Dear 100 Hour Board,
How do I stay focused on the gospel and the good things about the LDS church? I love the church and I have a firm testimony regarding many core doctrines. The idea of eternal family and the baptism of the dead are particularly dear to my heart, mostly because I'm a convert from a non-Judaeo-Christian culture background and the conventional Christian theology regarding salvation seems overly harsh when none of your family members are Christian. However, I also find some LDS doctrines and rules hard to accept. Take the Word of Wisdom for example, I know certain members of my ward are not in the best shape due to their own neglection of their health and at the sametime are fond of condemning people who drink a glass of wine with dinner. Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are detrimental to one's health, but so are donuts, ice creams and fried chicken, yet some people don't seem to have any problem with eating copious amount of these food. The modesty standard also bothers me to a great extent. It facilitates and promotes a culture of guilty, shame and potentially victim blaming and sexism. I'm not saying we should all wear as little as possible, but the LDS custom of modesty plus the none existing sex education are producing many problems. All these doctrines and standards unfortunately create an environment of hypocrisy and complacency. There is a checklist mentality in some Latter-day saints and I myself is guilty of many times. Follow all the commandments and culture norms without any reflection and ye shall be saved; however, I don't think that's what Christ has in mind. I'm a somewhat pessimistic person and all too often I concentrate on the negatives instead of positives and it's slowly eroding my testimony. Please give me some advice.
I feel you. First of all, I like your distinction between the gospel and the church. I would even go further and distinguish between the gospel, the church, church policy, and LDS culture (of which Utah culture is another thing entirely). There are parts of all of those categories that I affirm 100%, and there are parts of all of them I don't agree with or understand. I understand and agree with most of the gospel category, a large part of the church and church policy, and a lot less of the culture. There are three things that help me focus on the good parts of the gospel:
- Separating the gospel from the other parts.
- Trying even when I don't feel like it.
- Focusing on my favorite parts of the gospel
1. Recognizing that the gospel, the church, church policy and LDS culture are different things is important. Having problems with LDS culture is totally fine! Culture is something that we should be analyzing, criticize, and try to change for the better. Culture is separate from doctrine, and when I separate them, it makes it easier to focus on the gospel without worrying about the culture. There is a place for questions about the gospel, the church, and church policy. I won't focus on those in this answer because a) my answer would be really long 2) there's a plethora of advice about this in the archives, and I'm sure the other writers will offer their wonderful perspectives.
2. I feel like most of the time I'm living the gospel on a habit level or a checklist level. It's hard to stay focused actively on something and not take it for granted. Even if we've had great experiences, the acts of saying prayers in the morning, doing scripture study, going to church, and ministering to others is hard. Doing them without losing the meaning of them is even harder. That's kind of how things are. Sometimes, we are going to have active questions and doubt. Sometimes we will feel the fire of the gospel. A lot of the time living the gospel will seem to just be something that we do. I don't think any of these zones are particularly bad. I would say that feeling comfortable or apathetic is probably the worst of these, but we will probably be going through the motions a lot. I think it's important to realize that while we should strive to be constantly growing stronger in the gospel, a lot of the time we will be going backwards, or going no where at all. That's okay. What's important is our long term attitude. Are we trying our best? Are we repenting? Are we asking questions and looking for answers? Are we trying to come closer to God? Are we trying to serve others? If the answers to these questions are yes, or even if we're trying to make these answers yes, then we're doing well. We don't have to be gospel super stars all the time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When we try, we won't always have transcendental sacrament meetings or scripture studies, but we will have good experiences. My scripture study isn't always good, but 1-3 times a week I have a scripture study that has an impact on me. I'll count that as a win.
3. Focusing on my favorite parts of the gospel. I've been more relaxed than usual about the gospel this semester. I've been really busy, and I've let quite a bit slip. The one thing that I've been doing a decent part though is trying to serve people. I try and remember to pray for service opportunities. When God blesses me with an opportunity I thank him for it. Helping others is how I best feel the Gospel in my life. I also remind myself that my education will increase my capacity to help others. I think we all have some part of the gospel that reaches us best. For me it's service or singing hymns. For you it might be prayer, scripture study, listening to conference talks, ministering, or family history. I find that making sure that we make time for our gospel strengths it helps us pull through the hard times and have better experiences.
Focusing on our favorite parts of the gospel also includes remembering to contemplate and study our favorite doctrines. Asking question is important. Studying for Sunday School lessons is important. However, sometimes if we just go with the lessons, or just focus on our biggest questions we can end up going through the motions or exhausting ourselves spiritually. Reminding ourselves about what we love most about the gospel gives us strength and hope for the harder parts of our gospel journey. Last week I had an experience that was meaningful to me that might illustrate this principal.
The other day I was walking into the temple and I ran into one of my engineering professors who was about to leave. He looked at me and he smiled and said "Tipperary! You look good seeing you here in the temple." For some reason that phrase just really hit me. Was he saying that I don't look good outside the temple? Was he just commenting on me being all dressed up in a nice shirt and tie? Was he just happy to see me going to the temple? I thought about him telling me that I looked good in the temple the entire time I was in the temple. Here's some of what I thought about.
- The temple looks good on me because being free from the cares of the world (and especially the cares of thermodynamics)
- The temple looks good on me because living the gospel blesses our lives
- The temple looks good on me because it means that I'm repenting on some level
- Repentance looks good on me
- Repentance looks good on all of us
- I think if Jesus was working the recommend desk at the temple he would say to us "It looks good seeing you in the temple"
- I think something Jesus might say to us when we enter the Celestial Kingdom is "It looks good seeing you in the temple
- I think something we might say to each other in the Celestial Kingdom is "It looks good to see seeing you in the Celestial Kingdom"
That single experience in the temple gave me so much joy and hope. Repentance is real guys! God wants us to come back to him and He has a plan that's designed to get us there. God loves us more than we deserve, and I felt like God was less harsh on me than I was being on myself. Focusing on what I pondered in the temple has really helped me this week. I had been going through a bit of a spiritual slump, and that helped me getting out of it.
I hope this helps! The other writers have great answers as well so please read them! I'm sure that reading their answers will help me in the upcoming weeks.
You are not alone in your concerns. I hope you know that. I think all of us struggle with some parts of our religion/faith. As I tried to figure out what advice I could give, I kept thinking about a simple answer. It may come across as overly simplistic, but I feel like it could help.
My advice is to just be the best Latter-day Saint you can be, and let the rest follow. If you feel like your diet is contrary to the Word of Wisdom, then change. If you feel like you are getting into a checklist mentality, then find a way that gets you out of that mentality. Walk around with love in your heart for everyone. Do whatever you feel like God would want you to do.
What, you may ask, should I do about the other hypocritical, complacent saints? Do what you think Christ would do: truly love them, lovingly correct (when appropriate), and lead by example.
Well, my thoughts were much more eloquent than this answer is, but I hope you understand what I'm saying. You have a bigger influence on your happiness, your faith, and others than you think. You can make change by following Jesus' example. I know it because I've seen it done by other people. Don't ever believe that what you do is of little significance, because that is just plain false.
You got this!
-Sunday Night Banter
First, I just wanted to let you know that I sympathize with you, deeply. I have a strong testimony in the gospel, the Atonement, etc., but have (especially in my time at BYU and in my current YSA ward) felt isolated because I have felt that many of my peers, family, ward members, and friends act with hypocrisy, judge too harshly, treat culture as doctrine, or act as though my questions on policy somehow make me an apostate. It is something I am still dealing with, so I offer you the advice that has been helping me overcome these frustrations.
1) Separate the people and the culture from the doctrine. This can be hard at times, but having a testimony of the doctrine is the part you've gotta hold on to. Policies change, culture gradually changes too. The Church doesn't require that you emphatically agree with all of the culture or even some of the policies. But that doesn't have to cost you your testimony. Other people figure that out in their own ways, and sometimes it will not be to your liking, but we're all "sinners who keep on trying."
2) Focus on your personal relationship with God. For me, realizing that other people's approach to spirituality doesn't change my relationship with God made it easier not to be mad when I felt people were hypocritical. That's not something that changes my testimony, it's their own thing.
3) Remember the policies that you may not like are not necessarily permanent, nor are they perfect. I like what my eternal families professor said: "Policies and practices are the best attempts of mortal leaders to direct us to principles and doctrines." The emphasis there being 'best attempts.' The principle behind modesty is that our body is a gift from God and we should respect it. The practices and implementation of policy, do, I agree, often result in sexism, shaming, etc. But that's not because modesty is bad, it's because we're dealing with imperfect people with implicit biases who are trying to navigate their way around something, and the implications of that are not always what we'd like to see.
4) While it may be frustrating to see people act in a way that you feel is hypocritical, but judging them for it isn't going to solve anything or make you feel better. The thing I've had to learn is to just let go and let people be on their own.
You can also see Board Question #91818, which has similar sentiments.
I would love to talk more personally about it if you're interested, just email me. I experience a lot of the same feelings as you and have reached out to other people to get help, which I think has proven really beneficial.
Love and best wishes,
I've been realizing on a core level of my being is that a bad/completely false explanation of something does not make that thing false. It can still be true, just for different reasons than the purported ones. But despite not having the power to change truth, these kinds of explanations still end up doing a lot of damage because they shape culture.
There is a very natural inclination in humans to explain what we don't know. Except I think it would be better if we were to admit simply not knowing more often.
In my own experience, the majority of my issues with the Church have stemmed from members' misconceptions/bad explanations surrounding doctrines rather than the doctrines themselves. Like for modesty, I find the doctrine that our bodies are temples to be stunningly beautiful, and it makes sense to me that we should thus portray our bodies in ways that respect their inherent holiness. The explanation that women need to dress in ways that won't tempt men is, frankly, bogus and extremely damaging. Likewise for the Word of Wisdom, while following it can have health benefits (particularly if you also follow the parts that warn against excess, that's not it's purpose.
Hopefully this perspective helps.
Truth is, I process my doubts very privately. I don't mind sharing what I've learned, especially if I feel like I have a handle on it. I really only speak up about problems when I think someone needs me to. Because I keep to myself, I haven't ever felt rejected for having doubts. If I'm completely honest, there are two reasons for this private attitude: 1) I am afraid of being judged 2) It's between me and God anyway. I don't think anyone can really help me, and I don't think it's their responsibility either. Which also might be wrong, but I have a bit of a Lone Ranger complex on a lot of things.
I believe this is an okay approach. I could probably do with more interdependence. But it is true that my relationship with God is personal and my own responsibility. I feel close to Him most of the time. I feel relatively unfazed by the actions of others (though I try to stick up for people). I feel like my closeness allows me to apply the commandments in a genuine way. I try my best, I trust that others are doing the same, and I try to heal others that might be hurting.
I don't think I know any hypocrites. But I have steadily felt more disillusioned about certain concepts in the Church. But something that helps is knowing I feel these things for a reason. Heavenly Father tells me that there is a reason I'm thinking and feeling the way I do. So I try to take those problems I observed and go to work on them. I feel like I'm building good culture in my corner, and good people are helping, listening, and seeking new perspectives. I tend to ignore the people who aren't. They tend to ignore me.
If I had to boil my experience down to a few pieces of advice, to answer your question, I would say the following:
- focus on individuals within your reach.
- investigate the Gospel of Jesus Christ (specifically, the parts that help you find God) continuously.
- engage in raw prayer, over philosophical and literal things.
- don't be afraid of losing your testimony.
The first point I learned after a really rough week. For some reason that week, everything I believed was up for debate in my mind. I was aching for all the people I couldn't reach. Worried about my role in their suffering. Worried about the Church's role in their suffering. I was thinking heavy all day for like three days straight, and couldn't focus on any of my daily tasks. I'd been praying about it all the whole time, but all I could feel was like I needed to stay in that place and learn from it.
Because I was feeling that, I was more likely to notice this homeless guy at the bus stop. I decided to sit closer and actually talk to him. A lot of what he said wasn't that coherent. But the way he spoke to me made me feel loved, and the way he talked about God made me feel calm. He said "sometimes you have to just be still and know." In that conversation, I felt healing. The big looming terror of systemic racism and administrative injustice took a back seat and I just connected with this dude. I felt really humbled because I was thinking of myself as the last person who needed healing. It is arguable, but I think it's possible many victims and outcasts crave that more than social justice. I don't really know how to describe it, other than being present, or mindful (a concept well taught in Zen Buddhism, but somewhat trivialized in the west). I try to let go and experience a person (or God) without words in my head trying to define it (good, bad, right, wrong). I think that is the space where revelation occurs. I think that's where healing occurs. I try to make it my religion.
The second point, about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is very specifically about faith, repentance, and the Holy Ghost. It sounds like you already know this part. But it is how I get a relationship with God, and that relationship is why I am able to resist hate when I do.
The third point, raw prayer, is the practice of connecting with God. Whatever you need to do to make that connection and understand His will and love for you. Once you have that, you can let go. You don't have to be afraid of anything, not even losing your testimony. Because if you are in an engaged and active relationship with the Lord, you can follow Him indefinitely. Which leads me to that fourth point:
Can we all stop being afraid of losing our testimonies? I do it all the time. But that steers me away from questions. As if God and I weren't capable of working through them to find truth. Sometimes I have to remind myself "If God told me to leave the Church, I would do it." He could lead me right out of the Church and I would go. I would be terrified, but I would go. I tell myself that because I know I have a strong relationship with the Lord. I know He speaks to me. Though fear often overrides that relationship, I try not to let it. I trust Heavenly Father and my ability to receive revelation from Him. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a help-meet to my spirituality. But it isn't my spirituality.
This answer has been very close to honest. It will be completely honest once I tell you that what I've talked about here is the ideal I strive for, and often not actually what I achieve. My relationship isn't always so strong, but I always know it can be because I've experienced it before. I'm only able to be fearless when I have the wherewithal to stop and think about how safe I actually am. I wish you the absolute best with all the choices you make. I hope you always seek closeness with everything you've got. I believe, strongly, that it works and makes us happy.
I'm sure the other writers are going to give you an amazing answer on how things fits together in the gospel and the church. And I deeply respect each one of them and hope that you'll be able to draw some hope and comfort from their answers. But I also know there are people (such as myself) who started really having difficulty with these explanations. So I want to add in my own personal take, which you are completely free to ignore.
Eroding testimonies really suck. They're painful and difficult and isolating. But they're also freeing. They help you overcome seeing the world in black and white. They allow you to understand and have sympathy for others. They help you see that very few people are the full good guy or the full bad guy. They let you read and research into everything you've ever wondered or cared about and weigh all the evidence that you find.
If you can build your testimony back from this, good on you! You'll (hopefully) be a more nuanced, thoughtful person who can be understanding and compassionate of others. If you can't build your testimony back from this, it'll be okay. It's not the end of the world. In fact, it's the start of a brand new one. One where you don't have to ignore clear problems and hypocrisy.
Too often we do mental gymnastics to excuse or justify certain conclusions. I for one am relieved to not have to take my place at the balance beam again.
-guppy of doom