Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which, have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning seminary. He currently serves in the High Council as the Stake Young Men’s President..
My thoughts have been directed to discuss a tender topic. I have tried to choose my words as carefully as possible in the hope that I don’t offend anyone as I try to express my thoughts and feelings. I understand that some of my thoughts can be deeply personal and I hope you will forgive me if I don’t adequately express myself. Please know that I am coming from a place of love.
The Pain of a Faith Crisis
Throughout life we have peaks and valleys of faith. This is a natural part of growing in our understanding of the gospel. In some cases, however, we can experience a faith crisis. A faith crisis is much deeper than having questions or concerns. A faith crisis is often tied to a traumatic experience. Some faith crises are more intellectually based. Perhaps learning new information on church history or hearing or reading something that a previous or current church leader has done or said can raise serious concerns. New church policies that are announced can sometimes create feelings of distrust and feelings of betrayal. Where the church was once a place of safety and refuge, now it feels like you’ve been lied to and had information withheld from you. I have heard this experience compared to having a loving and faithful marriage that has now suddenly become estranged due to unfaithfulness.
Doctrinal concerns are not the only source of a faith crisis. Life’s trials can also shake us to the core which causes more of an emotional crisis. Losing a spouse or child can be absolutely crippling to one’s faith in a loving and all-knowing Heavenly Father. Loss of employment, divorce and many other of life’s hard experiences can erode faith to its foundation. These types of trials in life can feel like God has abandoned us and cause us to question His very existence.
Help In the Storm
How do we, as members and leaders, help those that are going through this storm? There’s a tendency to feel like there’s some behavior or lack of activity that an individual is either doing or not doing that is bringing on this doubt or crisis. We sometimes feel that if they would just do certain actions then their concerns would be resolved. If they just went to the temple more often or prayed more intently. Others may ask, are you reading the Book of Mormon? In some cases, asking them to read the Book of Mormon more or pray harder may, in fact, be counterproductive. The validity of the Book of Mormon may be the very thing that is causing them to question. Those that may feel betrayed by the Church are further validated when a leader dismisses or minimizes their concerns and questions.
For a moment, ponder Lehi’s dream. Those that were lost in the mists of darkness wandered for many hours. This is not a question of certainty; it is a question of trust. When they saw the tree, they were certain of its reality. As they journeyed along the path and rod of iron, perhaps they felt a loss of trust when they lost hold of the rod and wandered into the mist. In other words, they knew of the tree and sought desperately to get back to it. But they felt as though they didn’t know how they could ever get back to that same place again. The way they viewed the tree had now become obscured by innumerable particles of doubt, distrust, and anger. Many going through the crisis feel as though the rug has been pulled out from underneath them. All the security and peace they felt within the Church is now shrouded in questions and skepticism. So much so that as they look back at different experiences and feelings that previously anchored their faith, those experiences are now viewed with an eye of skepticism and doubt. Almost like they are in a free-fall. Once someone gets to this stage of a faith crisis, it’s very hard to go back to where they were before.
A natural feeling as a leader is to strive to bring a “straying individual” back to the beginning of the path, to start over. But that path is no longer available to them. They must move forward through the mist in hopes of getting back to the tree on a different path.
As parents and leaders, we often build walls along the straight and narrow in hopes of keeping those who are struggling on the path. But when they fall outside of the wall, it now becomes a barrier to keep them from getting back on the path.
We Return a New Person
When people are lost, and then start to make their way through the mist is when they find the deeper meaning of the atonement. During his own crisis, the prodigal son in the parable “came to himself” and began the long journey back to his home, and to his father. He would not return as the same man that left. Though his father still loved him, and ran to him when he returned, their relationship had changed into something new. They would be starting a new path together.
Be a Friend First
It can be extremely difficult for members going through a struggle of faith who feel like they can’t express their questions or concerns without being shot down by someone who thinks they are defending a doctrinal truth. Sometimes it feels like all that is being expressed is anger or an overflowing of emotions coming out when they try to articulate this sense of loss. For those of us that are not going through a crisis, this can feel very threatening at times, almost as though they are attacking the gospel. Keep in mind there is a deep hurt there. The key here is to not get defensive, but to sit with them and ask questions. The most important thing you can do is love and listen. Be a friend first and a leader second.
In addition, I would add that as we sit in our various councils and discuss individuals that may be struggling, may I suggest that we be very cognizant that there may be individuals in that room going through their own faith crisis. How we speak about others that have expressed and verbalized their doubts, may directly impact those that are waiting and watching to see if they will feel safe to share their own concerns.
Sin is Not at the Core of a Faith Crisis
As I was researching my topic, I came across an independent study of people experiencing a faith crisis. A group of 600 people were polled about their experience. One of the biggest questions was what originally spurred the crisis. Interestingly, less than 1% stated that it was a desire to commit sin. To think that their crisis is a smokescreen for a desire to sin, be lazy or that they have a lack of commitment is false in most cases. While it is true that individuals do leave the church because they want to live a different lifestyle, this does not put them in the same classification of those experiencing a legitimate faith crisis. As a leader, parent, or friend we can’t lose faith in people when they lose their faith in the gospel.
Wait a Little
In conclusion, I would like to address those that are currently, perhaps silently, going through their own faith crisis. First and foremost, we love you. As you seek to find answers to your questions, we want to support you. When Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was first taught, Brigham Young himself had difficulty understanding this doctrine at first. He called it a great trial. He recalled:
“My traditions were such that when the Vision came first to me, it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. I did not reject it; but I could not understand it.”
It is ok to say, I don’t understand this, I don’t even agree with this. But wait, don’t reject it. Allow the Lord to work with you. Please understand that many of us have had our own time in the mists of darkness wandering and feeling lost.
Elder Neal A Maxwell stated,
“If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.”
It has been my experience that life seems to add tailor-made experiences specifically designed to stretch us and increase our development and growth. Sometimes this stretching process can be quite uncomfortable and at times painful.
There Are Always Human Fingerprints
May I offer one suggestion, to view our experience as a faith journey and not a faith crisis. In my personal journey of faith, I have come to a place where I have learned to accept complexity. I’ve come to accept and tolerate that the work of God will always be mediated through imperfect human beings. And that means there will always be human fingerprints on anything divine. Outside of personal revelation, we never get an unfiltered untouched view of heaven. It will come through people, and that will reflect the history, the culture, and the personalities of those people, but it doesn’t diminish it or make it any less true.
In the Old Testament Jacob finds himself in a wrestle with an angel. Afterwards Jacob became Israel. Through this wrestling with the angel Jacob comes to realize the angel is God. And when he wins this wrestling match he asks for a blessing from God. I believe there’s a principle here for us when it comes to our own faith journey. We want to believe the gospel is a set of perfect answers to every question. But as we go through this journey, we come to realize that faith will always contain elements of wrestling. We see that we must wrestle with the idea that it all doesn’t perfectly fit together. But when we come out on the other side, I believe we too can ask for a blessing. Jacob’s blessing was to become a great nation. My blessing, though probably less grand, was one of peace and acceptance of the complexities and nuances of the gospel. God does love you. He wants nothing more than to see you return to him and to bless you. I invite you to continue your faith journey and trust that there are opportunities for peace and understanding to be found in that journey.