So many Mormons find themselves godless after leaving the LDS Church. I observe this phenomenon with interest, and with understanding.
Is There No One Home?
One friend, a former Mormon, said to me, “If there is a God, I do not believe he cares about us, for he never answered my prayers.” He and I shared that experience when it came to asking whether the LDS Church was true. We were promised that this knowledge would come through the Spirit and because of our exercise of faith through sincere prayer, daily scripture study, fasting, faithful service within the church, paying a 10% tithe, and obedience to other spiritual laws… etcetera. Others all around me celebrated having received this answer, but when I sought, it did not come. Clearly, I deduced, my performance was somehow flawed.
I counseled with church leaders, and worked harder. For decades. I’d give up for awhile and just coast, until I couldn’t stand the guilt and the not knowing, and I’d start again. I held this prayer, this desire to be sure, in my heart at all times. Eventually, I sought a thought-path that would take me “around” this non-event while allowing retention of my religious beliefs and faith in the power of prayer.
First, I reasoned that I must be so inherently wicked as to simply not qualify to know if the church was true. And then… perhaps I was spiritually handicapped, one of those lesser souls who should just “believe on the words of those who do know, so that by continuing in faith I, too, could be saved” (my translation of D&C 46:14). Wow! A way out!! I didn’t have to hold Moroni (or Joseph Smith) to the promise that “…when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Moroni 10:4)
Ultimately, neither of these self-deprecating thoughts worked for me. Was I really so “unworthy,” even when sincere and obedient? And how was I to know that others knew what I did not — know?
“No,” “Not Now,” and “Never”
When the only answer a person will accept is a resounding “yes,” that person will certainly be deaf to any other response. I finally gave up, and said “ENOUGH!” Listening to my heart, I came (painfully) to accept what seems, in retrospect, to have been the reality all along: that the church was not true, and no amount of stubborn and insistent prayer on my part could make it so.
My friend’s experience with prayer was similar. He did not receive a positive answer regarding the church’s truthfulness the first few dozen times he asked, but still determined to do everything possible to obtain the answer promised. He acted as if he knew, following counsel from the highest of church leadership. He walked the walk, and talked the talk. He diligently prepared for, and honorably served, an LDS mission. Still, the heavens seemed silent on the one question that he believed would allow him to proceed into the rest of his life with confidence.
Over time my friend gave up, as well. He determined that the answer he sought could never have come, for the church was not true. And eventually, he also determined that there had never been a God to hear his prayers, at all.
As well as another person ever can understand the feelings of another, I understand his; for he is my friend, and he is also my son.
My Song Will Not Be Quieted
Though we are close, we differ from each other, he and I. I know him, and that his heart, and motives, are good. Still, I, his mother, choose not to give up on God or prayer, and here is why:
When the beauty of a winter sunset stops me in my tracks, all thought ceases. Joy washes over me and then flies upward toward heaven as an expression of gratitude that is natural and oh, so… delicious. My whole being thrums with the sweetness of the moment. I feel that I am known by a higher intelligence, One who held a place of honor in my heart even before my parents joined the LDS Church – before we attended any church at all. To me, all of creation is a loving and even personal gift. I am granted the freedom to do with that gift what I will by One who desires my happiness.
And happiness comes to me on the heels of my swiftly ascending songs of gratitude.
But what when I am a supplicant? For a very long time, neither my son nor I discerned the answer we sought to our prayers regarding the truth claims of the LDS Church. Does that mean that my prayers have never elicited a response from One to whom they are offered? Can I prove – to myself, since I can never prove it to anyone else – that some caring being hears me? In my mind’s eye, I can see myself…
- Kneeling at 11, begging for my first, long-awaited and very tiny newborn sister, to thrive and to come home to me.
- Begging protection for my first husband, whose terrible mental anguish, I feared, might lead him to suicide.
- Holding my 8-day-old baby girl and pleading that she would live and somehow be comforted to know that I was there for her… forever.
- Crying for the safety of a friend and her family, who lived within sight of the first, televised bombings of the Gulf War.
- Seeking guidance in qualifying for a job promotion for which I had no real experience, and which would allow me more time at home.
- Pleading, from a proven position of weakness, that I would be strengthened to turn away from a most dangerous and heartrendingly beautiful temptation.
- Begging that a doctor would be proven wrong, and that the growth on my 10-year-old friend/son’s arm would be nothing, after all.
- Praying that my sweet Grandma would be released from her tired, worn body and die in peace.
- Holding the hand of a white-haired stranger as our plane roared sideways on a runway, tires exploding, and praying that we might all go home to our families and our lives.
- Kneeling, in the most lonely moment of my life, exercising my every ounce of hope as I asked to find a man who could love me and my children as I could love him and his.
- Sobbing on the floor and pleading that beloved ones living far away – who had engaged in a dance with almost-certain death – would receive whatever assistance was needed to free them from addiction.
- Asking that an injury, decades-old, would be healed, even if just long enough for me to hike in the mountains one more time.
A Resounding (and Still Quiet) “Yes”
Uttered among other prayers, mostly forgotten, which did not bring the response for which I hoped, the answers to each supplication listed above was a resounding “yes.”
Our children are all grown and healthy; I landed, and greatly enjoyed, that amazing job. My friends survived their time in the Middle East, and my grandmother died soon after my prayer, while holding the hands of her daughter and her son, my father. My now ex-husband came back on that long-ago night, and found a way to end the worst of his torment and remain alive. Amazingly, the beloved ones overcame an addiction to heroin, and I was strong enough to walk away from the greatest temptation of my life. My husband and I were brought together with the calculating assistance of four of our children, who became the best of friends and brothers. All passengers left that disabled plane on shaky legs, while applauding the pilot. To the surprise of my doctors, I hiked in the mountains for a decade to come – embracing every single moment as an evidence of medical brilliance combined with answered prayer.
As I see it, two things are possible. Either God heard me and – knowing that my motives were good, and sometimes even almost pure – demonstrated love and power by allowing me a hand in directing my future, or…
All these things were going to happen anyway, and the events which followed these remembered prayers does nothing to prove the existence of a higher intelligence who is engaged with mankind, and who listens to, cares for, hears, and answers me.
If the latter, then I have certainly been one very “lucky” woman.
Proof and Disproof
There is no proving God’s existence, just as there is no disproving it in any way that can affect another’s personal belief. Thus, it is clear that each person, using evidence available to all, makes a choice. Pragmatically, then, I ask: Why would one choose not to believe in God?
Is it because, as when my son and I wanted to know whether the LDS Church was true, the negative response was received but unrecognized – and therefore, by default, rejected?
Are there those who choose out of belief because sometimes the answer turns out to be “no”, “not now,” or “never,” even regarding subjects so dear as the survival of a loved one?
Does the choice not to believe seem imperative in light of all the horrors which have been and are worked by men in the name of God?
Do some observe, and disdain, those who lazily lounge in their easy chairs while waiting for “Sky-Daddy” to assist the starving masses, clean up the environment, and heal even those that they, themselves, have damaged? Might it be deemed imperative that belief in God disappear so that men and women will begin to depend upon themselves?
I can see every one of those perspectives. I get it.
A More Pragmatic Faith
On the other hand, can one who honors and cherishes her relationship with the unseen and the incomprehensible still, successfully, hold herself accountable for following her own conscience and determining her course?
Can a person believe in a God who both expects mankind to fix things and to graciously accept that there are limits to our perspective and our power?
Can I, as a believer utilizing both words and dedicated action, embrace and fulfil my responsibility to heal myself, my family, and the world?
Is my life enriched because I recognize that I am surrounded by an entire universe of beauty and possibility that I could not create and have done nothing to deserve?
I will answer these questions myself. The answers are “yes.” This is the God, and this is the life, that I love.
I choose to live as if this life is the only time I’ll ever know, while inwardly trusting that there is more. I choose to exist in a state of gratitude and joy, open to splendor while willing to walk through all kinds of tragedy and all kinds of human-made mud and muck to assist others.
I will also, in times where I am powerless to effect results I find important, turn to One who is greater than I am, and greater than you are, in supplication. I will ask for the outcome I feel is important; but I will trust whatever answer comes, and I will not demand.
If my God exists, I hope that we will be united, or reunited, at the end of my life. I will not, however, get lost in a desire to understand all the workings of eternity, for all my work is before me right now: here, on this planet and in this time.
And what if there is no God? Then I will have lost nothing by believing, but will have gained all the happiness that comes to me when I offer thanks and in return, experience greater peace and a sense of belonging to something larger than what my near-sighted eyes can behold.
And Now, My Son
One of these days, my son’s eyes will be drawn to a glorious sunset – and perhaps a tear will fill his eyes as gratitude fills his heart, and he will catch the words “thank you” as they fly heavenward from his lips. Then he will face a choice: whether to view his response as beautiful, natural, and uplifting; or as weak and conditioned by his early exposure to religion. In my pragmatic view, he could lose nothing by choosing to believe in my God. He might even find himself the bearer of a gladdened heart – and it is so hard to live in this world bereft of gladdening.
As for me, I continue to pray. The evidence in my life strongly suggests that my prayers are answered, and that they have power – even when the answer which comes from One who knows alot more than I do must be “no.”
Where there is trust, there is no need to know all. And that is good, for I now see that I know – and will know, by virtue of my human liimitations – very little. Even so, I am free to choose. And I choose belief and hope in my God.