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TRUTH, TRUST AND TRADITION

By Lisa Meadows Garfield

I was having lunch with my friend, Sue, recently and we got to talking about our relationship with the LDS Church throughout our lives. We’re both Mormons in our 50’s, so our experience is long enough to make some general observations and comparisons. We’re both committed, practicing church members, but our underlying motivations differ. Or maybe they don’t. That’s what I want to talk about with you today.

Sue has been a church member all of her life, raised in the truths and traditions of the gospel. She admits that her church activity is largely based on habit, and even supposes that had she not been born into a Mormon family, she likely would not have embraced the gospel. I have many close friends, and even family members, who echo her sentiments. For them, the church is a wonderful framework for a life of ritual devotion, service to others, rich community, and protection from some of the world’s pernicious traps. I can’t find a thing wrong with this approach. But nor can I understand it.

No, I take that back. Although I am a convert to the LDS Church, I come from a long line of devoted Christians. My great-grandfather, a Methodist minister, christened me as a baby. Two of my cousins are in the clergy. I grew up attending church every Sunday, so I have strong religious habits and traditions myself. But being a Mormon is different from my family traditions. It requires a stronger commitment to religious practice. My participation in the LDS Church is entirely intentional, the result of my spirit’s instinctive search for truth. For me, and for most other converts (like Sue’s husband) church activity is far less habit and much more choice. We tend to be a little intense about our approach to gospel living because we are largely driven not by tradition, but by our visceral need to know the truth.

Truth be told, I am not actually sure that this distinction (convert or lifer) has anything to do with the differences I note in people’s religious motivations. Maybe it is simply a difference in order, or timing. Converts come to the Church because they are seeking truth, and lifelong members seek truth at some point because they are members of the Church.

So maybe the difference isn’t in how people come to be members of the  Church. Maybe some people are innately truth-seekers, due to their premortal history or their basic spiritual makeup. But not all faithful saints, whether convert or lifelong member, are interested in truth. Some of us are keenly interested in correct doctrine, in understanding how things really are — or should be — and that is a continual, driving pursuit. Others simply can’t drum up concern about such things. I know and love many faithful saints who show up, do their duty, serve the best they can, and couldn’t care less whether women are supposed to be ordained to the priesthood, or if we can progress to higher heavenly kingdoms after mortality. But some of us care deeply about finding answers to such questions.

I know it’s not as simple a dichotomy as “truth-seekers” and “trusting followers”.  All true saints care about both truth and trust. It makes me think of this favorite bit of scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 46:

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every one is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

 13 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.

 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

My observation is that those with the gift of knowing Jesus Christ tend to be the questioners, the ones endowed with a burning need to know divine truth. And those with the gift of believing seem to have an enviable, gentle kind of faith, a willing trust in the faithful traditions they’ve been taught. Sometimes people think that believing is not as cool a gift as knowing, but that’s not so. Both are spiritual gifts and I choose to believe that God gives us the gifts that will best bless us and consequently, those we love and serve.

I notice, too, that truth-seekers tend to be future-oriented, always looking ahead to the “improved” version of life, the expansion of knowledge. They seem to need experiential evidence of truth, but when they get it, they cannot be shaken from their knowledge of what is true. Trusters tend to look back to the past with a faith-of-our-fathers sort of approach, looking for models to emulate. They seem to be able to rely on other people’s experience as a basis for belief.

What do you think about truth, trust and tradition?. Do you have the gift of knowing or believing? Are you a convert, a lifelong member or a non-church-member? A truth-seeker or a traditionalist? And if, as I presume, you acknowledge a mix of all of these in yourself, how do you balance truth-seeking, trust and tradition? What motivates you to spiritual activity?

About Lisa Meadows Garfield

Lisa Meadows Garfield is an award-winning poet and author of “For Love of a Child: Stories of Adoption.“ An avid traveler, she is generally away from her homebase in Vancouver, Washington 9 months of the year, exploring the wide, wonderful world. Mother of 6 and Nonnie to 11, Lisa loves sunshine, words, good friends, and especially, Jesus.

8 thoughts on “TRUTH, TRUST AND TRADITION”

  1. Interesting observation.

    My husband, a convert, says his conversion came down to a burning need to know.

    What surprised him about me is the sense of duty that drives me, a lifer, to church attendance, Sabbath observance, and the rest, whether I'm excited about it or not.

    As for tradition, his way is to accept the whole package. Mine is to sift through it all and figure out what I'm really obligated to. Sacrament meeting? Yes. RS craft night? Not so much.

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  2. Oh, Lisa, Thank you!!! What rich thoughts to consider on a cold fall morning. You pose fascinating insights and you have described a phenomena I hadn't quite put my finger on! Like you, my great grandfather was a Methodist minister and when my parents joined the church, my grandmother said, "Any church but the Mormon Church."

    I'm so grateful my parents made the choice. I was only 6, but I discerned the difference in our lives before and after and they raised their 6 children in an environment of never-waning convert enthusiasm. I am blessed with the gift of believing. I have a gentle faith that sustains me deeply. I don't have a great need to question, but I have a deep need for the traditions and trust. I don't know that I would have had the courage my parents had to leave behind bridge clubs and friends that turned their backs on my parents. My aunt said, "Don't you think this is all a little silly?" I am afraid I would have quailed at the changes required. But I rarely for a day (well, at least a week) forget the blessings their choice made in my life.

    I do find that my relationships in the church – caring about other sisters who question deeply – impact me in deep and sometimes painful ways. When a sister hurts because she can't accept a part of the "package", I care. I dig deeper. I try to understand. I am grateful for the growth and experiences I share with sisters who have or are seeking the gift of faith. And I greatly rejoice when my sisters find what they are seeking and "grow" a stronger foundation.

    I also question whether a "believer with a gentle faith" (I really like that thought, Lisa. I feel better about myself when I look at it that way…thank you) will be able to go throughout an entire mortality without a good shaking. Whether it's a mid-life crisis, the agony of losing a child, infertility, divorce, cancer, or a host of other adverse assaults, I think there will come, for all of us believers, a time (alas, many times) when the deep questions have to be asked. Being unaccustomed to exploring the deep questions it can be very bruising.

    For me it was in my 40s when the world seemed to crumble. I had neck pain, but in hindsight I think the intense neck problems were just a symptom. My soul was being rocked and the pain needed a physical manifestation.

    I asked to be released as stake RS president, ostensibly because of a health crisis. I spent much of the next year lying on the wood floor (where I could get relief – when I wasn't at PT or the chiropractor). I spent time thinking. I read Marianne Williamson, Estes "Women Who Run with the Wolves", Sarah Ban Breathnach, Louden's "The Woman's Comfort Book". It was emotionally painful. I didn't know where God was hiding and I wasn't sure I could find him in the gospel anymore.

    Then one day I literally said, "Enough. I WANT to be physically and spiritually whole again." And the healing began. It was another couple of years before I felt on solid ground. I am grateful NOW (not then) for the experience of having my faith sorely tested.

    Two of the biggest blessings since that time have been teaching Seminary and now Institute. I love being forced to study, search, and ask. I love gaining stronger ground for my gentle belief. I also appreciate my gentle belief more than I did before. I'm still not a devout/avid seeker of truth. Yet, I love where my faith is and believe it is what I need to see me through life.

    Thank you so much for giving me a reason to explore and consider! There is a place – in fact a NEED — for the variety of sisters and a variety of approaches. I learn so much for those who are not like me!

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  3. I am in the middle of figuring out my faith. When I grew up, I believed out of tradition and trust. When trust in my relationship with my father was fractured, it felt like the world caved in. In a way it had. I am at a point now where I'm trying to figure out if the other men in my life are going to manipulate and betray in a similar manner, and this has reflected on my relationship with Heavenly Father. Am I walled off? Probably. I'm trying to protect myself, after all.

    So now I'm trying to find my way again. I never stopped attending church, I continue to pray, etc, but this huge fracture has allowed questions to come that weren't something I had thought about before. Where is my Heavenly Mother? Is this or that really all I have to look forward to in the eternities? Am I valued as a female in the eyes of a Father? I know my father is mortal and has nothing really to do with my Father, but the trust is just no longer there.

    Now I go to church to find the truth, to find it and let it warm and comfort me. I interact purposefully with people who are spirit-lifters. I try to find hope in faith again. I keep going because nothing else feels right or whole outside of the church I grew up in. I keep going for the moments of peace I feel during a hymn or a GC talk that resonates. I go because I want my children to have the same refuge and feel the same peace. I do not go for the same reason I used to go, that is for sure.

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  4. Tay, I can sense your courage and commitment. It sounds to me like you are doing all the right things to find your faith footing again. My father disappointed me too, but I have the gift of knowing Jesus Christ and that has been my rock. I trust Him absolutely. God bless you.

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  5. Lisa, beautiful post. I really appreciated your comments and insight regarding the spiritual gifts of knowing and believing. I never thought about it that way but it resonates very strongly with me.

    I am a convert to the church but was raised in the Christian faith. Christ has always been a part of my life and I have never had any doubts or questioned his role as my savior. When I was introduced to the LDS church it took over a year and a lot of reading and study but I did finally receive a very strong, powerful witness of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God and the prophet of the restoration. Looking back I can see Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother's hand in that. They knew that I would need that strong foundation of the gospel. Many times it has been that witness and testimony that has allowed me to remain in the church and move forward in the gospel.

    Church membership has not been easy for me. I have struggled with the role of women in the church, the way the church marginalizes certain groups of individuals, the patriarchy and power structure and the narrow vision of some fellow saints. It has been hard for me to reconcile my testimony with the reality of my church experience. Again, it has been the strength of my testimony of the restored gospel that has kept me moving forward.

    The prophets tell us that gospel is built on the rock of revelation. I have a testimony of that. The spirit and revelation have guided me on my journey through pain, anger and frustration to discovering my Mother in Heaven. It has been a long, lonely, difficult path to walk but I am so grateful for the journey. I am grateful for my testimony of Heavenly Mother. I have felt Her love and have felt Her guidance. For this, I am eternally grateful for my gift of knowledge and for my driving desire to seek after divine truth.

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  6. Wanda, my journey has been much the same. I thank God for the gift of personal revelation. Hearing and heeding the voice of God's spirit to our spirit, though the things we learn and the things we are instructed to do are sometimes scary, is the only sure way I know to progress into greater light and knowledge. Thank you for sharing.

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