Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Faith for the Faithless

Today is the day when I should be doing something like posting pictures and stories about how awesome halloween was (it was) or how much fun I had running with the kids from door to door (we literally ran, on the theory that the faster we went the more candy we'd get) or why the remote control fog machine was awesome (I used it to terrify more than one little kid). 

But today, with the Witch's blessing and encouragement, I want to talk about something else that happened this weekend.  It left as lasting an impression on me as anything in recent memory, and it's part of the family life we've not really talked before.  A major part.  This post will be long, and perhaps more than a bit egocentric, and somewhat irrelevant to any readers that are not LDS, and for that I apologize.  But more than a few people who have profoundly affected me read this blog, and I hope they'll read this.

Three weeks ago I was asked to speak in church, which is not a problem.  I am comfortable with public speaking and teaching.  I was asked to speak on building a foundation of faith.  This was a problem.

It's been a bit of a secret to the world (but not to the Witch) that I've been struggling with my faith for the better part of a decade.  The specifics as to why are not important (although I'm willing to discuss them); let it simply been said that my thirst for knowledge and willingness to study have let me to some areas of difficult intellectual resolution.  Maybe this has been obvious to others and maybe this has not, but it's been a constant theme since I started law school at least, and all the while cognitive dissonance has been my faithful companion. The full truth is far more complicated than this but the full story isn't important.  I suspect this will come as a surprise to many of my friends.

It took me the better part of three or four years to come to accept this new state - not resolve it, but accept it - on a personal level.  It was several more years before I gradually started opening up to the Witch.  And another couple until I could talk to one trusted leader about it.  And until Sunday I had not opened up to just about anybody else.

Under the theory that honesty produces the best talks and lessons, I put together a talk (backed by scripture and sermon) that accurately portrayed my faith:  built on a lot of hopes and desire, with a couple of true and real convictions based on some pretty special experiences.  These are the things that keep me putting one foot in front of the other in religious darkness.  For the first time, I was publicly honest about my struggle and skepticism. 

I was very nervous about this.  It's hard to admit doubt and skepticism in a place where we don't often talk about it.  But I've been touched by the number of people who have emailed/talked/called me to say that they appreciated it, or have similar struggles, or otherwise offered support.  Sometimes I think I judge people too quickly and assume the worst.  Other times I know I do.

And I don't mean to say that everything I've been experiencing is negative.  One thing about doubt is that it removes all pretense of know-it-all-ism, at least as far as the particular subject is concerned.  It has made me understanding of others and has made me a much better teacher in my class than I otherwise would be.  

I write this because a number of people have asked how I am, or have noticed that I've been distant, or otherwise thought something is up with me because I haven't been to X meeting or participated in Y activity.  The answer is that, yes, there is, and I'm not offended if you ask how I'm doing (it changes from day to day; today is fine), and I probably didn't do X or Y because I'm trying to eliminate things that elevate negative emotion.  I'm actually happy to talk about how I'm doing.  Or why I struggle - or not, because there is a burden to knowledge, and I'm not interested in sharing things that other people don't want to know.  In the end I'm the same person you've known over the last 10 years, but now you know something about me you did not.

The real hero of this is the Witch.  She of all people deserves a gold sticky for being compassionate, for listening, and for being a friend. She's offered to do things to help that are far beyond any duty she has, and while my troubles are beyond her ability to fix, her support has been more than I could ask for.


Stephanie said...

That is cool. I think that witch is one of a kind. She rocks! And I'm glad you can be so open about everything and have the support at home and at church that you have!

Prairie Smoke said...

Sometimes faith is not knowing every last thing is true. Sometimes faith is realizing what we do know is true and trusting in God about what we don't know. Besides, where would the fun be in knowing everything?

Erin said...

Great post, thanks for sharing! I really admire your honesty.

Sheralie said...

I think she is one of the best listeners I have ever - ever met. Glad you have each other.

Lisa said...

Everybody needs a Silly Witch!

Julianne said...

I was so grateful to hear your personal, honest words in church... what a courageous and inspiring way to present the assigned topic. I too have felt similarly to you, probably with different details, and it was refreshing and real and wonderful to hear your story. Thank you for your willingness to be open and even place yourself in that vulnerable position. I was very touched by your message.

We love your family and are blessed to have you near.

eryka said...

I think it's so healthy to question. If we didn't our testimonies woud never grow. It's also important to trust in what you do know to be true. Having faith is not knowing everything but trusting that what we do know.

Your wife is amazing.