There have been too many “high-profile” LDS folk taking their stories to blogs, social media, and to traditional media, for me not to address the topic of popularity, right now.
I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have been my whole life. Lest you think that is somehow a disqualifier for my experience, let’s add that I walked away from church pretty early, at ~13 years old. I didn’t go back for years, and the LDS church was the last place I went. As a teen I styled myself the god of my world. I had an arrogant distain for believers, and when they popped up in my life I verbally beat them down with my cynical logic and twisted reason as often as I could. It doesn’t take long of that kind of treatment to have a person either sympathize with you or leave your life. I made some of my own converts in the process. This went on for years.
Then, as so often happens, the “carefree” and falsely independent bubble of youth popped, and I found myself alone on an hour plus bus ride confronting a heart wrenching death. I had received some news, terrible news at the time, and I couldn’t bear it. Not even a little. As I slumped down in my chair and rested my knees on the bench in front of me, my heart slowed. Enough to scare me. Enough to think that perhaps my life was in danger.
I wondered what could be done. I was on a bus with two other people and the driver. I didn’t think to say anything or try to get help. It felt like all perceived meaning and goodness had been stripped from my life. My breath slowed to the point of feeling nonexistent. My poor heart muscles were taking the lion’s share of whatever chemical cocktail my mental state was producing. And I was slipping away in the process.
An idea came to me. I had been taught to pray. Why not give it a shot? “It can’t hurt. And if God isn’t there, nothing changes. But maybe He can help”, I thought. To be clear, even the idea of praying was muddy. It wasn’t some brilliant flash of light that crossed my mind, it was a desperate, feeble, last-ditch idea that I figured had little chance of helping.
At the ripe age of 21 I confess I had only said one sincere prayer before that, to my memory, when I was 12. The forms had left me (not that I think they matter much in situations like these), but the content was clear. And honest. Maybe honest for the very first time.
“God, if you are there, just let me live ten more minutes. And if you’ll do that, I’ll do whatever you want for the rest of my life.”
Immediately, immediately, I felt better. Still in pain? Yes. In danger? No. Was it a hallucination? No. I had experienced hallucination. This was real.
I wasn’t alone! And I was going to be ok.
Since I had promised, I started looking for Him. Everywhere. Buddhism, Taoism, New Age philosophers, old christian texts, wherever. But not with the Mormons. There was no way I was going to pay any attention to them. I had already proven them naive and sheep-like, mindless followers of fragile and incompetent men, in so many ways and on so many occasions, why would I bother?
As my search continued, I finally acknowledged that my current inquiries weren’t getting me far, and that I would at least have to try out the Mormons at some point. I had to find Him so I could keep my promise.
I spent a little of my pay check on an old baggy suit from a second hand store and set out to check out the Mormons. I’ve written about that experience elsewhere. For the first handful of times being with them, I didn’t feel a thing. No glimpse of truth, no feeling like I belonged or even a feeling of familiarity. It was foreign to me.
Praise God for it, my best friend had started on a similar journey around the same time, and invited me to go up to Weber State University to the LDS Institute to a meeting one night. Reluctantly I came. How wonderful it is that I went.
It was a somewhat non-descript meeting. An older gentleman was talking about different experiences he had that were faith promoting. I don’t remember perceiving a coherent thread to the speech. Somewhere around the halfway mark, the room went silent for me, and what felt like a joyous lightning in my bones coupled with flashes of unearthly clarity burst all over me.
It was true. All of it.
The bible stories, the Book of Mormon, the history of Joseph Smith, the modern restored church. It was all true. Gloriously true. Magically true. And it was clear to me in a way I’d never experienced in any situation. It wasn’t an epiphany, I’d experienced that many times. It was pure knowledge being poured in to my soul at a level that made the rest of the meeting almost unbearable. I was sitting in a pressure cooker of joy and knowing. I wanted to jump up and shout, “It’s true!”
But I didn’t. I just sat there, quietly smiling, waiting for a chance to say something to someone who would understand.
The meeting ended and I more or less grabbed a cookie at the mix and mingle and dragged Chad outside and shouted in his face, “Dude! It’s true! All of it!”
More or less unaffected, Chad responded, “Yeah, I know.”
“No man, you don’t understand! It’s all true! The whole thing!”
“Yeah, I know.”
This could have gone on for hours. Chad had long since had his own witness of the truth, and as happy as he was for me, and he was happy for me, my experience was mine in that moment and try as I might I couldn’t share it to the same effect.
Over the next 18 months my whole life changed. Thanks to some great new kind and patient friends, and some accepting old friends*, I cleaned up my life and left on a two year mission to spread the gospel.
And that’s why I stay.
I stay because I know it is true. Time has dimmed my memory just a little bit, and I don’t always have present the feelings of that night, and life certainly has thrown a number of curve balls in my direction, but I stay because I know it is true.
And I made a promise. A promise I intend to keep.
I acknowledge that any organization, even Christ’s organization on the earth, is made up of men, fallible men. I acknowledge that histories are sometimes cloudy and circumstances are almost unrelatable to just a hundred years later. I acknowledge the stumbling and the reaching and the mistakes of the organization, without detracting from the truth that this is God’s church, that I know it, and that He knows I know it.
I stay because I have felt indescribable joy on more than a handful of occasions during religious service. I stay because my life is easier when I take the time to pray and have a relationship with my Father in Heaven. I stay because the Book of Mormon, just reading the words even if I’m not thinking about them particularly hard, calms my mind and soothes my soul. I stay because I made promises and covenants I have no intention of breaking. I stay because every week when I attend our meetings and participate in the reenactment of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, I feel a renewal, a physical and emotional renewal. I stay because I know that my sins have been forgiven because I no longer feel the sting of guilt for them. I stay because even in dark hours of difficulty and pain, I’ve never been left alone again.
I stay because I can’t pretend I don’t know these things. I know them. Leaving, and saying I don’t know them, would be a bald-faced lie.
I acknowledge that my experience isn’t typical and that many of us have serious doubts and real problems. I acknowledge that many of you might be dealing with pressures and problems I don’t understand and can’t understand.
To any of you struggling because you haven’t had these kind of faith building experiences, or haven’t had visions, or inspired dreams, or experienced a surety like I describe, I say:
Don’t give up.
9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
And remember what the Lord said to Thomas?
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
I haven’t seen with my eyes either, and I feel like I am blessed along with those who believe. You can have that same blessing.
One of my close friends told me recently that she hadn’t ever really had a clear answer to prayer, except to feel peace. My testimony to her and to you is that God gives peace, the world doesn’t. As someone who never felt any real or lasting peace for the majority of my youth, I testify that God is the author of peace, and no one else. If you feel peace, you feel God. What clearer answer do you need?
When you are doubting, look for the ways that God influences and participates in your life instead of counting the places you feel He is missing. Be believing, even if you have to believe someone else’s testimony.
The Lord makes a promise to those that believe on other people’s words and experiences:
2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
I haven’t seen the Lord like the Nephite disciples. I haven’t had a vision of God and the Son like Joseph. But I am a witness of the truth of His message and His messengers. I have felt the Holy Ghost and have received a remission of my sins. God inspires men, and he can inspire you, too. Don’t give up. Don’t let the wagging tongues get you down.
It’s worth it.
It’s all worth it.
If you are a believer, and want to share why you stay, use #whyIstay when you share so I can hear from you. Thanks!
*Special thanks and shouts to my brothers Chad Zaugg and Keith Neville for being my company and my guide so long ago, and to my sister Tracy for being a great example of being a believer and practicing forgiveness. To everyone who ever attended the Bair Canyon Branch in 1996-2000 you’ll always have a piece of my heart (it’s where I left from to go on my mission and where I met my wife!). To Tyler White and Royce Jacobs thank you for the priesthood ordinations.