I don’t particularly like the term “faith crisis,” which has become somewhat of a familiar word in the Latter-day Saint culture. To me it implies that something catastrophic happens to one’s faith and is outside of his or her control. Also I find that it usually is used to describe a situation in which a person who has gone through a “crisis of faith” inevitably leaves the Church. I prefer to think of these difficult experiences as “faith challenges” or “faith trials.” I believe we all have them at times in our lives with various outcomes. When Derek stepped away from our beliefs, I found myself plunged into a faith trial that I wasn’t anticipating. I felt my faith being threatened not only doctrinally but also because I felt pressure to change my beliefs in order to make my marriage work. I began to read and research and study. I revisited previous experiences with the Spirit that built my testimony and questioned them in light of everything I’d read.
During this time my bishop shared two ideas which resonated with me as true, One: belief is a choice, and Two: belief is a logical choice. He explained it this way: we can choose to look at any piece of evidence for or against the Church through the lens of belief or though the lens of disbelief; and there are sensible reasons for a person to choose belief or faith in something. These two ideas empowered me to choose my own path even if it differed than my husband’s.
When Derek decided that he no longer believed in the doctrines of the Church we started having discussions about the ideas that he had started to form about life and faith. I admit that in the beginning I entered those conversations from a place of fear. I felt my faith being threatened and would become defensive. After the bishop helped me to see that my faith was a choice, I had more confidence that I could participate in difficult discussions without putting my faith in jeopardy. The strength of my belief was completely in my control. It wasn’t dependent upon Derek’s faith or upon “evidences” for or against the Church.
The Book of Mormon emphasizes choice in this familiar verse:
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose…” 2 Nephi 2:27
I hadn’t thought of it within the context of choosing to believe before, only choosing to act but it is just as relevant.
I have also found it helpful to deliberately put on the lens of disbelief to help me see how Derek and others may have reached their decisions and conclusions. In other words, I have really tried to see things from the other point of view, attempting as best as I can to “try on” their perspective. This is a hard thing to do authentically and it’s almost impossible for any of us to be totally unbiased, but I have found when we are humble and willing, it is possible to come to understand and even respect most any opposing position. This kind of careful and thoughtful consideration is key to succeeding in any relationship but especially in marriages with belief differences. (I think we definitely could use this communication skill in our politics and current social climate too but that’s another post entirely.)
We need to acknowledge that each of us may reach different conclusions depending on the lens through which we look, and not based solely on the evidence presented.
Bishop’s second idea was that to believe is a logical choice. This idea has been widely and commonly debated; it’s the old faith vs reason argument. Faith is not logical because it can be validated through concrete proof. Rather, it simply reasonable (it makes sense) to believe in the ideals of religion. The idea that God is real and is my loving Father makes me feel safe and comforted. I find purpose in the idea that this life is meant to challenge us and prepare us for a better life. It makes sense to me that God would organize a religion with order and proper authority for ordinances to be done on earth. Of course I want to believe in and work for the promise of eternal families. These are all wonderful ideals and they help me to become a better person! Simply wanting to believe these things doesn’t make me less reasonable of a person than someone who chooses not to believe them. While there are plenty of evidences to both support and refute faith, there is no concrete proof either for or against it either.
Each time I have an opportunity to go through a challenge of my faith, I become a better person. I am more empathetic of others. I develop a deeper understanding of my own beliefs and the doctrines of the Church. I feel a closer connection with God and heaven. These, however, are the outcomes I have experienced from a faith challenge, not the process. During a difficulty with faith I feel lost, a little fearful and confused along with the hope that clarity will eventually come. So far I haven’t been disappointed.
Again, I don’t believe that everyone’s path will be the same. I can only speak from my own faith experiences. Choosing faith has been a blessing in my life. Choosing faith and a partner who doesn’t, while quite difficult, has been a blessing. One of the reasons we’ve been able to stay close as a couple as well as maintaining our beliefs is the commitment we have to respecting each other’s perspectives. We don’t require each other to compromise beliefs for the sake of the other’s comfort. We don’t elevate one person’s choices above the other. In short, we continue loving each other where we are in our respective faith journeys, regardless of which lens we choose.
More articles about faith and reason: