By Debra Woods
This #52Stories thing is no small undertaking. As the ideas for what to write about come to mind, I shudder to think I am baring my soul to any kind of audience. It seems like no story worth telling is comfy to tell. Hang on folks, read this story of the beginnings of my faith if you dare!
Hamilton Ward Chapel, Pleasant Ave, Fairfield, Ohio - where I was baptized in 1975
From my second LDS missionary discussion in Oxford, Ohio in 1975, I have been encouraged to invite others to join me in my pursuit of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Confession - from that day, I have been put off by this incessant pressure to share my faith with whomever, wherever, whenever I possibly can.
My faith was my private business. I alone was seeking, and at no small effort and persistence. My reward was hard won. It involved no one else, it was very personal. I actually felt that by trying to invite the world to join me, I was somehow watering down my own experience of discovery and focus.
My desire to find answers was a particularly lonely journey shared by no one in my circle of acquaintance. I was not part of a confirmation class of peers, or a catechism group, or a family quest – I was very much alone and felt this loneliness every step of the way. It seemed to me that everyone I knew was already satisfied with their spiritual status and religious practice. Only I felt somehow deprived and hungry.
If a person is starving for want of food but everyone around them is satiated, why would he/she, upon finding a source of food to his/her tastes, immediately go around offering it to those who were not even hungry and perfectly satisfied with what they already had?
But I did offer it, as directed and no one was interested. In fact, I was more often made fun of or criticized or mistrusted for my choice, so why in the world would I bother trying to share it?
At first I only saw it as the answer to MY quest. I was looking for something that suited me, when all other exposure to religious organizations did not suit me. It was not like I thought there was one true church, I only thought that none of the churches I had encountered felt comfortable to me. It never occurred to me that there was one answer for everyone and that all others were wrong and I was the only one who realized it.
What got me taking a second look was the response others had to my discovery. No one – really not a single person was happy for me when they learned my long search had finally resulted in the answer I’d been seeking. Many were aware of my searching. Why was it not alright for me to have found a church I liked when I afforded everyone else their own personal preference for spirituality?
What I found in the Mormon church was an impact on its members that impressed me. Not at first – at first I was oblivious to all that – it was the doctrine that attracted me at first, but eventually, I was confronted by everyone else’s negative response and wondered if there was something wrong with my choice, until I attended a youth conference where the LDS youth from throughout the state of Ohio so impressed me, I had to consider – any church that is worth its salt will benefit its adherents and if you can’t visibly see that it is, maybe it isn’t really worth much after all. No other church had impressed me for the transformative impact it had for good in the lives of its members. That was all I needed. By their fruits ye shall know them. These were the fruits I desired in my own life, so I set aside my doubts and never looked back.
In my case, I was looking for a church, it didn’t find me, I found it. Well, that is not all together true. My sister worked with a Mormon and he invited her to get involved. Through her involvement, the Mormon church came on my radar. Then I discovered someone I respected was also a Mormon.
I had little idea what the Mormon faith was all about – how it differed from any other. It was just one more church, and one I knew next to nothing about. When my sister started talking about it, I took a look at her Book of Mormon and was surprised to discover it was not the bible. Then I read through a booklet, “Meet the Mormons” which gave a pleasant and positive introduction to the church programs, but when I looked at the history, I was shocked and incredulous that it included prophets, angels, visions, golden plates and such radical, woo-woo elements.
From these very cursory impressions I determined to have nothing whatsoever to do with this weird religion.
Until a few weeks later when I sat in on a lesson with my sister, much to my own distaste, I felt trapped so was a sort of hostile attendee. I was completely taken aback when I found their message completely in tune with my established beliefs and sense of truth. They offered me answers where other spiritual pursuits had fallen flat.
The lesson gave more enlightenment in 40 minutes than all my prior eight years of searching had gleaned. So, in a way, it was the result of my own search, but I wasn’t really going to look there in the first place on my own. We were brought together, I have no question about that.
This is how I feel it must be, someone is looking, and someone is sharing. How do the seeker and the giver come together?
I don’t know. The missionaries didn’t come knocking on my door. A Mormon didn’t come up to me and say, “Hey – do you want to know more about my church?”
I personally preferred going about my searching quietly without drawing attention – I wanted to see the real deal, not all prettied up for guests. The missionaries were not happy I was staying at my sister’s lesson – they knew I was hostile. So, there you go, hardly planned by mortals.
That’s why planning to proselyte doesn’t feel right to me.
But that is not the only reason.
I had been seeking for eight years when I found the church. That was 41 years ago. In the intervening years, I frankly feel that it is a miracle I have kept the faith.
The spirit has taught me line upon line, precept upon precept, without ceasing. But it has so often not been pretty. It has so often been in SPITE of some traumatizing experiences. I can’t promise anyone an easy road. I do not feel most people would survive it.
My own personal experience is, you have to really want the truth to be able to withstand the difficulties it will bring into your life. Being blind and oblivious is easier than being wise, knowing and informed from on high.
And you have to have a strong personal witness to withstand the onslaught of negativity from without, and the imperfection of the saints from within. For those who do not have that strong witness will get eaten up and spit out and left to lie along the wayside by the difficulties of life – as my father predicted would happen to me – eventually, sooner or later one will throw in the towel and say get me out of here.
But I DO have a strong personal witness. In the FACE of everything. The world has only gotten to be less hospitable toward the faithful. You cannot blend in to the back ground as a Mormon – you will stand out like a sore thumb. Your decision will not be well received by anyone. You may encounter disturbing behavior by members who are but imperfectly living their religion. You may encounter church leaders who are mere mortals, flawed humans, overseeing your stake, ward, auxiliary, class, event – and through it all, you will have to see past their mistakes and humanity to the truth of the doctrine of Christ.
You will never arrive. It will never be easy. You will be swimming upstream the rest of your life.
So why do I do it?
In no particular order, here are some of my motivations:
I could go on, but that’s a pretty decent list.
I was disillusioned when I first came to BYU and noted that this 99.99% LDS population was more worried about fashion than any group of people I had ever met in my life before. I was disillusioned when a teacher at Ricks seemed to be saying converts are second rate marriage prospects. I was disillusioned when my bishop gave me advice that influenced my decision to take a path I wasn’t really sure about and which turned out very unhappily. I was disillusioned when my stake president was insensitive to the pain I was suffering. I was disillusioned when a general authority promised me something that didn’t happen, and again when another bishop refused to allow our relief society to assist me during the final days of my mother’s life.
Again – I could go on and on about moments of disillusionment I have suffered.
You can count on having disillusionment – which I have come to realize is what happens when what we expect and what actually happens, bear little resemblance to each other. The problem really lies in our unrealistic expectations – but, the first time you encounter anything, your expectations are likely to be off-base to a greater or lesser degree. Disappointment is the feeling you have when you expected A and you got something of apparently lesser value or desirability. Growth and wisdom are what you get when you take a longer, harder look at what happened to recognize the hidden benefits. Wisdom is the result of acknowledging that the Holy Ghost actually DID quietly advise you to move in a different direction, but you ignored that prompting.
Well – like I said, it isn’t pretty. It is very messy. And based on my own experience, I cannot recommend the course I took to anyone who isn’t OK with a difficult journey, if in the end it leads to the desired outcome.
If you are all about fun and ease and bliss and good times, I cannot recommend this course to you.
I’ve had plenty of fun. Some blessings have plopped into my lap with seemingly no effort on my part. The bliss and good times typically come after the trial of my faith and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But there has been plenty of struggle. Plenty of falling down and messing up and paying the price. Plenty of doing everything I thought I was supposed to do and having heartache in return. Plenty of disillusionment. Plenty of lessons I have had to learn again and again and again because I am stubborn.
And through it all, I witness that this is the path of truth. I treasure the revelation I have received to the character of my Heavenly Father.
No one else will experience exactly what I have experienced. If you are searching for truth, consciously or sub-consciously, my story may resonate with you, but you will have your own unique path – one designed to meet your needs and propensities.