The Power of Discerning
I want to start out by saying that what follows is my own experience. I am not saying that everyone should go the same path I have gone. I am not saying that my conclusions are the only right ones. This is just what my experiences and my relationship with God have led me to.
I have mostly come out the other side of a faith crisis that started about 5 years ago. Recently I have been thinking about how that looks in my life now. What is the role of faith going to be for me now? What about religion broadly and the LDS church specifically? How have I changed, and how does that impact my day-to-day life? One thing I know for certain is that I have had a lot of experiences over the last 5 years that have left me a better, more open person.
Here are the top 10 things I would have missed out on without having gone through a faith crisis:
- My non-member husband – he is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and the best person I know. He has taught me so much. (Cue sappy rom com score here.) I believe God put us in the right time at the right place to be together. What would have happened if I had still been rigidly dating only priesthood holding church members?
- London fogs – This is the best beverage in the history of beverages. It’s an early grey tea latte and it is delicious.
- The Shape of Water – This movie is visually beautiful, and has a beautiful message about acceptance and love and what it means to be a human and what it means to be a monster. It is also rated R. I used to not watch any rated R movies ever. There are other movies and TV shows that have made me think or challenged my worldview or taught me important lessons that I never would have watched.
- Graduate school…probably – This one gets a probably because I’ve always valued my education a lot. But I do not think pre-crisis Jess would have been as open to the possibility that God wants me to have a career. I don’t know that I would have been quite so dedicated to my professional development.
- Episcopal church services – And not just the Anglicans…I really enjoy learning about and attending new churches. There is truth everywhere, and different truths are more obvious in different contexts. Going to Catholic Mass has opened my eyes to how vast God is. The simple, straightforwardness of the Quaker approach has helped me tune my ears to hear the still small voice more clearly.
- Tarot – I’ve started learning how to read tarot cards for myself as a self-improvement tool. Taking the time to pull cards and reflect on their symbolism and lessons has given me a lot of insight in to myself.
- Wu Tang Clan – and other great music. Wu Tang specifically has helped me, as crazy as it might sound, realize my privilege as a white person in America and increased my empathy for the struggle of minorities. I have also heard a lot of great music played at bars and other venues where I used to believe the spirit would not go. Now I know that God uses any and all the mouthpieces he can get, whether that’s a prophet in general conference, or a musician sharing their heart in a bar.
- Therapy – I was afraid of therapy for a long time, and I thought that if I was faithful enough, Jesus and the atonement would heal me, mind and body. I still believe that the atonement and a personal relationship with Christ are good for the spirit. However, I also believe that God inspires psychologists and therapists and clinical social workers and psychiatrists and all kinds of mental health professionals. He inspires them to understand their clients, and He inspires them with words of healing and helping.
- The joy of doing hot yoga in a tank top instead of a t-shirt – My new definition of modesty is much broader; what I wear is now the smallest part of it. The only rule I have for what I wear is to make sure that my clothing is appropriate for the activity at hand. As someone who enjoys hot yoga and for years struggled through class in heavy t-shirts and long pants, I cannot tell you the relief of having arms and legs free, able to breathe and stretch without inhibition.
- Shirley Temple (the drink) – Sprite with grenadine (cherry syrup) is the drink of the designated driver. Only after my faith crisis would I go out to bars and pubs with my non-member friends. I still don’t drink, but I will socialize with people while they drink now. And it is not a big deal. I get delicious, often free, beverages and my friends get home safely.
Joseph Smith famously said that he taught his people correct principles and then let them govern themselves. It seems to me that we have lost some of that spirit in the Mormonism. We get more and more concerned with sleeve and short length, what activities are allowed on Sundays, and whether or not Diet Coke is an acceptable thirst-quencher (of course the answer to that last one is YES!!). My heart is telling me that we need to get back to living by principles, rather than rules.
It, oddly enough, reminds me of Adam and Eve in the garden. God gave them two rules. They couldn’t keep both. More importantly, one of the rules, had it been kept rigidly, would have prevented them from having experiences that they needed to have. I have always been puzzled as to why God would set them up to fail like this. I’ve come to believe that He didn’t in fact. He wanted them to use their own minds. He wanted them to discern which was the greater good, and which principle was going to get them where they needed to go. It can be the same for us. Sometimes in life we are going to have to choose. If we are guided by principles a choice that under the rules seems impossible becomes manageable, even if it is still difficult.
Another benefit that I have noticed for myself is that the more I flex my discernment muscles, the closer I have to be to God. When things are less black and white, I have to rely on my ability to discern His will, rather than relying solely on what others say I should do. I have made mistakes for sure, some of them fairly significant. But I have learned and it has brought me closer to my Father and to my own intuition.
As I said, my point here is not to judge your choices or condescendingly wave my choices around as the only correct ones. I am also not saying that we should all go out and break all the rules all the time. (I am actually a compulsive rule-keeper by nature…it’s been a long journey, friends.) My point is that God gave us agency and discernment. Maybe your heart and soul are genuinely telling you that Mormonism is your place, and that you should carefully avoid R rated movies. Awesome. I hope that you learn something valuable from that choice, maybe about sacrifice and self control. Maybe your heart and soul are genuinely telling you that Mormonism is not the right place for you (maybe for right now or maybe forever), and that you should explore Eastern religions. Cool. I hope that you, too, learn something valuable from that choice, maybe about detachment or the four noble truths. When we exercise the ability to discern it can enrich our lives in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.