Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mike responds to somebody who is asking for help with their testimony

I’ve been a member my whole life, served a mission, been a counselor to four different bishops (currently serving as the first counselor in our ward), and I don’t know the church is true—specifically, there are very few (if any) doctrines of the church that I could comfortably say, “I know is true.” I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m 36 years old and have been honestly reflecting on this for many years. Throughout my life I have looked forward to the “thing” that would confirm my testimony. The earliest I remember in detail was believing that once I finally finished the Book of Mormon, I’d be able to pray about it and then I’d know. I finished at 13, prayed about it, but received no answer. I wondered if it was because I was unworthy. I diligently sought to repent of my sins. I attended seminary, studied the scriptures, and prayed regularly. (I wasn’t always terribly concerned with my lack of a testimony, but I had long periods of time where it was a subject of intense concern). I don’t specifically recall this detail, but I probably expected to have a confirming witness when I worthily received the Melchizedek priesthood as well as when I went through the temple for the first time. I left on my mission still without a certain knowledge, but with faith that I would get the testimony I was searching for while there (after all, many of the men I looked up to told stories about how they had their testimonies confirmed for the first time while serving). I diligently followed Elder Packer’s counsel to bare testimony even though I didn’t have one, hoping that “[My] testimony [was] to be found in the bearing of it!” (“The Candle of the Lord). I wrote in my journal things like, “Today I truly know the church is true” hoping that writing it for my posterity would make it happen. I had incredible experiences on my mission (casting out devils, cursing someone in the name of the Lord, revelation, physical sensation of burning in my chest, etc) after each of which I was sure my testimony would be certain. However, after the euphoria from each experience left, I was left, still uncomfortable saying I know. I completed my mission faithfully, but never found that certainty.

I was married and continued to hope for confirmation I sought. A few years into our marriage, Adrianne was having a very hard time with life. We had 2 children under 2, I was working full-time, in the bishopric and taking graduate classes. I hadn’t yet learned how to balance my responsibilities, and so I was out with the missionaries almost every night of the week. She needed my help, but I didn’t understand how difficult things were for her. This may not be exactly how things took place, but something like this occurred. One evening she was expressing how she was struggling and how she couldn’t understand why the Lord would allow her to go through all of this when we were trying to serve so faithfully. I was frustrated because I couldn’t honestly say I believed the Lord would help us at all—I didn’t even know if he was ever there! I broke down and confessed to her that I didn’t have a testimony at all. I think this really shocked her. Specifically, she was worried that I was telling her I was going to leave the church, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do. I don’t remember the resolution to that episode, except that I kept hoping for some certainty, and she joined me in praying that I would get it.

Over the next few years, I continued to strive for a testimony. I was diligent in daily scripture study and prayer. Our family had daily family scripture study and prayer. Adrianne and I prayed together each night before we’d go to sleep.

A few years later, a coworker of mine made it his goal to destroy my faith. He threw every anti-mormon argument he could find at me. This forced me to learn and deal with a lot of aspects of church history and scripture that I had never encountered before. Because of my own uncertainty, I even approached the Lord and asked if this other guys beliefs were true, just let me know that so I could do what was right. Adrianne, as she had previously, and would do again, said that she loved me. She knew that I was diligent in trying to learn the truth, and that if I felt that I needed to leave the church, she would be heartbroken, but she would stay with me and continue to love me. I appreciated her support. I eventually shared my feelings with my father and my brother. I was surprised to discover that they were in much the same boat, but it didn’t seem to bother them as much. Humorously, my father said that his father knew it was true (was a mission president and temple president, personally secretary to a president of the church, etc.), and he always trusted his father. My brother said our dad knew it was true, so he trusted him! My father gave me a blessing and told me that I would come to know for certain. I continued.

A couple of years later, the worst experience of my life took place—our 3 month old daughter died from SIDS. I put her down for a nap and when I went to get her, she was gone. Four faithful latter-day saints were in our home that afternoon. Adrianne had two of us go check on her on different occasions during her brief nap. None of us felt inspired to run upstairs and save her. Finding her was devastating. In all of this, I believe a tender mercy was that I never really questioned why the Lord would let this happen to us. I did expect, however, that in this most awful of situations, I could rightfully lay claim on God’s promises that he would be there for me. I sought him earnestly—even at a minimum to give me certainty that he existed. My wife and I met with the both the bishop and the stake president and discussed my situation. Neither gave any counsel that resolved things for me, though I believe discussing with them aided me in better understanding where I was.
Before we moved into our current home, I emailed the bishop here and introduced our family. I explicitly said, we are faithful and will serve in any calling, but I cannot say I know the church is true. He was very kind in his reply. Eventually he called me to serve as his counselor.

Today I have no problem telling people that I hope the church is true. I have chosen to believe it’s true, and I live my life as if it is. I hope one day to have a sure testimony, but I’m honestly not sure what would convince me—short of God changing my heart (which is what I pray for). For many people, the experiences I have had may have been enough to convince them, but for some reason it has not for me.

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” So often I’ve heard that this second spiritual gift is only temporary, until those people also know for themselves. This may be the case, but I wonder if that “temporary” period may encompass an entire lifetime.

For me, I have had many experience which I choose to interpret as being spiritual manifestations. They do not convince me that the church is true, but they provide a foundation upon which I can choose to believe. Similarly, there are things that make it difficult for me to believe. I have chosen to believe. For me, nothing has convinced me the church is true. However, nothing has convinced me that the church isn’t true. Until one of those two changes, I’m going to continue as a faithful, believing, but not knowing, member of the church.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I've struggled with my own questions (some of them pretty big) related to my testimony, but it comes down to choice. You can choose to believe or choose not to believe. You explained it very well and I am grateful that you shared it. I was helped a great deal by this.