Today, I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting for Pioneer Day. Here is the text…
Today, my husband posted a “personalized” Santa Claus video on Facebook that we’d made and sent to our daughter. One of his friends, a staunch atheist, made this comment on the thread: “I’m telling [my son] the truth about Santa, because I don’t want to tell him a lie, besides, if he starts believing cultural mythology, who knows what he might start believing.”
I felt his comment was kind of Grinchy so I fired off a less-than-patient reply — told him that he’d “missed the point.” I immediately recognized that my comment was made in frustration — something I try to avoid, since the Internet is a mean enough place without me joining in — so I quickly deleted my response. He must have seen it anyway, though, because when I logged in again tonight I noticed that he’d added another reply: “Katie, ‘you missed the point’ is an easy thing to say. Please explain what the point is, then I’ll know.”
After some deliberation, I decided I’d answer his question (hopefully with a much gentler spirit than before). This is what I wrote:
For RMA, who doubts everything (just like me)
I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting today that I wanted to share here: Choosing Faith in the Face of Doubt.
I’ve got a really scratchy audio recording, which has a few seconds of children fussing and crying at the very beginning (and, of course, throughout — it wouldn’t be a Mormon Sacrament Meeting otherwise!). 🙂
If you can’t stand the bad audio, I also created a PDF version you can download here: Choosing Faith in the Face of Doubt.
The full text is copied and pasted below…
I was recently released from my calling in the primary (hooray!) and called to be a Relief Society teacher (double hooray!). In the past, whenever I’ve taught a Relief Society lesson, I’ve shared a recap here. I’ve enjoyed that, because it’s generated more discussion after the fact — and heaven knows I love a good religious discussion! — and because I think it’s nice to have an archive of lessons that I can look back on over time.
Today’s lesson was called Survival through Faith. It was based on three general conference talks: Faith–The Choice Is Yours by Richard C. Edgley; Our Very Survival by Kevin R. Duncan; and Never Leave Him by Neil L. Anderson.
The other day, I came across my old mission sketchbook — not my journal, but the place where I wrote a bit more creatively: descriptive paragraphs, recipes, and song lyrics, mostly. And I stumbled upon a song I’d forgotten about, called “Hiding Place.”
Now I’m not a great songwriter; I recognize that. I don’t know enough about music, or the piano, or poetry to put together anything truly excellent. Still, it’s a wonderful creative outlet I’ve enjoyed over the years. When I started playing this song again on the piano, some fascinating memories came flooding back. I remember writing it on a P-day in Pernik while I was companions with Sister R., and being a little bit baffled by it. I wasn’t quite sure who I was writing to. The other day, a good 7 years later (holy crap, I’m old!), I finally realized:
I was writing to ME.
This song is about faith, doubt, and finding the courage to tell the truth about yourself. Long before I had any idea what was really going on with me, I knew I’d have to face myself; and this little song, as simple as it is, was permission to do what I needed to do.
I was pretty stunned. So I opened up Garageband on my husband’s Mac and recorded it with the cheap little headset I use to Skype with clients. The sound quality isn’t great — there’s a bit of background noise (at the very end you can even hear a watch alarm go off) — and I just messed around a little with some harmonies, but it’s actually pretty special to me…so I thought I’d share. 🙂
There’s no doubt about it: I’m an unconventional Mormon. I have a tattoo that says “grace” on my upper back. I attend an evangelical Bible study every Friday. I’ve even been known to drink the occasional chai latte, just because I can. Over the past several years I’ve wrestled mightily with my testimony of Mormonism, my commitment to the Restored Gospel. Eventually, I decided to stay…partly because I find deep beauty in many of our distinctly Mormon doctrines — doctrines which I genuinely hope are true — and partly because I feel there is value in loyalty to the faith community in which I was born and raised.
I am generally content with my decision. I no longer question it every day. Still, there are moments when I am discouraged, fearful: perhaps I’m fooling myself. Maybe I’m settling when there is something Bigger and Better beyond Mormonism. Maybe God would lead me elsewhere if I had the faith to follow Him. I know this candid confession might come as a surprise to some who are reading this (to others, it might explain a lot), but I want to share the context from which the next part of my post emerges.
You see, tonight I had an experience that confirmed to me the wisdom of remaining Mormon despite my doubts, that instilled in me a deep gratitude for my Mormon identity, culture, belief, and practice.
My relationship to Mormonism is like my marriage.
When I first married my husband, I thought he was one way. Handsome, funny, vibrant, talented, charismatic, intelligent.
And he is all of those things — and much, much more.
But the more I got to know him, the more I became acquainted with his faults. His inflexibility, his quickness to anger, his tendency to withdraw emotionally even when I need him.
It was a terrifying discovery.
Because as a young woman, idealistic and naive, I believed that love makes everything better — and that “better” means smoother, simpler, without stress or strain.
What, then, to do when I discovered that it was harder than I thought it would be? That along with the intimacy and joy, I’d be fighting through pain, frustration, anxiety, even heartache?
If it’s really right, shouldn’t it be easier than this?
Today, I simply want to affirm that my approach to the gospel can summed up by the 13th Article of Faith:
We believe in being honest, true…
This touched me on multiple levels tonight, as I realized how painful honesty can be.
Sometimes, it means sacrificing my public face in favor of acknowledging a private truth, even when it makes me look bad. At other times, it means standing up for my beliefs, even when my culture or community might reject me or my interpretation. It might require that I relinquish power, authority, or control in order for another person to be free. In almost every instance, it means being willing to let God to shine a light on injustice, cruelty, violence, hatred, bigotry, and intolerance wherever it exists — but especially in my own heart — so that I may see it for what it is, and do what I must to root it out as quickly as possible.
Perhaps the most significant change in my belief life over the past several months is this:
I now take full, personal responsibility for my own beliefs.
That means I believe what I believe because I believe it — because it resonates with my soul, because I perceive that God has led me to a particular insight or truth, because it fills me up and changes me for the better in terms of my ability to love and be loved.
Of course, the flipside of this radical new change is that I no longer believe simply because a person, institution, or book tells me to.
When you live through a major crisis of faith, everything changes.
You feel fearful when you once had peace.
You experience anger, bitterness, and ostracism when you once felt the security that comes from “knowing.”
You feel like running. You feel like staying. You wish you had never asked the question. You thank God you had the courage to dig deeper. You long to share everything you’ve learned. You know you better keep your mouth shut.
Let’s not lie: it’s a difficult and painful process.
Eventually, though, something strange happens. You begin to put the pieces back together.
The picture looks different, but the frame is the same.
You find beauty in symbolism, where before you knew only literalism. You experience empathy, where before you felt only judgment. You learn openness and grace, where before you were closed and hard-hearted.
You forgive easier. You laugh more. You see truth everywhere.
It’s a difficult and painful process, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it.