Thursday, February 11, 2016

Doubt, the true path to enlightenment

"Doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith." These words, uttered by a man believed to be an apostle of God, have become an oft repeated mantra by those who stand in judgement of unbelievers. These words come with an arrogant assumption that the doubter has given in to the temptation to let go of faith as easily as one lets go of a belief in Santa Claus.  In reality, it felt more like letting go of my mom's hand the first time I crossed the street alone. The fear and trepidation I felt at stepping away from the security of my mother's side mirrors the fear I felt when I stepped away from the security of the faith traditions I had been raised in.

I doubted my doubts long before it was cool. For forty nine long years, I doubted my doubts. And I doubted myself. But I would not allow myself to doubt my faith, because to doubt my faith meant doubting all those around me who were faithful, and faith-filled. People I loved and idolized. My parents. My church teachers and leaders. The prophets and apostles I'd been taught to revere as one revered God, and to accept their word as God's word. And when they told me that the church was True, the living embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the only way to return to the loving creator of my soul, I believed them. I did not doubt them. I believed that they knew something I did not, and I put my faith in their faith.

I can remember, as a child, looking around me at my fellow worshippers in wonderment as they took the sacrament. I was puzzled at the solemnity of the prayers and the ritual, but I partook alongside my loved ones, even though my understanding was limited. And as I grew and matured, I expected my understanding to grow as well, only it never really did. I could not grasp the concept of partaking of the flesh and blood of a savior in the belief that it would somehow bring me closer to him, and make me more like him, and atone for sins I wasn't even aware I had committed. I gave it my best effort, I really did. I attended sacrament meeting faithfully, taking the sacrament, listening intently to the prayers, pondering the meaning of the words and the emblems. Struggling to control my monkey brain and keep it focused on Jesus and his teachings and example. In retrospect, I was learning to do little more than meditate, which I now find to be a highly valuable practice. True worship eluded me, though not for lack of trying. But I did not doubt that my parents worshiped the Savior. So I tucked my own doubts away, and put my faith in their faith.

I remember, as a teenager, beginning to contemplate the meaning of forever. I pondered deeply the promise of celestial glory, and I came to the conclusion that I was not then, nor would most likely ever be, a good candidate for the highest kingdom in the eternities. I doubted my innate faithfulness and goodness, and I doubted that I had what it took to rise above my earthly frailties and assume a heavenly mantle. I was convinced that I would be relegated to a lesser kingdom, but I made my peace with it. I figured that I would still be able to see those loved ones who did make it to the celestial kingdom and were interested in visiting me, and this provided enough comfort for me to shelve my doubt about my own eternal salvation. My mom and dad had faith that we would all be together as a family in the eternities, so I put my faith in their faith.

I remember, as a young adult, moving out into the world, struggling to understand how Mormonism fit into the big picture. I was meeting people who had never encountered Mormons, some of whom were not involved with any religious tradition, and I was coming to understand that Mormonism did not encompass all that was good and right in the world. I was seeing that there were many ways to be moral and ethical, that compassion was in abundance among non-believers, that goodness far exceeded the Mormon paradigm. How could we be a chosen people, sent here to good Mormon families because of our righteousness in the pre-earth life, meant to take the gospel to all the world, somehow superior to those born without its light, when all around me I saw people who were good on a level that I could barely comprehend? People who were good for goodness' sake. People who cared deeply about their loved ones, and their communities. People who were religious, and people who were not. There didn't seem to be a single factor that defined humanity in a way that made sense through my Mormon lens. But my parents believed that Mormonism defined our existence, so I put my faith in their faith, and shelved my doubts. Again.

I remember in my mid twenties, as I confronted difficult church history, beginning to doubt the divine origin of the church I'd been raised to believe was restored by God through the prophet Joseph Smith. I was uncomfortable with the premise of polygamy as a mandate from a loving heavenly father, and I struggled to understand how a prophet of God could be misled into taking brides for himself who belonged to another. How he could lie to the wife he claimed to love, and the public he claimed to lead. I found it difficult to reconcile what I had learned about the man revered by many as prophet, seer, and revelator, and I began to doubt that the church was indeed of God, as I'd been taught by my faithful parents. I studied and prayed, and even visited Nauvoo in search of answers, but ultimately, I had to put my doubts to rest, as the conclusion that the church might not be true was too heavy to bear. Once again, I put my faith in my parent's faith. And it was enough. For a time.

I remember as a young mother, with two young daughters, coming face to face with debilitating doubt masquerading as depression. I had recently quit working as a nurse so that I could fulfill my divine destiny as a mother in Zion, and I found myself facing a future that was supposed to bring me joy, but instead brought despair. I was doing as I had been taught, dedicating myself full time to the family I had helped bring into the world, and I was puzzled at the feelings that flooded my soul. I could not comprehend an eternity of motherhood, particularly silent motherhood. I could not see happiness or fulfillment in the idea that I would, along with my eternal spouse, procreate an immeasurable number of spirits who would inhabit the world we would create for them, only to be relegated to the sidelines as too sacred to interact with my offspring. I faced, for the first time, a bleak future that offered no joy, no satisfaction. Only loneliness on a scale I had never experienced. I remember that summer as one with no light or color. Only shadows, bringing with them despondency. I struggled to remain faithful and to remember that I was a beloved daughter of a loving heavenly father, but I could not feel his love. I only felt shame for doubting that love, and for doubting my eternal destiny, and for desiring something more than to be my children's mother. I sought counseling, and eventually anti-depressant medication and, after many long months, I once again began to experience joy and happiness. And those doubts were shelved along with all the rest, because to allow myself to confront an eternity devoid of joy was to doubt the promises of eternal happiness the church, and my believing loved ones, offered me. I put my faith in my loved ones' faith, as I had so many times before, and I continued to persevere as an active Mormon.

Fast forward a few years. Another child had been added to the family, and I was busily raising my children in the church, attending faithfully, magnifying my callings, going to the temple, reading the scriptures, encouraging family home evening and daily prayers together. In short, I was doing all I could to live the gospel as I understood it. And yet, doubt continued to raise its ugly head on regular occasions.

One Sunday, I happened to stumble across a scripture that suggested that we are each, as children of heavenly parents, recipients of spiritual gifts. "To some is given one, to some is given another.... and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God." D&C 46:11-12.  I knew I did not have the 'gift to know', as my husband did. He never questioned, he never doubted. He just knew. I had been jealous of his gift, and wished I had it for myself, as I was tired of the endless questioning and doubting. I had spent my life questioning, wondering, doubting, and I wanted to 'know'. I wanted his gift. Then I read on: "To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful." v.14. And I decided that I could have that gift. I could believe the words of my husband who 'knew'. I made up my mind right then and there that I would doubt no more, but would believe, with every fiber of my being, that Daron 'knew', and that would be enough for this life. 'Knowing' would come in time, I was sure. Maybe not until the next life, but I was content to believe that he 'knew'. And I was determined to put all my doubts behind me, to plague me no more. I would believe.

And for ten years, I did. I pushed any and all doubts to the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, and I believed. And I acted on those beliefs by being the most faithful Mormon I could imagine. I was 'all in', in every way. I could list the various ways I acted on my faith, but suffice it to say, I did all that I could, and all that I believed I should, in my pursuit of a testimony of the truthfulness of the church. I had based my testimony on the testimonies of my loved ones. I had believed their words and put my faith in their faith, and now was the time to gain my own testimony, to stand on my own strength, and to 'know' for myself. My intent felt pure, and my desire felt strong. And I began to think that maybe I had defeated doubt for good, and was coming to 'know'.

And then, like a bad penny, doubt reappeared. I can't remember the exact catalyst, but I do remember my growing concern that what I had held to for so long, what I had pleaded with God to preserve, my faith in him and his church, was slipping away. I remember the feeling of bewilderment that I should find myself in such a place yet again. I remember feeling abandoned by the spirit. I remember begging God to keep me close, to seal me to him, to not let me wander. And I remember the fear I felt as I drifted further and further away from certainty.

And I remember the day I allowed myself to turn the Mormon truth paradigm on its head, and ask myself the question that I had avoided for so many years: Is the church true?

I had believed for so long that it was, and that any doubts I had entertained were evidence of my inadequacies. The church was true; I was not okay. And when I had prayed to know if the church was true, I did not actually pray with any real intent. I did not really want to know if the church wasn't true, because the implications of that were too dire to contemplate.

If the church wasn't true, all of these people I loved and trusted were wrong, and the paradigm upon which I had based my entire life was faulty.

If the church wasn't true, how was I to explain the mysteries of the universe? If the church wasn't true, how could I answer the 'big' questions (why were we here, where did we come from, where were we going....)?

If the church wasn't true, what was?

But, conversely, if the church wasn't true, I was okay. If the church wasn't true, I no longer had to wrestle with my doubts. If the church wasn't true, I no longer had to squeeze myself into a box that didn't fit.

And in that moment, I felt a surge of peace flow through me like an ocean breeze. All of my doubts, all of my anxieties, all of my insecurities faded away, and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the church was not true. And I was okay.

When did doubt become such a dirty word anyway? I was accused once of "choosing doubt as a philosophy of life, which is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation". What's wrong with using doubt as a vehicle to get us where we belong?

My doubts lurked and lingered for many years, on occasion frantically trying to get my attention, at other times content to lie dormant. But never for long. They'd rear their heads at pretty regular intervals throughout my life, signaling the need to check my progress, prompting me to assess my direction. And then retreating once again, to lie in wait. Until they could wait no more. Until the day I had to acknowledge that my doubts, my feelings, were trying to tell me something of great import.

The person I had always been told to be, the Mormon, was not the person I was meant to be. I am no longer a Mormon, and I am not religious. And I am blissfully, giddily, content to be what I am.

Without my doubts lighting the way, I would still be attempting to stuff myself into that box, and I would still be wrestling with inadequacy and insecurity.

I doubted my doubts. I doubted my doubts until they could be denied no longer, and then I doubted my faith. And what I discovered is that the faith of my fathers, and mothers, was not my faith, and that it was okay to let it go. Just like my belief in Santa Claus.