For my entire life, I would say that one of my core identities has been “I am a believer.” As a result, I have been called naive, brainwashed, stupid, and more. But, for me, there is just no doubt that my Father and Mother in Heaven exist, that They love me, and that They are all powerful and benevolent.
So . . . where’s the problem?
I had always thought that faith—for me—was simple. I believed in God. And I thought that the older I got the more faith I would have. It seemed as straightforward as getting taller. And that plan held me for a good number of years.
But, then, the clearest, most powerful, answer to prayer I ever received also led me to the hardest place of my life. (Understatement.) The fallout from that means that rather than just being a believer I feel more like a battle-scarred PTSD believer. I believe—I just flinch and take cover at any loud noises from the universe.
This journey forced me to reevaluate my faith. And the questions came . . .
Do I have faith?
Yes. I thought so. Before . . .
I felt betrayed by my willingness to follow God’s plan for me. And so I had to dig in deeper. I had to ignore the circumstances and examine only myself . . . because, ultimately, my faith is only for me. It is MY faith. My identity. Who I would be in this world. But I needed to know . . . What is faith? To be a person of faith, what do I need to believe? What does a universe look like without faith? So I started asking, and answering.
Do I still believe that God exists?
This may seem straightforward—unless you have been to India. I talked to a new friend who told me that visiting India gave her a faith crisis. She could not reconcile the God she had believed in with the state of humanity she saw all around her. I knew exactly what she meant. Before I actually lived in India, I use to travel here once a year for about a decade. I found that visiting India gave me a soul-scrubbing. Time here was a wake-up call of humility. It was clear to me that the universe was more expansive/complicated/grand/insane than I had ever realized. After time in India, it was clear I knew absolutely nothing about the mysteries of God and the workings of the universe. I had nothing under control. And I think this is actually closer to our real state of being than the facade I built the rest of the year—that I was an adult capable of paying the bills, holding a conversation, and managing my junk. When an electric light switch always flips on when you hit the switch, you begin to think you’ve got it.
For me, India was the peeled back true scene—I got nothing. So, literally, THANK GOD that our Heavenly Parents exist and life can be in their purview rather than any laughable attempt at being under mine. (And this even goes for my own life—not just an entire subcontinent.)
Which leads me to . . .
Do I believe my Heavenly Parents are all-loving, all-powerful, benevolent beings?
Again, not as simple as what you might first think. When you see the chaos and suffering of a place and of individuals, can you still believe in an all-powerful, all benevolent God? I can. But only because I was able to come to terms with the fact that my definitions of what might be important in this life, are clearly NOT their definitions. And as soon as I was not the one in charge of defining things, then I could submit to divine definitions. So, my western ideas about moving bit by bit to a more comfortable existence was clearly NOT the point of life. If Heavenly Parents are all-powerful, benevolent beings, then it was okay if some people lived without electricity and some people had electricity. I don’t mean okay as in “okay, no need to help, it’s their karmic destiny to suffer” but I mean okay as in “do what you can to help others while understanding that this life is a small moment . . . and there is a more nuanced system than just your own evaluation of what a good or bad deal in this life might be.”
And, this brings up— what kind of person am I?!?! That while all these people live such truly hard lives, I have a life of privilege, and I am still thinking I feel scarcity? That I got a raw deal? Am I just a true jerk?
Which leads me to . . .
Do I believe They love me?
This was actually the most unmoving of all my questions. I have experienced the love of my Heavenly Parents too many times to have any doubt of this. I am loved. Just like They love everyone. Even in my jerkiness, or any other-ness. I am loved as I am.
But, then, I hit the kicker.
Do I believe in Their plans for me? Their vision of me? Of what I could manage and thrive in?
Um, no. Not always. Actually, not at all.
And that answer put me into all sorts of trouble. The first is that I had an identity freak out. THIS IS NOT ME. I am a believer. What happens when that identity is no longer the truth? It is a very uncomfortable place.
In fact, I would say I went for a solid year not believing in Their plan for me. Like, thinking God was straight-up crazy. (I am frank with God in my prayers and also frank in my apologies for statements like that. It is true, I have felt that way. I have thought God is crazy. I also recognize that a mere scrap of a human being thinking that of the Almighty Supreme Beings of the Universe is beyond ridiculous. However, sometimes, I AM beyond ridiculous. And I figure authenticity means more in prayers than partially-fabricated niceties.)
Why is God crazy? Because somehow my Heavenly Parents think I can do THIS.
For many of us, the fill-in-the-blank THIS can take any number of forms. THIS is whatever our soul-stretching situation happens to be. Health, family, finances, abuse, mental health, war, deprivation . . . it can be anything. And getting to the other side of THIS can literally kill us, absolutely emotionally kill us, can debilitate us . . . and sometimes we don’t even get to the other side.
That is a very raw place to be in. And, for me, brutally unsustainable. It was the worst place I have ever experienced. Not the actual experience I was having, but the lack of trust in my Heavenly Parents.
In fact, it started with not trusting my Heavenly Father. HE had been the one to answer my prayer, so all THIS was on Him. And, then, in the course of researching and writing and thinking about our new book A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother, I realized that wasn’t fair. If I actually believe the doctrine that God is our Heavenly Parents united and I believe They model that perfectly, then it wasn’t fair to blame only Him. I could blame Them both. (!) But, I had a very strong spiritual experience with my Heavenly Mother where I saw the merest glimpse of Her majesty, power, AND LOVE for Her children . . . and I couldn’t blame either of Them.
It was time to examine my process to see how I got to this place of destitution.
And so I stepped back and thought . . . how was I able to get an answer to a prayer in the first place? Oh, right. I turned to God. WITH GOD, all things are possible. I, quite literally, did not have to do THIS on my own. I did not even have to be that person They thought I could be, on my own. In fact, I simply could not.
I was reading a book by Marianne Williams and she says, “The physical body is at work every moment, an array of mechanisms with a brilliance of design and efficiency our human efforts have never begun to match. Our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, our ears hear, our hair grows. And we don’t have to make them work— they just do. Planets revolve around the sun, seeds become flowers, embryos become babies, and with no help from us. Their movement is built into a natural system. You and I are integral parts in the system, too. We can let our lives be directed by the same force that makes the flowers grow— or we can do it ourselves. To trust in the force that moves the universe is faith. Faith isn’t blind, it’s visionary. Faith is believing the universe is on our side, and the universe knows what it is doing.”¹
And with that realization, I felt my whole universe shift back into focus. I had clarity.
And I was reminded about a fervent plea I put up, once upon a time.
I had been grouchy. I wanted to know why my courtship had to be such a ludicrously demanding process. And I was praying and saying, “Father, WHY did you do it this way?!?! You could have done it like this . . . and this . . . and then everything would have been so much more peaceful. Why did you do it like THIS?” (THIS being a place of trial and pain and cognitive dissonance.) And, this is the answer I got then, that I thought would be burned in my soul, that I would remember forever (but I didn’t).
“I could have done it like that. And you would have gotten your husband. THIS way, you get him and ME.”
And I was stunned. Because, Heavenly Father was right. Because of the insanity of the situation, I had been forced to turn to God in a more robust way than I ever had. I quite literally found I couldn’t breathe my way through many days and situations without a constant prayer in my heart. I was fasting once a week. I was pleading with my Father to be with me. AND HE WAS.
Let that sink in. HE WAS.
My answer to prayer was that it was not the process that mattered, it was that I got a relationship with my Father in Heaven. It changed who I became.
But, after I turned to God, and made the choice, did I KEEP turning to God? I don’t think so. I got busy being in survival mode—and that had led to this place of destitution.
So why do I have faith? What does this mean?
A friend of mine once gave a superb talk in sacrament meeting about having faith to follow God. And he talked about a couple of examples in his life where he was promised something or followed God’s prompting, and then things didn’t turn out quite as he would have thought he had the right to expect. He was set apart before he left on his mission with a prayer that said his family would be blessed for his service—and his parents divorced while he was on his mission. He felt prompted to send his mother all the money he had left for food one month—and the money never reached his mother. And he talked about the reason we do things is not because faith is a transaction— I do THIS, so I get THIS. We live with faith because it changes who we are.
And, I think that’s the whole point. I, quite simply, cannot be the person I am intended to be without my Heavenly Parents’ love, guidance, and gift of Their Son. The definition of GOOD—a good place, a good decision, a good quality of life—is not actually what we have or experience, it is WHO WE ARE BECOMING.
So how do we become faithful?
I think, because I did not turn to God in the way I should have, my THIS did not make me a better person. I am working on that. And so I turned to people to see how they had done it.
A friend had a similar faith-trying experience. Interestingly, she said her niece had just declared her to be a “woman of great faith”— and this did not surprise me. That is exactly why I wanted to talk with her. So I asked her about her faith, and she immediately had wisdom.
“For me, faith is my belief and my actions . . . ” and that struck me. Faith is not JUST believing as I had been defining it, but ACTING on that belief. I have been traveling a lot this year and I have seen many places of faith. One such place was a monastery on top of a very tall mountain. The choice, alone, to put the energy and resources into building up there was stunning. That is not just faith believing, but faith ACTING. It took some monks a lot of years to haul a lot of rock to build this place of faith.
And so I considered—
How do I act in faith, TODAY?
I am trying a few things:
- I started acting like I had faith in me. I started acting like I was the person my Heavenly Parents somehow think I am. I started handling the hard parts with the faith that I COULD handle the hard parts. Frankly, I am faking it. I know I am not that person . . . right now. But I am trying to believe in Their vision that perhaps I can become that person, that I will survive to be that person.
- I spend time (even long-distance or over email or whatnot) with people who see me as a believer. This reinforces that I was once. And can be again.
- I go to church. It seems simple, but it puts me in a place where there is a collective belief. A collective faith. The monks were onto something to put their church high on the mountain so all in the valley could turn upwards and be reminded. In India, a congregation of Latter-day Saints is 430 miles away—a flight or overnight train or 15-hour drive. I have missed it. Now, while traveling, I am able to prioritize attending church—not easy, but rewarding.
- I started a god-journal. I needed a place to remind myself (for the days when I did not believe so easily) that I am loved by Heavenly Parents and that They care about my life. Little things that felt like I had been touched by the divine— like how we found my daughter’s stuffed dog in the airport when I thought it was long gone or I was late and found a parking place. And big things like how my sisters were able to come visit. Because, I forget. And these little moments just slide by into long ago (like things that happened ten minutes ago to a month to years) and I forget to carry that cocoon of divine love with me. If I can forget such an answer to prayer as the bold declaration of “this way you get ME,” what else am I forgetting along the way? How can remembering bolster me?
- And, gratitude. I was always taught to start a prayer with saying thank you, but now I really pause and think and make a long list—and keep going—of very specific things I can be grateful for. Sunshine. (We got a lot of that.) Hygienic food. (Always a boon in my life.) A healthy child. (Healthcare in India is not close to reliable.) Beads. (Because, well, I am.) A sometimes-functional internet. (That lets me connect with people who live in other places and enables my work.) Google docs. (Ditto.) The color coral. (I smile now just thinking of that color.) And the list can go on and on . . .
So, am I a believer again?
Perhaps, today, all I need to do is choose to say, “Yes.” And then TURN TO GOD.
¹ Marianne Williamson A Return to Love. HarperOne