The Burden of Belief and Pursuing Truth: Part 2

“Since truth is the only meaningful foundation upon which we can make wise decisions, how then can one establish what is really true?” –Elder Richard G. Scott

In part one of this blog post I explained my background (it got real – I even admitted to wearing a bolo tie), and I described a paradigm-shifting crisis of faith. I seriously questioned the existence of God and in so doing learned that with or without God there is an inability to comprehend the undeniable eternity that surrounds us, and therefore there is a need for belief, for faith in something that is not seen but is believed to be true. I learned that rejecting God does not relieve that burden of belief, and I determined to make my best judgment after examining three things: my own experience, the experience of others, and the “facts”.

My Own Experience

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is designed to actively involve its members in spiritual pursuits. Being raised in that environment, I have always said regular prayers, read scripture, attended church meetings, and served others in various capacities. None of my varied experiences are undeniable proof of God, but all of them add up to strong personal evidence of his existence. When pursuing answers to big questions or guidance during turbulent times, I have found feelings combined with thoughts that seem to come from outside of me and confirm the existence of a Heavenly Father that is concerned with my well-being.

The Experience of Others

In addition to my own experiences, I find my belief in God strengthen by the experiences of others. For example, the Book of Mormon and the Bible are essentially the spiritual journals of men from long ago, and the stories they tell testify without hesitation of the existence of God and of his love for his children.  In more recent times Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and they spoke with him face to face, and modern-day apostles and prophets testify that God and Jesus Christ live. My own close friends and family members have had significant experiences that convince them of God’s existence.

The “Facts”

The “facts” as revealed by science are inconclusive. The materials that make up the Earth date back millions of years, and we can observe evolution in nature. But we don’t really know how dramatic leaps in evolution happen or how a habitable planet was formed from a big explosion of energy. In fact some non-religious scientists believe the evidence suggests an intelligent design as opposed to an accident. I believe at some point instructions were issued so that order could come from chaos. I believe God was the author of that intelligence. In short, while there is definitely no proof of God’s existence from science, there is plenty of room for belief in Him.

Pursuing Truth

Every one of my three pillars of belief can be discounted, argued, or contradicted. There is no easy answer. In fact I believe this Earth life was designed to allow us to make decisions without a sure knowledge so we could gain experience that only that type of environment could afford.

Truth be told (pun intended) I am not trying to convince you to believe in God, I am trying to convince you to pursue truth. Truth is the only meaningful foundation on which to make decisions, and identifying it is the first step to leading a peace-filled life. So pursue it. Relentlessly. And when you find it, or when you think you find it, take action! DO whatever it is that truth would suggest is right.

Your pursuit of truth may lead you to believe exactly what I believe. Or perhaps your pursuit of truth will lead you to something totally different. The God I believe in would not fault someone for honestly pursuing truth and not finding it. I believe our pursuit of truth and our best effort to act according to the truth we find makes this life meaningful and valuable and enjoyable.

I count my doubting the existence of God as one of the great blessings of my life because it forced me to think and to personally pursue truth. I am thankful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for it is in this church I have found answers to life’s most important questions and had experiences that convince me of God’s love and our eternal worth. May we continue to relentlessly pursue truth, even (especially) when it contradicts what is popular, what is tradition, or what is culture.

The Burden of Belief and Pursing Truth: Part 1

I was born into a strong Mormon family. Every Sunday I put on my tie, or in earlier years cinched up my bolo tie (hey don’t judge, I grew up in New Mexico… on second thought maybe you should judge), climbed into the “middle seat with the feet on the hump” in our 1976 Chevy Beauville Van, and went to church with my five older siblings and parents.

I learned about God, about revelation, about scripture and prayer, about Jesus, about being kind and responsible. Some Sundays I was bored, some Sundays I was engaged, and some Sundays I was excited to see if I could sit next to the new girl. During the week my parents made sure to pray and study with us regularly and hold weekly family nights complete with spiritual lessons, songs, treats, and family arguments (teenagers are just the worst).

I even practiced some of what I was taught. I prayed regularly, read scripture, attended church classes, and avoided most of the things I was taught to avoid (dating young, addictive substances, etc.).

At age 20, though, I encountered serious doubt. While serving as a full time volunteer for my church I learned that my oldest brother, a hero of mine, no longer believed in God. Frankly, I hadn’t considered that possibility, and now I was forced to. The implications of it all came crashing down. Had I been inadvertently brain washed by my own family and religion? Did I invent spiritual experiences and selectively remember convenient coincidence to match my conditioning? Was it all born of some human need to feel important and avoid the reality that we die and cease to exist?

For days I agonized over these questions. I prayed regularly asking God (if he was there) to make himself known to me, to remove my doubt, to solidify my foundation of faith so it could not be broken. I saw no angel, I heard no voice, and I did not climb a mountain to talk to a burning bush. No, I more or less felt nothing… nothing more than I had always felt – a calm, quiet peace that perhaps I had invented.

So for a few days I allowed myself to not believe and freed my mind to pursue existence without God. At first I felt fear – fear of being finite and unimportant, a temporary fixture on this accidental life-sustaining planet. Some believe that fear is the only reason religion exists, to give us weak humans a crutch to lean on. However, I found something even more shocking. Even without God I was confronted again with a need for belief.

The scientific method has done much to uncover truth, but it cannot answer many questions: Where did the energy to create the big bang come from? And what forces govern sub-atomic particles? And what is space? Does it have an end? What will all the space and planets look like in 100 billion years? And beyond that infinitely? And what set of instructions dictated leaps in evolution from single-celled organism to fish to mammal to human? What makes humans different than other life? Why are we so fallible? What is morality and conscience? With or without God, there is an inability to comprehend the undeniable eternity and complexity that surrounds us, and therefore there is a need for belief, for faith in something that is not seen but is believed to be true. Rejecting God does not relieve that burden of belief.

I determined that the only way to justify my own belief, whether in a God or in the absence of God, was to examine as much evidence as I could. Ironically what was at first a crisis of faith became a firm foundation of enduring faith and confidence. I’ll tell you about it in the 2nd part of this two-part post…

Why I Became a Mormon: Josie’s Story

My high school days were coming to a close in the spring of 2012. I was saying goodbye to a chapter full of wonderful memories and anticipating what was to become of my future as a college student. But then, as reality began seeping in just shy of graduation, fear began to consume me. I was not quite ready to say goodbye to my life in Brooklyn Park and I soon clouded my thoughts with regrets. My fear for the future stemmed from the knowledge that nothing would stay the same once I leave. I could not quite wrap my finger around what I truly wanted or felt I needed but I wondered whether I could be any happier than now.

To get my mind off the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ my best friend, Devon, invited me to a basketball game. I kindly declined his offer and asked for a rain check but he simply told me it was his last game of the year. My gut feeling was to spare an hour or two away from homework but I could not afford it. Minutes before the game began, I changed my mind and Devon was sure I would not regret it. As we arrived at the building, I realized this game was taking place in the gym of a church. I had no idea what to expect. To my surprise, everyone who greeted me was so nice and seemed so happy. I was puzzled. I wanted to ask them, Why are you so happy to meet a stranger? I could not understand.

After the game, I had so many questions for Devon. I felt so different, so light and happy. Words cannot describe the beautiful emotions I experienced. All I knew was that I did not want to let go of these new feelings I had recently discovered. I did not learn until later that night that my best friend was a Mormon.

The following week, my conversations with Devon were spent talking about the Church and gospel. I had never heard of these terms before and my interest in learning more grew and grew. He then invited me to attend seminary and I was surprised that I recognized half the faces in the class from school. I also started attending church on Sundays and Sacrament Meeting soon became the highlight of my week! So many kind individuals befriended me in the course of only a few weeks.

Josie wih friends

My incredible friends who share the same love for the gospel as I do!

Soon enough, Devon was off to Utah to attend a summer semester at Brigham Young University (BYU) before his two-year mission. At the time, I was not sure if he was the reason I had the desire to attend all these LDS events and meetings, but I remember vividly the day I walked into the chapel for Sacrament Meeting by myself and I felt this peace reside in the pit of my stomach before it enveloped my whole being in a matter of seconds. I was confident I was in the right place at the right time.

I began meeting with my original missionaries once a week for the duration of the summer with another good friend, Ethan. The meetings with the missionaries brought an excitement of learning about our Heavenly Father and the Plan of Salvation, which I learned was meant to bring happiness to all His children, including me. I also learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has given us the opportunity to repent of our sins and that His perfect example allows us to love one another fully. This new understanding filled me with even greater faith and peace.

Around my 18th birthday, my missionaries invited me to get baptized. I did not know how to respond so I told them that I wanted my parent’s support before accepting. That same night, I talked with my parents about the impact the Church had made so far in my life and about my desire to live the gospel. They were positive that my interest in the Church was a phase so they told me to think about what I was doing before I made any big, life-changing decisions. I knew their answer was ‘no’ so I continued to pray and read The Book of Mormon in hopes that they would change their mind. I asked them again weeks later only to get the same answer. I trusted Heavenly Father so I patiently waited for answers. I was sure that they could see the changes of my heart and again I asked, but for the next three months, their response was still ‘no.’

Disappointed, I tried to see things through their perspective and it made me feel terrible as a daughter. I felt like I was being disobedient if I persisted in going against my parent’s wishes. So, I decided that baptism was not going to be a part of my future anymore. I played it safe and went back to practice my family’s faith, Shamanism. September rolled along and I left home to move up to Duluth to further my educational career. By this time, my best friends had left on their missions.

For the first few months of college, my desire, and specifically my confidence in the truth of the restored Gospel, began to fade away at such a rapid pace. I truly felt alone on this spiritual journey once guided by my best friends. By November, I decided it was time to retire my interest and move forward with my life away from the Church. It was the hardest decision I ever made and the idea of giving up seemed so foreign to me, which made it even worse.

I felt it was only appropriate to write of my decision to Devon who was now on his mission. I cannot recall exactly what I told him but it was along the lines of thanking him for the time he spent sharing the gospel with me and showing me the love our Savior and Heavenly Father have for all Their children. I also included in this letter how much I dreaded informing my parents that they were right all along – that my involvement in the Church was simply a phase that would come to an end.

I wrote this letter the Monday before Thanksgiving because I was going home for the holidays the next day and I thought it was only right to tell my parents in person that I would no longer participate in any LDS activities. As I dropped this letter at the post office that Tuesday afternoon, I went straight to my mailbox to retrieve my letters, only to find a package – to my great surprise – from Devon.

Josie's pic from Devon

The photo of Christ I always keep close to me

In this package, Devon had sent me a personal letter and a Book of Mormon with my name engraved on it. He inserted a photo of Christ and the note attached to this particular photo said, “I always have a picture of Christ with me because it helps me always remember Him and keep Him close to my heart. So I thought you could do the same thing. I chose this one because just like he healed that girl, he can heal you from all your pains. Plus, he helped her reach her potential, the same way He will for you. And of course it is about Daughters of God.”

As I finished reading the remainder of the letter, I was at peace with myself for the first time in months. I knew what I needed to do. This personalized message delivered at exactly the time I needed it gave me a renewed testimony that my Heavenly Father loved me, and that He was aware of my struggle. When I saw my name on the Book of Mormon, I knew just how personal this gospel was for me and that I was meant to live it. Tears were streaming from my eyes but it was of sincere joy and gratitude. I decided I needed to build a firm foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father by being baptized. I still get a little choked up remembering this, because through the power of the Holy Ghost, I gained my first testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact the only true church on earth today and that the gospel has been restored.

(I would later learn from Devon that he felt prompted by the Holy Ghost in the MTC to inform me how important baptism was. He wanted to do something nice for me so he bought me an engraved Book of Mormon. Then there just seemed to be a problem every week he attempted to send it for a total of three weeks but he felt so strongly that he needed to send it right away. As we both look back on it, it was definitely from the Spirit because it came at the perfect time.)

That night when I arrived safely in my family’s home, I never ended up telling my parents that this all was a phase and that I will no longer seek a future in the Church. Instead, I shared to them why Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness mattered to me. They still held their ground on my decision to be baptized, thinking that I was too young to make any kind of rational decision. I informed them that baptism would continue to be part of my plans, if not now, then in the future. My parents loved me and only wanted the best for me. They were concerned I had a false impression of the Church. I reassured them that for the past eight months, I had the power to choose and think for myself of the things I learned from my missionaries and the scriptures. My inquisitive nature led me to ask myself why I was willing to sacrifice the life I grew up in for one that challenged who I wanted to be as a person. My answer was simple: I love the gospel and Church. I want to live righteously under the guidance of Heavenly Father and through the example of Christ. I want to be truly happy.

However, I still struggled immensely for several months with wanting my parents’ support. Could I forgive myself for disobeying my parents? Was baptism worth losing all communication with my family? How would I live with the consequences of my choices after baptism?

Josie with Elders

My missionaries who supported me throughout my spiritual journey

My answer came in a scripture one evening that put an end to all my questions and fears. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). Baptism was no longer a hypothetical situation, but a new reality I was going to take on. By the end of February, I prepared myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for this new chapter of my life. I was set on April to be baptized and I could not be any happier.

As my baptism was inching closer and closer, opposition struck at every corner of my life. I knew I would have to tell my parents of my true desires despite being disowned by them. I became well-aware that my parents would stand firm in their own right and I did the same in my faith. I was able to find the courage to tell them in a letter that I knew this was the right thing to do. It was important that they knew I would become a better person and daughter through the gospel. My decision would not change the love I had for them as my parents, but rather show me how to love them even more. With much hesitation, they gave me permission to get baptized and said they respected my tenacity. I remember that one ‘yes’ from my parents left me jumping for joy and nothing would be the same again from then on. I was content with change. Days later I would learn that they planned on attending my baptism as well!

Josie's baptism

My baptism, the beginning to a lifetime of happiness

My baptism finally came around. My smile that day did no justice to the feelings I had when I was baptized!!! I felt truly loved and supported to have my family, friends and members witness a part of my spiritual journey, one that would bring me closer to Heavenly Father and Christ. I knew how important this was for me and was glad they understood that too. It was uplifting to feel the Holy Ghost’s presence and I was comforted to know that I made the right choice all along. The next day I was confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and it was then that I realized I could be happier than I thought a year earlier.

It has been seven months and counting since becoming a member and the blessings have been immeasurable. My relationship with my parents and family has grown stronger in love and appreciation. They have come to know that the gospel and Church has done immense good for me. Some of my siblings have followed my example and taken up an interest in the Church I love so dearly. I am grateful to have been surrounded by so many honest and loving friends who lived their faith in ways that helped me feel the truthfulness of the words of God He gives to each individual.

I always ask myself when I look back on this precious memory, what were the odds that I would receive Devon’s package on the very day that I was determined to give up on the Church. It was such a tender mercy from the Lord that taught me I did not need to worry about the future and that I would be in good hands. I have learned to rely on the Lord and act accordingly to what I know now. I know faith in Jesus Christ points toward the future and precedes miracles. I love being a daughter of Heavenly Father because His love has shown me the way to reach my potential. I am grateful for my experiences because it has helped me develop courage to keep my testimony burning brightly in the face of adversity. I strive to live the gospel every day because I know this is His church.

Why I Became A Mormon: Brittany’s Story

Before last year, I had never known anyone who was Mormon; not by choice, there just weren’t many Mormons around for me to know. Growing up, I went to a few different churches. I was baptized in one faith, confirmed in another, and attended church in a few more. All the while, I never quite understood why I was there or what made a particular church different from any other. I mostly just went to church because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, but I thought maybe if I continued to go, I would be able to figure it out.

After a period of time without any church attendance, I moved to Minnesota and became interested again in learning about my own faith. As I was attending a class at another church, I was given the opportunity to learn about the LDS Church from a friend in school. At first I learned by reading things about the Church, good and bad, that I found on the Internet. After a few months of reading, I started meeting members, going to church, and talking with the missionaries, and to my surprise, I LOVED IT.

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

I had never been to a church where I was so instantly welcomed and accepted. Men and women who were so incredibly busy with their own personal and professional lives took the time to get to know me and opened their hearts and homes to me in a way that I had never before experienced from total strangers.

Friends for Life

Friends for Life

I quickly came to love spending time with my new “Mormon friends” and it was pretty obvious why: they were honestly and truly living their faith and teaching me how to do the same. Through their example and the things I was learning, I began to understand who God is, His plan is for us, who Jesus Christ is, what He did, and most importantly, why this all matters. For the first time, I felt like I could ask questions and think critically about my faith. It seemed as though the puzzle pieces were beginning to come together.

Another friend for eternity

Another friend for eternity

Despite how it sounds so far, this experience was neither perfect nor easy. I spent six months learning about the Church before making the decision to become a member. I needed to be as informed as I could if I was going to make this decision. Even though I had learned so much, and there was very clearly a change taking place within me, I still struggled. In my mind, it didn’t add up: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, prophets. I wondered, why would God appear to a 14-year-old boy and later ask him to translate the Book of Mormon?

In addition to my own internal struggle, I experienced external opposition as well. The LDS Church is very misunderstood, and people around me didn’t know much about the Church other than stereotypes. They feared I would be forced to give up who I was if I was going to become a Mormon. I realized verbal assurances would only do so much, so instead of solving this problem before moving forward, I concluded that the stereotypes could only be dispelled through time and my own example.

My bishop (local church leader) and I had a very important conversation around the time I finally decided to be baptized. He reminded me to keep an eternal perspective. He shared a very personal and powerful story about his own mother’s decision to join the Church and the effect it had on her posterity. After this conversation, I realized that this was the best decision I could make not only for myself but for the family I come from, and the family I hope to have some day.

Regarding the things that just didn’t make sense, I prayed. And prayed. Over time, I received spiritual confirmations that testified to me of their truth. At first, it felt as though I was surrounded by the darkness of night. As I did things to find my way, like read scriptures, pray, visit with the missionaries, talk with members, I slowly felt as if the dark was giving way to light, and I could see the steps ahead more clearly. (See this). Soon I thought, “how could something that brought so much good, not be true?”

Shortly before I made the decision to be baptized I received an email from a friend who had no knowledge of my investigation of the Church. She wrote, “I just want you to know that I love seeing you this [academic] year because you are sort of glowing and seem so happy and just like you’re on the right track.” This sweet friend was able to put into words what I was feeling and didn’t completely realize in that moment. I was not only visibly but also internally joyful. I soon came to know that the Spirit was bringing me feelings of peace and joy to testify of truth.

The weekend I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church was wonderful. Despite the fact that it was wedged between two law school finals, it couldn’t have been better. After being confirmed, I felt an incredible flood of relief because I had finally found what I had been searching for and wanting for so long: faith in God and Jesus Christ and a church that is just so amazing to be a part of. The evening after I was confirmed, I wrote in my journal, “I cannot go to sleep because I am just SO happy, so excited, and so filled with joy….”

Baptism Program

Baptism Program

John 10:10: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” My decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has brought so much abundance to my life: an abundance of beauty, joy, love, and so much more.

I am so very grateful for the family I have that has loved me unconditionally and helped me get to where I am today. My heart is overflowing with love for them and the countless others who have helped me along the way. I know that I don’t have all the answers right now. I never will, but I have faith in Jesus Christ, and that makes all the difference going forward.

This past weekend as I was driving westward across Minnesota, I noticed the leaves. I noticed how their colors were significantly different from the weekend before. Two weeks ago, they were beautiful shades of green, yellow, and red. This week, I noticed browns, golds, and oranges in their place. As I contemplated the beauty of it all, I wondered if I would have noticed and appreciated all this beauty even one year ago.DSCN7230 As I continued to drive and think, I concluded that no, I would not have. That tiny realization reminded me, once again, how lucky I am to have been able to make the decision to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I love this church, and I love being a member of it. It inspires me to see the good and the beauty in everything and everyone. I have never felt more inspired to do good, to serve better, and to love deeper.

Guest Post: The Sabbath Day and the Change Within Me

By Keith Y.

I grew up in the 1950-60’s as a Baptist.  We went to church on Sundays, but only when there were no conflicting family activities planned.  My Mother was a devoted Christian while my Dad was less inclined to enjoy listening to a sermon.  I suspect that is why my Dad frequently planned family visits to relatives on weekends, thus eliminating the opportunity to attend church.  I loved having two-day weekends for fun and play. 

In 1968 a lot of things changed for me.  I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) after a two-year investigation.  When I found I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the Bible, I was baptized.  There were still parts of the Latter-day Saint faith that I didn’t fully comprehend but given more time I felt that I might be able to fully understand.  One of those parts was the importance Mormons placed on keeping the Sabbath day holy.

I must have inherited my Dad’s propensity to avoid Sunday meetings and restrictions, as one of my most difficult adjustments I needed to make was in how I used the Sabbath.  I saw nothing wrong with playing sports or shopping on Sunday afternoon, yet this was considered a violation of the Sabbath.  I made the necessary adjustments to comply but without a full understanding.

While reading the Old Testament I reread the commandments found in Exodus 20.  I learned new things about my Father in Heaven that day, reading the same commandments that I have read and heard all my life.  The commandments vary in length with two commandments as short as four words.  I was surprised in this reading to find the longest commandment by far was about the Sabbath Day—it was four verses and 94 words.  Why would there be so much devoted to the Sabbath I wondered.  This question caused me to reread carefully what it said.  This is what I learned:

  • Verse 8:  We are to keep the day holy.  Since joining the LDS church I had learned more about what holy means.  Holy means to set apart for sacred purposes.  The opposite of holy is common or even profane.  This hit home—the day itself is a day of holiness.
  • Verse: 9: This was always understood, realizing that sometimes work on Sunday can’t be avoided, such as, nurses, emergency workers, transportation, etc.
  • Verse 10:  This verse held the information I needed.  Prior to this reading I saw no issue with buying gas or groceries on a Sunday, yet the LDS faith encourages us not to shop on Sunday.  In this verse it advises us not to work on the Sabbath but also don’t require “thy manservant, nor thy maidservant” to work either.  It was a light bulb that came on for me.  This changed my personal paradigm regarding the Sabbath.
  • Verse 11:  It is a day of rest for the Lord and now it is for us as well.

So my Sabbath days no longer consist of going to stores or making others work for my benefit.  Sunday consists of attending church, participating in Sunday meetings, partaking of the Sacrament to renew my allegiance to the Savior, serving others, studying the scriptures, enjoying family, and resting from my weekly labors.

We are later told in Mark 2:27 that the “Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”  Like all other commandments, they are given to us for our benefit and development.  The Sabbath is for our own development, so we can become more like Him.

I provide this simple insight not to convert you to my beliefs, but perhaps to enlighten you on your own beliefs. Had I understood the concept of the Sabbath earlier I would have been blessed by living by its principles sooner.