Unpacking Your Testimony
Most people likely would rather not describe their relationship with their own religion as, “It’s complicated.” We like to be able to define who we are, what we believe, and for those who are actively part of a faithful community, whatever that may be, it’s difficult when you begin to not know where you stand.
But to be honest, “it’s complicated” had been the best description of the state of my own beliefs for the better part of the past year or so.
My brain’s default setting is often critical and challenging. I don’t mean those words as judging and argumentative, I mean that I don’t take things at face value or accept something because I was told so. But there was one part of my life that I simply did not allow myself to be like that with – my religion.
While it’s true that I’ve been critical of LDS culture for a while, the Church it self and it’s teaching were to be left untouched by that part of my mind. Perhaps I wasn’t emotionally ready, perhaps I was being lazy. I don’t think I was doing it consciously, but none the less, I was doing it.
Eventually who I am caught up to my faith though, and I had to answer a question I had been putting off my whole life, “What do I believe?”
Imagine, if you would, a large chest. Inside this chest there are hundreds of things that fill it up. One is that Jesus is the Christ, not just a man who walked the earth. Another, continuing revelation, and another the Word of Wisdom, and so on and so forth. They all fill up this chest, creating your testimony.
I am hesitant to say I had a faith crisis when I finally asked, “What do I believe,” because I don’t really see it as such. It was more like spring cleaning. I unpacked my testimony. It was as if I had removed each item, and now, after dusting it off and giving it some hard thought, I had to decide whether or not I could put it back inside my chest. A few things were easy. Others, not so much.
During this process, I had to admit two things to myself
First, my relation to the gospel had been largely cerebral up to this point. For many people in the LDS church, saying I know something to be true is much harder than I believe something to be true. It’s as if the latter is a graduated step from the former. But I’ve never struggled with knowing. My bookshelves look like I looted a Deseret Book. Ask anyone from my 8 year old Sunday School teachers to my religion professors, I was beyond Hermione-esque when it came to studying the gospel. But the thing is, you can’t think your way to a testimony. Reading the entire world of Hugh Nibley doesn’t make you any more spiritual before the entire process began. I realized that I could answer any question thrown at me from the most difficult of anti-mormon sources, but the basic questions about my own heart? There I was at a loss for words.
The second was that some of the things in my chest were not put there by myself. This problem of having a faith built on what others have said isn’t unique, but it none the less surprised me as I looked at each item of my testimony, and had to admit that some was not in fact, mine. The most startling probabally came in the Book of Mormon. I’d thought I believed it was true for all these years, and now I was acknowledging that the Cornerstone of Our Faith was not the corner stone of mine.
I think part of the reason I dislike thinking of what I’ve gone through, and am now finishing up, as a faith crisis is because at the end of the day it has done infinitely more for my own peace of mind and crisis has such a negative connotation. Was the process painful, uncomfortable? Yes. But so is getting rid of moldy food from the back of the fridge and life saving surgery.
I must admit that right now my testimony has been stripped bare. There are few things in my spiritual chest anymore. There are some things lying next to it that I very much hope to put back in, and even in the process of writing this, some have either gone back or been replaced with one I can call my own. For now, there are not nearly as many things that I can say I believe should be in there, and I kind of like it that way. However today, I would like to share with you what is inside today.
I’d like to share my testimony.
I believe that we have Heavenly Parents who love us. I believe God is infinitely compassionate and patient. I believe His son is the living Christ. I believe that God has never and will never abandon his children. Throughout history, He has communicated with them but has also prioritized our ability to exercise our own agency above what may be comfortable. I believe the people who lead the church today do so as have all their predecessors back to Adam. With authority, but also mixed with a little of their own human faults.
I know that I love my Heavenly Father. I know that the words John Wyeth wrote all those years ago are my own prayer.
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above
The reality is I did that years ago. So I know, wherever my life may lead, I know it will end where I left my heart.