Maria holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Brigham Young University. She is married and is the proud mother of five children and four grandchildren, which have always been her focus. She has taught English as a Second Language in Japan and at the college level in the Adult Education ESL Program, and volunteers for a non-profit organization enabling the elderly to remain in their homes as they age. Maria’s hobbies include writing, running, and horseback riding. She has held several callings in the church, but her favorite calling will always be the nursery where the gospel is taught in the purest form, simply by love. She enjoys supporting her husband in his various leadership callings; currently he serves as a stake president.
Have any of you experienced a faith crisis? Maybe you are going through one right now. Well, I did—a big one. Seldom do we air our negative feelings or reveal our dark side to each other as members of the Church. We just keep pushing the handcart! That’s what we have been taught to do in our church culture, though not on purpose. Perhaps many of you will relate to what I have to say.
Mike and I have five children ranging in age from 30 to 21, and four grandchildren—best kids ever! About three years ago, I became an empty-nester, along with my husband, of course. This is usually the age when most women are settled in their testimonies of the gospel. Participation in the church is a way of life, and all the questions have been answered through years of study and spiritual experiences. The children have been raised, and “Easy Street” is just around the corner. However, this was when my faith crisis began. First a little background is necessary.
I was born and raised in the LDS religion, attended four years of seminary, and graduated from BYU. I had a firm foundation—or so I thought I did. I had served in nearly every auxiliary in the church. I taught the tenets of the religion with a passion for years as a gospel doctrine teacher. But underneath it all I felt burdened and overwhelmed with the ever-present pressure to be perfect.
I bore my testimony often in front of large congregations, and I have gladly walked by my husband’s side supporting him in all of his callings, even as I continue to do today as he serves as stake president.
For years, I prided myself in being a decent mother. I’d pushed all my kids to achieve their Faith in God and Duty to God awards, Personal Progress, Eagle Scout rank, seminary diplomas—you name it. They went on missions and married in the temple. They pursued higher education and vocations. But as time passed, a couple of my wonderful kids chose not to participate in the Church.
When Loved Ones Exercise Agency
Looking back, my husband and I had taught our children well. We had taught them to think on their own ever since they were infants, and that is just what they did. “Exercise your free agency,” we would tell them. We forgot to add, “Unless it goes against what we taught you.” They were exercising their free-agency, and I no longer had the influence I had on them when they were living in my home.
My children were all happy and confident, self-reliant, law abiding, respectful, intelligent individuals. They accepted people into their circles and served others better than I did. They were living the gospel in the important ways. So why was I battling these inner, tumultuous feelings? Why was I questioning the value of what I had been teaching my children for the past 30 years? My kids were successful. Why was I filled with such guilt that somehow I had not measured up?
Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round
My awakening came when I realized that this was not about my adult children. They are fine, more than fine, in fact. This was about me and my testimony.
Hitting a low point, I realized I was burned out and needed a break. I felt angry. What had happened to my belief in God and his ability to give me peace and answers?
At the time, I was serving as Young Women’s President, again, and felt I could no longer teach the girls when I was lost. One day, on a long run in the west hills above my home, I fell to my knees and asked for forgiveness, and for some inspiration of where to go from here. As a result of that prayer, I felt strongly to ask to be released from my calling. Now normally I would have said to myself, “The Lord would never give you that prompting.” On that run, in those hills that day, I knew it was the right decision.
The following Sunday, I asked our bishop if I could take a break from callings. It was the best thing I could have done. I needed to find myself; I needed to find God. I had been so busy the last few years, I could hardly think straight. I felt a transition—a letting go. I got off the merry-go-around.
The Power of a Supportive Spouse
I continued to go to church, take the sacrament, serve in the nursery, and support my husband in his calling. He did not question my decision. He simply let me be. He could tell this had been building in me for a long time, because we were open in our communication about spiritual feelings, as well as frustrations. I don’t know anyone I trust more than him. We have always been honest and vulnerable with each other. When I told him I just couldn’t continue this facade, he agreed and nothing more had to be discussed.
My husband didn’t feel the same way about his calling. Though sometimes exhausting, he enjoyed serving. He knew what his greater purpose was. He loved the leaders he instructed, and the diverse members he helped. My intent was never to discourage him from what he believed and loved doing.
Understanding the Meaning Behind Our Grief
According to psychology, when we feel a major loss of any kind (for me, it was the loss of my testimony), we experience the seven stages of grief:
- Depression, loneliness, and reflection,
- Reconstruction, and
I went through every one of them in my journey. It’s easy to look back and see that I had just experienced the first four stages of grief—shock, denial, guilt, and anger. I was now at stage five, and felt lonely and depressed having isolated myself. During this time, however, I was reflecting and experiencing a cathartic renewal.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, was taking place inside me. I had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
I stopped being self-centered about what I personally was going through, and wondered instead what the Savior was going through. His children turn their backs on Him and his gospel all the time. What must He feel?
I knew what I felt like as a mother. Certainly He was feeling the same way towards me. I began to genuinely feel that Jesus Christ shared my grief. And at the same time, I felt he accepted my feelings, that it was okay to be experiencing doubts. I felt his infinite, unconditional love. That was a turning point for me. I was no longer angry, but filled with that same love and acceptance for myself that He was offering me.
My children weren’t wayward, any more than I was in trying to find truth. They were discovering truth in their own way, just as we had always taught them. I felt His peace.
Let God In
Stages six and seven of the grief process are reconstruction and acceptance. I realized I was not to blame, no one was. I let go of my ego and let God in again. I began working at the temple to gain a deeper understanding of The Plan of Salvation and His purpose for all mankind through the covenants we make with Him.
I learned to love more deeply those that question, or struggle with organized religion. I learned not to judge, even as I was not judged. For the past year, my mind has been expanded in the temple as I have performed the ordinances and have helped others participate in their covenants.
Personally Understanding Our “Why”
God doesn’t want us to leave, but He will allow us to. He cares for our eternal well-being. He knows “The Why.” We have to discover it for ourselves. My leaving for a short period of time was so that I could return with a new understanding.
Yes, it’s best to always be stalwart and steadfast. But God knew we would stumble in the darkness once in a while. I’ve learned that it’s part of His plan. And when we rise, He will be there for us, still leading the way. He will wait.
I also believe that in our absence from His spirit, we will crave His presence in our lives even more strongly. It has been a couple of years since my new period of growth began. I have grown by placing less focus on church activity and embracing the gospel more. This isn’t the answer for everyone. But it was for me.
Being Spiritually Self Reliant Makes us Happy
The programs don’t make me happy, the gospel in its purity does. I truly believe I was caught up in the cycle of the programming during all those years of raising my children, and had failed to become one with Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father, and The Holy Ghost.
At the same time that I was going through my soul-searching period, “ministering” replaced the Visiting and Home Teaching programs, followed by the “Come Follow Me” concept of spiritual self-reliance. Even church meetings were shortened to two hours. These new angles of living the gospel resonated with me at a time when I was searching for simplicity myself.
I believe these transitions for the church and individuals is necessary for the coming days ahead, when more than ever we must be independent of programs and award systems to dictate our spiritual well-being. Instead, we must build personal faith by being spiritually self-reliant.
What we must Worship to Fulfill our Life’s Purpose
There is no doubt that the programs of the Church will continue and are essential to building strong testimonies, but we cannot worship callings or activity in the church, nor condemn those that use their free-agency and don’t attend church. We must first worship God and come to know Jesus Christ through the Holy Ghost which testifies of Him.