I married a really great guy, one who adores me and wants nothing more than to make me happy. But, he is a terrible gift giver. For our first Christmas after we were married, he knew that I needed a new purse, and he knew that I liked the color red, so he bought me what basically amounted to a red briefcase. When I opened it, I got a lesson in diplomacy as I tried to keep the dismay off my face. What was I going to do with a red briefcase? Sling it over my shoulder, of course, and head off to work. I loved my new husband, and I didn't want him to feel bad about his gift, and I figured if I used it for a few months, I could then go shopping for something that I liked. Which is what I did. But I learned that I needed to give him specifics as each gift-giving occasion rolled around, so as to avoid such awkwardness in the future.
A few years later, as my birthday approached, I'd seen a picture on the wall in Deseret Book that I thought would look really nice in my kitchen. I described it in detail to my husband, telling him that it was a shadow box of a vase full of sunflowers, with a saying about making a house a home, and that it was hanging right behind the check-out counter. On the day of my birthday, he came home with a wrapped box that looked much too big to be the picture I'd described, but I thought maybe the store hadn't had an appropriately sized box in which to wrap it. Imagine my surprise upon opening it to find a framed picture of a poem about sisters. I have no sisters. I looked up to see his red face, chagrin written all over it, and his apology, "I couldn't remember which one you wanted, so I just pointed to the wall and said 'that one', as I knew you could exchange it for the one you really wanted!" I realized in this moment that my guy would require much, much more detailed instructions in the future. In fact, I've since started buying my own gifts and giving them to him with instructions to wrap them in advance of the intended occasion. Sometimes this works, and sometimes I've been handed a plastic bag with the gift and receipt still inside, just as they were when I handed them over to him. He tries, I know he tries. And because he shows his love in so many other ways on a daily basis, he gets a pass in the gift-giving department.
Gifts have been on my mind a lot lately. Not the gaily wrapped-in-pretty-paper-with-a-bow variety, but gifts of the spirit. Those gifts we are each given upon birth, that help us navigate mortality successfully and return to the home of our spirits, wherever that may be. I'm not sure anymore of the identity of the gift-giver, but I'm convinced that we, every last one of us, has been the recipient of spiritual gifts of infinite variety. And that one of our tasks here is to discover the nature of those gifts, and use them to further the cause of humanity. Not an easy task, at least for me.
Many years ago, in 1999 to be exact, I had decided, during one of my many crises of faith, that I was done with church. I was tired, soul-weary, and exhausted from the many battles I'd fought with myself in my quest to 'know' the truth of the gospel. I gave myself permission to take a break from attending, but I had determined that a condition of that break was that I would study the scriptures during those hours I would have spent in church, and once more seek a testimony that the church was true. So, I got my family off to worship, and I settled in with my big book of scripture, ready to be enlightened by the spirit.
One Sunday, I found myself in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 46, where verses 11, 13, and 14 seemed to leap out at me. "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God..... To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful."
I felt something when I read this, an answer for me, maybe? I knew that my husband 'knew' that the church and gospel were true, and I'd been envious of his knowledge many times before. So, maybe that was his gift, to 'know'? The following verse, about believing on their words, the words of those who 'know', spoke to me, and I determined in that moment that I would have that gift. I would believe on his words. I could, and would, choose to believe. He 'knew', and I could tell that by the way he talked about church. He has never been one who needed all the extras the church pushes, the programs and activities, or even scripture reading and prayer, individual or family. In contrast, I'd noticed that when I slacked off in my scripture study and personal prayer, my ability to maintain any semblance of a testimony wavered. It had bothered me before, this disparity in our ability to 'know', but here, in the D&C, was the solution. He 'knew', and I could believe on his words. That became my mantra for the next decade; I believed, and I shut out my doubts and concerns. I believed on his words. I chose that gift for myself. The problem is, unlike the gifts we receive from our loved ones on special occasions, I don't think we have the option of choosing what spiritual gifts we will receive. They come unbidden, chosen for us by whatever unseen force is doling out gifts.
For a solid decade, I set aside any doubts I'd had about the church, or the gospel. Or at least I attempted to. It wasn't always as simple as mentally choosing to believe; sometimes it felt like physical work to ignore what my soul was trying to tell me. But, throughout all of that time, I truly thought that the fault was with me, that the church was true, but I was deeply flawed. And I thought that if I just powered through, faithfully attending church, obeying each and every commandment, participating as I thought a believer should, I could 'choose' belief. But, occasionally, a small, little doubt would creep in, and I'd scramble to tamp it out. More scripture study, marking them in pretty colors; rolling out of bed in the morning onto my knees in fervent prayer, begging really, like in "A Child's Prayer," asking Heavenly Father if he was really there; getting myself to the temple as often as I could, hoping to arm myself with enough spiritual power to keep the darkness at bay. All to no avail. Eventually, my unbelief caught up with me, and I had to admit, first to myself, then to my husband, that the gift I'd thought I could choose for myself was not mine to choose. I had not been given the gift to 'believe on their words'. I could not just choose to believe. And thus began a painful awakening to my true gift, one I would not have chosen for myself, but one that has proven itself to be a blessing. In disguise, certainly, but definitely a blessing.
I have the gift of unbelief, of skepticism, of uncertainty. To many others, this would not appear to be a gift, but rather a curse. However, as I've come to understand this gift, I've felt true peace for the first time in my life. Relief from the anxiety of trying to choose another gift, one I was not meant to have. Acknowledging my disbelief has allowed me to pursue my thoughts and feelings about God and divinity, the origin of man, the nature of our spirits, where we came from, why we are here, where we are going. The 'big' questions, the questions no mortal man has been able to answer to my satisfaction. I was never satisfied with the answers given at church, always proffered with certainty and fervor, but I accepted them as 'truth'. I guess because I'd been told, by people I loved and admired, that truth was to be found within the confines of the gospel, as taught by the church. That they alone had the authority and knowledge given by God to man. I dismissed my own voice as ignorant and uninformed, allowing others to determine for me what God wanted me to know. I allowed them to convince me that my doubts came from Satan, Lucifer, Son of the Morning Star. I know better now.
My voice, my heart, my mind are to be trusted, respected, adhered to. Because my gift, the gift of skepticism, has the same origin as my husband's gift to 'know'. The great giver of gifts, that entity who is bigger than life and infinitely more mysterious, a being I cannot define with my mortal mind, had a plan, there in the beginning, when he (or she, or it!) was bestowing gifts upon humanity. Just what that plan is I do not know; that's just one of the many things I'm still trying to figure out. What I do know is that there is room for all, the believers, the knowers, and the skeptics. The greatest task before us is to respect one another's gifts, and to acknowledge the value of each one in the grand scheme of things. Of this I am sure. I think.