If you prefer to listen over reading an article, keep an eye on Autumn Dickson on YouTube or various podcast platforms. I post video and podcast versions of my blog posts on my Youtube channel and Anchor.
Now before I start, I just want to consciously recognize that a lot of the examples I use in my videos surround the concept of parenting. I know that not everyone is a parent. However, I do this for two reasons. One, I do it simply because it is my experience. It’s easy to share things you know. Second, I do it because it makes it easier to understand our relationship to God. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you can’t understand your relationship with God fully unless you’re a parent. I don’t believe that at all. There are a million people out there who need parenting regardless of whether they are your personal, biological child. No matter their age or where they’re from, they need a mother or a father in their lives. Regardless of whether you have your own children or not, you will find that parenting can span across all kinds of relationships.
So. Without further ado.
This week is interesting to me. I will not be quoting directly from the Official Declarations, and I will not even be necessarily talking about the Official Declarations in a traditional sense. This is not directly about polygamy or race and the priesthood. This is about dealing with uncomfortable topics in the church.
How do you even begin to broach the subject matter within the Official Declarations? Sure, there are many explanations and doctrinal principles we can turn to. However, both polygamy and race and the priesthood remain very painful topics for many. It’s incredibly intimidating to talk about as someone who has never really experienced prejudice personally. Who am I to tell you to “have faith?”
So how do we approach deeply emotional and painful subjects in the church? How do we approach it when we personally feel that pain, and how do we approach it when those we love feel that pain?
Asking someone to have faith can be a bit of a taboo in our day. It can feel condescending to someone who is asking sincerely. Many of those who struggle with these big topics feel ignored or passed over when they are asked to simply have faith.
Even as I readily acknowledge that this phrase can feel frivolous and empty, I also readily testify that having faith is the answer. However, if this is a phrase that we’re going to choose to use with a friend or family member who is struggling, I think there are a couple of principles that need to come with it. And these principles can’t just be logically in our minds; they have to be deep within our hearts and part of who we are for this phrase of faith to mean anything.
First, we believe in our friend. We believe in them as thinking, believing individuals. I think that oftentimes, we can subconsciously pass judgement upon those who have questions and issues. Not only is this incorrect, but it’s a little arrogant. You may not struggle with these issues, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’re a more faithful person. What takes more faith? Clinging to something that comes easy for you or clinging to something that holds difficult questions for you?
We’ve all got our own struggles when it comes to the gospel, whether it comes in the form of a bad habit or a doubt. Both are potentially dangerous to spiritual health if they get out of hand. It’s critical to remember that we’re not better than those who struggle with some of these issues. I can assure you God is more pleased with those who are honestly seeking than with those who think they’ve got their stuff together. Christ spent His time with those who struggled, not with Pharisees who thought they were above sin. There are few things more spiritually damaging than comparison and pride without restraint.
Second principle. We teach what it means to have faith. I think the most powerful thing we can do for those who are searching for a testimony is to lead them to their own experiences with God. As they come to experience a God that is loving, powerful, and present, they will naturally develop faith.
When my husband had to make some decisions for our family without sharing the whole picture with me, he was asking me to have faith in him. Because I knew him and his love for us and his ability to provide for us, it was much easier to trust him. If a stranger asked me to do that, I’d scoff.
We can’t ask those we love to have faith in a Being they do not know. Introduce them as much as they are able to receive. Instead of trying to answer their questions, teach them how to find their own answers. That is far more powerful and is equivalent to the concept of teaching a man to fish. If answers aren’t coming to their most serious questions, have them start with smaller questions so that even if they do have to “have faith,” they will be able to find it because they talk and walk with God.
Never use unlawful means
In Doctrine and Covenants 121, we are taught that the priesthood power cannot be used without using righteous principles. If we are to help our family and friends survive the latter days before the Second Coming, we need to utilize the priesthood effectively.
This means avoiding fear tactics or manipulation. It means choosing to be very honest with how we approach them.
When I think about using the priesthood righteously, the deepest meaning I find lies within our own hearts. What is your immediate purpose for helping this person? Is it because you’re embarrassed or worried that your family will look less perfect? Are you frustrated that they’re making things difficult? Are you seeking out what they truly need or trying to force your own will upon them? Are you just teaching how you want to teach because it’s what makes sense to you? Or are you putting in the effort to let the Lord intervene in a way that will bless them? Sometimes those we work with love us so much and want our approval; are we utilizing that fact in a way that hinders their ultimate progression? Are we pressuring them into doing what’s right?
Surely all of us would argue that we’re trying to help with love. I think overall, that is a true statement. However, are our individual actions motivated by love? It is within those individual actions that our loved ones will feel how we feel about them.
Example. A couple months ago, I was feeling overwhelmed (overwhelmed seems to be a part of my personality now). I remember having a hard day in which I ignored my kids or reacted poorly in an attempt to accomplish my ever-growing to-do list. I knelt down to pray and said something along the lines of, “Please help my children to know they are my priority even though I’m busy.” My words felt hollow, and I knew that’s not how things worked. The Holy Ghost wasn’t going to testify to my kids that they were my priority when I had obviously let them slip away from position in my life. I found myself praying, “Please help me remember that they are my priority. Help me change so they can feel they are my priority.”
If it came to keeping my children or having a perpetually clean house the rest of my life, I would choose to keep my children hands down, every time, no questions asked. But my individual actions were not reflecting that. So what message was being conveyed to my kids?
It is the same when we are trying to teach our loved ones about working through doubts and remaining close to the Lord. Our overall, deepest feeling may be our love for them and our desire for them to progress. However, if our individual motivations aren’t reflecting that, they will be picking up on a different message.
The reality of the matter is this. Utilizing God’s power is the only way to really help those we love. We need His power if we are going to truly help them find their own testimony and increased conversion. Using other tactics may be helpful in the short run, but they can actually be more damaging over time.
I have a lot of friends who no longer associate with the gospel anymore. When I talk with them and listen to them, I often hear that their original motivations for living the gospel had been cultural or full of fear. We can stand and scoff at them or we can recognize that we were part of what influenced that. We cannot use anything less than persuasion, long-suffering, meekness, and love unfeigned.
Which leads to my next idea.
The Lord is so talented at balancing His view of our eternal potential with acceptance of where we’re at.
Long-suffering is one of those characteristics that contributes to His ability to balance that yearning for our potential with His acceptance. He suffers us for a long time. In other words, He has learned to be comfortable with our shortcomings no matter how inconvenient they are for Him.
I lose my patience plenty and I can have a sharp tongue sometimes, and both of those things are capable of hurting me spiritually. And yet, Heavenly Father isn’t trying to solve them right away. He helps me along, one step at a time, slowly changing me with the perspective of eternity ahead of Him.
It’s no different when it comes to doubts and questions. Doubts and questions have the ability to hurt us spiritually, and yet, Heavenly Father isn’t trying to solve them right away. When Heavenly Father approaches these topics, He takes His time. It would probably be much more convenient for Him to just shout out all the answers and let it be. However, He’s long-suffering. He remembers that our eternal progression is going to take a long time, and He’s fine with that. Rather than worrying about conveniences, He accepts where we’re at. He knows that doubts, questions, and weaknesses can actually push us to be better in the long run so He chooses to let us sit with them.
When we can choose to be patient and accepting and long-suffering, it also becomes easier to use the priesthood righteously. We won’t feel pressured to try and scare those we love into doing what’s right. We won’t use their love for us against them. We will be okay with where they’re at, and we will be able to let our own love motivate our actions. And when they more fully feel our love, they will progress more rapidly (though more slowly than you might like!). Just remember that Heavenly Father is patient with you.
I have a testimony that difficult subjects in the church can be part of our progression. Whatever the reasons for Heavenly Father allowing them to remain in place, He can turn them into stepping stones for our progression. He can bind up a broken heart, and He can take broken things and make them stronger.