Monday, September 13, 2010

"I have a secret"

Several years ago, a friend was on his way out of the church. Not the building, but The Church. He and I spoke a few times about his split with the religion of his childhood (and the religion of his wife and children). It was not an easy choice to leave, and, although I asked him more than once, he was careful not to share with me his specific concerns that had finally pushed him over the edge.

I gathered that they were historical issues. And he told me that he didn't want to discuss them because he didn't want to be responsible for someone else's falling away. But he assured me they were Big Things, Things he had discussed with his own father (a still-active Latter-day Saint even after talking with my friend), Things that he could no longer reconcile.

I admired his desire to protect me from what he knew (though I, perhaps with too much pride, didn't think his concern was warranted). But at the same time I saw in him a typical pattern which I'd seen among others who have left:

1. I have learned something no one else really knows or understands (or if they do, they're in denial).

2. If they knew what I know, they would make the same choice I am making: to leave.

I've seen this pattern in close friends, acquaintances, and family members. In reducing it to simple steps I don't also mean to minimize the difficulty such realizations cause those who have them. Leaving the church can be painful, and my observation is that many who leave only do so when the pain of leaving is less than the pain of staying.

But that's not my point today.

My point is that as members of the church, we often assume the same two steps when we explain our faith:

1. I have a testimony of something that is not commonly known.

2. If others knew what I know, they also would also have a testimony, just as I do.

I suppose it's normal for us to assume that everyone else, when faced with the same data we have, would make the same choices. In reality, I think life is more complicated. First, we don't share completely common experiences. So even if the same facts are in evidence, we will respond to them differently because of our unique life experience. Second (and perhaps related to the first), we will simply interpret the same "facts" differently. We have different gifts of the spirit, so one man's "knowing" may be another's "believing." And a third may not have that sense of knowing or believing.

That being said, I still believe the quickest path to conversion is through reading and hearing testimony borne, and feeling the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. When that happens, someone who is able to hear (in the way the Savior said, "he who hath ears to hear, let him hear") will both hear and feel that testimony. But just as not everyone heard the Savior when he taught, not everyone will hear those who testify today.

I don't know why things are this way, and this issue is near the top of the questions I'll ask when we get to ask any question we want in the next life (and I hope we do!). But I do know because I have observed the content of this post in real life, it gives me reason to be less judgmental of others' choices – I really can't know what they know, even if I walk a mile in their shoes. The best I can do is choose the best I can for myself based on what I know, and try and teach my children my experience.


  1. Excellent post. Excellent message.

  2. Very insightful post. I like what you said about people leaving only when leaving is less painful then actually staying. I think that is absolutely true.

    I also particularly like the last paragraph and line. We are all doing the best that we can with what we know and how we are interpreting things.