Staying Mormon when God is silent

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From October 10 to November 7, we'll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

From October 10 to November 7, we’ll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

Toward the end of The Crucible of Doubt, the book we have spent the last few Fridays discussing, the authors go into detail describing a period of doubt in the life of Joseph Smith.

Right before the darkness struck, he seemed poised to fulfill all the expected prophetic goals (Centerplace of Zion! Two dozen temples! Twenty thousand people converting to Mormonism!).

And then it all fell to pieces. He felt nothing when he prayed, and the heavens were silent for months as the situation in Missouri got even worse.

I found myself cheering that this story of near-despair was being told in a Church-published book without the requisite triumphalism at the end. It closes not with a miracle, or a pithy lesson like “the Church had to suffer in this way because the Lord had something even bigger and better planned for the Saints!”

Rather, it ends with Joseph weeping on the people’s behalf.

I felt so uplifted by this honesty. Why don’t we tell stories like this more often?

This week in our final discussion of The Crucible of Doubt, let’s talk about storming the heavens — apparently in vain. I’ve known plenty of Mormons who’ve left the Church, sometimes because of policies on women or blacks or gays; sometimes, though, it’s because God went AWOL with no forwarding address.

I don’t think our religion does a good job of acknowledging the regularity of dark nights of the soul, to say nothing of actually providing resources to help people understand how common (and necessary) they are.

With that in mind, here are some questions to guide our conversation in this last week:

  • I was struck by the authors’ fresh interpretation of “Be not overcome of evil.” We tend to emphasize this in a finger-pointing way, not wishing to fall prey to evil thoughts or behavior. But what if instead this means instead “that as compassionate spectators we would fall prey to the weight of evil, and turn to despair hopelessness, or bitterness”?
  • How do you respond when God is silent? When have you despaired of receiving an answer to prayer, or some kind of spiritual manifestation?
  • Is it possible you may have missed an answer to prayer because you were expecting it to come in some burning-of-the-bosom kind of way and instead the response came stealthily? (I tend to prefer my own answers to be delivered at regular intervals by owl post, or possibly skywritten over my house, and I have certainly had times when it’s only with hindsight I can look back and see how the hand of God may have been active in my time of despair.)
  • How do you respond personally when Mormons around you say they have lost their faith and are leaving the Church? How does the Church respond to people who doubt or lose heart?

My deep thanks to our regular featured commenters who have raised great questions in the past month we’ve been discussing this book: Emily Jensen, Samuel Brown, Robert Couch, Dan Wotherspoon, Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, Kristine Haglund, Brandt Malone, Heather Hardy, and Mitch Mayne.

If you’d like to check out the previous weeks of discussion in this guided conversation, here are links to what we’ve been doing in the book club so far:

Week 1: Mormon Doubts

Week 2: “I know the Church is true,” and other Mormon muddles

Week 3: The dangers of idolizing Mormon prophets

Week 4: Mormonism and “the only true and living church”

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  • My mom still tells a story about a time she met Hugh B. Brown and talked about some of her struggles in life. He told her, in a phrase that I have always treasured, “Sometimes you walk in the light; sometimes you walk in the memory of the light.” His has been my experience, too. I have had a handful of powerful spiritual experiences, but it has not been my spiritual gift to feel the divine presence very often. Instead, I think, I enact the divine presence as I muddle through life guided by the clear seeing I experienced at those previous times. I agree wholeheartedly with the Givenses that memory is an active process that involves our choice. And memory can be a special gift. I’m aware of the psychology literature on the fallibility of memory, but it’s too easy to get distracted by that literature and forget that even imperfect memory can be a source of true faith. Because faith is a kind of holy commitment to memories we create and share with each other and with God.

  • EmJen

    I’m going to zero in on the line from page 138: “Some of us, in other words, are called to live lives of commitment and devotion while dwelling in the realms of belief alone, or harboring the earnest desire to believe.”

    Mormons (although they are certainly not the only ones) require chastity for those heterosexuals who do not marry and require complete celebacy for homosexuals wishing to having relationships with the same sex. And here, the Givens again are promoting a cloistered existence for those who doubt. They certainly have promoted more openess about said doubts, about having safe places to discuss them,, but to finish with the “you’ll just have to live with it,” is curious. I guess I want a nod to those who, for whatever reason, decides not live with it.

    In another vein, the complete reworking of society around the ideal of instant gratification is at complete odds with this patience making it seem, to me, understandable why so many young people are fed up.

  • I have said this repeatedly – I love the Givens church/religion, but it is not the church/religion I belong to. I know we are learning more about nuanced practices and beliefs and those who can remain active LDS but have these styles of thinking, but that still isn’t the church I have baptismal records or covenants in. I would love the Givens’ philosophy or point of view to be the back bone of the LDS faith, but they aren’t the team responsible for that.

    Maybe someday enough traditional practicing members will read this book or publications to the faithful will use this book as it’s premise for articles, but for now, it’s a painful pipe dream.

    I have come to believe or feel that my God hasn’t left me, but my religion did. So I attend weekly, taking my God with me, trying to offer people Christ like opportunities all the while being reminded that my religion does not share my view. Yes, I can cobble together a support for my view from a few General Conference talks, but those aren’t the ones that become Sunday lessons. Where I attend we are 14 Fundamentals all the way. Any community service is an responsibility to “Increase the Fold”. If we have left the fold – its because we were sinners, we stopped paying our tithing, reading our scriptures – My Bishop just said that a couple of weeks ago. Last of all at the most recent General Conference I was told by my General Authority that all the stories on the internet about Joseph Smith are bad and not trustworthy. Just stick to the manual – we are the only source for accuracy. So even if Joseph is different in
    say, Rough Stone Rolling, ignore it. Just come to Sunday School and you’ll be good. I am not even going to begin explaining how the 14 Fundamentals talk is in the upcoming 3rd hour manuals, even though there is a tale told by a Prophets son, that says the Prophet of the time didn’t support it. It’s back in action, full force – and the brethren (according to my active member friends – make no mistakes) And God answers every prayer, especially lost keys and what boat to buy.

    I know that was a rant, but I would love a religion where Friendship is the fundamental cornerstone as Joseph taught, where “you are not trammeled by all doctrines” – as Joseph taught. Where love, hope, and 3 Nephi 18 (about including anyone and everyone) were the principles most worked on. Heck I would even love it if we spent a year on Jesus – and Jesus alone.

    I do thank the Givens’ they are working hard to build, share, and care. I just wish the Salt Lake Team – all branches could see their inspiration and embrace it.

  • James

    Yes. And there, in Independence, the lot still sits, unfulfilled. There has been no happy ending to Joseph’s illustrious vision of Zion. Isn’t that really indicative of our journeys?

    There will always be unfinished business, unanswered questions that cause those dark nights of the soul. None of us are immune, not even the very person Mormonism holds up as its greatest prophet.

    Sometimes silence is the answer. “Not yet,” we’re told. But not really told. Made to understand by the deafening silence.

    Not yet.

  • W

    Carrie, I don’t have any place to weigh in on what your experience has been, and I know there are deeply negative experiences beyond my own. But I’ve seen the idea that the religion of the Givens (or if you’re John Dehlin last week on Facebook, Adam Miller) are rare outliers, and it’s puzzling to me.

    It’s not that I *haven’t* heard 14 fundamentals pounded over the pulpit more than a few times, or seen service treated only as an evangelizing tool, or whichever of the dozens of less inspiring bad habits you want to name. I’ve seen plenty of it and feel comfortable admitting that the church is shot through with it.

    My experience with the church has also, however, been shot through with the thoughtful acknowledgment of unanswered prayers and trials that don’t get wrapped up in weeks or months, with genuine charity offered in the course of church service, with outreach and service projects that are their own point rather than evangelism. Administered by everyday members, not just the Givenses of the tribe. And I’m talking about Utah Valley, not metro Boston or California (though I’ve seen it there too).

    And maybe the funniest thing is that it’s sometimes the same people who said/did something else I thought was ill-considered or unworthy of true religion.

    It’s entirely possible I’ve simply been privileged to have avoided more exposure to the worst we have to offer and lucky to get more exposure to our people at their best. But I suspect that our culture and theology, whatever their flaws, aren’t only rarely handing out the sparks they give to the Givenses and Millers of the world.

  • W

    Those who are finding reflection on this experience of long dark nights fruitful might also like reading about Mother Teresa’s accounts of hers:

  • Sue

    I have felt many dark nights of the soul where I have felt abandoned by God, and I expect to feel many more. I no longer expect God to answer my prayers or pleas, but on the rare occasions that he does, I feel deep gratitude and a few more layers added to my little hill of faith. I have come to accept that my personal spiritual style appears to be receiving the subtlest of cues, mostly words to my mind, rather than experiencing any dramatic manifestations whatsoever. I love what Dr. Jonathan Sandberg said at a recent BYU devotional: “Experiencing a sense of abandonment is so important to our spiritual growth. Our Savior (see Matthew 27:46; D&C 133:50), Joseph Smith (see D&C 121 and 122), Mother Teresa (see Marcus Goodyear quote), and other good souls have described times in their lives when they felt abandoned by Heavenly Father. At least in Joseph Smith’s case, he was pretty angry about it (see D&C 121:1–3). I am not sure what the answer will be, but I do know this: if the Savior and other great and honorable people have gone through it, I can expect to as well.”

  • W – I agree that there are some wonderful things that happen in our church also. It isn’t all bad – yet it isn’t all good. We really have no room in our culture yet for outliers.

    I think you and I presently see the LDS community differently. That’s okay. Each person has a unique vantage point in any life. All I would say is that I am not convinced that the things you bring as good in the church, don’t happen to others outside of our faith and that individuals who leave don’t have their prayers answered, too, nor do they lose opportunities to serve as we do. This is the beauty of a Mother Teresa figure. She had all the same joy, heartache, fulfillment, and sufferings in her world, with her mission and no connection the LDS faith.

    The Givens’ invite the possibility of a life like that. Someday maybe the LDS culture will be that way, too.

  • I remember reading about her years ago after her passing. It was a full book on it. At the time I carpooled with a Catholic and they were really struggling with the silence of God toward her. At the same time they wanted their lives to emulate her. This life can be so frustrating and inspiring simultaneously.

    Thanks for the link to remind me of it.

  • W- I think what my heart desires and what I have trouble communicating is I want the Church that bears Christs name to be more of a healing place, a salve place, a rest your weary load place. That’s the world I imagine when I think of Christs place. A soul restoring place. That’s why I said for me God is not silent – the church is silent. They know the numbers that are leaving, they have resources of information should they choose to use it, yet it “The Christ Vision” I get when I read scriptures is miles away.

    I adore our leaders. I love Pres. Monson’s focus. I wish it was as popularly received as President Hinckleys was – but Monson isn’t a PR type. He is avuncular – and I love that about him. I believe top leaders are working hard to include the Christ Vision to us. Problem is it hasn’t made it yet. It’s a water trickle.

    I want to make our church a healing zone like Mother Teresa did for the poor in body. We have uncounted amounts of poor in heart. Lets get back to Christ, set Joseph and team aside, and see if we can bind up the wounds, lift up the hands that hang down, and create a beautiful city on a hill.

  • JennyB

    Some of the Given’s writing really resonated with me – others not so much in these final chapters. I really liked this from p.116:

    “False hope seems worse than none; better to know one is alone in the sea than to wait for the rescue that never comes.”

    In a religion that sometimes spotlights caricatures of (hollow) cheerfulness, I appreciate the Givens’ nod toward more realistic narratives. But I also believe that pessimism can be just as much a distortion as optimism.

    I smiled when I read “Faith is lived, not thought.” (p. 143) – I do think it is clever, and is a valid thought, but it struck me as a direct re-purposing of Hermann Hesse’s famous words, “Truth is lived, not taught.”.

    I have a different opinion about their interpretation of “Burning in the bosom.” (p. 126) I had a particularly powerful spiritual experience – beyond words to describe, but if I *had* to try to describe it in the least number of words, I would say it was a “lightning bolt to the chest – of such power and energy I’m surprised it didn’t knock me clear across the room, or at least off my feet.” One of the first thoughts I had after the experience was, “Well, wow! Burning in the bosom is literal – and all this time I thought it was just a nice metaphor!” Perhaps it becomes real to some, remains allegorical to others – and perhaps that is how it ought to be.

    I appreciate how very many things the Givens are willing to leave alone to the mysteries (and in so writing, granting us indirect permission to be more willing and comfortable there ourselves).

    Their talk of God perhaps not being “all good and all powerful” left me a little puzzled & disagreeing. Something in me doesn’t see it that way – but I’m not nearly as formally educated as the Givens, and I wouldn’t try to engage in dialogue about it. It’s just something I’m going to search and research for myself over the coming months (without expecting an unassailable answer – I will remember this.)

    I don’t remember if this thought is in the book, or if it’s from a podcast or web chat I heard Terryl give (but I’m adding it here because this is the last blog in this venue on the Givens book) — but I also disagree with one of his conclusions that “the most virtuous, chaste, honest, disciplined saint in the world could be a hermit disconnected from any relationship.” I think this is a false premise, a misconception, a false preconception. I do not think there exists such a state of total disconnection. And when we do feel alienated, lost, without peace, without solace, I think it’s precisely because (at least in part) we are not in harmony with our natural state (and with what really IS) in that we are all connected – inherently so – and any outward state that suggests the opposite is uncomfortable to us for the very reason that it is not in harmony with what IS (connection). But again, my formal scholarly work on this is not on par with the Givens, so I’d be lost in a quick hurry if they or I were to dialogue about it. Suffice it to say, I think they ought to at least take another look at the presumption that we can actually be in a state of total disconnection. I don’t think it’s possible.

    Overall, I tend to resonate with what Carrie posts most every time. I love the ideas in the book, but it can be a “painful pipe dream”.

    To end with Jana’s question: “How does the Church respond to people who doubt or lose heart?” – When my son turned 18, one of the first things he did was request that his name be removed from the records of the church. We got a letter in the mail from church headquarters. It came with a pamphlet that said “I’m sorry” on it from the Church. I felt that they really meant it – I don’t have the pamphlet in front of me (I don’t even know where it is or if we saved it – probably not – it’s a painful reminder on both sides) – so I can’t quote it accurately. But in my memory it basically says, “If we have offended you in any way, we are sincerely sorry. Please accept our deepest apologies.” I felt touched by it – it struck me as being genuine. I know individuals in many ways have not been so gracious, myself at many times included. I was glad to see that someone somewhere really is or was sorry for the pain the Church may have caused. I would like to believe the best of the Church in this regard – so all my talk about whitewashed history needs to be slightly modified by a disclaimer from me saying I don’t think anyone ever intended ill-will or deceit. I prefer to believe that most people, most of the time, do the best they can with what they know – and that’s all any of us can ever do. That many things have ended in such a tangle and anguish for so many people is something for which I feel our Heavenly Father weeps – and weeps for every one on every side.

    Thanks Jana and contributors. I’ve enjoyed this Book Club immensely.

  • JennyB

    Re: Sue’s comment on dark nights of the soul and how experiencing a sense of abandonment is important to our spiritual growth:

    I have often thought (with confusion) upon the scene where the Lord utters “My God, My God? Why hast Thou forsaken me?” It’s jarring, isn’t it? I’ve come to just one (among many) possible comments to be made about the scene, though to me it is still 99.8% mystery. But it struck me one day that perhaps the example of the Lord crying out for Father *even though* he felt abandoned and deserted by Him, is something of an amazing act of faith. That, against every and all sense & perception of desertion, he nevertheless STILL cried out to his father, *expecting that he would be heard!* I find that an incredibly beautiful thought – that instead of just a story about being abandoned and Christ verbalizing it, it showed Christ’s unfaltering faith – faith that at the deepest level possible, the desertion was not true or complete, or at least not permanent – that a plea in the form of a prayer would be heard, even if not answered. (And I still believe it’s just a chip of a chip of a fragment of a shard of insight into the totality of what one can know about this moment of Christ’s life.)

    I also wanted to add one more thought, along what Carrie has said. Much of what the Givens write is ideal. I would love to share their words with my ex-Mormon family members and friends – but I have been burned before, trying to do this. I’ll read or send something super ecumenical (downplaying a One and Only narrative – or at least allowing for a much more universal approach that many could swallow if they came back) and the question almost always boils down to “Well who said that? Wait. Who? Are they a leader at the General level of the Church? No? Well, they don’t speak for the church. I’m not buying it.” It really does boil down to authority. Authority about the Priesthood and saving ordinances and sacraments – but also authorities and what they are saying about the institutional church – and as of yet, I still have not heard a person with authority from Salt Lake say the things the Givens bring forth in their book. So no one will follow or be convinced by this (in my experience) unless or until it is taught in an official capacity. For now, ex-Mormons/disaffected – however they like to regard themselves – don’t take works like theirs seriously because they do not speak for the Official Church in any official capacity. I wish it weren’t so, but that has been my experience.

  • StokedMormon

    Jana’s post alludes to another Mormula (Thanks, Jana, for coining that term!): If you live righteously and obediently, you will earn the companionship of the Spirit, and will experience God’s presence in your life. I have heard this taught countless times in myriad ways; indeed, prior to my faith crisis, I taught it myself. Yet, my experience tells me that life is much more complicated than that. As a missionary, I recall a period when I was more stalwartly devoted to The Work than any other, but saw painfully little success. Later in life, my wife and I stalwartly devoted ourselves to preparing a Gospel-centered home in which to raise a family, only to have our hopes for children dashed again and again. Multiple times, I had experiences that, to me, felt like spiritual impressions signaling that a child would be coming soon. These impressions went unrealized for years.

    Nowadays, these experiences do not weigh so heavily on me. I look back on my mission with fondness, though I certainly remember the hardships. I now have three wonderful children, though they didn’t quite come in the time frame or in the way that my spiritual premonitions indicated. I feel like a very blessed individual, even if my idea of following the Savior differs my earlier point of view. But I still cringe a little bit every time I hear, “Just do x, and you’ll be blessed with y!” Because sometimes y doesn’t come for years, or it comes in a way that is almost unrecognizable, or perhaps it doesn’t come at all. Teaching otherwise sets up false expectations.

    I am now, happily, more comfortable with the complexities of life. Yet, at Church, it seems that I am met with resistance any time I try to suggest anything that doesn’t comfortably fit within the Mormula. Even when sharing something as innocuous as, “Life is messy and complicated; obedience isn’t a cure-all,” others have stepped forward to correct me. I feel like the idea that obedience = blessings is so deeply embedded within the Mormon psyche that anything that challenges the completeness of this equation can feel threatening to many members. I believe that, sadly, emphasizing simple Mormulas like this stifles spiritual maturity.

  • Robert Couch

    This final week’s reading somehow changed my understanding of what the Givenses are striving to do with the book. And, more importantly, this offers a glimpse into what I fancy to be something of the Givenses’ hopes and desires for the book — and in a way that makes me respect them all the more. That is, I got the distinct impression this week of a couple of authors whose large souls ache for the anger, hurt, frustration, and doubt that so many members of the Church they love are experiencing. And this is their best, consecrated effort to both empathize with and heal this pain.

    I plan to say more later, but for now I just want to say a very heartfelt thank you to the Givenses for writing such an important and needed book. I think it is already proving its incredibly powerful effect on those who are spiritually hurting — frustrated with several aspects of the all-too-human nature of the institutional Church — and yet simultaneously striving to be true to the beauty, truth, and goodness they’ve found within Mormonism. For these readers in particular, this book is truly a godsend.

  • Kristine Haglund

    I think these chapters are the bravest in a brave book. There is so much in Mormon culture that resists leaving the questions unresolved, making no promises, bearing no certain testimony. We don’t even like to make it through a few verses of slightly troubling scripture in Sunday School unless there’s a tidy moral to be drawn. And yet that is the ending that this book _must_ have–it has to allow the reader to remain in the titular crucible.

    But the Givenses push even further than they had to, I think. The idea that one might go a lifetime without any confirmation of hope or faith is the bleakest end of the story possible, but also the truest. It also cuts pretty hard against culturally prescribed modes of ethical decision-making in Mormonism. We’re told over and over that we will feel a certain way if we are earnest and righteous enough. What the Givens insist on, finally, is an ethical framework that does not rely on the emotional epistemology that is typical of Mormon descriptions of faith–they say “faith is lived, not thought.” But I think it would also work to say “faith is lived, not felt.”

    Exercising this kind of faith–devotion and commitment in the face of doubt–within a community that thinks and speaks so differently about what faith is, and how Mormons ought to _feel_ as well as what they ought to do, seems (barely) possible, but also tremendously lonely. It is painful and difficult to practice Romantic heroism outside of novels!

    And, of course, the doubter is not quite the Romantic hero, could not possibly be within the framework of ordinances and community that earlier chapters describe. And it is that framework on which the choice to believe or not rests: “No human relationship can carry any guarantee of success, but the vulnerability to which we expose ourselves in love is to a large degree the measure of that love. So it is also with the gesture of faith.” And “such a gesture represents our considered and chosen response to the universe, our assent to what we find beautiful and worthy and deserving of our risk.”

    For me, part of what remains unresolved (and unresolvable) in this ending–the individual choosing to believe, to hope for the sake of the good found in human love and community–is that such a choice is not (yet) understood or honored in our tradition, and may be unrecognizable as faith to family and friends. I hope there will be a sequel to this book called “The Doubter in Zion,” that more fully grapples with significant problems of Mormon culture and practice at every level–there are impediments to belonging that cannot be resolved by a doubter’s leap of faith.

    It may be, in the end, only Sehnsucht, the _longing_ for love and community that the doubter is left with. There’s a Mormon hymn that makes yearning the road to hope: “…let the sweet longing for Thy holy place/bring hope to my desolate heart.” And a Christian poem that suggests there is One who knows how to succor the lonely doubter:

    no time ago
    or else a life
    walking in the dark
    i met christ

    Jesus) my heart
    flopped over
    and lay still
    while He passed (as

    close as i’m to you
    yes closer
    made of nothing
    except loneliness
    — e e cummings

  • I think what I appreciated most in this part of the book is those moments where we feel distanced from our Savior weren’t treated with the glib, trite advice we always seem to get in Church: Pray, fast, read your scriptures and go to the temple.

    Sure—those things can work and work well, but not always and not always for all people.

    I had my own ‘dark night’ coming to terms with integrating my faith and my orientation. It was a long period of time and I definitely felt bereft of the magnitude of spiritual guidance I thought I needed. But I did get bits, here and there, and on my darkest night (so close to the edge of taking my own life) I thought I really *needed* the heavens to open—but they did not. What did happen, though, was I was given the simple idea, “What if you stopped letting others define who you are—and did it yourself?” That was enough.

    Since, there have been times where I’ve felt the line was busy when I’ve been searching for answers. I’d like to say that I’m mature enough to never get frustrated when that happens, but that’s not the case. That said, I’ve never reached a point where I’ve doubted He exists—but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand people who do (for the record, some self-proclaimed atheist friends of mine are among the best Christians I know).

    But I can get really, intensely angry with my Savior. Sometimes I even yell at Him and say mean things. I turn my back on communicating with Him and on my spiritual practice—pouting, sure that somehow this is punishing Him and he’ll give me the response I so desperately need. Every time, though, I’ve turned back to Him—sometimes resentfully at first, but I always end up back with Him. Truth is, I think He understands this kind of behavior—if all of us are genuinely His little brothers and sisters, it kind of fits the model.

    I now look back at those dark times and I can recognize—in retrospect—His hand in my life. Often I can’t see it in the moment—I’m too wrapped up in whatever problem I’m trying to resolve. Perhaps this means I’m expecting something too overt, or perhaps it simply means I’m human and in my own limited capacity I “don’t see the forest because of the trees.”

    Today, what works for me is that exercise of looking back when I’m in the throes of a challenge. Every single time I’ve been taken care of. True, it might not look the way it would look if I were writing the script, but it was resolved somehow. I don’t always have the perfect faith that I’ll get the perfect answer at the perfect time. But I do have faith that my Savior has a bigger plan for all of us than I can see, and when I drop my challenge into His hands (and stop obsessing about it and live my darned life) things seem to work out.

    BTW, I loved the reference to Mother Teresa. While she’s long been one of my heroes, I loved reading her writings after her death that even she faced a faith crisis. What an incredible role model—here is someone who literally changed the world, and admitted (perhaps only to herself, at first) that she didn’t know anymore about a grand plan or her place in it. Yet, she continued to do kind things for the world *because they were the right thing to do for others.*

    In her lack of faith, she perhaps had the strongest and most beautiful faith of all.

  • I know we have one more segment, I also know I have been a vocal wrestler in the club. I appreciate everyone not taking my comments as rancor, but allowing me to process out loud, while still hearing your thoughts. I have loved the spectrum of individuals that have contributed thoughts.

    I don’t think I have made any lasting decisions. At present I have a strong wish that idea’s such as these the Givens present, as well as the former words of leaders like Hugh B. Brown, and Chieko Okazaki would be added to our curriculum, our conference messages, and magazines. I am hungry for the possibility of an LDS Universalist God.

    Thanks Jana and everyone else. I needed this wrestle.

  • Fred M

    I just finished the book. I had my quibbles with elements of it here and there, and my doubts (appropriately!) about where the Givenses were headed, but I have to say I found the last two chapters and the epilogue to be beautiful and touching and true and everything I’d hoped for the book to be. I think it should be required reading in the church. I am going to recommend it to everyone I know.

    As I’ve been going through my own trial of faith this past year or so, I’ve never ever considered leaving the church. I have had a wonderful life so far, and the gospel has been a huge part of that. It’s given me direction, made me happy, made me a better husband and father, and truly blessed me. There is nothing else I’ve found that even comes close. So despite all of my doubts, all the things that bother me, that don’t make sense, I’ve decided this is where I belong. And this book has not only made me feel good about that decision, it’s helped remove some of the scales of cynicism and negativity from my eyes.

    “One might consider that the contingencies of history and culture and the human element will always constitute the garment in which God’s word and will are clothed.” I love that. Of course, I will still question and doubt and be critical of things I believe aren’t right–that’s just who I am–but I feel that thanks to this book I have a much better grasp of the bigger picture and where my questioning intellect belongs in it.

    So thank you, Jana, for this book group. I can honestly say it’s changed me for the better.

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  • Jeff P

    Thank you for making this observation, Stoked. Mormons are certainly not the only one’s who do this, and there are different variations of this, one of which I have fallen into at times. I think this is one of the most damaging errors we Christians make, because its so obvious to any thinking person that its false, its spiritually shallow, and its so painful to sincere people of faith who are undergoing spiritual ‘desolations’. A pastor of mine used to call this the ‘vending machine’ view of God: the right coin in the slot always gets you a reward. As you observe, virtue and faithfulness often do not result in perceivable spiritual blessings. In fact, as the Given’s observed early in the book, they are sometimes the cause of suffering.

    How many converts to Christianity leave because we made them false promises about how much better their emotional and spiritual life would be as a result? How does this view gradually warp our faith to focus on the benefits of faith to ourselves, rather than focusing on others, or on Christ?.

    I appreciate how the books of Ecclesiastes and Job challenge this thinking.

  • Jeff P

    I was really moved by your thoughts, and your honesty. I SO relate to what you say, especially here:

    “But I can get really, intensely angry with my Savior. Sometimes I even yell at Him and say mean things. I turn my back on communicating with Him and on my spiritual practice—pouting, sure that somehow this is punishing Him and he’ll give me the response I so desperately need. Every time, though, I’ve turned back to Him—sometimes resentfully at first”

    How do I handle God’s absence? Most of the time, to be honest, with resentment, anger, self-doubt, and self-pity.

    On thing that has helped me greatly, is the help of Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Directors are specially trained to help one discern God working, or moving, in one’s life. Am I just in a normal time of spiritual ‘desolation’, or is God trying to tell me something, to lead me to something new? He or she can really help you better see His hand in your life. Rather than always trying to figure out how to change me situation, she sometimes asks me to look for the opportunities to grow from it. They can really help you see yourself better, help you see the longer trajectory of your faith life, of God’s hand in your life, above the present moment.

    What I have learned very slowly and painfully, is that the life of faith, for some of us, is not like a journey up a mountain peak. Is more like walking in the high hills: often I’m in the forest and can’t see a thing, or I climb a hill only to find that the trail descends again on the far side. But, every so often you get into a clearing and see the incredible view back where you came: and you see you really have come a far way.

    In my better moments I remember something I read during a particularly difficult time: As Jana talks about in ‘Flunking Sainthood’, you don’t have to have achieved perfection to be a saint. You may not notice that you are changing at all, or that God is with you at all, and you may feel like a failure at the time, but then something will happen, and as she writes ‘those attempts at sainthood that felt like dismal failures at the time, actually took hold somehow. They helped for me into the kind of person who could go to the bedside of someone who had harmed me and be able to say, “i forgive you”. “(epilog).

  • Beautiful comment, Jeff. As a side note, I JUST started working with a spiritual director. It’s been helpful so far.

  • Carrie, I’m glad you could be here, thinking out loud with us. It’s a blessing.

  • Robert, I agree. I’m thankful that this book exists — and that it’s been published by Deseret. The authors have definitely struck a nerve with this much-needed approach.