Sunday, April 8, 2018

Crisis of Faith

Have you or your loved ones ever experienced a crisis of faith?

I don't know if I ever have, but I've certainly had questions keep me up at night for years. It's important, however, to remember that questions do not represent a lack of faith. There's a significant difference between questions and doubts. Questions come from an absence of knowledge, whereas doubts come as an absence of trust. 

Some people begin to experience a crisis of faith as a result of not feeling the Spirit or the love of God. Others have unanswered questions. Sometimes the actions of leaders cause us to generalize their choices to the Church as a whole, or an aspect of Church history taken out of context gives us pause.

Whatever the source of the cognitive dissonance, remember that it is a choice to keep the faith. 

Everyone experiences questions or doubts at some point in their lives. The good thing is, you can make this part of your faith experience! After you overcome this struggle, you can apply the lessons you've learned to new obstacles you face, and you can extend a hand to those still wandering in darkness.

Recognize how you feel when you have faith. Faith lifts and inspires. Doubt saddens and demotivates. Moroni 7 teaches about this principle:

11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

Many of the people I know who have experienced a faith crisis focus their research on evidence that supports their doubts. However, as President Uchtdorf taught in General Conference, we need to doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith. As you look for answers that uphold your faith, you'll soon realize that there is far more evidence for the Gospel than there is for doubt.

A hard lesson that I've had to learn is that sometimes I have to command​ myself to fall to my knees and pray in humility. I'm sure you've had similar experiences when you've had to force yourself to keep the commandments, even when you don't understand their purpose. By doing this, we show our Heavenly Father that we are willing to surrender our wills to Him, and this will surely open the windows of heaven for us to receive celestial blessings.

Finally, I hope you come to recognize that it's okay to not have all of the answers. We often put the prophet and apostles on a pedestal and unconsciously believe that they know all things. The truth is, they're mortal men who haven't received the answers to every question. Elder Hugh B. Brown admitted "My questioning soul still questions." They proceed in faith and so must we.

We weren't sent to earth knowing all things, and we certainly don't have enough time to learn all things during our mortal journey. 

Isaiah teaches in Isaiah 40 that "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." In order to wait upon the Lord, we need to seek Him, and while doing so, we simultaneously need to trust that we will find Him. 

In Jeremiah 29:13, Jehovah teaches "ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” There have been many times in my life when I felt that the Lord was hiding from me, as Isaiah speaks of in Isaiah 8:17. As He likely won't manifest Himself to me visually, I've had to seek Him with my heart.

In one of these times of ambiguity, I was struggling to know if I should serve a mission. I was undeniably attracted to other men, and I didn't even know if homosexuals were allowed to serve missions. At the same time, I was absolutely terrified of the possible repercussions of "coming out of the closet." Would my faith be enough to sustain me through whatever would come of such a revelation? 

As I sought answers, I didn't immediately find any. It took many days of fasting and countless prayers to keep me on track as I sought God's plan for me. Over time, elements of truth came to me like drops of oil rising to the surface of water. After reading Ty Mansfield's In Quiet Desperation and recognizing that while I had no sins to confess I still needed the ministering of my bishop, I decided to step forward and share my story with him and my parents. 

As a result of my opening up, I was referred to LDS Family Services. While my same-sex attraction proved no obstruction to serving a mission, my papers were put on hold until my clinical depression was deemed under control.

My patriarchal blessing told me that "at an appropriate time" I would be called to serve a mission. This gave me courage and trust in the Lord as I waded through months of ambiguity and the countless prying questions of family, friends, and ward members.

When I finally received my mission call, I was honestly a little disappointed. I wanted so desperately to serve in a foreign country or at least learn a new lesson. I had taken years of German in hopes of serving in Europe. Was this really what the Lord wanted for me?

The hymn "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" touched my heart and gave me the confirmation I needed.

But if, by a still, small voice he calls
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I’ll go where you want me to go.

O Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,
Tho dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet:
I’ll say what you want me to say.

So trusting my all to thy tender care,
And knowing thou lovest me,
I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere:
I’ll be what you want me to be.

I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain or plain or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
I’ll be what you want me to be.

I know that I had unique gifts to offer my mission. Although I constantly felt like an inadequate missionary, my mission president and his wife begged me to believe that I was more than adequate, that my attractions had led me to a strong relationship with my Savior and that such a bond would shine through my testimony. Over time, I found the Lord in the midst of ambiguity as He led me by the hand down paths that I did not know.

There’s a despair that comes when we realize that our lives won’t turn out the way we had hoped and planned, but the future the Lord prepares for those who consecrate their lives to Him is more glorious than we can imagine. That being said, it's important to realize that the plan that our Heavenly Father has for us may not match the ideal that we have mapped out in our minds. 

I've often fallen into the mindset that God measured me against this plan and that I can screw it all up at any moment, subsequently denying myself the degree of happiness that God hoped I would achieve. I've learned that I'm not that powerful.

It takes a lot of courage and faith to also recognize that others seem to have the path that you long so desperately to walk. For me, such paths include marriage, children, and health. It takes a lot of charity for me to go to wedding receptions, baby blessings, and athletic events because they're so painful for me. I have to find joy in celebrating the joy of others while recognizing that God's path for me isn't any less significant or heaven blessed.

We have to choose faith. We have to recognize that we aren't forced to face change and progression by ourselves. Satan whispers that we are all alone. If we feel lost and confused while we wait on the Lord, as I so often do, we can find hope and reassurance in His love for us.

Doctrine and Covenants 90:24 admonishes us to "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” When we meekly accept what the Lord allows us to experience, we will find the lessons we must master to gain exaltation. We must wait on the Lord, knowing as Job that He "maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole” (Job 5:18).

It's not a sin to have a crisis of faith. It's not a sin to have questions. And, it's not a sin to feel lost. Wait on the Lord and cast your burden at His feet. Answers will come. Angels on both sides of the veil will bear you up if you vulnerably reach out for help and meekly accept the counsel of the Spirit.

Friday, February 23, 2018

That We May Be One

In “Christofferson brothers share how they remained 'as one',” Tom Chistofferson shares his experiences with being a gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A significant reason that his story gets so much attention is that his brother, D. Todd Christofferson, is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I consider this to be a great blessing, because otherwise fewer members of the church would be conscious of this important issue. Tom exemplifies how the power of the atonement of Christ and the charity of members of the church can bridge divides that the world teaches cannot be reconciled.

            I’ve heard Tom’s story a number of times as I’ve attended events at which he spoke. It gives me a great deal of hope to see that an excommunicated member of the church would feel the Spirit enough to come back as a result of the unconditional love of local ward members and his family. I feel that there is much missionary work to be done in the LGBTQ community. It will take some time to change the culture of the church, which is likely the main stumbling block in this equation. This documentary will help people overcome their preconceived notions about homosexual attractions as opposed to immoral behavior.

            Tom’s journey to understand himself mirrors my own in many respects. I also had to do my own research to learn what homosexuality was. It was difficult to not have parents to turn to in this struggle (I had too much shame to vocalize to my parents until adulthood) was a terrible trial for me. I, like Tom, doubted that I could serve a mission because of my same-sex attractions. Similarly, I had hopes that God would help me get married because I served a mission, although I didn’t necessarily believe that my attractions would be taken away as Tom did.

            I really appreciated that the Christofferson parents never seemed to struggle with showing unconditional love to their son in spite of his excommunication from the church in pursuit of a gay marriage. They didn’t make their son a project. They still enjoyed having Tom in their lives and didn’t exclude him from family functions. There’s a common misconception that showing love to a child in a sinful lifestyle is actually condoning those life choices. From the people I’ve spoken to, guilt typically is not the reason that they returned to the church and began living the law of chastity again. Love and a sense of belonging tugged at their heartstrings when they realized what they were missing and remembered what mattered most.

            I’ve brought up in my priesthood meetings the question “If a same-sex couple came to our ward, how would we respond?” I feel like many people, particularly in family wards, would respond with discomfort and possibly even hostility to a visiting gay couple. People want to protect their children, but sometimes shielding them from other lifestyle choices actually hinders their progress or peaks their interest. The fact that Tom’s ward accepted him without question, allowing him and his partner to feel a part of the fold. Why is this so hard for members of the church to replicate?
            I love that Tom teaches about how our wounds and pains can enable our empathy to develop and help one another in our struggles. When he teaches that we need to walk in faith, I feel that his journey is something that typifies this kind of trust in God, because we really don’t know why homosexual relationships are sinful. We can argue that biologically it doesn’t make sense because it can’t lead to pregnancy so it’s not part of the Lord’s plan, but what about more modern teachings about how sexual relationships are an important aspect of bonding couples together in love and loyalty. Perhaps there’s an answer that I’m missing, but I haven’t found such a reason that the love of heterosexual marriages is any different from those within same-sex couples. However, we have to have faith that God knows what’s best for us, and that through His Son we can overcome any obstacles in our paths.  

            While there are many who leave the church who won’t return as a result of their own agency, the opportunity is ours to extend a hand of Christlike love to those whose life experiences may appear dramatically different than our own within the LGBTQ community. Many members of the church don’t know how to respond to their friends and family when they “come out of the closet.” Tom teaches us that the job is not ours to judge and condemn, but rather to keep the commandments ourselves and live worthy of the Spirit. If we follow Christ’s example as the Christofferson’s did, there will be less conflict and more loving communication. We should not use Tom’s story to pressure or invalidate the experiences of others, because every person’s path is unique. Members of the LGBTQ community are our brothers and sisters, and they have a place in the Plan of Salvation just as we do. In conclusion, charity and humility will create an environment to which those who stray will desire to return.
          To purchase Tom Christofferson's book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon's Perspective on Faith and Family, click here!