About two years ago I felt impressed to share my journey of losing and regaining my faith in God and Jesus Christ. After I wrote it I asked for feedback from one of my friends. He told me he liked it, but he didn't think anyone would read it because it's so dang long! haha I agreed with him but wasn't sure how to trim it down.
Shortly after, the LDS church reached out and asked if I would be willing to let them make a video about my experience. That was followed by the Deseret News reprinted my 18 Lessons Learned from my original post. Their article went on to be the most read "Faith" article for the Deseret News for 2015.
Needless to say I have been overwhelmed and amazed at how many times my story has been read and shared, and how many people have reached out to me because of it.
A number of the people who reach out to me ask for additional advice either for a loved one or for themselves, on overcoming their crisis of faith. So I began writing down other items that were helpful to me. This eventually turned into a PDF document that I shared with people who would ask.
I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to publish them publicly on a blog so everyone can read them. My hope is that they can help you or someone you know overcome a crisis of faith. I mentioned this in my first post but I want to reiterate it here, "I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or that I have experienced everything someone else has. I’m a firm believer that everyone’s life/spiritual journey is unique and personal and I’m in no place to tell you what you have or have not experienced. However, I CAN tell you what I have experienced and learned and I hope it is of use to someone out there."
With that said, here are "9 More Lessons Learned - Overcoming A Crisis of Faith"
1. Everyone has or will experience a crisis of faith of some level in their life.
You’ll have to wrestle with questions in your own mind, and no one is immune to this experience. Whoever your spiritual giants and heroes are in your life, that you look to — whether it be the prophet or the Brethren or one of the church leaders or a leader you have in your ward or a family member or a parent — I would say that all of these people have become great spiritually or strong spiritually by overcoming a crisis of faith on some level. So if you are going through a crisis of faith, know that you are not alone and that there are many who have walked this path before you. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of it.
I think one of the big things I learned from this experience was, this is part of the plan, this is part of life, having doubts and overcoming them. There are so many people who have struggled or who are struggling with the same thing, and yet it’s part of our culture … to not talk about it. I think people struggle silently because they don’t open up. And it's not that we need to air all our dirty laundry and talk about our problems all the time, because that’s not healthy either; but I’ve found that it’s OK to express doubt and to talk things through with people and to know that you’re not alone.
You’re not the first and you probably won’t be the last who will go through a crisis of faith, and probably every spiritual giant and hero that you look to has walked this path on some level. They have wrestled with doubts and they have overcome those doubts. There’s hope in knowing that, and knowing that this path or this journey doesn’t have to end with you abandoning your faith. It oftentimes and for many people ends with them stronger within their faith.
2. No one will be able to "talk" or "convince" you into a testimony.
Looking back at my spiritual journey I came to realize that no one was going to be able to persuade me of the truth. I was too stubborn. I had to learn for myself through searching, pondering, and following the Spirit. I had countless people close to me try to reason with me and help me understand the path I was headed down. But I was ALWAYS able to rationalize my way out of the conversation and intellectually (at least in my mind) win the argument. Ultimately, it wasn't someone else telling me and showing me the facts that lead to me coming back. I had to come to the understanding myself. It wasn't until I had personal experiences (through small whisperings of the spirit) that I realized that what these people had been saying all along was right, but I wasn't letting it sink in. I wouldn't allow it to. I had read too much and thought through it all. In some ways I really think I had become “past feeling” and the Spirit was having a hard time reaching me.
You are going to have to come to your own conclusion and understanding in your own time. It will have to come from inside. And I'm not saying you'll experience this in any way, but I know I did, so as a word of warning just remember that fear, anger, resentment, cynicism or any other similar feeling never leads to truth or anything else good. Stay close to light and truth. Again, no one, I repeat NO ONE will be able to "talk" or "convince" you into a testimony...that's not the way it was ever meant to be, or will ever be. True conversion comes from exercising faith and listening to the spirit.
3. Don’t ignore small promptings from the Spirit.
This is how God talks to you and answers your prayers. For many, the first step in the crisis of faith is to lose their belief in everything, including God. You feel betrayed or lost, or as if God hasn’t held up His end of the bargain. And so you begin to doubt His existence. At least that’s what happened to me. But I came to realize that I was holding God to expectations I had set on Him, but these were terms He had never agreed to.
At the time, I professed to having an open heart and mind and told myself, "If God is there, He'll let me know and help me find answers. He'll find a way to show me the church is true. He knows my heart and knows I want to know." But in actuality, I wasn't humble enough to listen to answers He WAS giving me at that time because I wanted something big and miraculous. Looking back, it is very clear and plain to see. But at the time I had hardened my heart and was "past feeling," as it says in the scriptures. I was so blinded by my cynicism and desire to pick at every little thing I could find, I was unable to see what was right in front of me.
I’m not saying this is the case with everyone, but I know for me that I often wanted/expected something large or grand in answer to my prayers...a sign, or angelic visitation. I came to realize from reading the scriptures and talks from the brethren that these experiences are exceptions to the rule, not the rule. That I would be more likely to receive an answer through a small prompting from the spirit or through a friend or family member that the Lord was using as an instrument. I've always been fascinated by this quote from Hugh Nibley, “If you pray for an angel to visit you, you know what he’ll do if he comes. He’ll just quote the scriptures to you—so you’re wasting your time waiting for what we already have.”
I came to understand that He WAS already talking to me and had been telling me what to do, I was just ignoring those impressions and promptings. I'm not saying this is everyone but this is what I experienced. There were so many times and different experiences where I felt I should do this or that, or not do this or that, but I dismissed them as dumb and didn't follow through. I've come to realize that the Spirit is indeed a still small voice (as clearly stated in the scriptures) and that many of the small good, positive impressions I get in my head (that I often equated to my own random thoughts) were from Him.
And I’ve found that the more I act on these very small (at first) promptings from the spirit (or the little voice inside your head) and act on them, over and over and over, they become stronger and clearer and more frequent in nature.
4. The Brethren and the leadership within the church are not perfect, and that’s OK.
They’re fallible, and some people want to say that because they make mistakes they can’t be inspired and they can’t be directed by God. If people believe this then they also can’t believe in the scriptures, because if you read about the prophets of old and you look at their interactions with God, it is clear that they constantly made mistakes. But they were still called to be a mouthpiece for God and he still chose to use them. Why? Because that’s all God has to work with, imperfect people.
If they’re right 999 times out of 1,000, your odds are much better in life following the council of the Brethren then any other option. This doesn't diminish their calling and God's call for us to follow them. If you are looking for a perfect people and perfect leaders, you will never find them, not in this life.
5. You’re never going to gain a testimony through historical evidence.
If there are people who are struggling with historical things within the church — things that happened in the church’s past — and that’s affecting their testimony, I would say that you’re never going to gain a testimony through historical evidence. And that kind of goes back to point number two. It has to come from following promptings from the Spirit.
And oftentimes people think that is a cop-out answer, but it’s not. It is the way it was intended to be. Heavenly Father doesn’t want to prove to you historically that the church is true. He could do it if he wanted to, but he won’t allow it because that’s not how faith is built. That’s not how it works. An essential part of the Plan is to walk by faith. So if you’re searching through that mechanism, through that means, you’re never going to find it. I believe that’s because Heavenly Father intends it to be that way.
6. Don’t let what you don’t know keep you from following what you do know.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s so important I want to stress it again. This is so common, and something I fell for. Often times people want to know everything. They want an answer to every question that they have in life, and that’s just not reality. There’s no one, literally no one on this earth that has an answer to everything. So there are going to be questions that will go unanswered. You must learn to follow what you do know without knowing everything and be OK with it. That’s part of the plan. Don’t stress the small stuff and get lost in the weeds.
7. Align yourself spiritually.
The closer you get to the Spirit, the easier everything becomes. Avoid all things that would drive away or offend the spirit. The spirit by its very nature is extremely sensitive towards anything that is not uplifting, positive and full of light. And the spirit will remove itself quickly from any situation that is not such. Pay attention to the media you consume (music, videos, pictures, movies, books, blogs, websites, etc.) and the people and environments you surround yourself with. All of us can think of times we shouldn’t have gone to that place, hung out with that crowd, watched that movie, listening to that song...the list goes on. Again, this is the spirit prompting you to stay away.
Conversely, surround yourself with things that will bring the Spirit. The more that you do that the easier it becomes to get your testimony back and to do the things you need to do, because then the Spirit is able to talk to you more clearly and prompt you.
For me as I aligned myself spiritually, over the following days, weeks and months, the same light that began leaving, began to return. It’s interesting what happens when this process begins. Your desire to gain more light and knowledge grows while you’re simultaneously drawn to things with more light and they are drawn to you. It reminds me of one of my first days in a chemistry class in college. The professor explained to us that like molecules were naturally drawn to each other. “Like attracts like, even at a molecular level.” Isn’t that interesting? Like molecules, objects, people and spirits are naturally drawn to each other. The more lightness or darkness you have, the more you will draw that same likeness to you. It’s a universal principle.
Getting, keeping and following the Spirit is probably the most essential thing you can focus on. Then have the courage and the desire to follow the promptings of the Spirit. And if you do that, everything will work out because that’s the key, and the Spirit will tell you what you need to do.
8. Remove yourself from any sin.
If you’re currently involved in any sin, stop and remove yourself from it. Begin the repentance process. Oftentimes — not always, but oftentimes — sin accompanies a crisis of faith. As I’ve talked with people I feel like there is this idea that oftentimes people sin and then that leads them to doubt their faith because they want to justify their sins. For me, the opposite was true. I intellectually went going down this path of losing my faith, and that led me to sinning. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen one after the other, but eventually they usually go hand-in-hand. And again, sinning in all forms just drives the Spirit away which makes it that much easier to justify your behavior and doubt.
9. Turn to your local church leaders.
A lot of people who reach out to me are dealing with something personal. I try to help them as much as I can and give them advice, but at the end of the day, we have been given leaders within the church who are inspired to help us. They have been given keys to help us, so I always tell people that they should talk to their local leaders to help them through their process. Be honest and open with them, they are there to help.
That’s not to say that every experience you have will be positive. Again, leadership within the church is not perfect, so your bishop or leader may not handle your situation the best — remember they are imperfect people just like you, trying their best to follow the spirit, but they are still learning, we’re all learning.
Despite this, work with your leaders, and if talking with one leader doesn’t work, talk with another leader and try to find someone locally who can help you. That’s why the church is structured the way that it is so that we can lift where we stand. There are people around you who are there to help you, who want to help you.
This is an old blog post I originally wrote and posted back on July 14, 2014.
Writing this post has been on my mind for some time. To be completely honest I’m a little scared to put this out there. It’s not easy for anyone to lay your deepest, darkest secrets and mistakes you’ve made in life out on the table for all to see. It’s usually a story I prefer to share in person, and only in the right setting with someone who I feel needs to hear it. But the little voice inside my head keeps telling me to share my story.
I’ve learned over the first 32 years of my life that everyone experiences setbacks and makes mistakes. And it can be destructive to go through life pretending that’s not the case. I’ve also learned that a lot of heartache can be avoided if we will learn from others’ mistakes. Especially people we have come to trust. If they’ve, “been down that road before” and come back beaten and bruised, it’s probably better we listen to their warning to, “not go down that path because it leads to pain,” instead of being stubborn and having to learn it for ourselves.
With that in mind I’d like to offer up some of my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them in hopes that it will help someone else avoid the same pitfalls and pain I experienced. Or if I’m too late for that, possibly help them overcome their current trials and find their way back to the path.
By doing so, I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or that I have experienced everything someone else has. I’m a firm believer that everyone’s life/spiritual journey is unique and personal and I’m in no place to tell you what you have or have not experienced. However, I CAN tell you what I have experienced and learned and I hope it is of use to someone out there.
Some closest to me already know this story, so it won’t come as a shock to them. But it very well may to others because I was a pretty darn good kid growing up! Not perfect, but pretty darn good. In fact, I’ve got a nickname in my family, “the golden child.” I’m not totally sure how I got it besides the fact that one of my cousins began calling me that, then my siblings picked it up and started using it and VOILA, it stuck. But I’ll be honest, I don’t like the title. In fact I feel a little guilty every time it’s used because, a golden child should be someone who does no wrong, who sets the example and never falters despite what’s thrown at them. And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t fit that description. In fact this supposed golden child, lost and abandoned the faith my parents lovingly taught and raised me in.
For those not wanting to read the whole thing, if it interests you, you will find my “Lessons Learned” towards the bottom.
A QUICK RUNDOWN
Because I’m not the best at keeping things short, I’m going to try and give a quick rundown of the first 25 years of my life as it related to my faith…
From birth I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS church). I mostly grew up in Mormonville USA, happy valley Orem, Utah and I loved everything about it! I faithfully attended church every week, read the scriptures and prayed every day. I was a total “Peter-Priesthood” going through every program in the church with flying colors. I loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and I wanted to share it with everyone around me. I couldn’t wait to go on my 2-year church mission to Russia and tried my best everyday to be the best missionary I could for those I served, for my family, for the church and most importantly for my Savior and Heavenly Father.
I came home and went back to college and dove into serving people in my local church ward, became a temple worker while attending BYU and simply loved living the gospel! Needless to say, I was about as straight arrow an LDS kid as you would find. Again, not perfect but pretty dang good.
COMPLACENCY AND PRIDE
And then it happened. I started to slip. Something that I never thought would happen to me in a million years, the kid from Orem, UT who was so Mormon my other Mormon cousins would tease me about how Mormon I was. But it started to happen. It didn’t happen all at once and there wasn’t any one moment that set it off. It wasn’t the result of one bad decision, but over time I would come to realize it was a slow process that was the result of many small decisions. Seemingly insignificant decisions that began to build on each other.
It’s true what they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This principle applies to all aspects of life. Just pick one. For example, the small daily steps you take to prevent disease (including proper sleep, nutrition, exercise and avoiding smoking/alcohol/drugs etc.) are what is needed to hold back most disease and the pain and suffering that accompany it. The same principle holds true for spiritual decay and disease.
Growing up I was strong spiritually because of the small daily choices I made: prayer, scripture study, service, church, temple attendance etc. These things held back the darkness that exists in the world and kept me spiritually aligned. But around my 25th birthday, I reached a point where I thought I had mastered that area of my life. A little too much pride set in and I convinced myself that I had read the scriptures so much and had prayed morning and night my entire life, that I probably didn’t need to do that stuff every day anymore.
And slowly I began neglecting the daily and weekly things that had been a staple of my life for so long. I had heard the warnings from others about where I was headed, but like so many before me, I thought I would be the exception to the proverbial rule.
With my spiritual foundation beginning to erode and my inflated impression of my decision making abilities and wisdom (aka pride), I starting falling victim to the most basic and damaging lie perpetuated in the world today and the foundation of most pain and sorrow in this world…that instant gratification yields true, lasting happiness. Whether it is money, food, sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, the result is the same. There’s a time, purpose and place for all of these things. And used in the right context or time, each one of these things has its merit. But each one is also easily abused, and the temptation to do so is strong. Instant gratification feels good for the moment, but the after affect is always some version of pain and or sorrow. Like all laws or principles they are unalterable. As they say, “You can’t break the law, you can only break yourself against the law.”
Now before you think I went off living the life of drugs, sex and rock and roll. Let me reassure you that I didn’t. But I did start chasing happiness in places that are impossible to find it. And without dragging you through the gory details of all my mistakes, it’s sufficient to say that eventually I became unworthy to enter an LDS temple.
PARADIGM SHIFT AND CYNICISM
Around this time something else happened to me, I became very cynical. My paradigm shifted and I started to question everything about the faith I was raised in through a negative lens. I believe a healthy dose of skepticism is good to have in life. But I wasn’t just skeptical, I became cynical. I started assuming and looking for the bad instead of the good. It’s amazing how quickly that can change everything.
So there I was, my spiritual foundation was practically gone, I was chasing happiness through instant gratification, and in the mean time I had become highly cynical. What’s interesting is that I had often heard people talk about “losing light” in your life. And during this time I remember thinking specifically about it, but I truly believed that I hadn’t changed, that I hadn’t lost or wasn’t losing any light. But I had. I just couldn’t see it at that time because I was in the thick of it. I was blinded by my own ignorance and desire, “to do what I wanted.”
This process continued up and down for the next 4 years. I would have moments and thoughts where I felt I was headed down the wrong path and I should turn around and head back. But I would dismiss those thoughts as being dumb and I continued to push forward.
This persisted until eventually I reached the conclusion that the LDS faith wasn’t true. I valued and respected the good the church had taught me and stability it had provided during my adolescent years. And I loved all the great people, leaders and brethren in the church who I knew from first-hand experience were doing things out of the goodness of their heart and a sincere desire to help others. But I didn't believe some of the doctrines anymore and questioned its validity. I had read a lot of negative stuff about the church and had reached a very logical conclusion that it wasn’t what I thought it had been.
A MOVE TO SEATTLE
During this time period I moved to Seattle for a job and was living in an apartment by myself because I had no friends or family in the area. Truthfully, as I was moving to Seattle I was excited at the prospect of being out of Utah and not always surrounded by Mormons. It was an opportunity for me to explore the world outside of Mormonism more fully. I was convinced I’d find a happier life. And once I was in Seattle, I found myself surrounded by great people not of my LDS faith…at work, at the store, at the gym and everywhere else I went.
For my first six months in Seattle I continued to live in the apartment by myself. I was actively searching and wanting to do new things with new groups of people and to experience a new way of life. But what’s interesting is that despite the fact that I no longer believed in the LDS faith, I still found myself drawn to its members who were still fully active and practicing. And after my first six months by myself, I moved into a house full of active LDS guys.
DATING A GIRL OUTSIDE MY FAITH
Almost a year went by of my living in that house. I lived with great LDS guys who I respected and loved, but I differed from them in my belief in the LDS church. Though none of them knew this. In fact, I still pretended as if I did believe and if the conversation ever came up I would quickly avoid it. Additionally, I would use work as an excuse to skip church most Sundays.
Around this time, I met a great girl in Seattle who had grown up Christian, but was not practicing. She was cute, wicked smart, funny and a great single mom to a cute little boy. We immediately hit it off.
This had always been the big question mark in the back of my mind. What would happen if I found a girl outside the walls of Mormonism and I fell in love with her? Because the thing I cared most about in life was finding a girl that I loved, marrying her and starting a family together. I figured THAT would be the thing that would completely pull me away from the LDS faith and my associations with it, once and for all.
This new girlfriend of mine and I had amazing conversations, which naturally and quickly turned deep. We covered a million topics like how to raise kids, do you teach about God or not, should you allow alcohol in the house (she loved her nightly glass of wine and I didn’t like alcohol for health reasons). Long story short, we talked about everything under the sun. Her and her friend’s favorite show at the time was “Big Love,” the popular sitcom about a polygamist family in Utah. So naturally the questions about Mormons starting pouring in and I loved answering them and clearing up funny misconceptions.
But as we spoke about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, missions, temples and garments, something interesting started to happen to me. My testimony began to be rekindled. It’s hard to describe, but what comes to mind is that moment in the movie “Hook” when Peter starts to remember. He starts to remember what he used to be and what his true potential is, but he’s just forgotten. And then, it hits him and a light turns on inside.
I experienced something similar. Somewhere along this path things started to become clearer for me. And for the first time in a long time I recognized the light that had left me, and I knew I needed to get it back. I could also no longer deny that there were certain things I was doing that I knew deep down weren’t right (you know that little voice in the back of your head that you sometimes ignore…well I had been ignoring it) and I knew I needed to change.
And though I knew plenty of great people in different faiths and cultures, I realized the large majority of the people I looked up to in this world and who in my opinion carried the most light and did the most good had chosen to live according to Christ’s teachings. And although they were not perfect, they were trying to live it to the best of their ability. Were there people who professed to be Christian (in all Christian faiths including the LDS faith) who were hypocrites, who lied, and cheated and were un-Christ like? Yes. But those people weren’t actually faithfully living the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is taught. And they were overwhelmingly the exception, not the rule. And I had come to find out that those people existed in all religions and walks of life.
Additionally, despite coming to the conclusion that the LDS faith was false, I could never deny the power of the Book of Mormon. And I could never say it wasn’t true. Even when I WANTED to believe it wasn’t true, I couldn’t do it. And no one or no argument I had heard or read was able to convince me otherwise, and I’d heard and read a lot (more on this later). Growing up I had loved the New and Old Testament and read, studied and pondered over them regularly. But due to their nature, there were pieces missing and signs of tampering, leaving them incomplete. For this reason the Book of Mormon provided unmatched clarity and had strengthened my testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel more than any other book on earth.
There was something special about that book and consequently the LDS faith that embraced it and their ability to bring one closer to Christ. And although I had tried to distance myself from them, I now felt the need (from the voice inside my head) to give them a second chance, this time with an open mind and heart.
The irony in all of this is that the one thing I thought would take me away completely from the LDS faith was actually the very thing that started my journey back. It was this relationship that taught me most about myself, what I wanted, what I truly believed, and everything in between. It made me question everything I had ever been taught or known.
From there my spiritual journey was not easy. I had a long way to go. I had a lot of unanswered questions about the LDS church. But I remembered some wise advice I had once received from my dad, “Don't let what you don't know, keep you from following what you do know.”
So I decided I needed to give the restored gospel of Jesus Christ another shot. I began to recognize the changes I needed to make. I tried to convince my girlfriend to come to church with me and read the Book of Mormon for herself. But ultimately she wasn’t interested. So we remained friends but decided to part ways, and eventually I made the decision to move back to Utah where I could be closer to family and around more people of the LDS faith I was raised in, but had for a time abandoned and lost.
THE LONG ROAD BACK
I won’t take to the time to detail every part of my journey back but I’d like to briefly touch on a few items. There were things I needed to make right and the road back was long and filled with remorse, a broken heart, restitution, sincere repentance, many tears and lots of humbling experiences.
My first step was to begin putting the little daily things I had done before back in my life. I began sincerely praying and searching the scriptures daily, attending and actively participating in church regularly and making my way back to being worthy to enter the temple. It may sound trivial, but it never ceases to amaze me the power that comes from doing these seemingly small and insignificant things.
This gave me the confidence to talk to my bishop about the mistakes I had made, and together he helped me more fully understand and take advantage of our Savior’s atonement and its redeeming, sanctifying and enabling power.
Over the following days, weeks and months, the same light that began leaving four years earlier, was now returning. It’s interesting what happens when this process begins. Your desire to gain more light and knowledge grows while you’re simultaneously drawn to things with more light and they are drawn to you. It reminds me of one of my first days in a chemistry class in college. The professor explained to us that like molecules were naturally drawn to each other. “Like attracts like, even at a molecular level.” Isn’t that interesting? Like molecules, objects, people and spirits are naturally drawn to each other. The more lightness or darkness you have, the more you will draw that same likeness to you. Lesson learned.
Through it all I realized something powerful about the gospel. I learned first hand of the sanctifying and redeeming power of our Savior’s atonement. Despite the mistakes I had made, the wrong turns I had taken, and the faith I had abandoned, my friends, my family, the church and my Savior were there with open arms, ready and willing to help me back without judgment or ridicule. And despite the repentance process being hard and more humbling than I ever imagined, I was so grateful for what it taught me and am 100% certain of its necessity and importance in my true conversion.
I will never forget the feeling of once again being worthy to enter the temple of our God and returning with my sweet mother for the first time. As I sat in the chapel of the temple, dressed in white and waiting for my mom, I looked up at a portrait of the Savior and I wept tears of joy as I felt His love for me. The feeling that came over me was so warm and peaceful. I felt the spirit testify to me that I was forgiven and that I was exactly where I needed to be. I vowed that day to never do anything ever again that would take me away from the truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and make me unworthy to enter the temple or presence of our Heavenly Father.
Am I grateful for the lessons I learned? Yes. But do I regret my mistakes? Of course. If I could go back and do it again I would listen to the wise counsel from my parents, church leaders, the living prophet and apostles, and the scriptures. It’s not worth it to find out for yourself the hard way. The great thing is you can learn from others’ mistakes, like mine. That’s a much better way. It’s still possible to find your way back if you leave, but the journey is harder…and sadly not everyone makes it back. “Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble…” –Alma 32:16
I can honestly say that my testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is stronger today than it has ever been. Stronger than it was as a young boy in Orem, Utah, or as a missionary in Russia.
I can also honestly say that I have never been happier than I am right now. I’ve never been more at peace with who I am, my faith, my life and where I’m going. Not long ago I entered the temple and was sealed to my incredibly sweet, amazing and beautiful bride for time and all eternity. I have never experienced a feeling of such Christ-like love than what I experienced in that room on that day. I’ve learned that the comfort that comes from living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (in it’s entirety) and the person it makes you is impossible to replicate, and I look forward to continuing to gain even more light and knowledge.
“Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life.” –Ezra Taft Benson
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If there is anyone who is struggling with something similar, know that I’ve felt your pain (at least partially) and that you are not alone and there are many others like me. Truthfully, I have found the answers I was looking for and you can too.
I am and always will be open and willing to hear from anyone who has sincere questions and a sincere desire to find answers in their own life. On the flip side, if you’re just looking to poke holes, find fault, criticize or complain about my faith or someone else’s, you can go somewhere else for that. I’ve had enough of that in my life and don’t need anymore. There’s a difference.
18 LESSONS LEARNED
To wrap it all up, here is a list of a few of the key lessons I’ve learned up to this point as it relates to my spiritual journey:
Lesson #1: “Cynicism creates a numbness toward life.” I found this to be true. Just read the definition for cynicism, “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others. ”I mean, who wants to live a life like that?? I’ve noticed a pattern with those who have walked the same path I did in leaving my faith. Not all, but many seem to fit this description. I was there; I’ve felt this way. I know. “Cynicism begins with a wry assurance that everyone has an angle. Behind every silver lining is a cloud. The cynic is always observing, critiquing, but never engaging, loving, and hoping.”
Instead of assuming the worst in people or faiths, assume the best. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Honest skepticism is very different from cynicism. Finding out the truth and assuming the best are not mutually exclusive. Both can be done and sincere, honest questions can be asked and answered. Look for the good in all things in life and something magical will happen: you’re likely to find just that…good, happiness, joy and light.
Lesson #2: We are not alone. Once my spiritual foundation was gone, I no longer knew if God existed. I was starting back at square one. Were we simply fortunate enough to be here on this earth without any assistance from a higher power or Heavenly Father? I wasn’t sure. So I began evaluating my life and experiences I’d had. It reminds me of an experience a man, let’s call him Serge, shared with me during my church mission in Russia. He had grown up in the Soviet Union during a time when atheism was promoted and taught to everyone. Atheism was what he believed. At the time he was living in a small village in the countryside and worked as a blacksmith.
One day a man came to him and asked him to make a number of weapons, swords and knives. This man had very detailed specifications as to what metals he wanted used and how he wanted the weapons made. As Serge made these weapons, this man would sit in the corner of Serge’s shop and watch him. Serge recalled that there was this darkness or evil that seemed to emanate from the man and Serge could feel that this man was going to use these weapons to do evil. As he pondered on this thought, it dawned on him that there was a definite evil spirit or aura about this man that he could not deny. After more thought on the subject he resolved that if there was an evil spirit in the world, there must be a good or light spirit as well. This was the beginning of his faith in God.
I’d had similar experiences in my life. I could not deny that I had felt light and dark, good and evil in different people and in different circumstances. Evil did and does exist. I have felt and witnessed it. But so does light and good, I have witnessed and felt this first hand too! I also felt in my own life an inherent desire to do good and to be good. And more importantly I’d had experiences in my life I could not explain or deny, moments when I had felt God’s love for me. After some time I resolved that God did in fact exist, that we are not here by accident, but that we all have a Heavenly father who loves us and that we were created in His image. You are not alone. We are not alone. “…God created man in his own image…” –Genesis 1:27
Lesson #3: Instant gratification is counterfeit happiness. Whether from food, money, drugs, alcohol, sex or something else, it doesn’t last. There’s a time, purpose and place for all of these things. And used in the right context or time, each one of these things has its merit. But each one is also easily abused and often used out of the right context. In today’s world the temptation to do so is strong. Instant gratification feels good for the moment, but doesn’t stick around, only leaving you needing your next fix. True happiness comes from following the “Plan of Happiness” (go figure right?!) as laid out in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ which includes, among other things, loving and serving those around you, building relationships and aligning yourself with eternal life principles and laws that help you use the above mentioned things in the right time and place. “…Wickedness never was happiness.” –Alma 41:10
Lesson#4: Commandments/Laws/Rules help you learn and live the “Plan of Happiness” and are there to keep you safe. I’ve heard people say things like, “All the rules you guys have to live by are ridiculous, restrictive and childish. I’m an adult and can make decisions based on what I think is right.” They can at times feel a little restrictive, but so is the guard rail along the edge of the road of a narrow cliff or the stop sign on the road your drive. They protect you from danger and keep you happy. Although they are at times harder to live by than a “carefree” lifestyle, they pave the way for long-term lasting happiness. Align your life to them and you will be happier.
Lesson #5: You’re not the exception to the rule. There are universal principles and laws that are unchanging. Even God is bound by some of these laws. Which means you can’t break laws, you can only break yourself against laws. Don’t think you’re the exception to the rule because you’re not. You do have the power to choose your actions, but not to choose the consequences that follow. For example, you cannot find lasting happiness through means of instant gratification. It is like trying to ride a bike without the wheels, you can try but it doesn’t work very well. So what are these laws? Study and live the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and you’ll find out. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” –Proverbs 3:5-6
Lesson #6: It’s the daily little decisions in life that determine your destiny. As my spiritual foundation began to erode, it was difficult for me to see the light start to leave me and my life. Looking back, the progression is obvious. As in all things in life, prevention is key. As it relates to our spiritual nature, there is a lot of darkness in this world and if you don’t actively work to prevent it, the dark will start to creep in. The best way to prevent the darkness from creeping in is to live the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, live the commandments, look outward, love and serve those around you, stay diligent in sincere daily prayer and scripture study, attend church and the temple frequently to maintain spiritual clarity and strength. Constantly check your pride. Remember that like attracts like. Actively work to attract more light in your life. “…Choose you this day whom ye will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” –Joshua 24:15
Lesson #7: You can be guilt free and clean of your past mistakes. You have the power to change and to sincerely repent (make rights wrong and change for the better) through the power of the atonement. Because of Him, our Savior and His grace all things are possible! I have personally experienced the sanctifying power of the atonement and you can too! The sanctifying and enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can heal all wounds and help you reach your true infinite potential. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” –John 3:16
Lesson #8: Surprise!! Everyone who goes to church is not yet perfect! If you decide to give the restored gospel of Jesus Christ a real chance (remember, with an open heart and mind), you will at some point attend church. Before you go, you should know there are imperfect people just like you and me who go there too. Shocker, I know!!! But some people discredit church for this reason.
I, like you, have had people at church say mean things tome. And I, like you, know of people of faith who are dishonest in their personal or professional lives. But I’ve learned that church isn’t just a gathering for the righteous or wannabe righteous, it’s also a hospital for the sick. And if you let the way someone treated you keep you from living the gospel of Jesus Christ, you are missing the whole point!
I’ve come to realize that these people are the ones who need the gospel the most! So it’s a good thing they are at church and hopefully the teachings will sink in a little deeper over time. Instead of worrying about myself, I have learned I need to turn outward and serve these very people. I need to love them, reach out to them, and help them. What is it that is going on in their lives that is making them act this way? They need the love and healing power of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives just as much as anyone.
Lesson #9: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” It’s natural to judge people you don’t understand. We’ve all done it. But we need to learn to practice empathetic listening with each other. We need to try to understand each other’s point of view fully, before casting judgment or doubt. For example, do LDS members try to protect their children from the darkness and bad influence of the world, while trying to help them establish a solid foundation built on universal principles before sending them out into the world to fend for themselves? YES! But isn’t that what any good parent should do? Unfortunately, for this reason LDS churchgoers are often viewed as naïve and closed-minded.
But from my personal experience, the opposite is true. The irony is that most people, not all, but most I’ve come in contact with are less educated about my faith and way of life than I am about theirs. It’s not that LDS members are naïve (a high percentage have served church missions in foreign countries/cultures and spent every single day talking to different people about their individual beliefs), it’s that for the most part LDS members have seen what the world has to offer and made a very calculated and even logical decision based on lots of information that what the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has to offer is superior to all others and brings the most long-term happiness.
Lesson #10: You get as much out of something as you put in. It’s true of everything in life. Riding the fence never helps you actually come to a solid conclusion and never allows you to see the full potential benefits. You’ve got to commit, jump in with both feet before you can know one way or another. In school you can show up to class and sit through it, “ride the fence,” but never actually get anything out of it. And it all starts with your attitude. If you go into a situation with a bad attitude you’ll likely leave thinking your time was wasted. But a positive attitude and open mind will produce the opposite effect.
The same is true of the gospel and church. I know lots of people who went to church, either at a young age, or maybe they’re still going to church now. But their attitude was or is negative. They’re just going through the motions, riding the fence, but never have actually committed. It’s no surprise that these people see very little value in living the gospel or going to church and usually never have a shortage of negative things to say about their experience. This pains my heart more than anything, because these people ultimately end up leaving the faith (usually at a young age) without ever really giving it a chance. And by doing so, they leave not truly understanding what they’re leaving behind.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had conversations with who profess to having had a bad experience with the LDS faith, but have never truly lived it or tried it. It’s no surprise they got as much out of it as they put in.
Lesson #11: The Book of Mormon will help you come unto Christ. Building off lesson #10, every single person I have ever personally come in contact with who has spoken poorly about the Book of Mormon, when I dug down and uncovered the truth, had never actually read it in its entirety with an open heart and mind. And most hadn’t read any of it at all. “Well no I haven’t actually read it, but so and so has and they said…” How can you judge the content of a book without actually reading it? If you want to have an opinion on it, pick it up and read it cover to cover with an open heart and mind. I can tell you this for certain, there is something amazing and quite special about the Book of Mormon that I can’t quite describe…there is no denying it. Don’t believe me? Why don’t you find out for yourself? What do you have to lose?
Whether you are of another Christian faith and already know Christ is your Savior or if you don’t know what you believe or think you don’t believe…the Book of Mormon will help you come unto Christ “and be perfected in Him.” If I had to pick two verses that embody the overall message of the Book of Mormon it would be these two: 2 Nephi 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” And Moroni 10:32, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness…”
Let’s be honest, how many other books have you read? You can find the time to read this book. It’s only got around 500 pages. It is ANOTHER testimony and witness of Jesus Christ in addition to the Bible. They go hand in hand.
Ezekiel 37:16-17 “…take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah…then take another stick…For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim…And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.”
Lesson #12: Weird is a relative term and often things are only weird to us when we don’t understand them. I know this is true for me. Something that is different from what I’m used to is “weird” to me. But I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in cultures and traditions that aren’t my own.
It wouldn't surprise me if you've heard a lot of weird and crazy stuff about Mormons, especially about our temples. Do we perform religious ceremonies that to an outsider may seem strange? Sure. But what religion or culture doesn't? A Hindu or Roman Catholic or any other religious or cultural ceremony may be different from what I'm used to, but I can still respect the beauty, spirit and symbolism behind it.
Take it from someone you know who has been regularly visiting Mormon temples for almost 20 years (not counting the small break I had). If I go, it can't be that weird, right?! But in all seriousness, when I'm inside these temples, which are dedicated to God and what I truly believe to be His work, I feel closer to Him and am inspired to be a better Christian, person, neighbor, citizen, stranger, coworker, friend, husband, brother and son. So despite what anyone has or will say, I know first-hand these temples are a force for good and provide more light in my life and in this world.
Lesson #13: LDS members don’t think they’re better than everyone. LDS church members don’t famously go around trying to convert the whole world to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ because we think we’re better than everyone or because we have a superiority complex. We do it because, as I explained in lesson #9, we have seen what the world has to offer and have found from personal experience that truly living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ brings the most lasting, real joy and happiness in this life and the next! And who wouldn’t want to share that with others if they’d found it?!
This doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on good, wholesome and happy people. These types of awesome people absolutely exist in other religions and cultures besides the LDS community! Our late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley used to say, “We say to people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and let us see if we can add to it.” In fact our 13th Article of Faith states, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
The restored Church of Jesus Christ takes the person you currently are, good and bad, and makes you better. I am personally a better, more loving and Christ-like person that I ever have or would have been without the restored Church of Jesus Christ. It has pushed me and continues to push me to grow and progress and to become like our Savior and Father in Heaven. Is it challenging at times? Absolutely. But it is so worth it and I wouldn’t want it any other way! To join the restored church of Jesus Christ, are there some habits you may have to give up? Yes. But that is part of the refining process and becoming a better more Christ-like people (see lesson #4: Commandments/Laws/Rules).
Lesson #14: Working in the Lord’s Vineyard is awesome! I’ve heard a lot of people say that serving, holding callings and working in the church isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the time and effort. Not only does it take up your time, it takes away from your ability to do what you want. Many in this camp also believe that doing things like going boating on Sunday is more fun than going to church or going and working on a service project somewhere. I’ll admit, there was a time when I thought this way too. But I’ve learned this isn’t true.
In the New Testament, in Matthew chapter 20, Christ tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. For those unfamiliar with it, people show up to work at different times in the day and some even show upright before the end of the day. But when the owner of the vineyard hands out the pay, they all get the same amount regardless of when they stated working.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to really understand this parable and truly grasp the meaning. I thought I was getting a bad deal working in the “vineyard” while others are off playing, especially if we are going to get the same reward at the end (if they eventually show up and work). But I was missing something in this story. There are TWO different rewards involved here. Yes there’s the final pay or reward at the end. But there’s also the reward that comes from actually working in the vineyard. It turns out working in the vineyard is pay and a reward in and of itself!
I now realize that life IS better and more enjoyable by actually doing work in the Lord’s vineyard. The happiness and joy that comes from living a life aligned to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and serving and sacrificing for others in the vineyard IS more enjoyable than playing outside the vineyard. Working in the vineyard brings true, lasting happiness where the other brings fleeting/counterfeit happiness. Those who show up late to work in the vineyard eventually will come to realize and regret they didn’t show up sooner. They will come to realize THEY were the ones who were missing out.
Many others will never choose to come work in the vineyard, and think the rest of us foolish to boot. And that’s their choice to make. Sadly, I fear they will never come to understand the unmatched happiness available to them. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” –Matthew 16:25
Lesson #15: Listen to wise advice and learn from others. Looking back it’s easy to see how my pride was the main cause of me going spiritually off-track. Ultimately it does not matter what sins follow, they all lead us down the wrong path. Beware of pride. Don’t disregard advice from people you look up to and trust who are older and most likely wiser than you. Learn from other’s mistakes so you don’t have to go through the same problems. The scriptures are full of people who have “been there and done that.” Learn from them. Everything that has brought me deep mental, emotional and spiritual pain in my life, I was warned to avoid by our LDS church leaders and the prophets in the scriptures. But, being too prideful and thinking I was the exception to the rule and their counsel was “dumb,” I chose to ignore it. Remember, it’s okay to have and ask sincere questions. But in so doing, many of us fail to also practice humility and be willing to submit our will to God’s. Especially if the answer we get is not the one we wanted “well then it can’t be right.” I know from personal experience, this line of thought is destructive.
The prophet and apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are God’s servants and receive counsel from Him, making them wise beyond their years. Do they get things wrong? Yeah maybe 1 time out of every 1000 because they are still human and still learning just like you and me. All prophets make mistakes. Want proof? Read the scriptures and you’ll find plenty of examples in Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jonah, Peter etc. All had their moments, but it didn’t then, and doesn’t today diminish their important role or prophetic calling. Stick with the prophets, trust and follow their counsel, and be willing to submit your will to God’s. It is Christ’s church and no one else’s. The popular opinions of today cannot and will not sway Him and the doctrine He wants for His church. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”–Amos 3:7
Lesson #16: “Don't let what you don't know, keep you from following what you do know.” Show me the person who has the answer to every question in life. They don’t exist. Why? Because NO ONE knows the answers to some of the questions we have. Not even that really smart professor at that one university, or that really smart person who’s written a lot of books. They don’t know. I don’t know. We don’t know. Nobody knows. And it’s okay. I’ve come to realize there are questions that will likely never be answered in this life. And that’s the way God intended for it to be. I believe there are things not even the living prophet knows the answers to right now. Does he know more than us? Yes. But he’s got to learn and progress like the rest of us.
Try and wrap your head around the vastness of the universe… Mind. Blown. It’s impossible for our finite brains to comprehend. I truly believe there is knowledge and answers to questions that God holds from us (at this time but will be revealed to us later) because we’re not ready to hear or know it currently. Milk before meat, as they say.
Don’t allow the fact that you don’t have the answer to every single question that goes through your head, keep you from acting on and following things you do know or have felt. Life requires faith. Every person on the earth must live by faith, period. Which leads us to our next lesson…
Lesson #17: Listen to your “conscience.” That little voice inside your head that we often disregard that tells you things like, “you should call this person today and see how they are doing” or “you should stop and help that person on the side of the road” or “you should apologize for what you said” or “you shouldn’t watch that show, it’s kind of dirty” or “you shouldn’t go hang out with those people” or “you should read that book” and many other things…that voice is the Spirit of God/Light of Christ talking to you. Have the FAITH to act on these promptings when they come. The more you listen and follow them, the more frequent and stronger they will come and the happier you will be. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” –Moroni 10:5
Lesson #18: I want to share my happiness with others. From my 32 years on the earth so far I’ve found that I am happiest and have the most light in my life when I am sincerely living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve also found that doing so makes me want to serve those around me more and share my joy with them. With this in mind I want everyone to experience the same joy I have felt. It’s only natural, right?! So please, if that voice inside your head is talking to you right now, you should follow it and act. Don't delay, do what you know you need to.
I am first and foremost a husband to my amazing wife and a father to our sweet daughter and little boy.