After I spoke at a Woman’s Conference in Utah in August 2016, I had a friend tell me in a very nonchalant way,
“Yea, I have found that after I have a spiritual high, I always experience a spiritual low.”
His simple statement proved to be true when, a little over a month later after my book was released in September, my family and I experienced back to back tragedies and heartbreaking rearranging within our lives. From deaths, diagnoses of cancers to family problems and betrayals, I want to tell you that through it, I “held fast to the iron rod” and I managed to keep a smile on my face as well as a joyful outlook in the midst of it all. Instead, I felt a complete tool. I cursed. I cried. I took matters into my own hands. Mostly, I felt betrayed by God, as if He were playing a game of cat and mouse with me. Every corner I rounded within my converted heart, I felt the maddening absence of God within each pulsating heartbeat. I felt song-less, no longer able to hear even the faint whisperings of the Gospel’s redeeming music. I felt passionless. I felt abandoned and angry. I felt alone in what I thought was a fruitful garden, but the only thing that was left to plant were my seeds of doubt….and so I did.
I doubted God’s goodness. I questioned if He truly cared. I felt that instead of a God who is actively engaged with us, we were being held in the hands of a emotionless watchmaker who winds us up and….well, then what? Watches us tick into oblivion? What’s He doing up there anyway? And to make matters worse, as if by my own sick punishment, each time I “failed” in dealing with each trial that came my way, I beat myself up emotionally. I convinced myself I was unworthy; therefore, I was unloved. The very thing I write about, I struggle with. I don’t write from the finish line, but in the middle of the race, breathless and sweaty, right along side my fellow Saints.
We don’t address doubt nearly in the way I believe we should. We treat doubt as a horrifying skeleton in the closest we desperately want to hide. We want to push it under the rug, shame it, treat it as some infectious disease or penalize those who struggle as being “weaker” within the faith. God treats doubt a lot differently than we do. The scriptures are full of people who questioned God’s authority, divinity and love-one of those being Isaiah who assaulted the Heavens with,
“Verily, thou art a God who hidest thyself!”
The destruction of Jerusalem predicted by Isaiah, the Prophet Jeremiah saw in real time in Lamentations thus earning him the name “the weeping prophet.” And what about Job and his accusations towards God? When God finally made an appearance, He didn’t condemn Job for his doubts, only his ignorance. Books like Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Job and Psalms exist to show us that God honors and understands our doubts and He has even made room for it within the scriptures. My guess is to make up for the little room we leave for those who doubt within our church communities.
We tend to believe that the opposite of faith is doubt, but I have learned that the antithesis to faith isn’t doubt, it’s fear. Fear of judgment, ridiculed, labels and sometimes hostility keeps us from speaking honestly about what we are going through. But, we are not here to travel alone, therefore to successfully navigate this treacherous mortal road, we will need trustworthy doubt companions that not only validate that our questions are normal, but are also important. Everyone experiences some form of doubt which forces us to reevaluate what we previously believed. Prayers are offered up, meanwhile marriages continue to fall apart, cancer still rages on, couples remain childless and many of our children leave the faith never to return again. Life happens, often unfairly at that and when things fall apart, I believe it is not only normal, but healthy to experience a shaking in one’s beliefs. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it this way,
“We can not expect to live in a time when ‘men’s hearts shall fail them’ (D&C 45:26) without expecting the faithful to have a few fibrillations [heart muscle twitching] of their own.”
And let us not forget, the Garden of Gethsemane at it’s core is an example of an unanswered prayer. Jesus Christ, Himself, was not immune to the deafening silence of the Heavens.
If you truly desire to have an unshakable faith like Job’s, that will only come from a result from being shaken. As any farmer knows, to produce to healthy crop, you must cultivate the ground, removing harmful weeds and loosening the soil so the plants can absorb nutrients and minerals. It’s only through this process of breaking up the soil can a crop begin to flourish. When the ground shakes beneath us, when the life we invested in fails us or doesn’t even begin to touch our unmet expectations, we are forced to choose for ourselves if THIS is truly the life we want. Only when we make that choice, not have it forced upon us, can we begin to grow and thrive as “workers in the vineyard.” I do believe there is such a thing as “good doubt.” We see this example in that of Thomas, one of Jesus Christ’s disciples, who wanted to see for himself the scars on Christ’s hands before he would accept the miracle of the resurrection. In a very real way, Jesus presented Himself for the Thomas’ sake, not His and in return, Thomas was the first to utter the words after the Savior’s resurrection, “My Lord, My God.” Good doubt, when channeled properly, can lead us into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.
I learned this important truth: God may move slowly, but He does move and He is faithful. I don’t need to understand everything, but I do understand this-God loves me and, for today, that is enough. It gives me hope to read in the scriptures that Jesus worked with whatever faith a person had. Child-like and simple faith excited Him. Doubts and questions He respected and even invited. This is not the first time I have wrestled doubts and it will not be the last time. However, looking back through my own life story written by the hand of the Celestial Author, I can see where God has been faithful, where He has carried me, where those questions and doubts I once had quietly dissolved into peace and reassurance.
There are two forms of relationships presented in the scriptures when God describes His love for us. The first, which is usual referenced within Church, is the Parent-Child relationship. The second, and the often less discussed, is that of a Husband-Wife. The latter being a relationship that one enters as a choice. It’s one that hangs on through the thick and thin, for better or worse. It’s a relationship that requires maturity, risk and vulnerability. As any couple can tell you, it is only through the raging storms, not the calm seas, that they learned to navigate the waters of a marriage with expertise. Relationships grow stronger when they are pushed to the point of breaking, but they do not break. So it is in our relationship with God. God wants us to choose Him…especially when we don’t understand. In God’s magnificent speech to Job, He described the wonders of the creation, but out of ALL of God’s creation, clearly what impressed God the most was Job and his resilience and refusal to give up even when the odds seemed stacked against him.
For me, during the last four months of asking (ok..demanding) to see the scars with my own eyes, I have sought God in prayer. I may have been a casual prayer before, but these dark times have taught me to pray like a vacuum salesman with my foot jammed in the door. In Luke 11, Jesus compares prayer to a persistent neighbor who shows up in the middle of the night to ask for food. The homeowner, annoyed for the very obvious reason, tells him to leave, but the neighbor insists eventually wearing down the homeowner to get what he wants. We are to pray like that neighbor, knocking until we get an answer. And though God never sleeps, if we feel like He has somehow drifted off, Jesus tells us to get louder and knock harder. We are to keep pounding at the door until we get an answer. To live out our questions and to not give up on our faith requires both discipline and courage: discipline to “ask, seek and knock” despite feeling as if we are ignored and the courage to wait until the door finally opens to us.
We will never outrun our doubt. Faith and doubt will always coexist, for in the company of absolute assurance, there would be no need for faith. Doubt can be our greatest enemy or we can friend it, accept it for what it is and learn to live with it. We can allow it to drive us deeper into the arms of God. My friends, God is never totally silent. There will always be evidence of Him around us. The last few months, I have leaned heavily on my journals. If God was faithful before, He is faithful now. I can see a life built together within the leather bounded and spiraled pages of my simple journals. God has never quit on me even when I gave Him reasons too. I can’t quit on Him. In October 2016, Elder Ballard asked a simple question,
“Where will you go?” echoing Peter’s own question posed to the Savior.
For me, that is basis as to why I choose to stick with it. I’m embarrassed to admit this (and forgive me), but one of the main reasons I keep returning to “old ship Zion” is the lack of better alternatives for me. I have lived by the worlds standards and came up pathetically dissatisfied and emotionally and physically abused. Admittedly, with the Saints, I have found God and with it forgiveness, healing, restoration, purpose and eternal life. Those who live in direct sunlight may find it easier to believe, but for those of us who travel within the fog, we must believe. We have nothing else to hold on too. Yes, if my experiences have taught me anything it’s that it is far better to a relationship with God, even when it seems like the relationship is one-sided, than it is to have no relationship with Him at all.
When doubts creep in, focus on Jesus. Ask your questions. If we don’t ask, we’ll never allow God the opportunity to affirm and answer us..especially when we so desperately need to hear from Him. Bang at the door until God opens it. And never, under any circumstances, stop seeking Him.
“…if ye seek Him, He will be found by you”-2 Chronicles 15:2
“…and I will wait upon the Lord…and I will look for Him.” 2 Nephi 18:17
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