Doubt and Faith

I had a hard conversation with my adult son the other day. He has chosen to stop participating in church, as he feels betrayed and manipulated by our church leaders. He no longer trusts the spiritual experiences he has had because he no longer trusts the context in which they occurred. He doesn’t believe the church is true. He doesn’t trust our leaders. He doesn’t want his young children to go to church, but wants them to be able to “decide for themselves” later in life without “brainwashing” at a young age.

It breaks my heart.

As a convert to the church — and still the only family member who has joined – I prize my membership. I have paid a price to be a Mormon and I do not regret the cost. I am not blind to the faults and fallacies of church leaders and members, but it is my chosen community and the fruits of my membership are too obvious and too precious to renounce. I have struggled with the same questions and doubts that my son is facing, the same frustrating inequities and black holes of history. I still do. I almost left the church myself, 20 years ago.

But I chose faith. I chose to stay because Spirit instructed me to. That’s what I have faith in, my direct experience of the Divine. I can’t explain the church’s problematic history to my own intellectual satisfaction or justify the persistent, subtle sexism. But nor can I deny (without eternal peril to my soul) the persistent, loving tutoring of the Spirit that is woven into every moment of my life, waking and sleeping, precisely because I am an active Mormon. I know things. I do not know the meaning of all things, but because I have lived my faith with full intention and constant attention, I know things I never could have known had I made a different choice. And those things I know are of eternal consequence.

Don’t mistake me. I am not saying that my choice to stay is necessarily the best choice for everyone. Faith may look different for different people. Though I believe that staying active in the church is the best path Home, I have no right to judge another’s alternate choice. But I freely admit my complete dismay when one I love so much loses faith. I get scared. Not just for the other person, but for myself, as well. My doubts, ever present, taunt me. And yet, as I told my son the other day, I welcome doubt, for it keeps me on the razor edge of spiritual growth. There is no real faith without doubt. My doubt informs and deepens my faith because it informs and deepens my inquiry. I doubt . . . I ask . . . I receive. Not always quickly, not always fully, but always.

You love someone, too, I’ll bet, that has chosen to leave, or is considering leaving the church. Maybe it’s you. What does love look like in this situation? How do you help?

About Lisa G.

(Poetry Board) is mother to six and grandmother to eight and lives on five forested acres in the Pacific Northwest.

17 thoughts on “Doubt and Faith

  1. I have two adult suns in the same situation. I thing our general bias toward not acknowledging questions and mistakes we have made individually and institutionally contribute to the frustration of such people. Add to that our relative unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes and the problem is compounded. Perhaps Uchdorf’s article might help. I have two sons in similar positions and I m just hopeful they come around.

    Dave

  2. My oldest son has also lost his faith – to the extent that he doesn’t really even believe there is a god. I have often said that on matters of character and integrity, he measures up to and even beyond any member of the church, but he has totally excised anything spiritual from his life.

    I have accepted that the right to choose is a guiding principle of the gospel. Therefore, he knows our feelings and we respect his, even though we do not agree.

    We love him and include him. The only chance for him to come back is to be loved in. It hurts to see what he is missing in life because of his choice, but that is beyond our control. We can control how we treat him – and it is always with respect, never with criticism.

    I rely on the promised blessings that will come to our children if we remain faithful and valiant. I have had to put my trust in God on this issue, while I just try to be the best mother I can be.

  3. My husband left the Church so many years ago that our children don’t remember him ever coming. Our sons are not ordained to the Priesthood and our younger daughters will not be baptised. That’s the “compromise” I made to continue taking them each week.

    I’m very protective of my husband. I speak up when people say negative things about atheists. I don’t let it go in Sunday School when people talk about how sin is the only reason people leave the church. I make sure to bring up my husband when people talk to me about our kids–I want them to know that our children have two parents that love and are involved with them. Basically I do my best to counter the idea that you can only be moral or a good parent if you are active in the Church.

    I do not belittle his atheism when talking to him or the kids. They know that Dad doesn’t believe the same as I do but that we all love each other. It gets tricky because I hope they stay active throughout their lives so I talk a lot about choices and that they’ll have to choose too. I walk a fine line between being supportive and loving and saying it’s okay that he left.

    It’s ridiculously hard. If you think of how much the Church asks and expects of us in order to really be active, you realize that just about everything you do is touched in some way by the Gospel. When you take that huge thing and no longer have it in common you need to find a new way to relate to each other. I love my husband and I will never leave. But I would never have chosen this for our family either.

  4. Well said. I appreciate the experience and wisdom you share here. I often quote some of your pirce on brave coming wrapped in fear at my local addiction recovery meetings. Thanks for being you and sharing some of your story with me!

  5. Felicity: You are doing great things each day by living your faith but also by respecting your husband’s choices and not criticizing him and even defending him. (I like the conclusion of Elder Uchtorft’s talk about faith & doubt because he does the same thing: admonishes people to hold fast to their faith but cautions them against criticizing others who don’t share that same faith. It was one of my favorite moments from the last conference.) You are living in a very rare space, and you are doing a marvelous job! Love and light to you.

  6. Just love them. My bishop looks at me like a China doll on the edge of a shelf, because I have expressed doubt. It is the worst because that means he cannot see the strength I have. Please tell them they are loved, no matter what they believe religiously. See and point out their strengths and talents so they understand that they are divine beings whether they go to church or not. Trust God. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Love to you all.

  7. Thanks for this post.

    We’re taught that Heavenly Father knows our hearts (our thoughts and intents D&C 33:1).

    Therefore, those who are losing or entirely lost their faith and have left the church having done so with good conscience and reason will at some point be visited by the powers of heaven and reclaimed (Alma 10:6-8).

  8. I don’t have anything to add, except to say that I love this description of your faith: “I have lived my faith with full intention and constant attention.” Because you do so, I’m positive that you will receive direction at some time and an outpouring of love at all times.

  9. I wish that I knew the answers to those questions! I am hoping more people comment so I can read what you have to say! I have a few people very close to me who are now atheists or almost atheists. It’s been six months and I think I might still be in the denial phase – which makes it easier to love, when I can feel like there’s still hope… but I’m not sure I will be able to continue going about my happy life when I’m forced to confront this new reality that I never thought I’d be in.

    However, as a result, I like you have been forced to confront and strengthen my faith. It’s hard, and scary. The testimonies of those around us help to mitigate the periods of doubt that we all cycle through, but when left alone without that buffer it changes everything. I feel like this situation is happening right and left these days, like the church is approaching a crossroads of some sort but I don’t know what will happen. I just want my family with me. I will continue to love all I can but it’s so disappointing to have to love on a lesser scale, because the fulfillment that comes from sharing testimony in a relationship is missing.

  10. Thank you all for your wisdom and love. I especially honor those spouses who remain loving to their inactive/nonmember spouse AND true to their own faith. Love IS the answer — to everything. One of my favorite scriptures is James 1:4 — “But let patience have her perfect work. . .” All there is is Love.

  11. Excellent article. Excellent comments. In regards to “atheists & agnostics”, I believe many I know are yet very sensitive to matters of conscience or the Light of Christ. Some are far more “Christian” in their actions than many Christians. Not all, but neither are those professing to be spiritual. Some members of the Church struggle with being Christlike more than others I know who feel they are in a faith crisis or don’t believe. True Irony. Which is why final judgement will not be rendered in this “world”.

  12. One of my best friends left the church after reading some of Joseph Smith’s controversial history, and feeling betrayed that she had never heard these things before.

    I have tried to understand her perspective, because I could not grasp why someone who had lived a life guided so closely led by prayer and spiritual guidance could now say that those experiences were hogwash.

    This presentation by Mormon Stories Podcast (Top 5 Myths and Truths about Why Committed Mormons Leave the Church) helped me in my relationship with my friend. I appreciate the candor and compassion it portrays. The best thing I can do for my friend is to love her and make sure that I continue our friendship. Here’s the link (it’s a bit long, but the latter half is absolutely worth it–it describes what we as friends and family can do). In all, a good and fairly unbiased look at this type of situation.

    http://mormonstories.org/top-5-myths-and-truths-about-why-committed-mormons-leave-the-church/

  13. My feelings toward the Church are similar to yours. I am here because the Spirit has told me to be. I do struggle on an intellectual level, though. If my children leave the church someday, I don’t know how I will handle that. I suspect I will share my faith first,and also some of my struggles.I will talk about the things I have questioned and the answers that have come and the ones I’m still waiting for. And I will always let them know how much I love them, and how I would love to see them choose the gospel. I think it is important to both speak truth and show unconditional love.

  14. i recently followed a thread of RM’s discussing their faith and lack of.
    it has given me pause. It makes me sad.
    “i could not be shaken” Jacob 7–is my ever prayer.

  15. I have been reading and waiting for just this post, thank you. I’m also a convert and only member in my family. I now have the of my five children who have left the church. It is beyond heartbreaking. Their choices had nothing to do with behavior or lifestyle. They have left for intellectual and what they describe as issues Werth my cognitive dissonance. My poor soon told me it would have been easier to have told his father and I he was suicides to drugs, gay, or had gotten a girlfriend pregnant than to tell us he didn’t believe as we do. How awful to feel that way! I struggled with getting deeply betrayed by God And the leaders of the church. I have sacrificed so much, how could this happen? I have since accepted my children’s agency. They are remarkable individuals and I am confident in the Lord s love for them. I didn’t long months repenting f or whatever I had done or didn’t do to lead them to this point. I have laid this to the Lord and am at peace. Thank you again for sharing.

  16. Also going through this…never thought it would happen and it is so painful, I have honestly been physically ill. Not a lot to add but I have found a lot of strength in deeply studying the Atonement…what it means for my son and what it means for me. My pain, my anguish, my fear. I started attending a 12-step support group for pornography addicts (this precipitated my son’s disaffection) and found a wonderful system of taking the Atonement one little step at a time and surrendering my own fear to the Lord. I have to lean on the fact that the Lord knows what he needs better than I do…even though I wish I could fix it all.

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