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The Know-It-All

By Maralise Petersen

My story is no different than any other.  I grew up Mormon, in Utah.  I was the Laurel class president (Beehive and Mia Maid too).  I went to BYU.  I come from pioneer stock on one side and pioneer + alcoholic stock on the other (beware, this leads to a compulsion to force feed others in a twisted combination of Christian charity, Mormon guilt, and alcoholic co dependence.  Drinks anyone?).  I grew up attending my meetings and fulfilling callings like any other good Mormon.  I testified during meetings.  I knew the church was true.  And I did know.  That is, until I didn’t.

As a recovering perfectionist, my natural tendency is to lean towards an extreme.  So, when I’m righteous — boy howdy — watch out.  I’m banging down your door to visit teach you.  I’m literally praying in my heart. all. day. long.  When I had my son, I did EVERYTHING one is supposed to.  I read books.  I made lists.  I checked those lists off.  I implemented strategies.  And I failed.  Miserably.  My sons (they multiplied!) were unhappy and unhealthy.  So was I.

And yes, falling off that cliff of self-assurance led to a very bloody and painful landing.  When I had the strength to lift my head and take a look at the mess I had created, I mourned anyone’s ability to know, anything.  I doubted myself, my God.  I doubted my family, my heritage, my children, my faith.

I can’t say that I’ve been able to restore my ‘knows’ in the Gospel or in my faith or in my life since then.  But I can say that more than being restored, I have been rebuilt; through perseverance and teeth-gritting transformation, I have learned that progress is more important than perfection and parenting involves so much more than lists and strategies.  I have also learned that being a religious person in a modern world often requires more creativity than knowledge, and more charity than self-assurance.

My family lives in Austria now.  I’m sure you know more about  Austria than I did when I moved here (what bathroom am I supposed to use… ‘Damen’ or ‘Herren’?), but they speak German here.  German is a little bit NOT like English.  I’ve been attending church here for a whole year.  At first, I understood 0% of what was said.  I’ve gotten more use out of the smile and nod tactic than even Sarah Palin.

I’ve sat through many worship services where the only word I understood was ‘love.’  One day in Relief Society, I understood ‘For me…”.  The next week I understood the word atonement.  In a very real way, I’ve been forced to start over.  I’ve had to learn about the gospel and myself and my faith from the beginning.

Making a wreck of your life can sometimes lead to the most liberating sense of freedom.  Being forced to give up my ‘knows’ led to a strong and reliable set of ‘believes.’  I’ve learned how to trust in something I can’t control, to perform actions because they bear fruit and to avoid actions that hinder progress.  And believing, for me, has made all the difference.  Filled with belief instead of knowledge, faith instead of assurance, I go, I serve, I accept, I trust. One day, I’d like to know.  But for now, I’m enjoying believing very much.

What do you know?  Do you use the words ‘I know’ or ‘I believe’ when speaking of religion?  Why or why not?  Is there any value in ‘not knowing?’  If so, what?  If not, explain?

And if you’d like to hear more from other Segullah authors, here’s a poem from Melody Newey about inspiration, the best story on mothering I’ve ever read from Arlene Ball, and an inspiring tale about giving up control by Emily Orton.

About Maralise Petersen


33 thoughts on “The Know-It-All”

  1. I know I have had spiritual promptings and experiences that I can never deny; I know when I do my best to follow the doctrines and teachings of the Gospel my life is better; I know I'm not perfect; I know I have much more to learn.

    I think most Mormons confuse knowledge with belief because like faith and hope they are intertwined; we have faith and believe until we know. The key, after that, is then to remember.

    I love that you had to crash and burn before you realized what it was you "knew." I had a similar experience (except I grew up in Idaho) and my crashing and burning came from watching family members be excommunicated and throw their eternal salvation away. I really had to stop and think about what it was I "knew" and "believed" and was it really true/worth it? But because of the way I grew up, I think my faith was strong enough to navigate through the shards of doubt that plagued me for a few years –even when I was told "it's okay not to believe" and "don't be an arrogant Mormon." I'm happy to say now that I'm glad I'm a believer, and I sure hope I'm not an arrogant Mormon at the same time.

    The only value I see in "not knowing" is that we turn it over to God to show us the way. When we acknowledge our weaknesses and faults –our doubts and fears –but turn to Heavenly Father and ask Him and trust Him, then we most certainly benefit from our lack of knowledge. But doing that takes some belief (i.e. faith), and that can be harder for some than for others…

    Whew! Good topic. 🙂

  2. Maralise:

    Thanks for this post. It is in itself perfection and I appreciate so deeply what you said about being religious in our society requires more charity than self-assurance. Amen. I am struggling deeply with faith and knowledge right now and if I could express my heart, it would be your words.

  3. Maralise, you've beautifully captured something that I find hard to explain. And that's when have some possibility of grasping it myself.

    Yesterday I bore my testimony in church for the first time in over two years. Note to self: no more bearing testimony while fasting. Or tired. Or after two years. I was one of those teary, squeaky, impossible-to-understand women for the first time in my life. I'm not sure it should be called sharing your testimony when the only person who understands what you said is yourself. ugh.

  4. This is a beautiful post. It makes me think of Elder Neal A Andersen's talk from conference called "I Know Enough" (okay, I admit, as much as I would like to say that my stellar memory recalled this talk all the way from last month I must be honest – there was a re-broadcast that I caught on BYU-TV a week ago).

    I actually wrote about it here.

    I think that his point is valid. In fact, my husband and I were talking two nights ago about what it meant to have "perfect faith" (a la 2 Nephi 9:23), and we both sort of arrived at the conclusion that we could more or less say we had "perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel" (i.e. in the Atonement, the Resurrection, and our ability to be cleansed through Christ) but not perfect faith about anything else. I think that this is the key; I think we have to be able to move past the things we don't know to focus on the ones that we do. At least, I know I do!

  5. This is very similar to how I feel. I definitely fell off some sort of cliff over two years ago, and I am still climbing out of the wreckage. A few months ago, I started feeling safe with saying "I believe." But I'm still terrified to say "I know"– probably because I was too confident in what I knew before.
    I like thinking that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but rather having faith is accepting the fact that you do doubt, and you're ok with it.

  6. I dislike the word know for similar reasons. Most of what I know about the spiritual is very personal. I know there is a God and that He speaks to me. I know I was supposed to return to activity in the Church and become a full time mom. I know the answers I have received to other personal questions. When I bear my testimony I literally plan the semantics so that I can say I know only for the things I really know. Some aspects of the gospel I am still taking on faith.

    I suspect many people go through some version of this as childhood faith grows to adulthood. And the value? Humility. Charity. An increased appreciation for the heart of the gospel.

    For those who walk the fiery conversion path, I'm sure there are also valid and important lessons. And I think the two experiences can be intertwined. God has a way of humbling all of us as He teaches us.

    I am happy for those who have an authentic knowledge beyond mine. I believe I will get closer to that place. But I regret the cultural pressure I sometimes see to "know" and the ways that can be misapplied by well meaning people.

  7. Maralise,
    I really appreciate your post. I was very similar to you, but in a different state (i.e., not Utah or Idaho) — very strong, very sure, very perfectionist. Then I had a couple of hard falls, and I am still picking up the pieces. I'm renovating and remodeling, but it's a long and painful process.

  8. The first paragraph of what Cheryl wrote rings true for me. I know that once I get moving in a direction, I feel a stronger pull towards it (spiritual vs non-spiritual).

    For me, the trick is deciding to move – it can be so tiring to feel that pull.

  9. Great post. I've been down a similar, though less rocky road. Does it have something to do with age and experience? The older I get the less I'm completely sure of and the more I see other's foibles and sins as their own personal stepping stones to growth and eventual perfection. Perhaps in allowing them their mis-steps I'll be allowed the same.

    These lines were a wonderful expression that rings true, "I have learned that progress is more important than perfection and parenting involves so much more than lists and strategies. I have also learned that being a religious person in a modern world often requires more creativity than knowledge, and more charity than self-assurance."
    I'm trying to throw self-assurance, perfection and the guilt that accompanies them out the window.

    I know very little. What I know to be most true is my most recent personal revelation, everything else is applied in light of that current counsel.

  10. Don't give up on the German! And don't let people pamper you with English either. You can do it! Similarly, progress with your testimony will have a lot of good and a lot of frustrating stages. Just keep going, you can make it!

  11. The language in this post is so compelling. My favorite lines:
    "But I can say that more than being restored, I have been rebuilt; through perseverance and teeth-gritting transformation, I have learned that progress is more important than perfection and parenting involves so much more than lists and strategies."

    Maralise–your thoughts and honesty are core, and you write to an audience where so much trust is inherent. Thank you for reminding us that what we believe is not finished, but it is alive and open to new growth.
    This I know—sharing honest stories about believing and sharing words about how we live this gospel become doctrine. I also know that these stories have a sustaining power that is real as we journey home to heaven. Grace upon grace we are what we are. I love that you remind us about the constant state of evolution and discovery we experience as women, and even more so, as human beings who believe in an eternal plan.
    Bless you.

  12. Instead of the gift of tongues or discernment or bread-making I was blessed with the gift of knowing. There has never been a time in my life that I have not just inherently KNOWN. And so I do use that phrase a lot, because I want my primary kids and my youths to know that I know that the church is true. I have even said "There will probably come a time in your life when you don't know, when you doubt everything. Then I want you to remember me and know that I ABSOLUTELY KNOW. And if you can hold on to the knowledge that Heavenly Father has told ME that it is absolutely true, then you will be able to hold on until YOU are in a firmer place." I hope it sticks.

  13. Maralise, this was beautiful.

    I related to much of what you said. I find myself missing that "knowing" feeling . . . there was a level of confidence that, though probably based on faulty reasoning, sure felt good. 🙂 Most of me, however, is much happier and more at peace living by faith in this way.

    I try to be selective when I say "I know" vs. "I believe." Sometimes, though, when I find myself thinking, "I only believe this and such," the Spirit reminds me, "No, you KNOW that one." I am grateful for those gentle reminders.

  14. Like La Yen, I have been blessed with the spiritual gift of knowing. I think of it as the "burden of truth." How easy it could be to become self-righteous or proud. And then what I know is of little worth. So much of this life is in the doing. Isn't that why we do temple work? For those who didn't know, but had charity in their hearts and followed through in their actions.

    Today I am feeling raw from trying to share my belief of marriage being between a man and a woman (prop 8) with my friends in California (where I grew up). Most of my friends there are liberal and are against Prop. 8 (which adds marriage as between a man and woman to the constitution of Ca.) On Facebook, I commented to my friend, who had said it wasn't about parental rights, but all about equality, that there were already laws in effect that gave gays equality. One of my friend's friends then came back asking her why she was still friends with me. I have to say that it hurt to be challenged.

    How do you find strength to share your beliefs when people attack you? Sorry this is off-topic. I just wanted some friendly voices. And thought it related because I "know" that marriage between a man and a woman is the right choice.

  15. I used to absolutely know everything, and did everything right. Then I crashed and burned too. I've learned a lot of compassion while picking up the pieces. That means a lot more to me than my perfectionism ever did. Compassion is more comfortable than perfectionism.

  16. Beautiful post Mara. Thank you.

    What do I know? I know I could never have found it in me to send my son away to serve the Lord for two years without knowing God is real; the gospel of Jesus Christ is truth; the Book of Mormon is a witness of the love of God and Christ; and God knows his (Luke's) name as well as he knows my own.

  17. I've appreciated this post and comments.

    Melinda, "Compassion is more comfortable than perfectionism." Reading that felt so good to me, like a big, heavy quilt. It strikes me that that's compassion for others and for self.

    Dalene, I have a Luke, too. And I think he's like his dad and like myself in some, "Oh no!" ways. I worry about his future, his happiness, his safety, his…everything. But, you're right. God knows his name. He loves him just as much (I'm told, more) than I love him.

    And Mara, " I have also learned that being a religious person in a modern world often requires more creativity than knowledge, and more charity than self-assurance."

    What wisdom. The more experiences I have serving in the Church, the more I am taught to think outside the box.

  18. P.S. I didn't mean to sound flippant. Of course Heavenly Father loves my son more than I do. But sometimes my own faith is small, because of my fears for him and love for him coexist. But, Heavenly Father has compassion for me and for my little one.

  19. All my beliefs can be categorized into the two things that I know:

    There is a Higher Power.
    That Higher Power is constantly communicating with all the people on earth.

    In other words, there is a God, and personal revelation is real.

    From that foundation, I have come to believe – among other things – that the Mormon church is true. It seems to me that if we are open to the personal revelation that God speaks to us (through other people, through the Holy Ghost, through our own thoughts, etc.), then we will move closer and closer to real Truth.

  20. One more thought – our struggle to figure out our religious and spiritual beliefs is so valuable to our children!!! We will be able to guide them through this murky, ambiguous world, because we have had to navigate it, too.

  21. Thank you all so much for your comments. I've been stewing over this post since I posted it and hearing your responses has helped ease my mind.

    AND I've been spiritually fed by your comments. Thank you so much for being willing to share your beliefs. I identify with so much of what you've said.

    from Cheryl: "I know I have had spiritual promptings and experiences that I can never deny; I know when I do my best to follow the doctrines and teachings of the Gospel my life is better; I know I’m not perfect; I know I have much more to learn."

    YES! Me too! In fact, you saying that has helped me remember the one 'know' that I have. And that is that I know that Heavenly Father loves me. Knows me. I have relied on that 'know' through so many rough times. And I'm grateful for the tender mercy that it is to me.

    From Courtney: "I like thinking that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but rather having faith is accepting the fact that you do doubt, and you’re ok with it."

    Exactly. I'm OK with my doubts and I've found that through faith and action they are placed in greater perspective. In other words, I'm not willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to my belief in the church and my participation with it.

    La Yen–I love hearing your words and I am so grateful that some have that spiritual gift. And I wish my kids were in your primary. 😉

    Wendy: "Sometimes, though, when I find myself thinking, “I only believe this and such,” the Spirit reminds me, “No, you KNOW that one.” "

    I had that experience as I read everyone's comments. I was so heartened to remember the things I do know.

    And let me just comment that I don't think believing is a 'lesser state of knowledge.' I feel that my testimony and my faith is just as vibrant and active now as it used to be. My secret is that I have found believing so fulfilling that I'm scared for the day when I will know (even though I'm looking forward to it too). I have loved learning how to believe again.

    Thank you again for your comments!

    PS: Michelle–I haven't given up yet! Although I'm sure my German teacher might be ready to give up on me. 😉

  22. I love this post. I have been battling to keep myself centered on Christ and not be pushed off by my righteous desire for my husband to "know" the gospel is true. I think I have been blessed with faith, and I have used that faith to propel my actions, but we are all experiencing opposition and I have had a hard time seeing clearly lately. I "know" but I don't always act what I know because I don't see clearly what the knowing means. I don't fully understand all the ramification of what I "know". My eyes are constantly being opened to these things and my perspective is under constant construction.

  23. I needed to read this. I have felt a strong need to slip into the background of church. I've been the gung-ho out in front "Perfectionist President of Everything" and I'm very tired and I have a lot of doubts to work through and your post and all the warm and enlightening comments made me feel better about that. Thank you!

  24. I had a crash-and-burn this year too, and let me tell you, it was so painful! I came out realizing I had been too arrogant. Not arrogant in knowing, but arrogant in thinking I had it all under control and it was all me. I started doubting myself and second-guessing my spiritual impressions. That led to hard-heartedness. And thank heaven I had enough discernment to know what was wrong with me, even if I couldn't fix it on my own. I had to pray for a soft heart and Heavenly Father put me in a situation where I would be humbled to the dust and have to depend on Him.

    I think that the crash-and-burn experience comes out of over-zealousness, because there is a certain amount of pride at the bottom of it. Having crashed and burned, I know I can never be so utterly secure and complacent and sure of myself and my own righteousness again. Life seems more spiritually dangerous. I need God more. And the gospel is as true as it ever was.

  25. I find it ironic that when we feel so alone in our struggles we can jump on a blog and find immediate connection with women from all walks of life, going through the exact same experiences. It sings peace of mind to my soul that someone else has been at war with their internal dialogue about KNOWING and believing.
    I have my days where I can only HOPE that I believe and hope that it is enough. I have been the one to defiantly stand and march out of a full chapel with tears dripping off my cheeks giving the person behind the pulpit my disapproval for pronouncing their perfect knowledge.
    I applaud those who faithfully bear the burdens of life believing, these are my people. I long for the day when I can KNOW but until then I will believe – Fervently, BOLDLY and fiercely!

  26. Thank you for such an inspiring post.
    There was a time when I was certain I knew so much. And then I was brought to my knees, ripped to my core (by my own actions mind you) and realized I knew nothing. Rebuilding took years (I will be forever grateful for the support I received.) Today, I am wiser and believe there is little to know but, lots to understand. Two years ago, (has it already been 2 years) my beloved younger brother died. His death was just another reminder that there is nothing to know…only much to believe.


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