith is the EXPERIENCE of something akin to hope in something which is *true* which motivates you to action (roughly described based on scripture, though the experience is no more definable than salty or blue). The experience of faith has a very specific effect upon one’s spirit, actions, and beliefs (though not necessarily in “expected” ways).

    I see so many claims to faith from those in the church without the subsequent effect shown through their spirit, words, and choices. Likewise I have seen that effect in those who do not claim or outright deny faith. I have far greater affinity and compassion for those who do not believe or have faith and know it, than for those who make false claims to it.

    • Ziff says:

      I love your comment, Maureen, particularly this:

      I think faith is actually one of the greatest mysteries of God, and yet it is treated so shallowly, simply obtained, and taken for granted in church.

      Great point! I agree. It’s assumed in the Church that everyone has faith, or perhaps is even beyond needing faith, and has knowledge. But I agree with you that it’s more complicated (and rare) than we pretend it is.

      Also this:

      I see so many claims to faith from those in the church without the subsequent effect shown through their spirit, words, and choices.

      I think this supports your earlier point well. We just assume that everyone has faith or knowledge, but it does seem clear like you said that from our actions we do not.

  10. nat kelly says:

    Whoa-man, fantastic post. I always love your stuff, but this was just beautiful.

  11. ca says:

    I am very attached to this scripture. When I was in college, I went for a temple recommend interview for performing baptisms for the dead. The first question was, “Do you believe in…” and I went ballistic and started crying, because I couldn’t answer it affirmatively. (In actions, like you, I was and am completely temple-worthy.) The very wonderful, very wise counselor who was interviewing me (and in retrospect, I feel kind of sorry for him — he was just a kid himself, and had no idea I was going to break down on him like that) quoted that very scripture to me. (And made the decision to give me the temple recommend.)

    There have been times where remembering that conversation was what kept me in the Church.

  12. Sandra says:

    Beautiful. I loved it. And I totally know that feeling that we all are unique people and different in so many ways, even spiritually. As I was reading I couldn’t get this scripture, Alma 32:27 out of my head:

    “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.”

    Just a desire to believe is sufficient. We do things as we are able, and some people just do things more naturally or readily than others, belief is one of them. That doesn’t make you less, just different.

    I recently gave a sacrament talk on what it is to be a saint. That it isn’t what you profess to believe that makes you a saint. Yes, saying you believe in the church and baptism make you a Latter-day Saint; but they don’t make you a saint in the true sense of the word. Being a true saint is in what you do. And your gift of healing, desire to use it and willingness to share it is a mark of someone working to be a true saint.

    I wish I knew what my true spiritual gifts are. I feel as though they come at times of need and then fade as that season passes. I have heard that sometimes you don’t recognize them yourself and they are more easily seen by someone who really knows you…

  13. jks says:

    I think often when people talk about whether someone believes or not, they are really talking about commitment.
    In many ways I think that if you keep praying to God hoping to believe, you probably already believe because otherwise you wouldn’t be praying in order to believe.
    There are definitely different gifts. I have the gift of knowing that God loves me and that I am of great worth. I have this gift and I know so many others struggle to get this gift.

  14. April says:

    I can relate to this post so much. Thank you for expressing it so wonderfully.

  15. Rachel says:

    Absolutely fabulous post. It’s always so comforting to know others think/feel the way I do. And what a neato blessing!

  16. HeidiAnn says:

    This post was an answer to a prayer that I prayed just a few hours ago. Thank you. It has really helped me.

  17. Ziff says:

    Great post, Whoa-man! I love you reconsidering your spiritual gifts.

    You asked why we focus so much on belief. I think Maureen makes an excellent point that it is the easiest to fake. (And BKP’s famous comment that a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it is clearly encouraging faking it if that’s what it takes.) I wonder if another reason we focus on belief is that it’s not potentially disruptive like some of the other ones are. Prophecy, for example. If we really had people prophesying left and right, how would they all be properly correlated? Healing has been taken over by priesthood holders administering to the sick. If we have people healing who don’t have the priesthood (or even worse, aren’t even eligible), people might get the idea that the priesthood isn’t all that important. I’m totally guessing here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these are lines of reasoning used by GAs who encourage focus only on belief at the expense of other gifts.

    • Whoa-man says:

      I think you are right Ziff and you bring up some great points. What would the church look like if we were all investing in and utilizing the full potential of our spiritual gifts?

  18. Katrina says:

    Such a great post. Have you read Carol Lynn Pearson’s “Daughters of Light”? She talks about all the spiritual gifts manifested by women in the early church. They were healing, being healed, speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc. Why don’t we all experience those kinds of things now? I think its because its been correlated out of us. We don’t expect it anymore. We don’t seek it.

    Also, I used to think I had the gift to believe. But not so much anymore. Now I seem to have the gift of dismantling my own faith. 😛

  19. Mike says:

    Whoa-man, this was poignant, and honesty like this might make testimony meeting better. You led me to think a few things about belief, so I thought I’d share them here.

    Maybe we treat belief as a gift everyone can have because of D&C 46:13-14. We learn that “To some it is given [knowledge of the atonement]. To others it is given to believe on their words.” The contrast between knowledge and belief leads us to infer what is not written: that any person without the gift of knowledge can have the gift of belief.

    Maybe we think of belief as a gift we can choose. The other gifts much more obviously relate to the external world: knowledge must come from somewhere, people hear you if you speak in tongues, the healed person is a witness of the gift of healing, but believing seems like an internal matter, as if we could simply choose to change our hearts and believe. Those who found this to be a simple choice may think it’s simple for everyone, without realizing that the ability to make that choice is a gift from God as surely as are the gifts of knowledge or healing

    Lastly, maybe you have more of the gift of belief than you think you do. You tell us about years of hungering for faith, about choosing to confide in your stake president about your struggles with faith, about pondering if healing, rather than belief, is your gift from the spirit, and about turning to your patriarchal blessing to learn more about your gifts of helping others, empathy, sympathy, and charity. Even if you don’t have the level of knowledge or belief that you crave, those appear to be the actions of a believer.

  20. Mike H. says:

    Sometimes, I wonder if people’s gifts are not found, due to bluntly rejecting any exploring of different areas of the gospel. For example, how would you find out if you had the gift of tongues in understanding earlier handwriting script, if you refuse to do family history? How would you know if you have the gift of healing, if you refused to be around, or help those who need healing, in all the different ways that encompasses? It may be that your healing gift(s) works on the homeless, or the addicted, or the mentally ill, etc. Do people think of the possibility that they may have gifts for those they currently despise?

  21. Monica R. says:

    This reminds me of an Ensign article from about a year ago in which the writer described the process of finding one’s personal mission: it lies, she said, at the intersection of our personal talents, our experiences or trials, and the world’s need. It made me think that maybe some aspects of our personal mission (or some gifts of the spirit) won’t become clear until after we’ve endured a particular trial or had a certain experience.

    • Whoa-man says:

      I love this idea, Monica, Thank you! I love this idea particularly because I do anthropological research in African healing and religions and one of the ways that makes someone a powerful healers is that they themselves have endured a health trial and have survived. Then they either become a healer for that particular ailment (Southern Africa) or a healer in general (Western Africa). I’ve never thought about this or applied it to my life. What a fascinating idea. Thank you.

  22. rainbowemailfriend says:

    yes yes yes. this is you, friend. the healer. the compassionate. I have told you before, I have never before seen a RS teacher so involved in knowing what her audience is thinking, what their stories and backgrounds are. And after every lesson, there you are sitting by someone who has bravely and emotionally commented, comforting them and listening to more of what they have to say. That is why I opened up to you 🙂

    this is wonderful. thank you.

  23. Corktree says:

    Beautiful post Whoa-man. Like you, I’ve always had a time believing in the things that seemed to come naturally to others. Over time, I learned to interpret belief in my own way so that when I said I believed something (anything, not just spiritual beliefs) I wouldn’t feel like a fraud. Certainly better than saying I knew when I didn’t or walking around feeling like I had no unique convictions, but over the years, belief has definitely taken on a different meaning for me.

  24. Annie B. says:

    I think this is a beautiful post, and I was very heartened by it when I originally read it. At the time I was doubtful about a lot of things and it allowed me to shelve the lack of faith issue to focus on and process some other things. I even told my sister about this idea, and that maybe faith just wasn’t one of my gifts. But after going along for a while subscribing to that thought, I realized that this idea doesn’t work for me. I might be interchanging “faith” with “knowing” though. And my experience is different from yours because as a kid, even though some LDS principles and practices struck me as ungodly, I just chalked that up to my own limited understanding and believed in the truthfulness of the LDS church. Maybe faith in some things is a gift that not all are privy to, and maybe a witness from the Holy Ghost of whether something is true or not is not the same as faith, but there are certain things we are promised affirmations to, for example the promise in Moroni 10:4 tells us that if we ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, the Holy Ghost will manifest the truthfulness of the BoM to us. At 14 I wasn’t sure I fulfilled those three requirements (sincere heart, real intent, faith in Christ). I doubted a lot about myself and my personal worthiness. Interestingly though, I didn’t doubt church leaders or scriptures or prophets. In fact I trusted them more than I trusted myself. Maybe that’s why even though after asking and not receiving an affirmation of the BoM’s truthfulness, I was willing to go on as though I had had an affirmation. After a while I just reasoned that the good feelings I’d had while reading the BoM were my witness of it’s truthfulness (never mind the fact that I had the same good feelings while reading “The Hobbit”). That’s how much I hoped and believed the BoM was true. I still wish that certain things I believed as a child were true. I wish the glowing picture I had of the founding of the LDS church was true, and the glowing picture I had of Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith and his marriage to Emma. But after filling in the gaps of church history, and having a better understanding of past practices, and past and current doctrine, there are certain things I’m just sad to say, I no longer believe or hope they are true or from God. And I have enough trust in myself and my own connection to God now that I can acknowledge that if the more I know about something, the less true or Godly it seems, then maybe that’s the affirmation I’ve been waiting for.

  25. Heather Sather says:

    Whoa-Man, you will probably never read this response, as your post was over a year ago. However, 2 things come to mind. Your post was beautiful and honest. I loved it. To me, your heart and your compassionate behavior yearn toward Christ and testify of a willingness to love and accept him as your savior. In my book, that’s belief. I am reminded of a conversation I had with my mother after I had left the Mormon church because I just couldn’t find Christ there (though I greatly respect those that can). She was furious, as could be expected of a woman in her 80s who had been active in the church all her life. She kept saying “I love the church with all my heart. The church is my life.” After a few repetitions, I said “Mom, don’t you see. Isn’t it sad that you aren’t saying “I love the savior with all my heart. The Lord is my life.” To which she replied “that’s what I just said. I love the church with all my heart.” I think sometimes our religious institutions actually become impediments to our belief and to our faith. To me, you already have the answer to belief in your Christ-like behavior. You are emulating the savior in whom you believe. The doubts that you feel deep down about the church – any church – are irrelevant. The church exists in theory to assist you in finding, serving, and emulating Christ. I would say that, indeed, you have the gift of belief!

  26. Rachel says:

    This post feels so important, Woah-man, especially with its emphasis and charitable reminder that we do not all receive the same gifts. My gifts are the gifts of being able to feel deeply, and to weep, and to mourn with those who mourn, as well as to ask questions, and to miss (and speak about) my Mother in Heaven.

    Your gift of healing is to me one of the most beautiful gifts. I cherish it in general, and I cherish it in you.

  1. October 7, 2011

    […] listening to this talk, I kept thinking about Whoa-man’s post, To Some it is Given, where she wrote about faith being a gift of the Spirit and perhaps not everyone has it. Charity is […]

  2. October 18, 2012

    […] “To Some it is Given” at the Exponent. Can you speak in tongues? Work miracles? Heal? […]

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