The best cures usually follow the best diagnoses of the ailment. In the first of this two-part series I talk about the forms of testimony sickness, the sickness that comes when our testimony is attacked or falls ill from neglect.
Our faith, our testimonies, are living things. They can live and thrive, grow and flourish, or they can languish from neglect, and die. They can be hijacked by designing people who seek to destroy that which makes us happy (for whatever reason), or like succumbing to a virus we can become spiritually ill by being exposed to spiritually toxic material. In part two, The Troubled Testimony – Cures, I’ll give some general remedies that will help us stay strong to weather the ravages of mortality.
I recently read a post in a Facebook group that outlined something a member of the Church was experiencing that caused her to wonder about the truthfulness of the teachings of the Church. I responded to her posting, but then I could not let the topic go. Something about this experience touched things from my past that caused me deep distress. When someone posts a question about something it is easy for the masses to throw back a thousand cures for whatever they think is ailing the person. But I’ve been where this member is, and I remember and feel just how upsetting it can be.
I cannot pretend to speak for this good sister, so I will speak for myself. I have had times in my life when what I believed in my core was challenged. I would be given some information that challenged my basic beliefs about life and its meaning, and I was lost. Such times cause one to think, “Can it be possible that what I have put all my faith and beliefs in is false?” “If this new information is true, then I have been living a lie all these years.” “If this is true then I feel like such a fool! I’ve been duped, tricked, and sent on a fool’s errand!” There is a profound sense of betrayal that all your core values might have been built on lies. It is not a pretty place to be, and it affects the soul at a very deep level.
If you allow this initial shock to linger, the pit you are teetering on the brink of only looks wider and deeper the longer you entertain the thoughts. If I allow myself to question God and who and what I thought He is – my very definition of what He is – then I suddenly have no one to pray to, because I no longer know what I am praying to or who I am praying to. My mind becomes unclear as to how to proceed. It is the same emotional response I had when I got lost in a forest as a child. I knew my family was somewhere in the forest, but I was completely turned around. I tried to be rational and remember where I had come from, but I honestly could not remember what direction lead where. Panic set in, tears followed, and all I could do was stand on the forest floor weeping at the loss of all I felt dear, not knowing if and how I would ever get it back. It was a very lonely experience. Fortunately, some hikers came by who knew the trail. They pointed me in the direction I needed to go, with some friendly and encouraging counsel, and watched me as I went on my way back to my family.
The Challenges We Face
For each person the challenge to all you hold dear may come from a different source. You may feel betrayed by the person who brought you into the Church. Your Bishop or some other Church leader may have done something that was offensive and caused you to wonder if this behavior was really representative of the Church as a whole. You may have had someone in a class state as fact something that supposedly was doctrine, but you had never heard it before. Not knowing how it was supposed to fit in with what you currently knew, suddenly you felt like the religion you had embraced was now a stranger in your bed. It can be shocking and unsettling when that happens.
Sometimes we have friends, relatives, complete strangers, or even authority figures tell us things about the Lord’s restored church as though everyone knows about it, except you. Suddenly you feel small and defenseless, because you don’t know how to answer their challenge or statement. You begin to feel like that person lost in the woods with no directions. Sometimes we have a question and look up information, or stumble upon information that challenges what we know, leaving us suddenly distrustful of what we have been taught. We start to question the fidelity of those we called friends in the Church.
Where do You Start?
If you hear something about your spouse or a family member that sounds out of character, do you automatically assume that the poor report you are hearing is correct? Do you immediately throw out all your years of experience with that person and assume the worst? No, of course not. At least I would hope you wouldn’t. Most people would defend the person they know and their good behavior and good intentions until they had a chance to talk to that person and find out what was really going on.
Our membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a very intimate relationship. When we hear something said about the leadership of the Church or about the beliefs of the Church, do we assume the best until we can learn more? Do we discount all the support, experiences, witnesses, and feelings we have had in the past and believe what we have just heard, read, or seen? How we react in these kinds of situations says a lot about us and our own integrity. Just as we would, and should, defend a loved one, we should also defend what we know already about the Church.
When faced with the choice of accepting a new reality, one without the Church in it, we have to realize the cost of embracing that reality. If we choose to embrace a belief that excludes the truths we get from living prophets, what are we replacing it with? What is better than a living prophet? Even if we choose to accept that we don’t have a living prophet, without anything better at hand as a replacement, then aren’t we following a faint hope of something good with a complete absence of any hope? At least when we believe in a living prophet there is hope that maybe we just don’t understand what is or was happening. With time and education we will someday understand better. If we reject that hope, however faint, then we are left with nothing but the same spiritual blindness that currently infects the world. Why would we make such a choice when a cure is available for that blindness? Are we really so proud, so impatient, so untrusting that we are not willing to do what it takes to test the cure for what ails us?
Our experience with the Church is not just a mental exercise. Everything that keeps us coming back to Church and doing the things we do in the Church are emotional in nature. We feel good when we serve. We feel loved and accepted. We believe that what we are doing is right. There are a thousand emotional strings attached to everything we do in and with the Church and our membership. Don’t be hasty to cut those strings.
What Should I Do?
Every challenge to our testimony of the truth will have a slightly different answer to fixing the problem. But like most cures, there are basics that we need to take into consideration. If you have diabetes, when you go to the doctor’s office you will always get the same series of questions. What is your fasting blood sugar level? Did you eat this morning? Have you been taking your medicine? How is your eyesight? How are your feet, any burning or numbness? The list is actually quite long, but you are guaranteed to be asked all those questions every time you walk into the doctor’s office, even if it is not about your diabetes.
In the Church we know that certain doubts come from generally predictable sources, and oftentimes there are certain behaviors that “cure” those doubts. Remember that the gospel of Christ is not a mystery. It is a set of laws. Each set of blessings is based on a law or set of laws. If we want the blessings we have to live the laws. If you find yourself spiritually sick, chances are you have neglected a law somewhere along the way or forgotten to do something that would have helped to prevent your current illness.
It may feel like you are the first to walk this path, but literally millions have gone down it before you. We all have times when our testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel gets a whack upside the head. Satan works hard to make sure we don’t leave mortality without at least a few bruises to the head and heart. Faith is a choice, don’t stop choosing the hope the gospel of Christ brings. Now go and read the second part of this article to find the basic cures for most challenges to our testimonies.
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