The Gospel Doctrine lesson #16 manual objective is “To encourage class members to seek and maintain the ‘mighty change’ of heart that comes through exercising faith in Jesus Christ.”
To reflect on the role of questions and doubts in our spiritual journeys and to embrace grace for ourselves and others as they question.
Not long ago I rediscovered my journal from about ages seventeen to twenty sitting on a bookshelf. Heartfelt talk of God filled many of its pages. I was wrapped in fervent belief and swayed by doubts about college, dating, and where I stood before God.
Reading the small leather book was revelatory. I was struck by just how much I have always been myself, with the same passion for literature and theology. Although it was somewhat painful to review my earlier perspectives, it was a huge relief to see the things I struggled with in my twenties foreshadowed in its pages.
I was surprised to find that I was wondering about belief versus acculturation as a senior in high school, something I thought I dealt with more as a college and grad student: was I simply a member of the Church because I was raised as one or because I actually believed what I had been taught? I felt compassion for the person who was on a journey of conversion with some rough roads ahead.
At times when I have felt like I could not read any other scriptures, I have turned to the early chapters in Mosiah again and again. They are the gospel, pure and simple. In chapter 4, King Benjamin instructs his listeners that salvation comes through Jesus Christ. The purity of the repentant believer’s heart matters, and so do her actions toward those who (falsely) seem more beggarly than she. The tasks of discipleship should be performed in balance and moderation.
In chapter 5 the Nephites feel this message in a heart-transforming way. They see their state before God, desire to change, and offer a group prayer to that end. They enter into a covenant, reborn as Christ’s sons and daughters.
I don’t doubt that it was possible for everyone to experience a powerful conversion simultaneously. I do, however, wonder whether there were those among the congregation who felt doubt, or who had a hard time being “steadfast and immovable” (Mosiah 5:15) in the spiritual knowledge they gained. They still needed to live out their lives in a manner which would place them on the right hand of God, and for some believers the arduous task is one of maintaining belief even as they desire so badly to believe.
King Benjamin’s discourse brings questions about the tricky balance of certainty and questioning, of the growth of the individual believer and the affirmations of the believing collective to the fore. The public faith we see in modern or ancient General Conferences forms a louder, more sure counterpoint to the quieter, at times less-certain musings of the believer’s heart.
I have had miraculous converting experiences, and I have sat through many meetings where people’s affirmations of belief did not match where I was in my journey of faith. I have felt the sting of having a different perspective, one that makes me unique but that also, in my heart of hearts, caused me to fear I was wrong, flawed, or not worthy.
I am coming to accept that this doubt, this questioning, is part of my journey, and that it is hardwired into the way I think. This dialectical process has led me forward, has kept me growing. It has taught me which avenues of thought to avoid and has led me to a firm belief that this scripture is true: “Under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives” (Mosiah 5:8).
All are alike unto God, the faithful and the questioner, and perhaps it is possible to be both.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
All Here Together, Bianca Morrison Dillard
I have a lot of questions, but I feel more comfortable and confident sitting with those questions. I don’t feel like I have to necessarily put them on a shelf and not think about them anymore. I can hold them and say, “This is my faith and these are my doubts, and it’s all here together, and I feel confident in the core principles that I am going to follow.”
In Darkness, In Grace, Hillary Stirling
Eventually, I was able to see a psychiatrist who prescribed medication that did more to lift the darkness than all my prayers had. Though I was grateful for that partial relief, I also felt surprisingly angry. Are we not promised over and over that the Gospel brings peace to our hearts and that our Heavenly Father’s plan is one of happiness? So why could I get those things from a pill but not from Him?…
It has taken me a long time, but I have come again to a place of surety. I know my Father lives. I know that He loves me enough to let me struggle through the lessons I need to learn. I know He trusts me enough to try my faith. Above all, I know that despite how I felt, the reality is my Savior had already experienced every moment of my despair, frustration, and anguish. I never was and never will be abandoned.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Do I Believe?, Bonnie Oscarson
To believe, we need to get the gospel from our heads into our hearts! It is possible for us to merely go through the motions of living the gospel because it is expected or because it is the culture in which we have grown up or because it is a habit. Perhaps some have not experienced what King Benjamin’s people felt following his compelling sermon: “They all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
We all need to seek to have our hearts and very natures changed so that we no longer have a desire to follow the ways of the world but to please God. True conversion is a process that takes place over a period of time and involves a willingness to exercise faith.
Be Ye Converted, Bonnie Oscarson
True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. It is possible to have a testimony of the gospel without living it. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we believe and allowing it to create ‘a mighty change in us, or in our hearts’ (Mosiah 5:2).