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Dealings in Doubt

“They had their doubts, yes. But their faith rose above those doubts. Their optimism rose above their fears.”  –Gordon B Hinckley

This is a message about doubt. But more importantly, this is a message about learning. Because ultimately, it is our doubts that spur us to seek God.

Example of Doubt

Temples are BEAUTIFUL, symbolically significant, and central to my faith. I have LOVED temples, and have made sweet memories and sacred commitments there.

But sometimes I struggle with temple worship.

My excuses are uninspired: The visuals are distracting, the prayers are rote, the clothing is hot, and the windowless spaces feel confining. I perceive dogma rather than authenticity. I feel lonely and out of place, I wish we could talk, I have to pee. Feminist rhetoric and deconstructivist social theories roar. I think of my children at home with a babysitter, and I feel antsy to join them in the world of noise and nature again.

These thoughts and feelings are followed by immense guilt; I must be a really terrible member of the Church because the temple is not presently a favored or revelatory place.

Dealings in Doubt

Fortunately I am a prayerful practitioner in addition to being an experienced doubter. This is not my first season of religious unrest, and I’m learning to be patient with the process. I am still here, a complete package of faith and partially-answered questions.

Perhaps you also know what doubt feels like? Maybe you’ve also beat yourself up about it? You are not alone. And you are not BAD for not yet understanding and loving everything that is GOOD.

From Doubt to Growth: the Learning Process

Here is what I’m learning from years of Q&A with God. I don’t have all answers, but I am getting better at the doubt-inspired learning process.

1. Begin with what you know. Make a pen-and-paper list of truths—things that you definitively know and cherish. For me, this has a lot to do with family ties, answered prayers, and a benevolent lifestyle.

Now. Focus on what you DO know, and give yourself permission to stop obsessing over what you don’t know. And remember: it is better to do something infrequently and with full heart than to do it often and begrudgingly (Moroni 7:8).

What this looks like: When I felt uninspired—and then guilty—after attending the temple one day, I created a list on my phone to remind myself of what I know and love about my religion. I also backed off of my temple attendance a bit. I still go, but not so often as to stir up anxiety.  

2. Stick with what you’ve committed to. Discontent and disillusionment are temporary. Knowing that what you think and feel today is probably not what you will think and feel forever, choose to stay in the boat.

In times of doubt, I feel that personal righteousness is paramount. —That’s PERSONAL righteousness, not the judgments that you imagine others make of you. If you know nothing else, at least you can know that you are right with God. Pray sincerely, study afresh, and surround yourself with earnest believers. 

What this looks like: I maintain temple-worthy lifestyle—happily, this is easy for me right now. I also teach my children about the temple. We sing primary songs and visit the grounds, and their love increases my love for the temple. I am devoted to my church calling, and I am improving my daily prayers.

3. Ask God your questions; expect answers to come in pieces, over time.

Again: answers come in small pieces, and over a loooong time. Don’t rush the learning process! In my experience, answers are perfectly timed and presented so that you gain needful knowledge AND God-sent love all in one rich package.

What this looks like: One of my friends recently spoke words at the pulpit that clarified some of my temple angst. “We’re so thankful to strangers who have brought dinner and helped run errands,” she said. “We’re thankful that you are keeping your covenants”. Ah! I might not always care for the temple, but I care deeply about taking dinner to new moms. Making a connection between my lived behaviors and my ritual commitments improved the temple in my eyes.

4. Recognizing that you have private doubts, griefs, and temptations, try to be more understanding of others. Remember the great laws and keep them (Matthew 22:37). No need to run about inspecting the spirituality of others.

What this looks like: The more intimately I view my own flaws, the more compassionately I view those of others. Judgement is softening into admiration.

5. Where necessary, repent. Be honest with yourself–

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”

Susannah Wesley

What this looks like: Hehe, there isn’t space here to chronicle my faults. Search your heart.

6. Stand in holy places, wherever you find them. Whether its mountains or gardens or sports or group therapy, GO THERE.

What this looks like: For me, revelation rarely comes in the celestial room of the temple. Rather, I receive clarifying thoughts after a good workout, when I’m out of doors, while I’m holding a sleeping child, or when I’m reading something uplifting. Accordingly, I prioritize daily exercise, time outdoors, quality time with my children, and good books.

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The point is not that I have it all figured out — I don’t. The point is that I am learning.

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Jenny Harris
Jenny is a star-gazing, book-clubbing mother of two. She has a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which is mildly comical (but also a boon in parenting and relationships). Her kids will attest that she’s crazy about reading aloud, time out of doors, and creative play. Her family’s goal is the “abundant life,” as prescribed by Jesus. You can read more posts by Jenny here.

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