Dear Eliza, how do I support my friend in a faith crisis?
My friend recently told me she’s struggling with her testimony of the LDS Church. I’m heartbroken and worried for her. I know she has questions about the role of women at church and some of the church history. It’s also possible that someone offended her one Sunday. I want to be a good friend and help her, but I feel paralyzed. Should I bear my testimony? Gather talks by General Authorities that answer her questions? Make sure she’s committed to daily prayer and scripture study? How do I best support my friend?
Uncertain in Utah
First of all, it’s awesome that your friend trusts you enough to privately confide doubts. Wrestling with questions of faith can be painful, scary, and lonely. When she needed support, she reached out to you. This is a big, courageous thing for her to do and she most likely fears being misunderstood or even rejected. You, understandably, feel uncertain about how best to respond.
While there is no one way to respond to a friend in a faith crisis, here are some things you can do:
- Resist the urge to fix. Your friend is not a problem to be solved and it is not your responsibility to fix this situation. When you let go of this urge to fix, you can instead focus on simply listening and being there for your friend.
- Prioritize the personal over the institutional. One of the scariest parts of experiencing doubts is fearing that you could lose friendships, support, and even your community. Focus first on your friendship and secondly on someone’s place in the LDS Church. They want to know that your relationship extends beyond your membership in a shared faith.
- Offer a safe space and a listening ear. Allow your friend to take the lead here. Ask, “What do you need?” or “How can I best support you?” Even simply say, “I love you and I’m here for you.” When you realize she isn’t asking you to fix this for her, you are free to focus on listening and loving.
- Put your links, references, and manuals away. When someone expresses doubts, the first instinct is often to find the General Conference talk, inspiring video, or quote from Time Out for Women. It’s very likely that your friend has read, watched, and prayed repeatedly over these doubts. She’s most likely bore her testimony to gain a testimony too. And she is still grappling with questions. Rely instead on what naturally flows into your conversations about faith.
- Honor her trust in you. Get out of missionary mode. One of the most painful parts of questioning your faith is being reduced to a stereotype or becoming a project. Your friend has likely been on a missionary committee or two and sat in a ward council meeting. She will know if she’s become a project and may feel as though you have violated her trust if you put her on a list.
Friendship is, of course, a two-way relationship. Listening and loving doesn’t mean you need to agree with her or never talk about your own faith. But allow those conversations to come about naturally, rather than in an attempt to fix her or by following a missionary script.
For example, I have an incredible friend who has this ability to truly listen, affirm my feelings, and lift me up in my strengths when I express my doubts. I feel as though she sees and loves me just as I am; even sharing with me when I am an example to her. Because of this, I find that conversations about faith come up naturally and are often rich and rejuvenating.
Be the good friend she already knows you to be. Love her. Listen.