Believe 2

It was after talking to a friend from my youth who knew I struggled with depression, that I began to realize that this horror inside of me might have something to do with mental illness. I sought professional help and through counseling realized that these feelings might not be all spiritually based but could be from mental illness. This was when I was diagnosed with OCD/Scrupulosity. I started to take anti-depressants consistently and talking to counselors. This helped me immensely to control my thoughts and panic attacks and finally stopped the screaming inside of me. However, my testimony of the truthfulness of the church, and even of God’s reality, was in pieces. I did not know if I truly believed the gospel to be true. I wanted it to be true – I truly, truly wanted it to be true because I could not deny the happiness it had given me in my life and some of the amazing experiences I’d had – but I just didn’t know if I really believed it.

I stopped making myself read the scriptures every day and I didn’t often go to the temple. It was very scary for me to do these things because of the trauma I’d just been through. But I did still pray, go to church, and fulfill my church callings (church responsibilities). I couldn’t give those things up yet. There was still too much good that I’d experienced in the church for me to completely let it go. Going to church was often especially difficult, though, because many talks and lessons conjured up those same doubts and feelings of terror again. I decided however, that going to church was the one thing I could do to show the Lord, if He was there at all, that I was trying. Praying wasn’t hard because I liked having hope that someone was still out there listening. And fulfilling my church callings was so much a part of my culture and how I made friends that that wasn’t difficult either. But going to church often was. So I decided that this was the one thing I would still make myself do, despite the horror I often relived, because if I kept going to church then maybe God would finally show me that all of it really was true, like I wanted it to be.

Years passed and my testimony grew a little bit stronger, although I mostly felt like I was just holding on. I started to read the scriptures a little bit again and would sometimes go to the temple, believing enough to hope that these added efforts would eventually give me the unequivocal answer I was still desperately wanting. Whenever any doctrine or idea lit that fear inside me again, I’d think about something else until the fear would diminish and eventually subside. I tried to live the gospel as best I could without thinking too deeply about it (because deep thinking always brought the horror again) and waited for an “Aha!” moment that would instantly eradicate all of my doubts, erase all my fears and show me once and for all that God was real and the gospel was the one and only truth.

Five years passed. In August of 2005, President Hinckley asked the church to start and finish the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I had started the challenge, but didn’t push myself too hard to finish the goal, not wanting to put too much “gospel anxiety” on myself.  After a month or so, though, I decided that I really wanted to complete the goal and tried very hard to do so. On December 31st I was close to being done, but there was no way I would finish it all by the end of that day. I decided if I could finish it the next day that it would still “count”. I knew the only time I would have to myself to read as much as I needed would be in the morning before my young children awoke. Otherwise the day would pass with it’s inevitable chaos and I would never find the time. So, I set my alarm for early the next morning. However, the next morning I found my eyes opening at the sound of my young daughter calling for me. I had slept through my alarm! I was so frustrated. The medicine I was on at the time made me exceptionally drowsy and I had a very hard time waking up in the morning since I had started taking them. Because I hadn’t woken up early that morning I ended up not reading anything from the Book of Mormon that day at all. Once again I wasn’t any closer to finishing the goal. So, I told myself I’d finish it the next morning. Once again, though, the next morning I was unable to wake up to my alarm and didn’t end up reading anything again. So, that night, realizing that I probably would never be able to finish this goal on my own, I pleaded with the Lord to help me wake up the next morning. I set my alarm and hoped for the best. The next morning, to my utter astonishment, my eyes opened on their own before my alarm even went off. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember waking up that early on my own since elementary school! It was truly a miracle. As I got out of bed to say a thank-you prayer I had an overwhelming feeling come over me that the Lord was real. He’s as real as you and me and He was the one who had woken me up.

The next experience happened about six months later. We had lived in Milwaukee, WI for three years and by then I absolutely hated it. The winters made me soooooo depressed, along with all the run-down homes and buildings, and we were so far away from family. Then, that summer, my best friend moved away along with about four other families that we had been close to, as well as my sister-in-law, who lived in Chicago and who we usually saw about once a month. What had seemed awful now seemed unbearable. For months I cried several times a week, feeling trapped and alone. My husband, Grant, and I got in many tense arguments about this. He really liked his job and was about to be promoted. Because of this, he didn’t want to move. After the biggest of these arguments, I left the house, driving while crying my eyes out. I said a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to help me. If we weren’t supposed to move and if we needed to stay in Milwaukee, could He at least change my heart so that I didn’t hate it so much? Could He help me to not feel so trapped and so alone? To help me to be okay somehow with staying in what felt to me like a literal Hell? 

The next day Grant left on a business trip for a few days. While he was gone, another small miracle happened in my life. Somehow, by the time Grant returned, my heart had changed and I felt completely okay about staying in Milwaukee. I’d been crying for months about living there and within days I suddenly felt fine about it. It wasn’t because I was convincing myself that it would be okay, or because I was thinking of ways to make it better. I just all of a sudden felt okay about it. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I felt peaceful and happy even though nothing about my circumstance had changed. Grant was dumbfounded, as was I. I knew that again, Heavenly Father had helped me in a very real way.

Many would say that these experiences were the evidence I’d been longing for that God is real and that the gospel is true. While these experiences did give me a spiritual high of sorts for a few months, the high eventually wore off.  And though I did feel that both experiences had left my testimony stronger, it did not erase my doubts. I was still waiting for some amazing event to occur that would erase all of these doubts and restore my faith completely. The small miracles the Lord had performed for me still did not abolish every doubt I had. There were many things I continued to struggle to believe. How was that possible? I believed that those experiences were from the Lord. And the one in regards to President Hinckley’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon had been based in gospel teachings, which should then tell me that the gospel was true. So why was I still doubting? Why did I still feel that horrible, paralyzing fear that it could all be wrong?

One day while pleading with the Lord again to help my testimony, I had a realization. If those two small miracles in my life weren’t going to restore my faith, then nothing probably would. I was like Laman and Lemuel (men in the Book of Mormon), who saw an angel in one verse and then doubted God in the next. Maybe faith wasn’t an issue of evidence but of choice. I had to decide if I was going to believe or not. The gospel was either all true or not true at all. I couldn’t ride the fence anymore, waiting for something or someone to make my decision for me. The Lord had answered some of my prayers in amazing ways and yet I was still waiting for more. My faith obviously depended on me. 

It occurred to me that my doubts felt like a security blanket. It felt safer to believe in my doubts than to believe in something that might be wrong. But I suddenly realized that all these years I had still been believing in something. I was believing in my doubts. What if they were actually what was wrong? The doubts I had in the gospel were just thoughts and I could choose to either hold on to them and let them grow inside of me, or I could choose to let them go. I’d held on to them because I didn’t want to be wrong, or stupid, or brainwashed. The doubtful thoughts had seemed more true somehow than my faith-filled thoughts, but at the end of the day they were all just thoughts. They felt more true because I chose to believe in them. The existence of my questions and doubts didn’t invalidate the truth, as much as it felt like it did. Anyone can come up with a million questions about anything, but that doesn’t disprove the truth. Additionally, logic alone cannot prove or disprove truth because you can twist logic to argue any side. We all have seen how skillfully lawyers, politicians, (even our children!) can twist the truth to make seemingly logical arguments that, at the end of the day, still are not true. I realized that the only thing we have in our quest for truth is actually belief, not so-called fact, because almost nothing can be proven without a shadow of a doubt as true. Ancient civilization had great arguments as to why the earth was flat, or why the sun revolved around the earth. People who lived at that time took those incorrect beliefs as fact. Most of the things we accept as fact today are actually just beliefs. I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal but I believe it’s there because of what other people have said about it and because I’ve seen pictures. Same goes for outer space. And for thinking the sun will rise again in the morning. It’s all just belief. I don’t know those things exist or will happen, but I believe they will. I had been believing my doubts partly because of some “facts” that other people claimed were true. But suddenly I saw that I didn’t actually know these “facts” were true. I had actually only been believing they were. And I had been believing in those “facts” more than I had been believing in my own feelings and experiences.

That day I realized that I had to decide to either jump off my cliff of fear and believe the gospel 100%, or to be done with it all. That choice felt heart-gripingly scary at the time (yes I know I made up that word but it works, right?). It felt like I was literally making a choice to jump off a towering cliff, one so high that I couldn’t see the bottom, all while hoping against hope that there was something that would miraculously catch me. What if there wasn’t anything there to catch me? What if I was making the wrong choice? What if I was choosing to believe the wrong thing? But I had realized that it was the only way to find an answer. I am happy to report that on that day I chose to jump. I chose faith instead of doubt. I chose to believe in the gospel. Nothing forced me to believe but instead I chose to. I decided to stop believing in my doubts and to believe in the gospel. I had seen what believing in doubts had gotten me – fear and despair. Now it was time to see what ignoring them got me. 

There were still days when doubts would sneak up and fear would grip my heart. It was then that I would remind myself of my choice, my choice to not listen to those doubts ever again. I had already made that choice. I had chosen to believe in belief and to see if it gave me a different result than believing in doubt. Well it did. That choice finally – FINALLY!!!!! – made the difference. My testimony began to slowly blossom before my eyes through the following years. Suddenly, there seemed to be “proof” of the Lord’s existence and the truth of the gospel all around me! How had I not seen it before? I felt a strength building inside of me until a sure knowledge began to form. Since then I have had many powerful spiritual experiences to confirm this knowledge and I can honestly say today that I know that the Lord is real and that this is His true gospel. I know it, and I say that being fully conscious of what the word “know” really means. No one can take this knowledge from me. It is my most valuable treasure, one that I feel like I fought the devil himself for, and I will never let anyone or anything take it from me again.

I had a precious experience about a year after this decision that felt like a reward straight from the Lord for the huge struggle I had been through. I was sitting in the celestial room after a session at the Mesa temple, thinking that I didn’t have much time to linger. I decided to open the scriptures and read a couple of verses before I left. I flipped to a random page in the Doctrine & Covenants and started reading. To my complete astonishment I realized the Lord was speaking directly to me as I started to feel the burning witness of the spirit inside my chest. Tears stained the page as I read and re-read the three verses that pierced straight through me.

   

    “For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.

      Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.

    For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.” (D&C 58:2-4)

As I read those words in the temple that day, I knew that my Savior had been with me through all of my tribulation. The spirit told me that not only did He know how hard this trial had been for me, but He was proud of me. He had seen my intense struggle and was reserving blessings for me in heaven because of my faithfulness. An overwhelming and divine love washed over my entire body. I knew that all of the fear, despair and hopelessness I had experienced had not gone unnoticed by Him. My struggle mattered to Him. I mattered. He knew me, knew what I had gone through and had seen how hard I had tried to hold on through it all.

This entire struggle was the most difficult thing I have experienced; however, I can honestly say I would do it again. The knowledge I now have of His reality and the truthfulness of His church is more precious to me than anything else I have and is worth any fight, no matter how hellish. As my testimony and knowledge has grown I have gotten to know God. I know him. And my life has been filled with a happiness and peace that I cannot adequately describe.

If my proclaimed knowledge of God and of His truth seems foolish to you, then I challenge you to try it out. See if you can open your mind to believe in God. See if you can allow that part of you that is worried about being duped or believing in something imaginary or stupid or wrong, to let go of those fears and try to actively believe that He is there. See if you can pray to Him. See if He answers you. Just try it, what have you to lose? You can always go back to how you thought before. I know that many people believe that those who think God answers them are just imagining it, but I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that those who think that have never sincerely tried to believe in God, never truly prayed to Him, never actually tried to listen. Belief is not the same as foolish and vain imaginings, as many educated people like to proclaim (who, for all their education, still just believe in most of their so-called knowledge). True belief is power. Not in a hippy-dippy way. In a very real way. This world is powered by belief. The only way to truly obtain knowledge is by believing in something first and acting on that belief. Try it out. See where it gets you.