Thursday, July 25, 2013

Testimony and Faith Journeys

As I think about my membership in the LDS church (nearly 37 years now), I realize that I have been on quite a path. Although there are times when I have felt completely secure in my relationship with God and in my trust in my church, I also realize that there are times when I have felt far more vulnerable than I would have liked.

I reflect on this subject this week because of the NYT article making the rounds.  I should point out that there are some excellent responses to this article, including this one at BCC  and this one at BYU Studies.

What occurred to me, however, is that just like Brother Mattsson, featured in the NTY article, each of us is on a faith journey. (The idea isn’t completely my own. I was spurred to this thought by this article written by a friend some time ago and shared with me this week.)

In some ways it is appropriate that I ponder my faith journey during the same week we celebrate a journey of another sort by Mormon pioneers who made their way to the Intermountain West where they could (for a time at least) be free of the persecution they had known in Kirtland, Missouri and Nauvoo. The pioneers, of course, traveled a path of physical, emotional and (I imagine, at least) spiritual hardship, as they physically tested their commitment to the gospel and the prophet Brigham. Their sacrifice was tangible and in many cases terrible, leaving possessions, family members either behind or along the way. Families were separated by circumstance, by service in the Mormon Battalion and in some cases by death.

I am a convert to the church; although I have American pioneers in my heritage, I do not have Mormon pioneers. My pioneer ancestors went to the Pacific Northwest primarily for economic reasons, and while they worked hard to go, they did not suffer the persecution of the Mormon pioneers. My wife’s ancestors, on the other hand, included Mormon pioneers, some of whom suffered greatly in their journey. My wife reflected early in our marriage that she did not think she could have endured the trials of her Mormon pioneer ancestors.

Harold B. Lee is often quoted as saying that in our day we will likely face different tests of our faith from those of the pioneers. While they faced physical challenges, we will face challenges of sophistication. In addition to challenges of sophistication (and some may include the issues highlighted in the NYT article in that mix), I think we have other trials of our faith that may well be common to other generations. That has certainly been my experience.

My challenges of sophistication – that is a scholarly set of questions that I had not encountered in seminary and Sunday School – came early in my career at BYU, when I had a roommate who invited me to address a series of questions he’d learned from his father who was in the process of leaving the church. That experience was critical in my development of a stronger testimony of the gospel. During that year I learned how I could approach questions of our history (and I enjoyed the resources of BYU’s library and one particularly helpful faculty member to do it; I don’t know how I could have done that far from BYU in the pre-internet age). And I had a number of other spiritual experiences unrelated to those questions that reinforced the testimony I brought with me to BYU. That combination helped me through a period that could otherwise have significantly challenged my faith. I learned not only answers to many questions, but also HOW to answer questions in the future (and how to wait when answers were not immediately available).

But those are not the only challenges to my faith. Part of my faith journey includes other trials of faith that come up in everyone’s life: sought-after blessings that may have been slow to appear, children who chose different paths and so on. Life is simply not easy. When what we perceive to be righteous desires are slow to be realized, it can challenge us – at least it has challenged me. Knowing that no success can compensate for failure in the home gives me pause when I know that my home is not perfect. Learning to pray to understand God’s will rather than to present Him a list of my wishes is a lesson that took me decades to learn. In these trials, I suppose perhaps I have kinship with those Mormon pioneers who may not have consciously signed up for the journey they ultimately took.

I think about testimony meetings, where we’re invited to share briefly what we know or believe and how we’ve come to know it. Of course those testimonies are often point-in-time snapshots along our life’s journey of faith, a journey that is often complex and even uncertain. As for me, I am now experiencing mine one day at a time, grateful for where I am today.


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