Amy is a full-time student, full-time employee, and full-time family member. Her family includes her husband, two daughters, a cat and a dog. Amy feels personally called to being committed to teaching Relief Society and creating bi-weekly growth experiences for the girls aged 8 to 12 in her unit. Other interests include understanding and supporting mental neurodiversity, pastoral ministries, philosophy, history, leadership, and pasta (who isn’t interested in pasta?)
I never expected to be in a faith transition. I was an active, inspiring young woman; I served a mission for the Church and got married in the temple. In my younger days, I was the goody-two-shoes that finished the church assignments, memorized all the scriptural requirements, and reported inspiring spiritual experiences. Eventually I stopped congratulating myself on my wonderfulness, started living, and then stumbled down a rabbit hole of missing communication from God that shook and redefined how I view my relationship with God, with others, and most of my world view.
My personal standard testimony (belief in God, belief in the Atonement, belief in the church, etc.) was collateral fallout from all the upheaval. I am one of the less-fortunate ones who spent several months in the “dark night of the soul” questioning the existence of God. I am not going to lie: it hurt. There were a lot of tears, still is a lot of frustration at times, and a daily heaping of humble pie keeping it real. However, a lot of personal growth and goodness has come from it as well, as it is a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild my world view from the ground up.
Here are some ideas that grounded me and kept my butt in the pews, allowing me to teach and inspire my sisters as a Relief Society teacher. Here are some things that I wish people around me could have recognized and acted on.
What I Learned
NOTE: These principles can be useful for working with all the “lost sheep” in your life.
- Find an Eternal and Universal Gospel Truth/Principle/Virtue in Common – For me, studying charity was and is a lifeline for my church involvement and spiritual growth. I want to believe that God exists and that studying this principle helps us grow closer, but if not, I still want to be a charitable person. Having a principle to focus gospel studies (and thoughts) on allows me to connect with others at church in a mutually uplifting way.
- Think Win-Win – This principle from Stephen Covey has really helped me in this area because it reminds me to look for ways to improve my community while working on becoming a better person. At the end of the day, a faith transition required me to look outside the box to identify ways that I can serve and find the common ground so that I am uplifted and inspired as well. Having a faith transition does not mean that I don’t speak up to share my perspective; it does mean making a personal requirement that what I say benefits me saying it and benefits the person/people hearing it (and not in an “I know the truth and must disclose” way).
- It Might Be an Essential Part of God’s Plan After All – While having a faith transition was not part of my plan, who is to say that it wasn’t and isn’t a part of a divine plan after all? Instead of being my personal downfall, it might be what I really needed to progress. And even if wasn’t part of the figurative hand of cards I was handed at birth to play the game of life, I might as well do my best now because it is now a card in my hand.
- Don’t Make Hasty Stupid Decisions or Comments/Burn Bridges – Wrestling through a faith transition appears to make you a cultural unicorn (rarely seen) or at least a minority. The basis of a faith transition is losing a testimony (the root of all evil and cause of eternal doom). As the rare one who does not embrace the standard truths more traditionally, it is helpful to check twice before you say something thoughtfully to make sure what you want to say is useful, inspiring, and uplifting to others. Even if a faith transition started rather quickly and thoroughly, it’s going to take years to formulate a new paradigm. You have the time to go slow, make thoughtful decisions, and choose wisely.
- Faith Transitions Are Universal – The entire Reformation is a HUGE historical example of humanity’s extended faith transition (simplified). There were a series of scientific discoveries and increased access to theological and historical information, which led to centuries of revising man’s understanding of humanity, and God’s relationship with humanity, and a focus on figuring out what to do about it. A key take-away is that you are not alone (very useful in testimony meeting when someone is talking about their black sheep family member who fell away from the church and that could be you).
What I Wish My Leaders (And Family Members) Knew
- The Message You Are Sending May Not Be the Message You Started With – We had a stake conference on ministering a few years back. I could listen and think about what was being presented (Charity being my thing) – but the arguments presented for “why ministering” were backwards for me. I viewed ministering to get to know God and an opportunity for God to communicate to me instead of ministering to show God’s love. So every time we had a new speaker, I got excited and interested only to have my interest fizzle out as the message was “minister to show God’s love” – so how was I supposed to show God’s love when I wasn’t really sure that God existed? Instead, I focused on reversing the message to something that could fit into my world view. I could care less about taking care of others because God loves me – I can get involved in loving others because they need me.
- Make it a Priority to Stay Engaged with the Family or Find Someone Who Can – For me, I found ways to stay engaged. I do what I can to develop relationships in our church community. Sisters minister to us in physical, mental, and emotional ways. I have found mentors, and I found other people who could relate to and give good advice on my faith transition. I made thoughtful deliberate decisions on what my faith transition should look like and how I wanted to handle it, and how I wanted to request others handle it. My interest in pastoral care (and in the Leading Saints website) is deeply rooted in trying to find ministering/pastoral care for myself and my family from outside our church unit. Part of that strategy included meeting with my church leader to explain where I was coming from. I went into the conversation to petition my church leader to minister to my husband because I knew I could no longer be a spiritual strength and I knew that my husband would need support in the situation. This was a good decision for me after several conversations with my support members because I had a connection to my church leader, and I knew in general terms my church leader had some personal experience with shifting beliefs. During our conversation, he related how, for a brief part of his life, he had been an atheist. I am lucky in the sense that my leader supports me taking the sacrament and has an open-door policy regarding questions. This also helped – to a degree – with my marriage. However, getting my church leader to minister to my depressed husband was next to impossible (for a variety of reasons on both my husband’s and the part of our church leader). We could have really used his help ministering to my husband and being there for him – in large part because of my faith transition and how it was shifting aspects of our marriage. My church leader was in the unique position to be trusted enough to know more of the family story and, as near as I can tell, maintained the status quo. I get it. He is busy with administration, other people’s needs, his job and his family. I just wish that things had been different; that he had engaged with my family or recommended a family to us who could so that my husband had more support. To this day, I wish that my husband had a brother in his corner who was not family but who cared about him enough to minister to him.
- A Faith Transition Is A Signal That Deep Things Are Going On – For me, my faith transition was part of the process of discovering that I was one of many self-identifying middle-aged women with autism. A lot of personal protocols were undergoing scrutiny as I learned more about the characteristics of this brain presentation and how they interacted with my life (past, present, and future). I was lucky enough to be in counseling at the time to talk through some things, and I have found others who have been helpful. But interwoven into my faith transition story is the story of discovering that my daughter is also autistic and dealing with my husband’s worsening chronic health problems and depression. I have found my mentors and ministering angels along the way (who were not usually assigned to my family as official ministers even when I asked for them to be), but a faith transition can become a personal crisis in isolation quicker than a person can snap their fingers. NOTE: I said “Deep” not “Dark” for a reason. This period of my life, while intense all the time, and frustrating, confusing, and sad at times is not a period of darkness for me. In fact, in a sense it is a period of increased light and understanding as I “came to myself”. For all the challenges that we have faced in the past two years, we have had opportunities to grow and mature. I see our unit leader periodically at activities and such. As near as I can tell, my faith transition conversation did not change his respect for or support for me as a member of his flock. I like to think that he trusts me to figure out what I need to figure out and reach out to him if I need to.
- I am Still Interested in Your Spiritual Experiences – Share with Me, Don’t Preach at Me – As a faith transition survivor (is that even a thing?), I want to hear about your experiences and your life. I will weight them as your experiences and your life as a way for me to connect to you and be inspired. Don’t expect me to take your expected moral of the story and start running with it. It probably won’t happen. But don’t shut down talking about them either. I am still looking for the “further light and knowledge” that God promised to send, and it might be through you sharing something that resonates with me.
I hope this helps you, as leaders, to gain insights and perhaps even inspiration on how you can support and listen with your heart to those placed in your path who are experiencing a faith transition. I realize that there are only so many hours in a day for you to fulfill your calling. As you strive to discern what Father needs you to do and say (or not do and say), I encourage you to seek inspiration about others in your flock who could help you carry the ministering lamp to those needing this extra support. It will bless BOTH the giver and receiver.