More and more I am finding doubt among friends and family. I believe doubt is a normal thing, like the common cold. Just about everyone comes down with it from time to time. But we all must, at one time or another, face the dark side of our consciousness and decide what we are going to do about it. It’s not easy, but this life was not meant to be easy. It was meant to be educational.
I had to face the dark before I ever joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll call it my pre-faith crisis. As some of you know, my parents were violently opposed to me joining the Church. At 17, the bright light of the gospel showed up in my life. I was so excited about it I could hardly contain myself, but my parents, especially my father, went apoplectic. They piled books and pamphlets in my lap that were, well, less than complimentary of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre . . . you get the idea.
I read that material with an open mind. I wasn’t afraid of it or particularly shocked. Why would I be? I literally knew nothing about Mormonism before that time. As I sorted through the criticism and negativity, the accusations, the logic and the illogic that shouted from those pages, I was also reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, feeling the presence of the Spirit, hearing the voice of the Lord come to my heart, and experiencing miracles daily.
Even at that young age, I could discern the dissonant voices who spoke against the truth and the light that shined from scripture and from the lives and examples of my Latter-Day Saint friends. The contrast was crisp and beautiful. It brought everything into focus for me. I knew I had to choose the path of light or the path of darkness.
I also knew that God was not in the dark and that I wouldn’t find Him there for “that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23). I also came to know that He will reach into the dark to pull you out, if you turn to Him with all your heart.
And what do I mean by dark? I mean criticism, mockery, sarcasm, blame, belittling, bitterness, disrespect, and contention. If any of these attributes are present, darkness is also present.
I made a simple commitment that unforgettable autumn, before I was baptized, to look to God and follow the light, to take my questions and fears to Him and patiently wait for His answers. That was 41 years ago. I have stayed true to that commitment my entire adult life.
That choice was the best choice I’ve ever made. It hasn’t always been easy, to be sure. I’ve certainly had my dark days—even dark weeks and months—but I’ve stuck it out. And I’m so glad I have.
And I have always received clear answers on whatever question I’ve asked. The promise “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7) really works.
I do not rely on the “arm of flesh” for my answers (see 2 Nephi 4:34). We’ve been counseled to “ask of God” who promises to give answers “to all men liberally.” He won’t upbraid us in the process; He won’t rebuke us or treat us condescendingly. He will simply give answers to us, if we ask sincerely and patiently (see James 1:5).
I’ve had a 100 percent success rate using that formula. I’ll probably keep using it for the next 40 years, though I don’t think I’ll last that long—not as a mortal, anyway.
I want to share a verse that is very powerful to me. It’s short and I memorized it during the first few months I was a member of the Church. It’s one of my favorites:
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.)
Let’s talk about these ten words for a moment. This is the voice of Jesus Christ, pleading with you and me to look to Him in every thought; He is also commanding us—yes, commanding, in an imperative voice—to not doubt or fear.
Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart. . . . (Mormon 9:27.)
Yes, we will all struggle with doubt at one time or another, but it doesn’t have to be our constant companion. We can do something about it.
Look at it this way. If a rattlesnake crawls into your sleeping bag, are you going to let it stay there? Are you going to stay in there? I hope not. I would put as much energy into getting away from doubt that you would put into getting away from a rattlesnake.
I’m not talking about getting away from the truth. I am talking about getting away from darkness and poison.
You are not obligated to doubt. You are not forced to doubt either. It is ultimately your choice. It, like an addiction, might be a hard habit to break. If you trust the wisdom of men and your own wisdom above God’s, your doubts will proliferate. Unchecked, they’ll eventually infest every thought. You might wake up one morning doubting everything. Your heart will be troubled, if not embittered, and your outlook will be dark and contentious. These are signs that the rattlesnake is near or has already bitten you. But you don’t have to stay loyal to your doubts. You can turn from them at any time.
I remember years ago hearing a friend quote the wise advice of his grandmother. “Don’t let the devil get into the car with you because pretty soon, he’s going to want to drive.” You don’t have to let doubt take the wheel; you don’t even have to let it get into your car.
Turn your back on doubt and turn your whole heart to God. Turn your whole heart to His light. Trust that light and follow it. Don’t wait for complete and perfect answers before you choose to follow the light. Those answers will come after you choose the light. As you walk toward the light, the shadows always fall behind you.
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–13.)
You’re here to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you turn toward the light, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21). You’ll know what to do. You’ll have peace in your heart. You’ll get your answers. You don’t have to cling to your misunderstanding. Light won’t treat you with disrespect.
Have not I [the Lord] commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9.)
You have not been asked to cross the plains of the American West. You’ve been asked to cross the plains of doubt. You can do it. Of course you can. I know you can. Make doubt your servant; don’t let doubt be your master. Let doubt be your acquaintance, but don’t invite it over for Christmas dinner.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Who has the light? You’ll know them by their fruits (see Matthew 7:15–20)—that is, in the long run, they’ll produce joy instead of bitterness, unity, not separation, love, not hatred. Let His light lead you to the good fruit. He will not fail you if you put your trust in Him (see Mosiah 7:33).
And you’ll get that rattlesnake out of your sleeping bag.