October Visiting Teaching Message: If We Do Not Doubt

Guest post from Heather, as part of the Doves & Serpents and The Exponent Blog Swap.

Hi, Exponent readers.  I’m Heather from Doves and Serpents. I’m a professor and a mom of three kids (ages 8, 11, and 14) who often drive me to the brink of insanity despite being genuinely great kids. The cool kids at Doves and Serpents are nice enough to let me write a column about family and gender every Wednesday (Knit Together).

I’m a professor of secondary education, which means I teach students who are training to become middle and high school teachers. I usually teach classes on classroom management, assessment, diversity, learning theory, you get the picture. This semester, however, I agreed to teach what’s called SFA 101, a one-credit course on study skills (note taking, study strategies, communicating with your professors, time management, etc.). I am really enjoying it so far, but boy, are these freshmen different than the juniors and seniors I usually teach. Many are living on their own for the first time and are struggling with balancing their newfound freedom and their responsibilities as students. They are like kids in a candy store.

As I was doing some planning for next week, I came across a booklet that focuses on how to be successful in college. The chapter called “Taking Pride in Doubt” caught my attention. Here’s a re-cap of the advice in this chapter:

  1. Cultivate a doubting attitude.
  2. View doubt as an essential ingredient for excellence in college.
  3. “Truth” keeps changing. It is easier to embrace doubt if we stop demanding certainty.
  4. Treat answers as beginnings rather than endings.
  5. Use the library to challenge your most certain beliefs.
  6. Take pride in doubt.

This advice might seem like no-big-deal, except I’m a Mormon . . . and “doubt” has taken on a nasty connotation in Mormon culture. Doubt is something to be avoided at all costs. It’s roundly maligned as being, gasp—not faith promoting.

We hear of the perils of doubt everywhere we turn. We sing anthems about not doubting. We teach our kids not to doubt.Our books of scripture chide us for doubting. Heck, even Trey Parker and Matt Stone take a dig at Mormons’ attitude towards doubting in the Book of Mormon Musical song “I Believe”.

You cannot just believe partway
You have to believe in it all
My problem was doubting the Lord’s will
Instead of standing tall

I can’t allow myself to have any doubt
It’s time to set my worries free
Time to show the world what Elder Price is about
And share the power inside of me.

And now, in the October Visiting Teaching message, we’re reminded—once again—that Doubt is not a nice guy. And even better—Julie Beck (not my favorite, I’ll confess here readily) has managed to link doubting (or, more importantly, not doubting, to motherhood. Let’s start with the good stuff.

I like the part where Beck says that “when we know who we are, we . . . will have great influence for good.” When I teach this lesson to the sisters I visit, this will likely be the only part I talk about.

I like that Beck said that we (meaning Mormon women) “excel at upholding, nurturing, and protecting children and youth” because usually “protecting” is reserved for men. And that’s just silly, because everyone knows that moms protect their kids from all sorts of dangers—real and imagined.

I don’t love the idea that we should teach our children to keep our covenants “with precision.” What does it mean to keep a covenant “with precision”?  It sounds like a description of a dance team or a marching band. That doesn’t sound like life to me. Not only that—who defines “precision”? What does it mean to dress modestly, to study the scriptures, or to honor the Sabbath “with precision”?

I don’t love the way Beck links children’s willingness and success in obeying the commandments “with precision” to their moms’ faithfulness:  “Our children will know and be able to say, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:48).” In my world, kids make their own choices largely independent of what their moms do or fail to do. I recently heard a Mormon mom in Sunday School comment that her kids were all going to “turn out” because she and her husband are so diligent in keeping the commandments. I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to raise my hand and comment that our kids aren’t cookies. They don’t “turn out” or not depending on the kind of cookie sheet we use, how long we leave them in the oven, or whether we use real butter or Country Crock. They’re people.

I don’t love the scripture Beck cites wherein God told the stripling warriors that he would deliver them if they did not doubt (Alma 56:47). Does that imply that all soldiers that die in battle would have been saved if their belief had been a bit stronger?  Or if their mothers had been a bit more faithful?

But mostly, I don’t love the denigration of doubt. I doubt a lot of things—big things. But that doesn’t make me a bad parent. I’m pretty honest with my kids about my doubts. When they ask me a question, I’ll say something like, “Hmm, good question. I don’t know what I think about that” or “Well, I used to think this and now I think this.” Then I try to always follow up with, “What do you think?” I used to worry about not providing them definitive answers. Now I just hope that when they look back on their childhood, they’ll appreciate my honesty.

So I’m going to encourage my kids—my biological kids and my new freshmen kids—to cultivate a doubting attitude. I want them to be intellectually curious. I want them to experience the exhilaration of wrestling intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually with difficult issues.  I want them to confront questions that they can’t answer—and I want them to learn how to live with that. Doubt isn’t such a bad guy. . . once you get to know him.

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58 Responses

  1. Kristen Says No says:

    Thank you. I love this.

    I think it’s important to teach kids that doubt is a natural part of life; it’s a part of being a grown-up. It’s a part of being firmly grounded in reality. It’s good to get comfortable with doubt. Once you think you know it all, you find out you don’t. And if you aren’t ready for that, it’s a hard fall. I think this teaching, “Never Doubt!” hurts faith and testimonies more than a healthy dose of humility and “you don’t (and won’t) know everything” would.

  2. Carole says:

    I’m a big fan of doubt. Asking questions is the only way to learn the truth. People who think–doubt. I love your post.

  3. My 25-year-old daughter wanted to visit Temple Square while we were in SLC and then joked, maybe we shouldn’t because she’s a sinner because she hasn’t been to church in awhile.

    I told her that we were sent to Earth to sin, as part of God’s plan. Only Satan wanted perfect behavior (precision?). Sin allows us to grow, to learn, to repent and to partake in the atonement. Sin allows us, as it did Eve when she partook of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, to know Good and Evil and to become like God.

    This does not suggest we should have a free for all and go sin….

    I feel the same about doubt as well. When my testimony is faltering, I allow myself to question and delve and study and pray earnestly. Doubt creates room for humility. Humility allows me to learn.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    Perhaps if the church embraced doubt a little more, there wouldn’t be such a big cliff when people do encounter the benefits of doubt. Seeing doubt as a healthy part of life and a way to embrace ambiguity has some benefits for the real world. Seeing doubt as a sin in itself seems a way for many to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to believing Mormon doctrine.

    • Ziff says:

      I think this is an excellent, excellent point, Jess. By trying to eradicate any shred of doubt, the Church thinks they’re encouraging strong faith, but what they’re really doing is encouraging brittle faith.

  5. Monica R. says:

    I have a hard time seeing the church “embrace doubt,” particularly when we read things like this from Mormon 9: “And whosoever shall believe in my name [meaning Jesus], doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.”

    I personally distinguish between questions and doubts–well, perhaps, between *having* questions and *being* doubtful. One is not the other. And it might be simply a semantic issue, but I really do think church doctrine, officially speaking (culturally is an entirely different issue..) encourages questioning. I interpret Moroni, quoted above, to mean that, with a baseline belief in Jesus, I can question anything and receive answers.

    As to the “Taking Pride in Doubt” suggestions, I might agree that there is a time and a place for a baseline of doubt as a way to engage with the world… and for many people college is a good time and place for that. But it also might be true that the exhilaration you talk about, you know, that comes from wrestling with big questions, and the embracing of ambiguity that marks a mature intellect, might be a product of the interplay between doubt and belief, rather than a result of doubt alone.


    • Heidi says:

      But it also might be true that the exhilaration you talk about, you know, that comes from wrestling with big questions, and the embracing of ambiguity that marks a mature intellect, might be a product of the interplay between doubt and belief, rather than a result of doubt alone.


      I think this is a very good point and I suspect (and Heather can correct me if I’m wrong) that Heather would agree. Because we are discussing the concept of doubt within the framework of this VT message, we are working from these false binaries that the church sets forward, doubt vs. belief, righteousness vs. sin etc. But I think reality is full of paradox and that, for most of us, all of these things exist at the same time. Indeed, I think doubt is just the other side of belief, sin the other side of righteousness. We need to experience one to understand and want the other.

    • Heather says:

      I think there’s a difference between questioning and doubting. And I agree that the church does encourage questioning. I mean, look at the sacred grove story, right? And Joseph Smith was definitely thinking outside-the-box, not sticking to any kind of correlated/approved lesson plan, right? 😉

      I’m curious about your assertion that “taking pride in doubt” may require an interaction between doubt and belief rather than just doubt. I’m going to have to think on that idea.

      • I’ve never thought about there being a difference between questioning and doubt so you’ve given me big food for thought. It seems that doubt has different flavors to it, ranging from questioning to dogmatic attachment. …?

  6. Diane says:

    Spoiler alert I am linking doubting to questioning,

    Abraham taught us that it was okay to doubt, its what you do with the doubt that key. He said its not okay to be on the fence about it

    • Heather says:

      I guess to me, doubting feels like an ending; questioning seems like a beginning. ??

      Not sure, just blathering.

      Or maybe that’s just the Mormon girl in me–the fact that “doubt” has a more negative connotation to me than “question.” ?

    • Heather says:

      I guess I don’t really like the idea that we can’t be on the fence . . .

      Seems like so much of life requires being on the fence.

      Why is it bad to try to straddle two positions? or three?

      Life just seems so complicated to me. How can we boil it down to just two options?

      • Diane says:

        From what I’ve read, and how I understand Abraham, I don’t think he has a problem with the questioning in and of itself, its what we do with the questioning. He sees questioning and even doubt as growth. So I think that its all good, I don’t believe it to be the negative that everyone makes it out to be.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great post, Heather! I really like the idea of taking pride in doubt. (Ezra Taft Benson would roll in his grave if that were taught in church! 😉 )

    Regarding Beck’s comments about keeping covenants/commandments with precision, I wonder if she’s not just trying to show how it’s important to be more obedient than obedient. I mean, I think she’s being a little hyperbolic, like athletes who talk about “giving 110%.” She’s always struck me as someone who’s determined to show how hyper-orthodox she is, so I think this fits in with that. While GAs merely tell us to be obedient, she tells us to be obedient “with precision,” so she’s even more orthodox than orthodox.

    (Next thing, she’ll tell us to be obedient with 110% precision. 🙂 )

  8. Annie B. says:

    I think my issue is that from studying LDS church history (and even the Bible) I’m realizing how often men have garbled up what God has taught them, and in some pretty hurtful ways. So I do have doubt. I doubt that everything taught in church is really what God wants emphasized. I believe the LDS church gets a lot of things right, and I think the organization is the best way we have to learn Godly principles, but I no longer believe it’s impossible for the LDS church organization to get something wrong, or wrongly emphasize one principle over another. I do not doubt that God loves me. Sometimes I wonder if church leaders expect us to trust their connection with God over our own connection with God. I was still riding on the coat-tails of other people’s testimonies when I made temple covenants, because I was taught that marrying anywhere other than the temple would mean I had sinned or was dishonorable. If there was not such emphasis on exactness I might have felt ok to wait until I was ready.

    • Heather says:

      Oh, I definitely get the feeling that they want us to trust their connection to God more than our own.

      Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk last year about different kinds of revelation–priesthood/organizational revelation and personal revelation. The talk started out good/interesting, but before I knew it, he was basically saying that if your personal revelation conflicts with the priesthood one, you’re outta luck.

  9. Kelly says:

    My doubts are what give my faith power.

    One of the few lectures I remember from my years at BYU is one in which the professor explained that doubt is absolutely necessary for faith to exist. If there is no doubt, then faith is not faith; it’s knowledge. So, when I choose to believe, in spite of all the doubt, that’s real faith. Pretending there is no room for doubt is just setting yourself up for disappointment when the doubt inevitably appears.

  10. Janell says:

    I wish we had more background knowledge on these mothers. I’d like to think it’s “they no longer doubted” than “they never doubted.” Doubt is never a problem. It’s how you react to and what you do about the doubt that can be problematic.

    That said, I’m starting to feel the story of these mothers is getting seriously over-used. If an illustration of faith expressed by a woman in times of doubt, let’s highlight the story of Hannah, or Esther, or Sarah. Just until those one’s get overused too, then we can go back to the mothers.

    • Heather says:

      Yes, but there are just so few stories of women . . .

    • Whitney says:

      THIS. I think one of the things that bugs me about this story is that we don’t even really get to know these women. They’re not actual characters in the story, just appendages to male characters. And as we see so often in the church, their value lies only in their being mothers, not in anything else they do or are. They are noteworthy only for the influence they have on men, who are the actual doers, leaders, prophets.

  11. Alisa says:

    Like Kelly, I believe that if there is no doubt, your faith doesn’t deserve any credit. I just recently heard, ‘doubt is not the opposite of faith: certainty is.’

    It’s interesting the sources you cited for college students. Matthew Holland, son of Elder Holland and president at the Utah state-run UVU recently counseled his LDS university students: “As you pursue this education, you will find things to which you disagree that will challenge things that you felt in the past. Guard against … new ideas that (will) lead you down the path to accepting that which goes against the teachings of the Lord.” http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705391110/UVU-president-Matthew-Holland-speaks-to-LDS-students-on-being-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world.html

    I think his statement is unfortunate. I think there is a way to go through the process of doubt and discover better versions of the truth on the other side. Doubt brings growth. So should an education. We’re not here to be at the level we all were when we were baptised. We are meant to grow. Through making transgressions, mistakes, and sinning, we are allowed to rethink/repent and create ourselves as new women and people. We are allowed to grow.

  12. Heather says:

    Ouch, Alisa. I’ll add that quote to the list of things I don’t love . . .

  13. Amy says:

    I love many of the things said in your post and in the comments. I think a certain amount of “questioning” or “doubt” is where we get our answers from our God, and thus much of our testimony. However, I want to point out, that many of you who are contributing are very intelligent, and probably spiritually intelligent as well. I think there are many within the sound of the gospel, who are not as intelligent, and will be easily led away by others’ attacks on the church. There are also many who need a strong spiritual foundation before they are ready to question in the way that brings growth. There is much depth to the gospel, and if we “doubt” prematurely, we can lose much. At the same time, after reading one of the above comments about how someone didn’t believe some things that were taught in church, my mind went to the article of faith (forgive me for not knowing which number and not having the time to look it up) that says that “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly”. I also believe my Sunday school teacher’s words to be the word of God as far as he has interpreted the lesson correctly.
    Over the years, there have been times when I have felt guilty as I have questioned or perhaps doubted certain things. However, as I have carefully studied and prayed about these things, I have found that some, if not much, of what I had previously thought were contradictory statements, doctrines, etc, were both encompassed in what is truth within the boundaries of the gospel. I am still struggling with how to best communicate my thoughts and this venue is not the place to share intensely personal and/or long experiences, so I will leave it at that. I would be curious to know if anyone else has felt that their “questions” have been resolved similarly?

    • Alisa says:

      “I also believe my Sunday school teacher’s words to be the word of God as far as he has interpreted the lesson correctly.” I think this statement has a lot of potential. As each of us is a daughter or son of God with potential to be goddesses and gods ourselves, our LDS faith can teach us that *anyone’s* words can be the word of God when they come from that true part of themselves that represents the best that is in them. That’s why we have the 13th Article of Faith with seeking out so many good sources. If all truth is part of the gospel, then who is to say that the truths of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or truths of secularists and humanists, cannot enrich our souls? When any child of God speaks from that good, pure part of her/his soul, there is the word of God.

      Thanks for that beautiful thought!

  14. jen says:

    There was a time when I was certain that the right for me to be was meek, submissive, and walked all over. One day, I started to doubt that is what was good for me. I started to doubt that THAT is what God would want. So, I questioned, and I found I had been wrong and I changed. Without doubt, there is no progression, for as long as we know something, we can’t learn any more about it.

  15. Rachel says:

    Heather, love reading you at D/S and I just love this, too.
    I think some wards have a culture which allows room for questioning/doubt, but I am not in a stake which does. It’s painful, sometimes–this dance of what to say and when.
    I think I’ve mentioned maybe here, or at D/S, there was a book published in 1986 titled A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars (edited by Philip Barlow). Some authors were Eugene England, Richard Bushman, and Laurel T. Ulrich. I picked it up during my BYU years (late 80s) and it was tremendously helpful–if they had doubts/questions/the things we put on the shelf for now and could still remain, there was room for me at the table, too.

  16. Lisa A. Feltis says:

    I have read this article and the comments. I don’t feel comfortable with the criticisms I read. The stripling warriors were taught not to doubt that God would deliver them. This was their personal revelation regarding this particular event in history. I think it’s out of context to then try to impose this personal revelation on every other soldier or battle ever fought. I’m also disappointed that so many have jumped on the bandwagon to criticize our general authorities. The doubt we are taught to avoid is doubt that God exists and loves us and has a plan for each of us to live happily. Of course, we should doubt men’s philosophies in the world and question them, which is just saying that we should, “study it out in our minds”. I don’t consider the words of the prophets and apostles the “philosophies of men”. Our general authorities have our best interest in mind. They love us and strive to encourage us to find out for ourselves the sweetness of the love of God. Their mission is to testify of Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Their job is to bring us to Christ to receive divine answers to personal questions. We shouldn’t just believe without studying things out first. We don’t want to be blind followers, but by the same token, our faith and belief that God will answer our questions through thoughtful contemplation and earnest seeking through faith in His Son is what I think we need to be about doing. Sister Beck’s use of the word precision is true. Precision is a great word to use in teaching our children to stay true to what they know is true. It will help them avoid worldly temptations that will bring them and their parents heart ache and grief. I love Sister Beck and all of our General Authorities. I feel that the criticism expressed in this post with it’s comments are unjust and unfounded and bordering on breaking sacred temple covenants. It sounds like some sisters who have commented are trying to find some kind of liberation from some self-imposed restrictions. I had an experience recently that I’d love to share with you. In short, the Spirit of peace came over me regarding something I was in conflict with a Christian friend about. My natural instinct was to fight because I hadn’t resolved this with my friend, yet. But as I submitted to the peace, I realized that the Savior would not have contended with her, He would love her. As I let this work in me, I felt hope and love for all of humanity, including my friend. This blessed me with a recognition of being in tune with the Spirit and I thoroughly enjoyed our recent General R.S. Broadcast. I have no doubt that this overwhelming Peace I felt was from the Father of us all through the mission of the Holy Ghost. This was the “gift of the Holy Ghost” I am sure! My parting words to you, my beloved sisters, is that when we understand the mission of the Holy Ghost, we will be lifted above our natural instincts and feel hope and love, and we won’t want to contend with one another. May we spend our efforts contending for the faith, faith that God is our Master and will bless us through His chosen servants, as the Apostle Paul has suggested, is my humble prayer, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

    • Amy says:

      I think much of what you said is true. And I am going to guess that sometimes critical things said are sometimes said to justify ourselves in not wanting to follow our leaders, and some of it is said in true questioning. Speaking for myself, I never want to go away from the church. I know it is true, and I know that God knows more than I do and that I need to have faith in that and follow His teachings. However, there are times when there is direction given, that I don’t understand and it doesn’t make sense to me, and it is hard. And, I think that while we are expected to submit to the will of our Father in Heaven at some level, he also expects us to grow by “questioning”. Why is this important for me right now? Dear Father, I don’t understand. I want to, but this doesn’t make sense to me. I feel like when I question in this way, it gives me room to grow and to more fully understand. I think that many of the revelations received by Joseph Smith were received in response to questions He asked of the Father. I think it gets a little sticky when as part of our questions, we believe we know better. I also believe that there can be layers of truth in our scriptures and that one interpretation for one situation and time doesn’t necessarily preclude another interpretation for another situation and time. But, when dealing with our church leaders (especially local leaders), is that I fully know that they are human and can and will make mistakes – and they will make mistakes in their calling. However, for example, if it is a Bishop, he has stewardship over the ward, he will be held accountable for it. So, if he chooses to do things a certain way, and I feel in my heart it is not the right way (I have felt that before and felt like I was apostate in my heart or something), it is my duty to follow my leaders and I will, and know that if he makes a mistake, it is his to make and he will have to answer for it to God and not me. I will receive blessings for supporting my church leaders and that is what God has asked me to do. Not to agree in my heart with everything. So, I don’t know if that makes sense, but that is an example of how I have included into truth two seemingly conflicting things I had in my life. And, I find that as I continue to look for and recognize truth in many places, I am almost surprised at how it fits in with the gospel if I open my heart and mind.

    • Heather says:

      Whoa, now, Lisa. Let’s not go saying that I (or the commenters here) are breaking temple covenants when we have zero information about these people . . .

    • Diane says:

      Our general authorities have our best interest in mind. They love us and strive to encourage us to find out for ourselves the sweetness of the love of God. Their mission is to testify of Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Their job is to bring us to Christ to receive divine answers to personal questions.

      if this is really true, than why did Packer say,” If you do not believe the same as I do, or the same as orthodox members you are enemies of the Church.?” This does not sound loving, or kind for that matter. Seriously, I don’t believe, or have doubts about some of the veracity of the BOM and I’m an enemy. This just really wants to make me scream. I will never ever forget that. And I do mean NEVER EVER. I don’t think church members can really look me in the face, or write on blogs and say how wonderful and loving our leaders are when they are not acting or speaking in the Christlike way that they purport to be doing. This was really the most hateful thing I’ve ever herd

  17. Whoa-man says:

    Heather this is an excellent point! There are many contradictions in the church that I think are crucial areas to discuss and study, and none are more apparent than the “doubt not” phenomena. As said before, doubt is NOT the opposite of faith, certainty is. And I know SO many people that refuse to do any study because they are so afraid of doubt and so “certain” that what they think is the only correct explanation for all of these contradictions. All I know is that because I and many friends that I know, were taught this very black and white rigid doctrine and when we began to learn more our faith was rocked to the core. If we had only been taught about some of these things or that it is okay to ask questions and doubt maybe so many of my friends wouldn’t have left. Maybe we would have had the critical thinking skills to get through these rough spots? I guess I will never understand why we are still getting messages like this from our leaders if it can do so much damage. I just don’t get it. Heather, thanks for addressing such a difficult subject in such a great way!

  18. LRC says:

    “They love us and strive to encourage us to find out for ourselves ”

    How can you find out something for yourself if you don’t apply the critical thinking skills (doubt) that you’re supposed to learn at college?

    I can tell you all about what I know until I’m blue in the face, but why should you take my word – or anyone else’s word – for it? The slothful servant went and buried his treasure. He kept it safe, sure. He did what he was told. He took no risk.

    But it was the ones who took risks, the ones who went seeking more and didn’t worry so much about losing what they had that they were afraid to try something new and different. Gaining knowledge (getting rid of doubt) is like investing money – you have to spend something to get something.

    So, go, spend a little doubt, ask a few questions, if the shoe doesn’t fit, ask for a different size. But don’t sit in the corner greedily hanging on to a rock because somebody told you it was gold. You’ll be sorry in the end if it turns out your treasure was merely fool’s gold – shiny but worthless.

    If everyone has access to the well of revelation, it’s a shame some people miss out on the cool, fresh water they draw themselves and settle for something tepid another has worked for. Go fill you bucket – it’s worth the work and tastes so much better because you’ve done the work yourself.

  19. Lisa A. Feltis says:

    I was glad that some have read my post and responded. I do agree that our local leaders can make mistakes, and that said, even our general authorities make mistakes, but when they are speaking officially to the church and the world, their words are the word of God to me.

    I think I have a different perspective as an adult convert that some of you who were raised in the church. I was 21 yrs when I was baptized.

    My two adult children have been raised in the church, and their dad was also raised in the church. I see differences in the way each of us responds to our church membership. My children can be very critical of their leaders, but as a parent and the more mature one, even if just in years, I think that the “black and white” that many leaders, especially youth leaders are emphasizing, is with good intentions to keep us from straying too far and getting hurt badly.

    I appreciate the need to question things.

    I am not sure if LRC feels that I do not doubt. I don’t really understand all of LRC’s comments with regard to mine. I do feel some animosity, and see it as misunderstanding each other. I have a testimony of questioning things. I see that in this thread here that questioning may be interchangeable with doubt. I don’t think we have knowledge all at once. I have to take time with things that are said and done in church. I see it as “line upon line, precept upon precept”. It takes patience with ourselves and a willingness to want to have the truth enough to endure until we have an answer.

    Some things I don’t agree with, (local leaders I’m referring to now) but I don’t get hung up on it. There is much “gold” out there that is worth seeking for. I consider gold in the gospel as something that I put to the test and find out it’s true, and it brings joy, peace, comfort, etc. I think this is what we can all agree with. We want to put things to the test and taste the sweet fruits of it if there are some. I think this could be referred to as separating the wheat from the tares. Personally, if someone is called as a General Authority in our church and says something officially, like a visiting teaching message, then my inclination is to believe that it is inspired, patiently study it and find out for myself why it is important for me and the membership of the church. Some things that are said officially I just know are true and I rejoice in it! There is a distinct difference between official church statements and opinions of church members. As we mature, we are more inclined to see the humanness in each other and hopefully find the gold nuggets (wheat) and be forgiving of the tares, without denigrading anyone. After all, we are LDS for a good reason, right?

    When I was a new convert and was called as a stake missionary, one thing that impressed me greatly and still influences me today is a humble sincere prayer of one of our older stake missionaries asking the Lord to bless us with what we stand in need of and forgive us our shortcomings. Each week when we met, when it was his turn to pray, he would pray for this. It touched me through his meekness. The repetition brought it home to me, and I realized that I wanted to feel this way and pray for this, too. It never got old to me because it’s how I felt, too.

    Nobody told me that our general authorities or the church for that matter is “gold”. I have found out for myself. I have attended many churches before I became a Latter-Day Saint. This is the most precious gift I have been given. I feel that I have earned it.

    I did not say any absolutes about temple covenants, and I would think that you know the one I was referring to. I wasn’t accusing anyone, just reminding you of how close you were coming to this covenant, Heather.

    The bottom line for me is whether God lives and loves us and has given us The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as the kingdom of God on the earth with modern-day living prophets and apostles to testify of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As I said before, I have questioned our church teachings at times, but with faith that I will receive answers, and I have always received the gift of the Holy Ghost to comfort me when I worried about my future or give me peace when I am troubled, and give me joy and rejoicing when I’m in tune.

    I hope this clarifies my earlier post and doesn’t offend anyone.

    Sincerely, Lisa

    • Maureen says:


      I was also a young adult convert. I understand your perspective. With the majority of my life without the blessings, benefits, truth, and godliness found in the church, I cling to it that much more. I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to be without what I found there (the gold).

      But I think my perspective differs from yours, and is much more sympathetic to many here, because I have personally been grievously hurt by those in positions of authority. Before that, my perspective was likely identical to yours. What seems to bother you most is the criticism leveled at some of what GA’s have said and lack of a focus on the good and what is from God. Personally I think I would have been spared a world of hurt and grief had criticism and doubt been more acceptable and shared in my VT messages (and elsewhere in the church) before.

      I can protectively warn you now Lisa, that knowing, understanding, and seeing that members of the Church can and do make mistakes just isn’t enough. When they make grievous mistakes, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how great your willingness to forgive and have compassion, the consequences are grievously harmful. No amount of faith can spare the victim from the natural consequences God has set in place, anymore than faith spared the women and children from the fire in Alma 14:8.

      I understand, endorse, and commend your studying things out from the Church and said by church members. I think the other women here do that too. We all just seek different results. You primarily look for what is good that can be applied to your life and what is of God. Others here may primarily look for what can be hurtful, should be avoided, and is of woman or man. WORDS can be very duplicitous, because they can hold many meanings. And words can be given or allowed by God without them being His words/meaning.

      I believe in many instances what God intends can be found with the help of the Holy Ghost in the words spoken by men and woman. I don’t believe that what God meant is always what the speaker intended to mean. Some hear the speaker’s intent more readily than God’s. That doesn’t mean either interpretation is wrong. I would suggest that to truly study something out, one needs to seek to find what is good and of God and what is not. Not just look for one side of the equation, because I assure you they are both there.

      Seeing how things can be hurtfully interpreted can help protect you and others when those hurtful interpretations are put into play (say when a GA’s words, with possibly inspired meaning, are too easily misinterpreted and implemented by a local lead simply because the GA said them) perhaps even prevent it from happening. Seeing how things are intended to be received by God (if possible, and injury inflicted by those in authority can make this difficult to impossible) can be a delightful (golden) treasure or balm of Gilead.

      But only seeking the treasure can lead you into painful pitfalls. And only seeking the evil interpretations can be a horribly negative and burdensome experience. Though I understand the strong pull for the latter when the culture’s push to only see the positive invalidates the claims to the very existence of the negative. But the pain we feel is very real and not easily overcome. Though it may seem contradictory it is not, it comes from the same source as the treasure. Its found through the GA’s words.

  20. Lisa says:

    I would hope this doesn’t need clarification, but just in case, I made a typo. Instead of typing , “I think I have a different perspective as an adult convert that some of you…”, I meant to write, “I think I may have a different perspective as an adult convert than some of you…” 🙂

  21. Lisa says:

    I just want to thank you, Amy, for your gentle thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly. I had a bishop who gave my teenage son serious counsel that I still wonder today if it may have been one of the reasons my son struggles with his testimony. Also, I am always questioning myself in relation to helping my children enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel.

    This is the first time I have ever posted on an LDS-type website, and it does bring blessings to share with sisters who are caring and kind.

    Thank you for making this possible, Heather.

  22. Lisa says:


    I promise this is my last comment for the evening.

    I think it is a good thing to have your “faith rocked to the core”. And who’s to say, maybe your friends will come back, maybe even through you!

    If not, there are kingdoms of glory for all of God’s children. (Although, I do hope they will come back)

  23. Lisa says:

    Dear Maureen,

    Thank you. May your endurance and long-suffering in living the restored gospel bless you and those you love and serve.

    It is my genuine hope and prayer that we may all continue in the faith and find ways to lift and inspire each other and heal the wounds that would keep us from rejoicing in God’s plan of happiness.

    Take care, Lisa

  24. Micheling says:

    This is a very interesting conversation that makes me think of Peter, who doubted when he walked on water. In his moment of doubt, the Savior immediately “stretched forth his hand” to help Peter. I believe that the Savior wants to help us in our times of doubt, if we will seek Him.

    Whoa-man said “And I know SO many people that refuse to do any study because they are so afraid of doubt and so ‘certain’ that what they think is the only correct explanation for all of these contradictions.”

    Interesting. I have some experience with another church that does not allow their members to have a copy of the Bible. I often wonder what their leaders are afraid that the members will learn from their own personal study. We, on the other hand, are encouraged to seek truth because “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” I value our leaders’ encouragement to seek knowledge through study and prayer.

    I agree with previous comments that “doubts” and “questions” are different. The gospel is restored because a boy had a question, and much of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed after a question was asked. I think we can seek answers to our questions, and at the same time follow Christ’s counsel to “be not faithless, but believing.”

  25. Caroline says:

    I love this post!

    I agree that doubt is important and shouldn’t be denigrated the way it so often is in our LDS rhetoric. Did any of you read this AMAZING sacrament talk on crises of faith that Apame from ZD gave? It gave me chills. http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2011/08/31/the-talk-i-always-wanted-to-give/

  26. L.A. says:

    Micheling, What a beautiful example of the Savior’s response to Peter’s doubting. I see this V.T. message as our making progress from the mistakes (doubt) of others in the past. We can learn from seeing Peter’s doubt and the Lord’s saving him from it to teach us that we don’t have to doubt that the Lord will be there in our times of deepest trial. I agree that the Lord will always be there to lift us when our doubt makes us sink into unknown waters. I think the thing to emphasize here is that Peter was doubting his own ability to be as the Savior and do as the Savior. Doesn’t it just make you rejoice that the Lord would stretch forth his hand in love and save Peter in his act of doubt!?!

    In some contexts doubts and questions are quite different, but in other contexts they can be interchangeable. I believe that to have healthy doubt is to have potential questioning, with the goal to answer if a gospel principle is true to what the Lord wants the direction of His church to move in, then this is healthy questioning.

    With this lesson, “We do not doubt”, referencing the mothers of the stripling warriors, it’s the bottom line that matters most. My personal opinion is that at some point, those mothers questioned or doubted whether God would preserve their sons. Then they prayed fervently that their sons would be spared, and when they received their answer that He would deliver them, they rejoiced and enthusiastically share this with their sons. And they must have encouraged their sons to pray to know this for themselves, too. That way, when they went to battle, they had the courage and confidence in God’s help and love for their mothers for their faithful prayers and love for their God for his promise in sparing them and winning the battle for their people.

    I have a friend who was raised Catholic, but when she met her future husband, whose father was a Protestant Pastor, she questioned her Catholic Priests and determined that she, “out-grew her Catholic faith”. Although my friend and her husband have close LDS friends, I think that her Catholic upbringing gets in the way of her seeing our LDS religion for what it is. She is not willing to study the LDS religion, but she feels comfortable asking questions like, “Do you study the Old Testament?” My answer: “Yes”, Her response, “Good! You should!” This could be a sore spot, but I just accept her decision to interact this way until I can find a way of addressing it to enlighten her understanding. My friend is happy with her family life and work life, and social life. I would love to have her want what we have someday, so I patiently wait and seek for ways to share the light of the restored gospel with her. One day not too long ago, she told me that while she was listening to a Christian song on the radio, it made her think of me and realize that I make her a better person. I feel grateful that I have chosen to keep the commandments to be an example to her, and I’ll never give up on her.

    I will look up the links that have been posted. There is so much good we share that can lift us and strengthen our faith. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  27. Kara says:

    After I read this article, I just kept wondering to myself…”hmmmm”… I asked myself, “What do I think about this idea presented about ‘doubting’? I am definitely a skeptic… about many things… not all things… but more than most people in my life would like me to be. I like to rattle cages in Gospel Doctrine or Relief Society… I like the idea of getting people to ‘think outside the box’ as was mentioned in a post above. And yet… ‘hmmmm’…

    I think the bottom line is the word ‘doubt’ could be interpreted possibly countless ways depending on the context and I have to disagree that the context presented in the visiting teaching message was in ‘not’ being able to question. The context I interpreted the article was in not doubting God, like some previous posters pointed to. I think, however, the idea of doubting or questioning is kind of irrelevent, regardless of ‘what’ is doubted or questioned if we fail to take whatever the doubt or question is…To God. He is the only true source of light and truth and knowledge. If anything is true…it is from God. So, why wouldn’t one take all questions or doubts to Him? That principle of light and truth is what I teach my children. I love that they wonder, ask, question, ponder, search, experiment… the idea of opposition is so vital to our experience. At least to me, that is obvious based upon the principles, concepts and convenants we make in the temple. The power of opposition is a powerful teacher and motivator. However, if one doesn’t teach ones child(ren) the principles of repentance, atonement and sanctification… whatever you encourage your child to doubt or question will possibly ensnare them to the adversary. (For example: should I doubt the counsel of the prophet to not look at pornography? Well… most of us probably know at least one person whose life pornography has ruined.)

    Next idea–to me, the way I interpret the phrase “precision” is… Eye single to the Glory of God. (http://lds.org/ensign/1989/11/an-eye-single-to-the-glory-of-god?lang=eng) I appreciate how this article articulates the idea. To not be distracted; to not elevate the vain things of the world; to act according to the will of Father.

    Last Point–this idea of ‘doubting’ I believe referenced in Alma 56:47 isn’t the concept of ‘doubting’ or (let’s not dabble in semantics) ‘questioning’, but in the principle of faith in God and His power to overcome the challenges these young boys faced. Context…they were raised by people who Moroni calls bloodthristy killers, that had repented, changed, and literally buried their weapons of war. Which I interpret as figurative and literal. My guess is these were the BEST of mothers…the type we would all do well to exemplify… and would therefore provide the worst type of ‘warriors’ against their previous compatriots. To say these boys did not doubt God…I think is accurate. To say they didn’t ‘doubt’ or ‘question’ (at least based on my own knowledge of how my 14 year old son thinks) I would have to imagine there were many times they doubted their lives might be preserved or that they would survive minute to minute…but doubting God (at least for Moroni’s perspective) they did not.

    Last thought…
    **Quote” I like that Beck said that we (meaning Mormon women) “excel at upholding, nurturing, and protecting children and youth” because usually “protecting” is reserved for men. And that’s just silly, because everyone knows that moms protect their kids from all sorts of dangers—real and imagined.”
    I did not see the above quote in the October visiting teaching message. Are we reading the same article? http://lds.org/liahona/2011/10/if-we-do-not-doubt?lang=eng

    Thanks for giving me a reason to articulate what I believe…cage well rattled tonight 😉

  28. linda says:

    Its interesting the feelings i had while reading a lot of these thoughts on the word doubt”. Sometimes I have to turn to the great “Webster” to put things back in perspective for myself.

    doubt |dout|
    a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction : (some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account | they had doubts that they would ever win. )

    a weak leader racked by doubt: indecision, hesitation, uncertainty, insecurity, unease, uneasiness, apprehension; hesitancy, vacillation, irresolution. ANTONYMS confidence, conviction.

    I hope l have the confidence, and conviction in my faith in God as I send my children out into this world to battle. I think this is the message we should be focusing on… and, I hope that my children can see my confidence and conviction so they will lean on me when they have times of doubt.

  29. Blythe says:

    I think there is a difference between doubt and having questions, if not in actual definition, then in interpretation. Doubt, in my opinion, is not believing something is true. Having questions is knowing there is more to learn in connecting the dots. I struggle with both, but I find when I allow myself to have many, many questions (often emailed to my Bishop in rapid fire), it is easier for me to doubt less.

    I hope this won’t make my son any less faithful or anymore doubtful.

  1. September 28, 2011

    […] – September 28, 2011Posted in: Columns, Knit TogetherGuest Post from Whoa-man as part of the The Exponent and Doves and Serpents swap.Hi, I am Whoa-man from Exponent. My husband and I are both PhD students trying to figure out […]

  2. September 29, 2011

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  3. October 6, 2011

    […] Sticking my head up from a very intense work load, I couldn’t help but offer an alternative message to the October Visiting Teaching Message. As I do not have children, I found this a particularly unfortunate message as it was absent of direction for women as a whole; the message was entirely aimed at mothers- inevitably women, but not all women. (trigger ‘Mothers Who Know’ flashback) So, because this is October, and because women are wonderful- even those of us who aren’t mothers- I offer this based on a previously written post from a few years ago. For different ideas on teaching the October 2011 formal Visiting Teaching message, please check out the excellent guest posts from Quimby and Heather.  […]

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