Bruce and Marie Hafen are most recently the authors of the book “Faith is Not Blind”, in which they “acknowledge complicated gospel issues, yet clearly and gently guide readers through the steps necessary to work through complexity, develop informed testimonies, and become filled with the faith that comes from knowing God.” Bruce has served as president of Rick’s College, dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School and provost at Brigham Young University, president of the St. George Temple, and in the First Quorum of the Seventy. He is also the author of several books. Marie has served alongside and co-authored books with Bruce. She also taught religion, literature and writing at both BYU-Idaho and BYU in Provo, and served on the Young Women General Board and the Board of Directors for the Deseret News.
In this interview, the Hafens share experiences helping young people deal with uncertainty, doubt, and trial as they struggle to reconcile the simple faith of youth with the complex realities of adulthood. Learn how you can apply their experience to your own ministry and learn to develop the kind of relationship with young adults that allows you aid their progress between simplicity, through complexity, and on to simplicity coupled with understanding. The journey need not surprise or lead anyone away from the gospel. It can bring us all, like Adam and Eve, back to an understanding of and into a closer relationship and reconciliation with God.
0:26 – Bruce’s background: President of Rick’s College, Dean of BYU Law School, called as a general authority in 1996, President of the St George Temple
1:08 – Marie’s background: native of Bountiful, Utah; was a BYU student when she met Bruce; lots of experience with college-age students; interested in helping others reach out to that age group
2:15 – Our Religious Questions course – talking about gospel questions with friends and peers normalized these discussions
3:55 – Elder Hafen gave a devotional, “Dealing with Uncertainty”, at BYU in 1978 that is an early work on questions that may disconcert this demographic
5:24 – Did individuals ask the same questions then as they do now?
5:57 – Dealing with complexity and ambiguity – college students were very idealistic, and they found generalized discussion helped students deal with practical reality; how do adults deal with the gap between our idealized expectations and the reality of our daily lives?
8:49 – We should expect all adults to experience this; how can we help people not be shocked by the bigger, broader world and learn it is nothing to fear
9:25 – Some people are so idealistic that they remain shocked by these discoveries; another group switch over to embracing reality so single-mindedly they have no interest in idealistic visions and reject religion quickly
10:42 – Ideas contained in their book, “Faith is Not Blind” – How should we view complexity and simplicity?
12:12 – Untested simplicity is not to be desired
13:34 – It may not be just doubts or questions that create complexity, but could be health or many other life experiences
13:51 – Anecdote about a female inmate who came to understand her simple testimony in a different way because of her life’s experiences; complexity informed the simplicity – she came to understand that earlier testimony
15:52 – Anecdote about Holly who struggled with the topic of women and the priesthood, and left the Church
19:10 – It wasn’t a regression, but turning to simplicity offered peace
19:21 – Adam and Eve gained maturity through their fall and subsequent experiences
22:10 – How might leaders respond when members encounter complexity?
23:16 – A typical problem is when a struggling member goes to a leader who is wedded to a black and white perspective that they get the message the leader does not understand them
24:28 – Anecdote about Australian young women dealing with abuse – listen first
25:22 – Recurring theme is when a leader is dismissive or offers an overly simple response to a complex problem, it reinforces the issue – they feel the Church has betrayed them; it reinforces the distrust
28:47 – Until someone feels a leader has heard them, the leader can not help; hearts must be joined
29:42 – It’s also essential that a bishop shows the love he has for someone in his office
30:21 – Anecdote about a young woman who made sinful choices but made a decision to return and felt love – “He treated me the way I think the Savior would have treated me”
32:11 – Contrast with the girl’s friend who did not want to talk to her bishop because she was afraid of him
33:27 – Richard Bushman described a change to the way leadership approaches issues; danger of building a wall on either side of the straight and narrow to prevent people from getting off; however, if someone finds themselves on the other side of that wall, the restrictions are now a barrier to their return
35:23 – Stages of complexity and simplicity
36:46 – Christ is with you in complexity and in simplicity; joy comes along with sorrow, it does not happen at the end of our lives
38:13 – Anecdote about a sister missionary who had some issue with Church policies
39:29 – A faith crisis may be a sanctification process – can we be with someone in that process?
40:15 – Anecdote about a friend who read their book and said she has not seen this kind of experience; not everyone has experience like this – if that’s you, be careful what you’re communicating to someone who is struggling
42:45 – Complexity may not be intellectual, it could be health-related; If we are serious about our discipleship, we will eventually need to do whatever is hardest for us.
43:29 – For parents, make sure you leave the door open so that children can come back
43:44 – How can a leader who has not been through the same complexity as someone in his office help someone?
47:54 – A therapist told the Hafens a common issue – raised in homes where the gospel was kind of pushed on them, public religious behaviors, without teaching them private religious behaviors
50:13 – Prayer rock anecdote
51:07 – How can we help struggling members in the Sunday School class?
53:17 – Without being uncomfortable you can’t grow, including in the classroom
53:37 – This is not intended to make the Sunday School classroom a hot bed of criticism; the teacher does not get rattled and models how to handle difficult issues
55:09 – How do we stimulate that openness and vulnerability in the classroom? How do teachers help model an approach to difficult questions that class members can apply in their homes to their children?
58:24 – Anecdote about grandchildren, seizing opportunities to teach
59:13 – Sin of certainty, discussing our culture of certainty
1:00:00 – Elder Hafen could not express certainty about the gospel himself; his faith is growing
1:03:00 – His testimony is based on experience; belief became knowledge
1:03:37 – The leader’s role in helping a testimony develop; Alma 32 and the seed
1:05:43 – Can a person be certain about anything?
1:06:33 – Leaders working with young adults and teenagers prepare themselves so that they can know in the moment what to say when asked a question
1:06:51 – Anecdote about a young woman who talked to her bishop during tithing settlement about her patriarchal blessing not being fulfilled
1:08:51 – When a member is stuck in the simplicity of things should a leader be concerned?
1:10:03 – Anecdote about sister missionaries who were simplistic; Leaders can recognize that they will have difficult experiences; consider it an opportunity to help a young person learn
1:11:30 – Denying reality is a danger; don’t close eyes
1:12:26 – Should leaders help young people open their eyes or sit back and wait?
1:13:36 – When someone denies ambiguity of the gospel, is it a leader’s role to show them?
1:15:04 – Inoculating members against being surprised by ambiguity
1:15:30 – Anecdote about a man who felt betrayed because the Church didn’t tell him about some difficult topics; the Church has changed to provide more information, Elder Hafen helped influence the beginning of the gospel topics essays and Saints
1:18:15 – The Church is more open because they have more ways to communicate it and we are ready for it; nothing to explain or apologize for
1:18:44 – Final remarks: teachers or leaders may invite others to give more effort to finding answers for themselves
1:19:27 – Anecdote about a missionary who imagined a debate between Alma and Korihor
1:22:37 – Sister Hafen has a testimony that the Lord will testify in a way that gives you peace to prepare for your next complexity
Kurt Francom (LS): Today, I find myself in the home of Elder and Sister Hafen. How are you two?
Elder Hafen: Fine. Welcome.
Marie: We are well today. Thank you.
Marie: We’re glad to be here with you.
LS: Well, thank you. It’s a beautiful home, and it’s a pleasure to speak with you about such an important topic. Many people are maybe familiar with you Elder Hafen with some of your service in the church as a general authority. But for those that may not be familiar with you, some of those younger ones, put you into context, what don’t we know about the Hafens?
Hafen: Let’s go back about the time you were born.
Elder Hafen: I used to be president of Ricks College, now BYU Idaho in 1978. We were there for seven years. Then I came back to BYU and was Dean of the Law School. Then was in the BYU administration for a few years and to my college, the general authority in ’96, served there till 2010. Then we were called to be president and matron of the St. George Temple.
LS: Sister Hafen, as far as your background, what do we need to know more about you?
Marie: Well, I grew up just a regular normal Mormon girl or LDS girl in Bountiful, Utah. Went to BYU. That’s where I met Bruce, and we went forward from there. Both of us have had a lot of experience with teenagers and colleges kids both at BYU Idaho, University of Utah, BYU. And we’ve had a few children and grandchildren. That experience I think, helps us to hopefully relate to the audience that we would hope to reach through their leaders as well as directly.
LS: You mentioned you were so much with that demographic of youth. A lot of the thoughts and questions that went into this book, I’m sure you’ve been answering these types of questions, and formulating these thoughts for decades now. Right?
Marie: For a long time. Since we had a class together…
Elder Hafen: Yeah, why don’t you talk about that?
Marie: …which is where we met. It was a religion class called Your Religious Problems.
Elder Hafen: This was at BYU.
LS: That’s interesting.
Marie: So we’re happy to say that that is where we solved our biggest religious problem at that time, which was finding a good person to marry. Our friendship from that class, because we would talk about the issues that we were considering in our class, our religious problems, they ranged from questions about church history to doctrine to practical questions. And it gave us a chance to talk about those issues way back to then, and with our friends, with our peers, and with a really good mentor, a really good leader, who helped us to find our own answers to the questions. That is one of the main premises of a book.
LS: Was this a religion course?
LS: I guess that was classified.
Elder Hafen: The teacher was the Dean of Religion at BYU at the time.
LS: I’m encouraged to hear since then BYU has created these types of classes because knowing that there’s some questions that maybe need more context or more complexity to some of these—
Elder Hafen: That’s what made it natural to us to just talk about things like that. It was not a big deal. And learning to talk about them, learning to read about them, continued on with us. In fact, during our time at Ricks College, from being around the students to kind of sensing what they might need or be interested in, I decided to give a devotional at Ricks – I don’t even know when that was. Late 70s, early 80s – and we called it On Dealing with Uncertainty.
LS: Yeah, I’ve read it.
Elder Hafen: Oh, have you?
Elder Hafen: Okay. Well, that has many of the basic ideas that ended up in the book “Faith Is Not Blind.” That was such a long time ago. It’s been interesting to us to see once the internet age kind of came onto the scene and people began having more questions about the church, and we’re facing other forms of ambiguity and uncertainty, we began hearing from people that they ran onto this old talk. I gave it as a BYU devotional at about that same time, and that ended up in the end sign.
People kind of picked it up and would say to us that it gave them a perspective that helped them on something related to some of these internet issues. That sent us a message that maybe we needed to update that and see if it really could be helpful. It’s just a perspective on dealing with questions. [00:05:00] So those two steps were helpful.
Marie: I was just going to mention, we even heard within the last couple of weeks that a class at BYU had been assigned that talk to read for their course materials.
LS: Yeah, it’s a fantastic talk. Going back to your class – what was it called? Your Religious Problems, and then jumping ahead to that talk, were individuals asking the same questions or coming across doubt in the same way?
Elder Hafen: Not really, I mean, those questions were very difficult – what we talked about in our class, that is questions about church history, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young criticisms that have been around a long time, anti-Mormon writing that goes way, way back. But the kinds of issues that we were addressing with that talk at BYU Idaho, then Ricks College were more general than that.
We found that some of the students were having trouble dealing with complexity with ambiguity. In fact, maybe I could just offer a little idea that was one of the premises for the model we introduced in that talk and have since developed in this book. We noticed that these kids would come to college from all kinds of different backgrounds, but typically, they came with a very idealistic attitude. We noticed that it was pretty common for them, sooner or later, usually, during their college experience, to have some experience that shook them up a little bit. And it wasn’t necessarily a faith or question, but it would have those overtones.
Maybe they’d go on a mission and find out that their service in the mission field was really different from what they had expected based on their MTC training. What they were discovering was the difference between the ideal and the real. We could see as we had in our own experience that for a lot of the students there was kind of a gap between the idealistic hopes that we had, what we were striving for, and then the kind of practical reality.
First computerized registration, if you can believe it, at Ricks College, our computers were full of glitches. And I had a Father call me on the phone late at night and he was furious. I don’t remember what it was – his daughter had ended up in a boys PE class or something. I said, “I’m sorry, we can fix that.” And he said, “I know computers have problems, but this is a church school and we shouldn’t have problems.” I said, “We buy our computers the same place everybody else does.” That’s a little illustration of that.
So the concept was pretty general. It was growing up and discovering how we come to terms with being adults in a world where we’re dealing with a lot of imperfect people who are trying to do better, including ourselves. So that introduced in the idea of how do we deal with that gap between the reality—
Marie: The reality of our daily life and the ideals that were hoping for. Or you could say it this way. Two circles and they overlap. The reality and here’s the ideal, and what you hope is that you can move that reality until you have an eclipse of the real with the ideal so that they’re both together.
LS: I think that’s a pretty common experience. I’ve had it classified as sort of a black and white type perspective. I guess in a church that has the claim of being the one true church, we kind of assume that everything is going to be true or like even the computer systems at Ricks College are going to be perfect. And I guess we should expect that every developing individual, whether they are 19 at the time or 29 or 49, they will go through this experience of realizing there’s reality, and there’s the real and the ideal.
Elder Hafen: I think all we were trying to do is help people not be shocked or not blame themselves or blame God or blame anybody. It’s very natural when you grow up to discover a bigger, broader world, and learning to cope with that helps you grow. So it’s nothing to fear and there’s nothing wrong. It’s just a matter of attitude. But some people get stuck in one of these or the other.
What we would find is that some people are so idealistic that they remain shocked about anything that departs in any way from the idealistic vision they have of themselves, of the church or people in the church. But then there’s another group, having discovered that there’s a gap, okay, we’re not perfect, and some of them kind of switch over to embracing reality so single-mindedly that they’re no longer interested in idealistic visions. And so If my bishop makes some mistake about something, [00:10:00] the whole church must be a fraud.
Now that may seem ridiculous, but there’s something about the modern day mentality of the internet that tends to make people generalize quickly about something that they run into. All we are trying to say is, you’re going to run into those things all over the place. So don’t panic, it’s part of growing, it’s part of learning. It’s okay. Let’s just think about it.
Marie: Or if the church makes an announcement and it’s something we’re not expecting, then sometimes, well, if I don’t agree with that, then I must not agree with a whole bunch of other things. And so there’s an extension. It’s difficult.
LS: I guess I need to reference into it, and we’ll get into that. A lot of these thoughts have been put into a recent book that you co-wrote called “Faith Is Not Blind.” We’ll be delving into a lot of these concepts there. Especially throughout the book, there’s the theme of simplicity and complexity, which also leads into a model that you talked about at BYU, Idaho, Ricks College long ago, and now throughout the book. Help us understand how should we see complexity versus simplicity when considering faith.
Marie: It might help to know where it came from.
Elder Hafen: Yeah. Let me tell you where. There’s a very helpful quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, a great American judge. We discovered that statement quite recently, and I kind of wish we’d have known that way back when, but in some ways, it really fits the current situation better. Going back to what we said a minute ago, there’s this gap between the real and the ideal, and it’s very frustrating to cope with that. People talk about it in the church. We’re about perfectionism. We believe in perfectionism. Well, when anybody falls short of perfectionism, what do we do? Do we come unstitched? Do we become critical of each other, judgmental?
All we’re saying is, that’s real life, is part of growing it’s okay, we don’t have to give up our ideals, we move the real closer to the ideal. But we were looking for a concept that could describe the process by which that happens. Just a simple, easy way. Here’s what we kind of [happened?] on to.
Justice Holmes put it this way. He said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” What we take that to mean is that, in that early stage, that kind of innocent, naive, untested stage, that’s the simplicity before complexity, meaning an untested simplicity. We haven’t run into opposition and questions. So that’s why he would not give a fig for it. It’s not worth much if it’s untested. But when the complexities come along, it’s a good word because it explains, or at least it captures or refers to all kinds of problems. And not just questions about church history—
Marie: I think that is important.
Elder Hafen: Various forms of trauma, difficulty, disappointment, so we just call that complexity using Holmes word. What he said was, “I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Maybe I could invite Marie to give an example, one that we ran onto in the Utah State Prison that we thought captured this idea that we’ve just been talking about – the movement from simplicity to complexity to the simplicity on the other side.
Marie: Because it may not be just outside questions that create the complexity. It could be health, it could be responding in a way and making choices that become difficult for your life. There are a lot of ways that you can have a complexity that can cause problems. So this was a relatively young. She was probably in her late 20s.
It was a sacrament meeting, a fast meeting where the inmates there because we were there because of Bruce’s assignment with jails and prisons, she got up to the microphone, she came up and she said, “I’d like to tell you just a little something about me.” She said, “When I was little, I loved to bear my testimony. I would run up there and they pull out a little step and I jump on it, and I would say, ‘I love my mom and dad, I love Heavenly Father, I know that Jesus loves me, and he suffered for my sins, and I know the church is true.'” Then she would close and just run back to her seat. And her mom, of course, put her arm around her and pat her on the back.
She said, “But now, after the years and my life, which has been very different from what I would have expected, I’m behind these bars, and I’m in this prison outfit, and now I know all those things in a very different way. [00:15:02] I know Heavenly Father loves me, I know Jesus suffered for my sins, and I know the churches true.” So she had come to a very different kind of conclusion after all her experience that she had before it. A deeper—
LS: More complex, right?
Elder Hafen: Yeah.
LS: Yes, yes, that’s a good point.
Elder Hafen: I think her case is a good one because it showed that the complexity informed the simplicity. Now she understood.
Marie: And it wasn’t just her head, but it was her heart. I mean, her whole being had changed because of her experience and recognizing what she had.
LS: It’s not that when we move to complexity, or if we’re forced to complexity, we leave simplicity behind, right? Because you gave another example in the book. I think the name was Holly where…
Marie: Holly is a good one.
LS: …she had to come back to simplicity or there’s this balance between complexity and simplicity.
Elder Hafen: It goes on. I’ll ask Marie to tell about Holly but let me say something about Adam and Eve.
Marie: Adam and Eve, they are another example, of course. But Holly grew up in a Mormon town, where she just moved up the steps of her ladder just almost automatically. She said it was like being an automatic pilot. So she was one of the youngest ones in her ward to earn her young womanhood recognition.
Then when she was just a little bit older than that she was 17 or 18, someone talked to her about women in the priesthood and she became convinced that there were a lot of problems with that and she was so mad about that, that she said, “I’m going to get out of this church that believes the way I am thinking that they believe about women in the priesthood.” So she asked her name be taken from the membership record.
She went off to college, and it happened that a couple of three years later, a roommate decided to take the missionary lessons and Holly thought, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll sit in on that.” Skeptical. Then when she started to hear those lessons, and the missionaries challenged her roommate to pray, she thought, you know, I haven’t done that for a long time. Maybe.”
She said, “I knelt down in my room by my bed and I just said, ‘Heavenly Father.'” And she said, “The second that I said, “Father,” she said, “I just felt this warmth, this melting.” She said, “My heart that had just been frozen just started to melt. And over the next days and weeks, I began to feel…I worked out, I decided to read about Him. I wanted to read His voice. I wanted to know about him. And I started to feel what she called the closeness to her Heavenly Father.”
It was later on, again, some months later, somebody came up to her. She related and said, “Well, but Holly, what about that issue you had with women in the priesthood? I mean, isn’t that still a big problem for you?” She said, “No, it really isn’t.” She said, “What I feel toward Heavenly Father in my relationship with him, I trust him. I’m going to give him a chance. I’m going to take a risk on Him. I’m I believe what He says. He’s got it. That’s no longer an issue for me.”
LS: Wow. That’s powerful. It wasn’t that that moment washed away the complexity, but it gave her a more simple perspective to see that complexity. Is that?
Marie: Also she had changed in the process. So it wasn’t just going back to the way she had felt before, that kind of autopilot simplicity. It was a very different kind of simplicity. Something where there was a peace and there was calmness.
Elder Hafen: That’s why I mentioned Adam and Eve because this kind of reminds me of that. Their story illustrates, Kurt a little more clearly what happens. This is really a progression. It’s not just bouncing off the wall and hitting back. That story is so well known. And it also that’s the fact that this process is in that story illustrates, we’re just talking about fundamental gospel doctrines as basic as Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve are in Eden, they’re in simplicity, and then they partake of the fruit, and this is the beginning of complexity for them. That leads to their being cast out and the lone and jury world. [00:20:01] It’s messy, and it’s hard, and there’s a lot they don’t know, and there are thorns and thistles and sweat and hard things. Then the angel comes to teach them about the redemption. There are other ways they have of learning what life is all about. Then Eve says – I think this is in the fifth chapter of Moses – “After the angel explains Christ’s redemption and what this has to do with their mortal experience—
Marie: Maybe we could go to that for just a second. Because doesn’t the angel ask, “Why are you sacrificing?”
Elder Hafen: That’s right. Yeah.
Marie: And Adam says, “I know not. The Lord commanded me.” That’s blind obedience. That is a place to start. It’s a lot more than that.
LS: It’s a place to end.
Elder Hafen: It’s better than not sacrificing, but he didn’t know why. So you could say, in a sense, it was kind of blind. It wasn’t really blind faith; he was trusting the Lord. He had learned to do that. But then the angel explained what this was all about. In the midst of the world they were living in, and with losing Cain, and Abel, and all the rest of what they were experiencing—
Marie: Talk about that being a complexity.
Elder Hafen: Then Eve was able to say, “After all of this…” I think the word of the Scripture is, “Eve, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our redemption we never would have had seed, and never would have known the joy that God gave us to all the obedience.” So if we hadn’t gone through the complexity, we wouldn’t get the point here. And so, they’re very different people. And that’s why—
Marie: It all comes back to Eve.
Elder Hafen: In the temple, as we watch the Adam and Eve story, they progress further. They ascend to other rooms.
Marie: They go from telestial to terrestrial to celestial.
Elder Hafen: So once the redemption works in their lives, we don’t go back to the garden room. They don’t just go back to Eden and have innocent simplicity. Now they have the mature, informed simplicity. Their faith has been tested, and now they get it. And that’s really what mortality is all about.
LS: My mind goes to oftentimes leaders in the church or parents, they’re sort of scared of their children experiencing or those in their ward experiencing the complexity, because how will they respond? I think it’s a natural response to sort of not push people towards the complexity of the gospel. But like you said in that story, there’s higher blessings found by going through the complexity, right?
Elder Hafen: Yes. At the same time, complexity can be disastrous, because a lot of people run into complexities of various kinds. It can be questions about the church, it can be transgressions in their own lives, it can be big disappointments with other things. They can become cynical about it and get stuck in complexity, and become negative about everything. And when they’re negative, they look at the church with all the positive ideas that they now look at, and they kind of point, this finger of scorn at all these simple minded people that still believe all of this stuff. These two are kind of at each other.
Getting to the point of your podcasts with leadership, one of the typical problems we haven’t heard people talk about is that once they run into some complexity, now they’re filled with skepticism and questions and problems. And they go to a leader who’s trying to help them and the leader comes across as being so wedded to a kind of simple black and white, no questions asked, description of the way life is supposed to be. They don’t think the leader understands them. And the leader can look at them and feel like they don’t understand him. So these two are kind of crossing in the night. They’re stuck in their gap.
What we would hope is that people who are overly idealistic who don’t recognize how natural it is to have real problems, that they could get out of the gap, and the people with the problems could get into the gap with the later and they could just honestly talk and understand each other. That we’re both living with this distance between what we ought to be and what we are, and striving to overcome that distance is that the essence of what the gospel is about.
Marie: I found an example of that one. When we were in Australia, we had a bishop who asked me if I might talk with some young women who were having some challenges with abuse in their younger lives. And I found as I talked with them, that they didn’t care what I had to say until I had listened to what their experience was. So often, it helps a leader to not feel like they have to automatically start preaching what they know to someone who is struggling, [00:25:00] but to find out, “Where is this person coming from? What is their context?” and then talk about possible answers.
LS: My mind goes to Mosiah 18, to truly mourn with those that mourn, you have to understand why they are morning, right?
Elder Hafen: We’re getting into really quite an important point there, Kurt. As we have talked with various leaders who have dealt with these issues and people who have tried to make their way through themes, one of the themes we’re hearing, and I think really rings true is just what Marie said. And it’s true of abuse cases and it’s true of other cases, including trying to help people who are stuck in their complexity, who are filled with questions and doubts.
Marie: Are filled with question or doubt – church history or whatever.
Elder Hafen: Marie was talking about these girls who had experienced abuse. We know of a young woman who in her 20s was coming to terms with having had a terribly abusive childhood. It was very hard for her. She was kind of hanging on by her fingernails to move through her life. That’s how traumatic abuse can be.
She went to her Bishop for some help and wanted to pour out her heart to him. He was busy, had a lot of things going on. And she came. He knew her, he thought she was just fine. She looked fine. She was very active. She was bright, she was gifted. She said, “I need to talk to you, Bishop.” I want—
Marie: She even was his release society president.
Elder Hafen: So she wanted to unload on him. I mean, that’s maybe not the right word, but she was opening her heart.
Marie: At least have him understand.
Elder Hafen: She wanted his help but she didn’t feel he could help until he understood. So she kind of gave an introductory sentence that I went through some terrible abuse in my childhood…” They talked very briefly and he was busy. As she told us later, he said, “Hey, just get over it. Just move on. Quit worrying about that.” And she went out of there saying, “I guess I won’t go back to that bishop. If he doesn’t listen to me enough to understand even a little bit, I can’t be confident that he will help me.”
So that experience, comparing that with what Marie said in the context of dealing with people who have questions, the same thing holds true. Over and over, we’ve seen it the case that when a leader begins to tell somebody who’s got questions about church history, or some other church issue, “Oh, here’s what you need to do.” They want you to read this and do that. “Don’t tell me about the problems. I don’t want to get all stuck in your issues. They just are trying to fix it, and they’re coming on so strong that the person with the challenges…
Maybe I’m overstating it, but we’ve heard some people who’ve had these challenges say that when leaders begin to talk like that, that really reinforces the problem that they’ve had. Because their biggest issue is not what happened in this or that with church history. The real issue is they feel the church has betrayed them by not being transparent, not sharing everything that happened. And so when a local leader appears not to want to share and be transparent and interact, it reinforces the distrust.
I guess one idea or concept that that has come across to us from these experiences is that until a question or a doubt, or somebody who wonders and those are some of the watch wonderful people in the world, they don’t have a disease, they’re just honest people. Various people have different experiences, but until they feel that they have been heard, that the leader has listened loud, has been empathetic enough to track what their experience might have been. The leader is not going to be able to help a very much if he just starts to instruct them on what they need to do.
Once the hearts are joined in this kind of empathy, this reciprocity of understanding, then the Spirit enters the relationship. It might take some time to get there, but once that relationship is there, the relationship of trust, what’s going on is that this person’s trust in leaders, in God, in the church is gradually being restored. If my Bishop won’t listen to me, then how can I believe God would listen? Then when that is all in place, that relationship of trust, then the person with the questions is going to be more receptive.
Marie: Well, let me just mention one footnote because I think in addition to that willingness to listen and wanting to know the story of the person who’s sitting there, it’s also the bishop showing that person the love that he has for her. [00:30:00] Let me put it that way. Because in our extended family, we have a young woman, she’s a little older now, but she had made some choices that were not the best. And she was out there somewhere for two or three years.
Then she could see that those choices that she had made…So this was not a question about church history, this was kind of behavioral choices in her case. But that was a very big complexity for her. She finally decided those choices were not making her happy. She could see the direction that she was going to go if she kept going that way. So she decided to come back, to go to her Bishop, which was in a young single adult ward, and he showed her love and kindness and the true charity that we talk about, confidence in her ability to come back, to make the kind of choices that what helper come back. So she said later, “I came to know what the atonement really meant and what it really means to me, which I didn’t know before.”
LS: and it wasn’t because he had all the answers, but he showed love.
Marie: Right. Yes.
Elder Hafen: I know this young woman as well. She said of this Bishop, “He treated me the way I think the Savior would have treated me.” There’s a key there. It’s kind of an awful responsibility that leaders have. I say awful because it’s heavy, it’s huge in a way it’s unfair. But the reality is the way leaders interact with members, especially members with questions and concerns, it really represents the Lord. And maybe it’s really not fair that a member should judge the Lord and the church by what a leader does but they do. Children do that with parents. It’s the same kind of thing.
Marie: And in contrast, this young woman had a friend who participated in some of the things with her. This young woman told her friend, “Why don’t you talk to your Bishop?” And she said, “I don’t want to talk to my bishop. I’m afraid of him.” So he had not yet been able to establish that kind of relationship.
LS: Yes. And that relationship starts long before they walk into the bishop’s office because they have to make that appointment. It has to feel comfortable enough and trusting enough that they’ll be heard there.
Marie: Just one other little tiny footnote.
LS: Yeah, please.
Marie: Because I had just recently read a book about discipline of children. It was called “No‑Drama Discipline.”
LS: I like that.
Marie: The writer of this book, one of his basic ideas was, you connect with the child. Connect. Make that connection that establishes the relationship that you have. And then you redirect their thinking. So you connect first, and then you teach, then you redirect. I just thought that was… Two words: connect and redirect.
LS: I think from the leadership perspective, we sometimes come out with all guns blazing at the behavior of saying, “Don’t read that, or you’re doing something wrong.” So, to step back in the behavior side and just focus on the connection for maybe two, or three or four or five appointments, that can go a long way before you’re able to approach those subjects.
Elder Hafen: We recently read something from Richard Bushman, where he was talking about this. He was talking about a change he has seen in the church. A change in his own adulthood through his leadership experience. He’s been a stake president. He’s kind of run the gamut of leadership experience, parental experience, but he’s lived a long time and he’s seen a lot of issues.
What he says is, he looked back, he sees that earlier he had a tendency because of the concern to keep people on the straight and narrow. They kind of build a wall on either side. This wasn’t his metaphor, but it worked. “Build a wall on either side of the straight and narrow. Don’t let people get off, and then we’ll be absolutely sure they’ll be okay.”
“If you do that,” he said, “then if somebody should get off the path, and they find themselves outside the wall, then that wall becomes a barrier to find their relationship with the Lord that they seek.” And then he goes on to say that it’s one of those people are lost that the atonement means the most in their lives. And that’s what happened with this young—
Marie: They’re never more in the Gospel and then they are when they need someone.
Elder Hafen: That was what Marie was saying about that example she just gave is that she connected with the Lord and the gospel once she was off the straight and narrow path. So our reach as leaders has to reach as far as all the people do. And we’re human enough we can understand and relate to everything…
Marie: And that’s a great opportunity.
LS: So powerful. I was going to ask you like, what is the simplicity and complexity concept look like in the bishop’s office, and you’ve both articulated it greatly. [00:35:01] I know that you mentioned back in your devotional address at Ricks College that you had this three-stage model, and the complexity and simplicity concept leads into that. Would it be helpful to explain that model?
Elder Hafen: Yeah. The term we use in the book “Faith Is Not Blind”, we use the term “stages.” Stage one is, the simplicity before complexity. That’s Adam and Eve in the garden. It’s young people coming wide-eyed to BYU. Stage two is that when they encounter complexities of all kinds, it may be questions, issues or troubles about the church, or something they’ve heard on Joseph Smith—
Marie: It could be their family situation.
Elder Hafen: Whatever the kinds of things we’ve been talking about. Stage two is the complexity. And stage three is the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
I guess another scripture that occurs to me that captures this I think it’s in the Book of Mormon. “You receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” So the witness you receive in stage three comes after the trial of your faith. Those are the three stages.
As we were saying, too many people get stuck in stage one, or stage two, and don’t see that Adam and Eve don’t figure it all out until they have gone all the way to stage three and have seen the full experience then they’re really ready to return to the presence of Lord. They aren’t going back to Eden, they’re going home.
Marie: Maybe just one footnote there, too. Because he says that the witness does not come until after the trial of your faith. But I think that doesn’t mean that Christ and our Heavenly Father aren’t with you every step of the way when you’re trying to make your way through this whole model.
LS: Yeah, they’re right there. They’re helping you through. I mean, that’s the atonement of Christ, right? Sometimes in our religious clichés, we say return or as if they’ve left us or we’ve left them, but they’re always there.
Marie: Yes, always. The reward will come at the end of our lives. I think the joy comes along with the sorrow. And sometimes the deeper the sorrow, the deeper the complexities, the greater the joy.
Elder Hafen: In fact, hearing Marie talk about that, a kind word for complexity, it is not just totally negative. One of the survivors of the Martin and Willie Handcart disaster, said, “We came to know God in our extremities, and the price we paid to know Him was a privilege to pay.” That’s how it was with the girl who found herself out of the straight and narrow and the Lord kind of rescued her. She came to know him.
When she was wandering, she was trying to figure it all out, looking for connections, He’d been there. But then she found Him, she sensed His presence, and that changed everything. And that introduced her to the simplicity beyond the complexity. He helped carry her there.
Marie: Maybe another quick example. This one’s from a young sister missionary that we met in the MTC who had some issues with church policy. She was there on her mission, she felt like she should go and she wrote us a letter. We met her there and talked with her, and then she wrote us a letter later. We talked to her after she got back from her mission.
But she said, “I had some real difficulties with some issues, but I knew all through that the Lord loved me and my mission president. I am now settled in some of the things that I had great issues with before. I still have some questions, but I feel the peace and the calmness that comes with knowing those very basic, primary, if you want to call them that, primary feelings, head and heart together, and it’s been very difficult. But the things I do know, and the things that are holding me to the church and to the Lord are more precious to me because of the difficulty getting to him.”
LS: We often use the term “faith crisis”. Like, this individual is in crisis. You articulate beautifully in the book and a few chapters. Like you just mentioned, there’s this sanctified process that’s happening as they go through complexity, but we sort of want to avoid the faith crisis. But it’s okay for leaders and parents to recognize that they’re going through the sanctification process, and gaining hopefully, deeper faith, even if they maybe do step away for a while.
Elder Hafen: If we can be close enough to them to kind of be in it with them, [00:40:02], then that can happen. But being realistic, some people do get stuck and lost into complexity. It’s totally understandable that we would fear it, and try to keep people from getting lost in it. One other comment that you sparked, Kurt – I can’t remember what you said, or maybe something Marie said – One of our good friends in our ward recently read “Faith Is Not Blind” and wrote us a letter.
His letter said something that I think it’s important in our conversation about this with church leaders. In his words, he said, “I haven’t been through the experiences you have talked about. I learned faith from my father, I learned it from my mission president.” And he went on to talk about his experiences. He didn’t go through any big faith crisis. He didn’t go through complexity. And one of—
Marie: So you wouldn’t call that blind faith…
Elder Hafen: No.
Marie: …but yet it is faith based on something inherent.
Elder Hafen: Well, sure. That’s what I’m trying to say is that there are people, maybe some of the people listening today who may be saying, “Why do you talk as if everybody has to go through this terrible, hard things?” Everybody has a version of it. It’s not all intellectual issues. But there are leaders who’d say…I’m thinking of another leader. I know a local leader here in our neighborhood, who just says when he hears people talk about the subject, he says, “I’ve never really had any doubts.” What he’s saying is “I don’t understand. How can anybody doubt this?”
I understand that. I think there are people who have not gone through periods of doubt and uncertainty, and they don’t have to. It’s okay. But it’s people whose experiences of that kind, who sometimes have a hard time understanding what’s really happening with somebody else. They may tend to blame them, and they can communicate that blame and make them feel guilty, that they’re having an experience in it, but it doesn’t help the young person who’s going through that for the bishop to say, “Well, I never had those problems” as if “what’s wrong with you?”
This friend went on in his letter, to complete the statement, he said, “I haven’t had those problems, but my children have.” And I think it’s a way of saying there’s more of this now. It’s more visible. Maybe people are more willing to talk about it. But people are different. Not everybody has the same kinds of experiences. So we need to be tolerant about that as leaders.
Marie: Or they might not meet a complexity of that kind, but they’ll have another complexity. For example, this brother in our ward has not had growing up any of these doubt, questions, complexities, but his wife has a very serious health condition. So he’s getting his complexity, they’re getting their complexity in a different way. Was it Elder Maxwell said that eventually, the Lord will request each of us the thing that is the most difficult for us to give?
Elder Hafen: Yes. If we’re serious about our discipleship…
Marie: If we want to keep progressing.
Elder Hafen: …then we will eventually need to do whatever is hardest for us. And we would define complexity that broadly.
LS: And this is just one version of that journey towards discipleship that people are experiencing.
Elder Hafen: Sure, right.
Marie: Just one other thought there. Since so many of the leaders are also parents and will have children that have challenges. Another thing that the parents found about the young woman that we said we know well in our extended family is that, that counselor that they were talking to, and she was talking to, fortunately, had said, “Make sure you leave the door open,” so that when she finishes going through this complexities – he didn’t use those words – but that she will feel like she can come back home. Find every way you can to give her praise, to build her up that’s honest, that’s genuine, and that will make a difference to her. And they did find that that was exactly true for her.
LS: It goes back to that connection in a relationship is paramount.
Marie: Right. So parents and leaders, leave the door open, praise, build anytime you can.
LS: We’ve articulated here that not everybody needs to go through this version of complexity, everybody go through their own. But nonetheless, how can a leader out there…You mentioned this friend of yours who says, “I’ve just never doubted, I don’t understand it?” How can that type of leader build more empathy and maybe better understand the complexity they’re going through so they’re better prepared to lead?
Marie: That’s a good question.
Elder Hafen: That’s a great question, Kurt. I think my answer would be…I’m thinking of our own experience. One of the reasons that we have learned what we have about the subject is from listening. [00:45:00] We’ve just felt a curiosity. We honestly have wanted to understand how do people feel. We’ve learned that people…
Marie: Through sometimes hard experience.
Elder Hafen: …people will tell you. And so, if leaders will let people talk about their experience, and be sincerely genuine and interested and stop talking, and just listen, their eyes will be opened about the genuine experience that other people are having. Rather than judging them and saying, “That doesn’t happen. That’s never happened to me.” Well, it’s happened to them.
And I think in today’s church, it would be fair to say, “Almost all of us have got somebody that we care about who’s going through the kind of complexity we’ve been talking about. And if we can listen to them, and understand them, we’ll be better off. One other fact—
Marie: I was going to say, what about our own kids? We found some of them in their teenage years that they were trying things out. We got a call from one of our kids who was 500 miles away saying, “Hey, Mom, and Dad, I’ve got the car. I’m in – wherever it was.” And we thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
So we’ve had the experiences and know that when we have stopped to connect again – we didn’t think about it them at that time – but just to listen. “Well, what are you doing that far away and why are you there?” And then you understand a little bit their context, and you say, “Get that car right back here.”
Elder Hafen: I think this was the same child who a few years earlier was driving us nuts because he was complicated. He sort of was in a perpetual complexity. I remember being so frustrated. I once said to Marie – we talk about the scriptures in our house – so I said, “The Lord placed Adam and Eve on the earth as full grown people. Why couldn’t He have done that with this child of ours?” And then Marie said, “I think the Lord gave us that child to make Christians out of us.” I always tried to remember that. That does connect with one other thing that I wanted to say, Kurt.
Marie: Can I finish that sentence?
Elder Hafen: Sure.
Marie: Sorry, I’m interrupting. But that does give the parents hope that they are also learning and growing through these experiences, or the leader with someone who is currently in a complexity that’s difficult. Sorry.
Elder Hafen: Picking up on that, to make Christians out of us, we have children, we have people in our wards and our quorums and classes. We were talking recently with a very experienced therapist who has done a lot of counseling with people with many issues. But he was telling us one of the common issues that he’s been seeing a lot in recent years is people who are going through some crisis in their lives with their faith, and other things that used to be called kind of a midlife crisis.
He says, a big fraction of the people he’s seeing, a lot of them were raised in homes where the gospel was kind of pushed on to them. That the parents in their teaching of their kids were focused so much on what I’d call public religious behavior – going to church—
Marie: Or appearance – looking good.
Elder Hafen: Yeah, going on a mission because that’s what you’re supposed to do without teaching them private religious behavior. These kids didn’t have their own testimony. That’s what this therapist was saying is that, when parents try to push performance and external behavior – and this is the same with leaders – these young people don’t get their own testimony, they don’t come to know the Lord for themselves, then they are far more likely later on to have problems. So part of what I think Marie was saying was the Lord gave us that child to make Christians out of us.
One of our other favorite sayings that we heard from a mission president’s wife once is that our children are our most important little investigators, and they need to come to their own relationship with the Lord, their own testimony. The same as any other convert. Once parents see that, when leaders see that, I think it puts the emphasis where it needs to be on helping them discover for themselves.
Marie: Putting them in situations where the Spirit is likely to be present because you can’t turn it on and off like a faucet but you try to.
Elder Hafen: We value what we discover much more than we value what we’re told.
LS: Amen to that. I love how that counselor explained it, the private versus the public. Because you graduate from high school, and “Hey, all your buddies are going on a mission, why don’t you go on a mission?” [00:50:00] But if you haven’t developed that, they may get on the mission, they don’t even know how to read the scriptures
Marie: We just remember, for example, that we went down when one of our kids was 11, or 12…And you just remind them sometimes about “Well, did you have prayers before you get into bed?” He said, “Of course I have.” He said, “I’ve got my prayer rock.” And it was just a little rounded stone that a teacher had given them in church and said, “Put it under your pillow and that’ll remind you to say your prayers.” So that teacher was so wise, in giving them a little reminder that would help them to develop this private religious behavior that gives them their own testimony.
LS: Yeah, I love that. So we’ve talked about a few ways as far as the context of maybe a bishop’s office or a one to one interaction with somebody, helping them feel comfortable with connection. And I love this point of the way we further understand their complexity is by listening to them, hearing their experience or questions and so forth. So how do we move that dynamic into the Sunday school class to a little more public setting where there are some individuals in there that maybe they’re in complexity, and they sit there and think, “All these people to believe this?” and they don’t know how to ask a question? How do we create that same dynamic?
Marie: We hope they’re there.
LS: Absolutely. Or they won’t be there for long.
Elder Hafen: It’s a really good question, Kurt. Especially now with the emphasis on teaching in the Savior’s way, I think part of the message there is to let the people in the class be part of the teaching process. And we’re learning from each other, listening to each other. I guess I would say as Marie and I taught gospel doctrine together in our ward, I think we both were very conscious of this. We probably didn’t do it very well, but I think we wanted to create a climate where people could feel comfortable asking or saying anything they wanted to say. That instead of people feeling like, “I’m going to be judged or actually it might be threatening,” they would feel comfortable. No question, no attitude. It’s out of bounds.
I think we can trust one another in the church. Those who choose to come to church have passed a certain threshold test. But once they’re there, if they can feel they’re in an open atmosphere…Like our Religious Problems class, I mean, that was the name of the class. And if that were the kind of the subtitle for our Sunday school classes, then when people have got a real concern, they would feel they could honestly raise their concern. Not to be threatening, not to be critical, but it’s an honest question. They don’t know what to do.
And so, if we can just learn to trust each other and know we’re all in process, we’re all at some point between the ideal and the real, we can help one another far better than if we just come to church as teachers or members of the class pretending that we’re all living in this ideal world. And anybody who’s got problems is just off track and really shouldn’t be here.
Marie: In addition, we would hope that the invitation to get out of their comfort zone, but also be there in a very loving, motivational and a very positive way. Because you know that if you’re not willing to get out of a comfort zone if you’re not willing to be uncomfortable, you’re not going to grow. So you’re also giving them that invitation. Your children, the people in your classes, whether it’s MIA-Maid or Laurels or young single adults, this kind of invitation to change, to grow, to know that if you keep growing there’s going to be a greater satisfaction, a greater joy
Elder Hafen: Just to follow up on that. It’s such a good question. I don’t think we’d want to be understood as saying that we would encourage Sunday school classes to just become hotbeds of criticism against the church or against church leaders because that kind of atmosphere drives away the Spirit. So it’s a teacher our leader’s responsibility. It’s a very tricky balancing strike. Good teachers can do it, where it’s so open, people can say anything they want to. But the teacher’s reaction is a model of stage three. They’re settled. They’re not going to get rattled, and they’re not going to let the class get away from them. I think we can pray for that kind of help. To me, the ideal classroom would be like the one in our class taught by the Dean of Religion.
For some reason, I don’t know why this comes to mind, one of our daughters said once, “When we see Heavenly Father, can we ask anything we want to?” Of course, we said, “Oh, yeah, we can hardly wait.” And she said, “Oh, good. [00:55:00] I was thinking we probably wouldn’t just go say, ‘Heavenly Father, can I have your autograph?'” So this was the real and just the ideal.
LS: I guess going further down that path is, I mean, if someone did have the courage to raise their hand and say something like, “I’m really just stuck in – maybe they won’t use these words – but stuck in the complexity of Joseph Smith being a prophet after his relationships and his fallibility and these things. I’m stuck there.” To me, all the Orthodox members are just sort of like, “There’s a record scratch and awkward moment, we don’t know what to do with it.” I like, Sister Hafen, your comment about getting out of our comfort zone. They get out of their comfort zone a little and we got to get out of ours a little bit in those moments.
Marie: As the leader or as the teacher.
LS: I mean, like you said, not that we want to turn it a hotbed of criticism of the church or some of these skeptical remarks, but how do we stimulate more of that, open more vulnerable…?
Elder Hafen: I think the teacher models that.
Marie: And that’s a really good word – vulnerability. If you can be vulnerable, you’re taking a risk, you’re inviting the Spirit to be there, you don’t know exactly how that’s going to come through, but you have confidence that it’s going to help.
Elder Hafen: When I say that teachers can model the process for doing this, what they’re really doing? Good teachers are showing parents how to handle this with their children. Let me give you an example. Suppose this gets asked in a Sunday school class, I would hope there could be a kind of open atmosphere where a child could ask this. So how do you handle it?
One of our kids told us not long ago that one of this children, I don’t know, maybe 12 years old, something that’s close to that, said to his mother, “Mom, is it okay to not believe in God?” And instead of collapsing in a heap on the floor, saying, “How dare you?”…
Marie: “You just can’t ask that.”
Elder Hafen: …She just said, “What a wonderful question? That shows you’re thinking about really important things. Let’s talk about that. So if that were to happen in a classroom in today’s atmosphere, you know, when anything goes on the internet, you’re going to get the wildest questions. If the teacher can calmly respond, turn that into an opportunity to teach a principal and retain the relationship of trust and demonstrate that I see the real and I see the ideal, both, and we can manage this, we will learn from this experience. It’s a great question.
I don’t know the answer to everything. Elder Maxwell used to love to quote Nephi phrase. I guess its 1 Nephi 11. When the angel asked him a question, and Nephi doesn’t know the answer about the condescension of God, Nephi says, “I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know that the Lord loveth his children.” A teacher can do that. “I don’t know the answer, but I want to find out as much as I can but I do know that God loveth with his children. And so you can say both things.
LS: I love that response. I mean, what a wonderful question. It shows that you’re thinking deeper about these things. And you follow that, and then start a discussion.
Marie: You’re aiming them toward feeling their own love because then they won’t have a question.
Elder Hafen: This is the same family, by the way, speaking of how we handled the church leadership issues and changes in the church. Marie, tell him about what our young grandson said recently when his brother called home from his mission and often call once a week.
Marie: He said, “Oh, that was a surprise. I’m sure glad to talk to him.” He said, “Now, let me think, missionaries can now call once a week, our meetings are shortened from three hours to two hours, does that mean we don’t have to fast on fast Sunday?”
LS: At this point, I’ll believe any announcements that come down.
Elder Hafen: It’s another opportunity to teach.
Marie: Another opportunity.
LS: That’s great. I would probably be that kid when I was young. I want to have a conversation about this concept of certainty. You touch on it in various places.
Marie: That’s another good question.
LS: I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book “The Sin of Certainty” by Peter Enns. He’s a Presbyterian minister. I’ve really appreciated his perspective on certainty. That we create this culture of certainty even in the Gospel that are in our religious tradition. That there’s almost this rite of passage of being able to stand on the first Sunday of the month and say, “I know, I know, I know.” That’s it becomes almost a goal is to be able to say, “I know” rather than to become or to change. What are your thoughts about this culture of certainty that maybe we find ourselves in?
Elder Hafen: Interesting question, Kurt.
Marie: I’m saying it is different from loving it.
Elder Hafen: I would just reflect at my own experience. When I was 19, and standing at the pulpit from my own missionary farewell, [01:00:01] I really could not in good conscience say I know the gospel is true. I knew a lot of people expected me to say that, but I didn’t know yet. So all I could say is, and I said it with all my heart, “I believe the gospel is true,” and I gesture to this little plant nearby. You got to remember seeing that on the stand of our chapel. I said, “I think my faith, my testimony is like that plant. It’s growing, and it’s going to become something and is in process.”
Then, later on, had some challenges with that, when I found people expected me to say, “I know this, or I know that.” It was very personal with me. And it took me a while. It was a very interesting process of moving I would say from believing to knowing some things and wanting to know more things. There’s a phrase that I guess came to me when we were working on this book. That is, there are important distinctions among these terms: believing, wondering, knowing, doubting—
Elder Hafen: Sure.
Marie: And becoming. I mean that’s part of this.
Elder Hafen: What occurred to me was that one reason we have trouble with those words is that our experience is larger than our vocabulary. So sometimes we’re prisoners of our vocabulary. And this little book “Faith Is Not Blind” is a kind of study in vocabulary in a sense that’s trying to talk about the process. So we talk about a process that leads to growing confidence and trust in God. And with that trust comes an increasing degree of knowing.
One of the things I love about Alma chapter 32 is that at the very beginning of what it says about the seed, it says, “You cannot know of assuredly.” That comforted me when I was young, and it felt I could not. But you go through the entire chapter, and Alma is describing beautifully the process by which belief becomes knowledge gradually. And then you know this, but you don’t know the meaning of all things.
So I think we need to let one another discover gradually. Let’s just use Alma 32 as our textbook for that, and not insist that people say that they know more than they know. But when they do know – that would be kind of my personal experience. When I did know as I know, I’m very conscious that in my calling as a 70, the Doctrine and Covenants said, I was to be a witness of Christ and a special witness.
By the time I reached that stage, I was completely comfortable with that. I had reached that kind of certainty that I could testify that I knew. And I compare that with where I was before, it’s a real journey. If I had started saying that I knew more than I knew, I wouldn’t have appreciated the extent of my knowledge once it occurred as the accumulation of experience.
So my testimony is a testimony based on experience. It’s not a testimony based on theory or what am I supposed to say? It’s honest. I’ve seen the fruits of the gospel in our kids’ lives. I can’t deny that. I could go on and on.
Marie: We can.
Elder Hafen: So I guess I’m autobiographical when I say I know how belief becomes knowledge that here a little and there are little just like a seed becomes a plant that bears fruit.
Marie: And there are a lot of not just people coming into that, but teachers. You have teachers, your mission presidents who helped you, who nudged you, who gave you more fodder, so to speak, to build on. And then your experience – what you felt the Spirit helping you and situations to bring the knowledge from your head. So you had your head and your heart and your experience to all bring to bear.
Elder Hafen: What Marie just described, it captures a term that I like. It seems quite authentic. And that is that faith is a process. More than it’s a word or it’s a yes or no question, or it’s an event, it’s a process. It lasts your whole life. That’s why Alma’s analogy is just so beautiful. It’s like a tree. Trees keep growing and they have fruit. It’s hard to say that that’s an event.
Marie: Now, is there a conclusion sort of toward the end of Alma 33 or 34 where it talks about Christ being the tree.
Elder Hafen: We didn’t discover that. We’ve been loving Alma 32 for years.
LS: You forget those chapter…?
Elder Hafen: We saw the connection in Alma 32. Toward the end of the chapter, he tells us what the seed is all about. [01:05:03] If you can cast your eyes on the redemption of Christ, and let…this is the seed that you want to have to grow in your heart. So what he’s talking about is not just faith in a generic sense, it’s faith in Jesus Christ.
Marie: In Christ.
Elder Hafen: Then he says, “Let this grow within you.”
Marie: The seed grow.
Elder Hafen: The seed. “That is your confidence in the relationship with Christ. And then you will know the joy.” It’s a lot like Eve. The joy of our redemption, the Savior, Christ is right in the middle of that. This is not some kind of philosophical excursion. I get a little impatient with ministers from other religions who think it’s not possible to be very certain about anything. The older you get, the stages of faith, you finally get to the point where whatever anybody wants to believe is fine. That’s not what the restored gospel teaches. Because we can reach a degree of certainty about our relationship with the Savior that like Eve or like Alma, we know the joy of our redemption. It’s very real, but it was very gradual getting there.
Marie: So at the end of 33 – am I remembering right?
Elder Hafen: Yeah, yeah.
Marie: Where it says that that seed then grows into this great strong tree that has great roots and great branches and the joy that’s there, but the birth of Christ…. Anyway, it kind of fulfills chapter 32.
LS: A couple of good chapters to spend your time with not just breeze through those.
Marie: I think another thing we’re saying is that the leaders and teachers who are working with the youth or with the young, single adults do everything they can to develop their hearts and their minds, and the spirit that comes to them so that they know in the moment, what to say to a young person. I can give you a short example.
Marie: It’s a young woman that we know. She’s now in her late 40s – that’s young to us – and went into her Bishop. It was just tithing settlement. And it just occurred to her, “You know, Bishop, I think about my patriarchal blessing, and it is not being fulfilled because I was promised a husband and children.” The bishop explained, of course, that’s not just for this life, it could be during the millennium. But then she said, “Am I doing something wrong or have I done something wrong in the past that’s made it possible for this blessing not to come to me at this time?”
And he said, “No, I am feeling by the Spirit right now that there’s nothing that you did that was wrong that makes this blessing not come into you now.” So it’s just a great example of a bishop who is tuned in to this person in his word to say, “By the Spirit, no, I can tell you that.”
Elder Hafen: And she knew that it was authentic with him. She could tell the difference between the real thing and something kind of made up to pat her on the head.
LS: So going back to this dynamic with sometimes you’re trapped in your vocabulary, your testimony can’t be articulated, we have such a tradition in the Gospel of standing and bearing a testimony that sometimes a leader may worry about somebody that they’ve never heard the testimony, but oftentimes, maybe they just don’t know how to put words to it, or they manifest it through other means. And so the fact that they’re not maybe articulating or standing up doesn’t necessarily mean they’re starting complexity.
Then, going back to this sort of this culture of certainty, because we’ve talked about getting stuck in the complexity of things, but sometimes the culture of certainty, we get stuck in the simplicity of things. We have maybe other members that are stuck in the simplicity of things where they’re just very orthodox, not that they are not intellectually curious, but they’re just kind of stuck in the black and white areas. Is that somebody to be concerned about as well?
Elder Hafen: Yes, I think so. We need to talk about that in a way that’s fair. There are some people who as we were saying before, who don’t run into the same intellectual challenges – you could call them that. They’ll have other challenges. We all do. That’s what mortality is all about. So we would define complexity broadly enough to include all of the disappointments, all the traumas, all the hard things that people have to deal with. We all get our turn.
But I do think it is possible for people to be in that kind of simplicity mode to such an extent that they don’t see reality. That’s part of what we’re trying to say with this three-stage model is that there are those who are in a weird…Well, we had an example not long ago— [01:10:01]
Marie: Where they’re too rigid.
Elder Hafen: We saw a couple of sisters who had been called to go on a mission, and they were to go to different places, but they were leaving at the same time.
Marie: Oh, they were so cute.
Elder Hafen: These are young women, beautiful, prepared young women, but their kind of mentality and attitude was that the strongest word beyond awesome is super awesome. And if you really want to get serious, it’s super cool and awesome. They were talking about their missions. They’re just excited to get out there and they’re just sure everybody’s going to want to hear their message. And you could tell listening to these girls that they’re so idealistic. It’s a wonderful blessing to be like that. You wouldn’t want it to be any other way.
Marie: Well, you might want to have a little—
Elder Hafen: You need to have that degree of exuberance to sustain you in the hard times, but I think Maria leaned over to me and said, “It won’t be long until each of those girls runs into a wall.”
Marie: Well, she has another opportunity.
Elder Hafen: And then you have an opportunity to learn from experience. There are those, however, who kind of close their eyes.
Marie: And their minds.
Elder Hafen: The psychologists have a word for that. It’s called denial. There are people who are in denial about realistic circumstances about themselves, about their family, about their environment of challenges they’re dealing with. If we deny the hard things because it’s maybe it’s just painful, maybe it’s just too raw to deal with, but if we can’t kind of acknowledge the difficulty that exists, we’ll have a hard time responding to it in a way that helps others or helps us grow. We need to have both our eyes and our hearts open and not just kind of close them because it hurts too much.
Marie: Yeah. Now, look at the opportunities for their mission presidents to be able to help them when they start to hit the hard things. I mean, it’s wonderful. That’s one of the reasons why missions are so great.
LS: I love that example that those that maybe are in that simplicity to the point that the idealism is so high that…I mean, is it our role as leaders to help them? Or do we just sit back and wait till they hit that wall? I mean, is there anything we can do to bring them back?
Marie: That’s a good question too.
Elder Hafen: Yeah. One of the reasons we wrote this book, Kurt is to suggest to leaders just sort of reflecting our own experience, this three-stage mode
LS: simplicity, complexity, and then this new informed, mature simplicity beyond complexity. If people can see that as a natural process, this is the faith journey. It’s the same journey that Adam and Eve took. It’s so doctrinally based. It’s in the scriptures.
If people can see the whole thing and kind of be prepared for it, then I believe they can be taught about it in terms of general principles, and then they won’t be threatened if a bishop needs to say some…We were talking to a very idealistic young woman just yesterday who’s in school, and she had just gotten her first B plus. I wanted to say, “Well, welcome to your complexity.”
LS: Going back to this, some individuals are so ideal. You see this in maybe younger that they’re so excited on the mission or come home from the mission. They’re so focused on the ideals of the gospel, that they deny the ambiguities of the gospel, right? And it goes back to this denial. Sometimes I wonder, as a leader is it our job to help show them the ambiguities of the gospel? Because I worry that they’ll discover it and then it completely blind sights them to complexity or into the dangerous parts of complexity.
Elder Hafen: I think so. But I think we need to be careful about that. Some people are ready for it and some people are not. We met a Stake Relief Society president recently, we’ve been talking about some of these things, and she didn’t really know what the word ambiguity meant. So she said, “Talking about this stuff gives me a headache.” I think people need to come to these things in a kind of natural way.
LS: You can’t force it.
Elder Hafen: I don’t think we want to impose. Especially we don’t want to impose skepticism or say, “There’s a problem here. Do you want me to tell you what it is?” I think problems, difficulties of questions about faith, [01:15:01] like [sin?], they find us soon enough. On the other hand, I do think there is value in kind of an inoculation, if I could put it that way.
This gives me a chance to say something about what I have seen the church doing that I applaud – and I hope this is helpful to leaders who have wondered, “How did we get into this situation?” I’m thinking of a man I know who was very experienced in the church. And after lots of years at stake president, bishop and a lot of other things, he finally was disillusioned with the church because he said that he had learned some things, he learned that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy, he didn’t understand about race in the priesthood, and a few other things like that, that are now pretty commonplace. But he said that because the church hadn’t told him about these things, he felt betrayed.
And yet he had a twin brother, who said, “What do you mean the church didn’t tell you? The church told me. Where have you been?” I don’t know how people miss these things. But it’s true that over the last generation, the international expansion, even explosion of the church membership into all these languages, all these different levels of educational ability, preparation, and so on, the church materials, the curriculum, the magazines, everything the church does has to be at a level that is accessible to everybody in the church.
What that has meant is that we really haven’t had a kind of advanced curriculum, if you will. Like that class we went to where we learned about all kinds of issues and that we were oriented to be interested in those things. I think the church has learned from experience, and we’re seeing the fruits of that learning. We saw the Encyclopedia of Mormonism published in the 1990s. All the questions that this man asked about, he said, “The church never told me about this” they’re all there in very complete form with footnotes.
Then years, years later, I had some involvement with the process in the early stages that led to the gospel topics essays that are now available on lds.org. There’s a complete version. It’s so advanced with all the footnotes that for some people it’s kind of to advanced.
Marie: Like giving teachers and leaders tenets.
Elder Hafen: Giving teachers, you’re right, a chance to access as much as they’re ready for. Another example of I think the church has responded to this say this is—
Elder Hafen: Right on queue. We have become big fans of the new history of the church. Volume one is called Saints. There will be three more volumes. This history is written at a level that is accessible to everybody in the church. It’s written in story form. This isn’t a lot of academic highfalutin stuff, but it’s so carefully researched. The footnotes are very thorough.
I see that as the church kind of catching up with the need to communicate with everybody. So when they hear about these issues, they don’t feel like they’re running across some dark secret. This didn’t happen because the church has to explain and apologize. It happened because, with the internet, there is more transparency, there is more openness. So the churches is more open than it’s ever been before about these questions because we’re more ready for it and we have ways to communicate it that people can access it in the right kinds of places, and in a book like that about our history.
Marie: That’s such a good example because they’re taking some very deep things, but they’re explaining them in a very accessible, easy to get to way.
LS: Wow. That’s a great answer, and very helpful. What are we missing? Anything? I think from the leadership standpoint, we’ve covered a lot of things, but anything that we’re missing that you can think of?
Marie: I’m thinking about the invitation that leaders or teachers might make to their students, or maybe their missionaries, maybe this is a mission president, to step up and give more effort, more thinking, more feeling, more searching, more praying to finding answers for themselves. I can give you a quick example. It’s the one in the book about the young missionary who is called from Idaho to go to the far east. And it’s an area where they don’t know anything about God or about Christ.
He has that question in his mind, “How am I going to teach them about something that, yes, I know, there’s a God, but what does He really like and what’s His relationship to me and what’s my relationship to Him?” He’s the one who decided, “I’m going to take that on.” And the mission president, of course, he would have been very supportive of this, but he said, “I was a little embarrassed to say, ‘Look, I’m a missionary. [01:20:02] I don’t want to say that I don’t know these things yet.'”
So what he did – and I think the mission president would be the type that would have said, “Yes, look into this.” – so he said, “The way I’m going to do this to figure it out for myself is I’m going to pretend like there’s a debate between Alma and Korihor.” He said, “First I took Korihor’s point of view because I was trying to understand his point of view. And so I kind of expressed that. And then I had Alma, come to the fore and say, ‘we know there’s a God because we can see the creation, we know all the prophets have said what they said about him.'”
Then he said, “I just had the feeling that as Alma, I would ask Korihor, ‘What do you hope for?’ As Alma, or as this missionary, this young Zach, I hope for resurrection and I hope for eternity with my family.” And he said, “In my imaginary debate, Korihor was just speechless. But as Alma and then as myself, I began to see that God was giving me the rungs to the ladder that enabled me to be able to climb back to him. Part of that was his letting me know that he was there for me.”
And he developed the same kind of closeness that we mentioned with Holly earlier, where he said that I could take all my questions to him, I felt this peace, I felt this calm, I felt this confidence and assurance, and then I wanted to talk to him. It was a two-way relationship. So that even after I got back from my mission, I wanted to talk to him, sometimes even more than my parents to whom I’m very close.” But it wasn’t that development of the relationship, through his extending himself in every way that he could think head, heart, mind, spirit, and the Lord was there for him. And his life is unfolding.
He’s still in that stage where, “Yes, they’re going to be other complexities.” He’s not married yet. He hasn’t found a wife yet. I mean, give that to any young man, and they’ll say, “Yeah, that’s a complexity. I’m going to have to work with that one.” But again, head, heart, experience, go camping with that young woman or something that, how do you work with her? So it’s just my testimony that the Lord will reveal His love in a way that gives you an assurance, a calm, a peace that when your next complexity hits, because we know that once we reach that simplicity on the other side of complexity, there’s going to be another complexity because He wants us to keep growing through overcoming, so he’ll be there for us. He loves us. He wants us back. He wants us to come back and be ready to live with Him to have become enough like Him that we can live with Him. So that’s just been my experience.
LS: I love that That’s powerful. Anything else?
Elder Hafen: Well, just my little concluding thoughts. Kurt, I’ve been thinking back over our conversation and one of the things we discussed earlier is that for leaders, and brothers and sisters in any role to help people who are struggling with what they may feel is some issue about their faith. We were emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the leader and the church member, and that the church member needs to feel that the leader is listening to them that they can trust the leader. Without those ingredients, it’s really almost impossible to help somebody by telling them what to do to figure this out.
And how do you build that kind of relationship? I guess the thought that occurs to me is everything we do in the church, all the activities that we wear each other out, like President Kimball once said, “My life is like my shoes. It’s meant to be worn out.” And I think of the Father who is in the stake presidency in Seattle years ago, who talked about how much they had to drive their cars to get their kids to all the places they needed to be. And he said through his tears that he drives all the miles, that it took everything that it took. He was that devoted.
I guess my point is that the relationship that allows the person with the complexity to come and talk to somebody, the relationship is built in advance in many cases. All the activities that we go to whether it’s camp, or class, or interaction of any kind, of any age, when leaders, men and women, are working with the saints, the members of the church, they are building relationships of trust. [01:25:01] The parties, the things that don’t seem consequential, dropping in when somebody’s sick, the whole idea of ministering, remembering people’s events and birthdays and knowing them, we’re building those relationships of trust for the moment.
My own sister little example occurs to me. All those years ago, she was having some crisis in her life where she was about to run off with the wrong kind of young man. She was in her teens and her relationship with her parents was not all that she wished it could be and she really couldn’t confide in them. I heard her tell the story later that she was just so frustrated she didn’t know what to do. The only person she could think of to talk to was her young woman’s advisor because she had just liked her. They’ve done things together at camp and at activities and just kind of hanging out together, she felt so comfortable, she felt trust. So she went to her and unloaded all of her concerns.
I can remember thinking when I read I would have said to that young women’s leader what Mordecai said to Esther, who knows whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? So it is with those relationships that lead to the support, the response, the love that we’ve been talking about.
Marie: And I think that leader then pointed your sister towards the Lord. I mean, all of these, all of the leaders, all of the parents just hopes that their kids get directed to a relationship with the Lord because they know that’s—
Elder Hafen: And it’s the relationship between the member and the leader that allows the relationship with the Lord to be real.