Sunday, July 27, 2008

The best advice my dad ever gave me

So....I'm not really cracking any jokes today....

Today, like for most of you, our Gospel Doctrine lesson focused on Alma's parable of faith as a seed, which for me has an extra special meaning. Through most of my twenties, I was less active in church. Not inactive, less active. I never stayed away totally, nor did I go as much as I should have. I made poor choices and worse friends and finally got to the point where I knew I needed to change.

For years, I intellectualized my issues with the gospel. I didn't make fine enough distinctions between the people and the principles and I justified myself in staying off the reservation. And yet I never wandered away completely; there was a handful of sure things that I knew and had seen and felt that I couldn't explain away. But I clung to the things that I couldn't reconcile and flaunted my prodigal status.

Still, I've never been a fence sitter. I decided the time had come to test the gospel out and make a decision one way or the other as to whether I would live it fully or walk away completely. In my heart of hearts, I felt prepared to accept that none of it might be true and I'd have to rethink my entire concept of spirituality, morality, and the meaning of life.

So testing it out meant I had to go back and do all the things I'd learned as a kid: pray, read my scriptures, and go to church. Then I'd see if it all worked, if I would know of a surety if any of it was true. Or that none of it was. For weeks I read my Book of Mormon nightly, prayed to know if it was true, went to bed, and woke up with no answers. The scriptures felt like a closed book, no matter how long I kept them open. Verse after verse spoke of asking in faith and receiving an answer. But I was trying to ask for faith, which meant I didn't have any faith to ask with. I felt so frustrated, like it was some catch-22 I couldn't fathom. I needed faith to ask for faith? It made my head spin. I wanted to have faith, but I didn't know how to go about getting any.

After about three weeks of this, I finally sought my dad's counsel. I explained my doubts and the steps I was taking to resolve them. I expected a pat on the head, and a confident, "Keep it up. It'll come."

Instead, my dad looked at me like I was crazy. "Let me get this straight," he asked. "You've been away from church for the last five or six years, living a completely different lifestyle than the one the gospel teaches, and you started back with the question of whether the church is true?"

"Yeah," I answered.

"Wrong question," he said. "Forget all that. Don't ask if the church is true or if the Book of Mormon is true or what your Heavenly Father wants you to do."


"Just keep reading and praying but when you pray, ask only one question until you get the answer. Ask your Heavenly Father if He loves you. When you get that answer, then start worrying about the rest of it."

I had never in my life heard a church leader suggest this course of action. But it sounded marginally easier than what I was doing already, so I agreed to give it a shot.

It didn't take very long. Every night I asked, "Heavenly Father, do You love me?" I felt stupid, but I kept asking. A week or two later, I knelt down one night to ask Heavenly Father yet again, if he loved me and found that I already knew the answer. He did. Of course He did.

Within a day or two of that feeling, my reading took me into Alma 32:27 which says:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

There it was. That was me! First I had a feeling, and then the proof that my Heavenly Father loved me. It was the first time in half a dozen years that I felt the scriptures speak directly to me. This happened several more times in the next few months as I found my way back, but never to that degree since. That scripture told me that there is place for me in this gospel, that Heavenly Father will work with me no matter where I'm at, no matter how faintly I'm flickering. Because He loves me.

I have reflected on that many, many times in the years since. On days where I feel some of my old lingering doubts creep in, I no longer have only memories of previous witnesses of the Spirit to sustain me. I don't have to pray to divine the truthfulness of specific precepts or doctrines. I pray to know if my Heavenly Father loves me. And when I'm reminded that He does, I have the patience to further experiment upon the word and let my testimony of this gospel blossom.


Jen Scott said...

Hey! Thanks for the comment. I will add you to the melting pot! :) I love to read too! Is there a book club in our ward? If not, we should start one!

charrette said...

I LOVE this post! I had a very similar experience. (Okay, well, I was fifteen, but still...)

My MIL gave a couple of talks about feeling the Lord's love in our life where she shared a very personal experience of needing desperately to feel that, and then seeking, asking, and receiving. It prompted me to do a similar search. The answer was too sweet to describe. I think it's absolutely CRUCIAL for women to get a sense of the depth and accessibility of that love.

I've been invited to speak at a Sunstone symposium next month about meaningful approaches to scripture, and this is a great example. Thanks.

Kimberly said...

What an incredibly powerful post. Thanks so much for sharing something so personal and poignant. No matter what stage of our spiritual developement we're at, we could all do with this reminder.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Melanie for sharing this. One amazing thing I learned in Brazil...connected to that love is the Lord is so much more merciful thatn we are willing or able to give him credit for...I think because we feel so unworthy at times, if not all the time.

wrkmhns - encouraging word for a toddler learning how to help