A Short Response to President Wixom: My Return to Faith

I know I’m not the only one for whom President Wixom’s talk resonated strongly, but let me add my testimony to the chorus.

Like the young mother whose conversion story President Wixom relates, I too grew up in the church with parents who taught me the gospel. I was an early morning seminary student with nearly 100% attendance, remained active throughout my first year at college and started the process of putting in my mission papers when I reached 19. At the time I hadn’t ever considered not going on a mission. But as the possibility that I might one day actually serve a mission became more tangible I started to realize that I didn’t actually feel called to the work as outlined in D&C 4:3.

I interviewed with the bishop and the stake presidency and we prayed together. I would leave our meetings feeling like serving a mission would be the right thing to do. I mean, I knew they wanted me to go, and surely missionary service is a good thing, but at the end of the day, I also knew that I would be the one serving that mission, not them. Like the young woman in President Wixom’s talk, I knew I couldn’t lean on their faith 7000 miles away.

However, we continued to meet periodically and I continued to resolve to go. The day finally arrived. I was set apart as a missionary, I gave a talk in church, a modest farewell was held and we left California on Monday to make our way to the MTC by Wednesday.

But on Tuesday I knew I couldn’t do my mission justice without any intrinsic desire to serve one. And so I informed my parents that I just wouldn’t be able to report on Wednesday. If they were taken aback by this announcement they didn’t show it. I did show up at the MTC on Wednesday but only to tell them I wouldn’t be reporting. And then we returned home.

I felt pretty awkward the next Sunday back in my home ward but they too refrained from judgment.

One day about 14 months later I was reading in 3 Nephi when the words of chapter 13 verse 33 leaped out from the page: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Although I wasn’t seeking inspiration that day or even considering whether the time was right to serve a mission, I decided right then and there to reprioritize my life. I called my bishop, got the ball rolling and resubmitted my papers. Six weeks later I reported to the MTC and managed to serve an honorable mission.

To this day I am really glad I did, and I am equally glad that I did not go before I was ready. Mission life was hard enough even with a desire to serve God. I don’t know how much anguish my parents experienced during that year and a half before I knew I was ready to go—we never talked about it—but I remain eternally grateful that they allowed me space and chose to love me while I was trying to figure things out for myself.

That space allowed my faith to flourish on its own terms, and I’m glad President Wixom reminded us that Heavenly Father’s simple assurances come as His will becomes ours, even if that process doesn’t track the timing of the typical milestones of Mormon life. I wonder if sometimes we encourage compliance with such milestones out of fear that missing one threatens someone’s spiritual journey. Of course, there is no harm in ticking the boxes along with everyone else, as long as spiritual development tracks one’s age or whatever external indicators we use in lieu of being able to truly see into each other’s souls. But creating a supportive environment is not the same as rigidly enforcing expectations, which may impede rather than facilitate spiritual progress in spite of our best intentions.

As I prepare for a somewhat more tangible journey to Canterbury in just a couple of days, I heard with fresh ears President Wixom’s closing citation of President Uchtdorf, who reminds us that “We are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true.” I have a testimony of such an approach, and I am thankful that those traveling with me afforded me the benefit of faith at a critical juncture in my life and I hope to always be willing to do the same for others.

Comments

  1. cookie queen says:

    President Wixom’s talk has changed a part of my life for the better and in turn my childrens’. They just don’t know it. Wish I was with you all – but who would make the cookies?

  2. When I first heard and saw this talk I found myself switching off due to the noise of grandchildren and president wixom’s delivery style. More fool me. I just rewatched it after reading your remarks and felt my spirit soar.

  3. Cookie queen, your absence will be our loss. Maybe we can do one closer to home some time? I’m glad to hear you benefitted from giving the talk a second chance, Deb, and your response prompted me to add a link to make it easier for others.

  4. Jason K. says:

    What a blessing that your parents got this one right. Thanks for sharing another real-world example that shows the wisdom of what President Wixom was talking about.

  5. Angela C says:

    Your experience also reminded me of E. Nielson’s talk in which his parents wisely waited rather than pushing. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Powerful. Thank you for sharing.

  7. While President Wixom’s talk is appreciated, for me there is a problem with viewing doubt as a way station to somewhere else (either reactivation or departure). I’ve come to the realization that I’m going to have to live with my doubts. To alter a statement made by Elder Nielson: “My doubts are my religion.” I will never have anything close to a “perfect” knowledge. But in reality, don’t we all have our own religion? No two Mormons have identical views on all subjects, either policy or doctrinal.

  8. The PangWitch says:

    Can I ask – What was it about you , you think, that gave you the strength to say “No, i’m not ready now.” Because me, and many other people instead, went with the momentum, and just went ahead with the mission, even though we weren’t ready. When I shared my concerns, people would say “just go – its better you go, you’ll figure out once you’re there that you want to be there.”

    What gave you the strength to resist?

  9. Thank you. It is wonderful to travel with you on this journey.

  10. I really appreciate this kind of commentary on a conference talk.

    Pangwitch, I think there is no exact answer here. Some people are better off yielding, in part to social pressures and going, while others are better off waiting* until they are ready.

    At the end of the day, I think how you’re using your agency has a big part to do with it. Whether you go or wait/stay, what are you choosing to do, and are you actively engaged with your mind in spirit in trying to do the right thing. I think if you’re doing that, whether you stay or go, you’ll probably pretty well off.

    Kids who just go and don’t put their heart and intellect into the work, but fake it along the way aren’t benefiting. And kids who wait at home and don’t want to go along with the missionary crowd, and instead go along with the young adult, hang out, play video games, or worse sleep around and get into drugs crowd aren’t exactly benefiting from “to thine own self be true” either.

    *you might say waiting is yielding to different type of social pressure that pressures kids out of conforming to certain community standards, while remaining “individuals” who conform to a different standard of non-conformity.

  11. The PangWitch, I suppose that the discomfort at the prospect of talking to strangers about the gospel in a foreign language and country, especially in the lingering absence of any conviction that it was nevertheless the right thing to do, finally overcame the inertia to go. The emphasis on “living the principle” as a means of gaining a testimony* makes it hard to give up before giving something the old college try, and I reckon that for many the nudge to serve does no harm. It’s probably also the reason why it took me so long to put my foot down, which took staring into what for me appeared to be an abyss.

    *Cf. “I plead with you, my brothers and sisters, that if you have any doubt concerning any doctrine of this Church, that you put it to the test. Try it. Live the principle. Get on your knees and pray about it, and God will bless you with a knowledge of the truth of this work”
    President Gordon B. Hinckley
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2007/09/inspirational-thoughts?lang=eng

    rogerdhansen: “I’m going to have to live with my doubts.”

    Yeah, I think it’s a mistake to view doubts as a one-time occurrence or single obstacle that, once overcome, can be left in the rearview mirror as we progress on to different challenges.

  12. I don’t think there is “one right answer” to any of these questions, at least not one that we can always, unfailingly, discern ahead of time. I listened to Elder Nielson’s talk half-hoping that Susan would remain inactive but still be loved and welcomed, if only because it would be a powerful statement in a GC address to not have another reactivation story. And I love Peter’s story, and am grateful for his parents’ love and patience. I think love and patience (from all parties) is always the right attitude, even in the face of pressure.

    Sometimes parents aren’t loving and patient, and/or sometimes the young person goes on the mission anyway and doesn’t, as LoyalT says, “put their heart and intellect into the work, but fake[s] it along the way.” But sometimes they do benefit, nonetheless, even if they don’t expect to. And sometimes, the well-prepared, inspired, and hard-working fall on their faces.

    The more I muddle through, the more I become convinced that the trick is, in the spirit of agency, Ether 12:27, and the power of the Atonement, to make whatever happens become the “right answer.”

  13. @rogerdhansen I think that that is where I have realized that I am destined to live as well. (with the doubts as my constant companion). My question for you, would be, how do you find enough “meat” so to speak to keep doing the hard/rigorous parts of our religion, when we don’t have the same knowledge base to work from?

    I am learning that I get grumpy and resentful, b/c I feel like I don’t have the same portion of knowledge or “faith enhancing experiences” that others seem to have, yet I am expected to live the gospel in the same way. It’s hard for me.
    It’s hard to want to go to Church and deal with the imperfect judgey people and it’s hard for me to not want to drink away my sorrows (I don’t drink, just really wish that wine was an allowed relexation technique).
    And I guess, there’s that whole, “endure to the end principle” but there are definitely days when it seems a whole lot easier to just throw in the towel.
    My doubts are not a fun companion, although they are constant and have been present since I can remember (age 6-7).
    My comment is getting rambly, but I wish that this had been addressed just a little bit more.
    I just feel like some days I no longer have the strength or desire to hold to the rod anymore.

    I did really love the last quote though, by Pres. Uchdorf and am going to memorize that as my own personal mantra.

  14. Ally N, I just deal with the parts of the LDS religion that I understand and believe. For me, that is: NOT going to church regularly (instead I volunteer with several humanitarian organizations); paying a tithe but not all of it going to the Church, etc. I obviously don’t have a temple recommend.

    My parents were very accepting of my brothers and I (I’m the only one who is remotely active). My children, who are all active, are very accepting. My Ward seems accepting (in fact some of the girls have contributed to my humanitarian efforts). I just try to live MY own religion the best I can.

  15. Loved this. Would love to see a story like it in the Ensign someday…but I’m not holding my breath.

    Ally: I am right there with you (esp. the grumpiness!). I’ve been reading the Givens’ new book _The Crucible of Doubt_ and it’s been helping immensely. One of the many excellent points they make is that the church doesn’t have to be/isn’t everything (in terms of spiritual nourishment). That allows for exploration and discovery of lots of the other truths out there.

  16. @Aleesa: I have thought about reading that book, but wasn’t sure if it was another Rah Rah book or something with substance, I will add it to my birthday wish list. I know that all of my in-laws will be beyond excited to purchase a religious text for me. HaH.
    I actually had my own Aha moment last year when I realized that religion and spirituality, while connected are not exclusive. Ie I can practice yoga and meditate in nature, or walk in the woods an feel God’s presence, draw mandalas, or attend other services. Wonderful realization for me!

    @rogerdhansen: Thank you. I have been comtemplating doing something similar for quite a long time, just never had the guts or belief that I could actually forge my own path and it be “okay”.

  17. crazywomancreek says:

    I don’t know of you remember this Pete, but I remember having a conversation with you our senior year in the back of Mr Phillips AP English class about the possibility of you serving a mission. You seemed truly miserable about the prospect. I wish I’d been capable of a greater maturity or friendship- I thought the idea of serving a mission was lunacy. In my memory you seemed to feel wretched about letting your parents down and couldn’t see any way to avoid it. Your update reminds me so powerfully that all I can understand of grace is that it takes a stuck thing and makes it unstuck. I’m glad you shared it.