Let the Shadows Fall behind You

Boy holding stuffed rabbit with a frightening shadow behind him. From Canva.com.

Doubt is a normal thing. Like the common cold, just about everyone comes down with it from time to time. We all come face-to-face with shadows and have a chance to decide what we are going to do about it. Facing a dark night of the soul is not easy.

I had to face a dark night of the soul before I ever joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll call it my pre-faith crisis. At 17, the bright light of the gospel showed up in my life, but my parents were violently opposed to it. I was so excited about it I could hardly contain myself, but my parents, especially my father, were apoplectic. They piled books and pamphlets in my lap that were, shall I say, 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. I literally knew nothing about Mormonism before that time. As I sorted through the criticism, negativity, grumbling, and accusations that shouted from those pages, I was also reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, feeling the warm presence of the Holy 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. I could 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.

Darkness versus Light

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 in conversation or in something you’re reading, darkness is also present.

I made a simple commitment that unforgettable autumn, before I was baptized, to look to God and follow the light. In answer to my prayers, the Lord said to my spirit, “No one really knows what happened to Joseph Smith. I do. Do you believe Me?” That was over 40 years ago. I’ve been weak at times and have made many mistakes, but I have stayed true to that prompting from God.

It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It hasn’t always been easy, to be sure. I’ve certainly had dark days—dark weeks and months—but I’ve hung on.

And I have always received clear answers, eventually, to whatever question I’ve asked. This promise works: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).

I learned to 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 rebuke us or treat us poorly for asking. He will simply give answers to us, if we ask sincerely and patiently (see James 1:5).

“Doubt Not”

I want to share a verse that is very powerful to me. It’s short. So short, I memorized it during the first few months I was a member of the Church. It’s still 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 (He’s using the imperative voice according to English grammar) 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 from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be our constant companion. We can do something about it.

A Rattlesnake in Your Sleeping Bag

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 there? I think not. You would put as much cleverness and energy into resolving doubt that you would put into getting away from that rattlesnake. It’s wise to move slowly in such a case, but by all means, it’s best to move.

No one is obligated to doubt. No one is forced to doubt. It is ultimately a choice. Like an addiction, it might be a hard habit to break. If we trust the wisdom of the world or our own wisdom above God’s, our doubts will bite with venom.

Unchecked, they’ll eventually infest our thoughts. We might wake up one morning doubting everything. Hearts will be troubled, if not embittered, and our outlook will be dark and at times contentious. These are signs that the rattlesnake is near or has already bitten you. But you don’t have to stay loyal to that snake. You can turn away from the serpent 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.

You can turn your back on doubt and turn your whole heart to God, if you wish. Turn your whole heart to His light and the shadows will lose their strength. 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 to walk in the light. As you walk in the light and 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.)

We’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 clear answers. Temptations will lose power. You won’t have to cling to your misunderstanding. You’ll find it easier to keep the commandments that have troubled you.

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.)

We in our times haven’t been asked to cross the plains of the American West, but we’ve been asked to cross the plains of doubt. We can do it. Of course we can. I know we can.

Make doubt your servant; don’t let it become your master. Let doubt be your acquaintance, but don’t invite it over for Christmas dinner.

Let me close with these words about the fruits of the Spirit and righteous living. I love the way Galatians 5:22–23 reads in The Message:

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.

We’ll know who is walking in the light 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 disdain or 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 to find someplace else to curl up.

(First published as “When Doubt Crawls into Your Sleeping Bag” on October 24, 2016.)

“Be Not Afraid, Only Believe” (Mark 5:36)

UFO Sighting, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, 1941. Courtesy Flikr Commons.

When I was a young boy, I saw a UFO. As I’ve shared my story over the years, few have believed me. I’m grateful to those who have been open to the possibility that I didn’t make my story up. I know what I saw. It was real. It wasn’t my imagination.

Maybe this experience is why I tend to be a believer and not a skeptic. Maybe this is why I believe anything is possible.

As I recall, it was in the late summer or early fall. I was a young boy, 5 or 6 years old. One afternoon, I was playing football—or the comical grade school version of it—with three or four friends in a neighbor’s huge backyard. I don’t know who caught sight of it first, but gasps and shouts got everyone’s attention focused on a rather unusual sight that suddenly appeared in the sky.

Across the street and hovering a few hundred feet above another neighbor’s house was what most people at that time would call a flying saucer. I could see it between a pair of Lombardy poplars. I remember the place where I was standing and I could take you to the exact spot today.

The craft hung in the sky as if it were observing us. It was a luminous gray color. The bottom of it was wider than the top. The edges were soft and rounded and it seemed to be spinning and wobbling slightly. Below the craft was a small round protrusion with rotating lights of various soft colors—orange, red, green and perhaps a sort of purple.

I don’t think any of us were afraid. I personally don’t remember feeling any fear. We yelled and pointed at it and ran as a group in its direction. After being visible for 10 to 20 seconds, as I was running, it was obscured for a moment behind one of those poplars and it disappeared in an instant, as if a window to another dimension opened up and swallowed it whole.

I have a vague recollection of telling my parents what had happened later that night. I recall my father smiling and dismissing my story as only my imagination. A bit ashamed, I kept the story to myself for many years.

Recently I retold the story to a close friend, one who was there with me that afternoon. He confirmed that he saw the same UFO and remembered many of the details exactly as I have shared them with you.

So why do I tell this story to you, to further embarrass myself? No, I’m not worried about that at all. Am I trying to convince you to believe me? No, not that either. I’m just telling you about an experience I had. You can believe or disbelieve me. That’s up to you.

The truth is the truth, whether we believe it or not. It’s nothing to be afraid of, but I fear our understanding of the truth can trip us up at times. I’ve been tripped up many times, for sure. And I’ve tripped up others. For that I am sincerely and deeply sorry.

We can believe whatever we want to believe. It’s our choice. No one can make that choice for us. No one can talk us into believing anything without our permission and nobody should.

I have always been a believer. I have believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world from the time I was a small boy. It always gave me a warm glow just to think about Him. It still does, but that warm glow has turned into a bonfire of belief.

When you believe something, true or not, you often find confirming evidence because of something called confirmation bias, which can be misleading. The more conscious we can be of our bias, the better. Less tripping up that way.

To some, believing in UFOs or alien beings or Bigfoot or other cryptids may seem contrary to traditional Christian beliefs. Some find it hard to wedge such things in to a preconceived reality.

Here’s how I look at it: Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that UFOs do not exist? You can’t. On the other hand, can I prove to you that they do exist? I can’t. But the reality of my experience has proved it to me. I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m the only one accountable for my beliefs and choices. Yes, I’ve been sideswiped many times by other people’s choices as I’m sure you have. Others can influence us, but you and I alone can choose what to accept, believe, and how to live.

You choose to believe what you believe usually based on your experience; I choose likewise. My experience in faith, politics, career, and family is so different from yours that I can’t see the world like you do and you can’t see my world, either. But I trust you and I don’t want to disrespect what you have experienced or believe. I honor you. We are living in different worlds, so to speak, and I refuse to judge the world you live in.

I am not out—er, I am no longer out—to try to convince anyone about anything. I may share my feelings, beliefs, far out stories, or invite you to consider something new, but I won’t try to “get you” to believe me. Not anymore. Nuh uh.

You’re a sovereign being. You have freedom of choice. I don’t know of a weightier eternal principle than agency, the freedom to choose and believe as you will.

Freedom of choice, however, is not freedom from law, whether we are aware of those laws or not. If you walk off the edge of a cliff, for instance, the law of gravity will remind you, perhaps one last time, that you are not in charge of the results of your final choice.

Angels or wrecking ball incoming. Our choice.

I’ve suffered from bait-and-switch offers. I’m sure you have too. But the results of those choices, harmless or harmful, have shaped my beliefs and, sometimes after multiple failures, have sharpened them to be more accurate perceptions of reality and more helpful to me and others.

What you believe and what you don’t believe makes all the difference. It’s all on you, ultimately. And I choose to love you, no matter what you choose to believe or do.

Facing Uncertainty with Faith

Man facing a wall of waterLast year, I wrote a blog post called “Diving through the Waves of Uncertainty.” It’s a personal story of when I was 17. I was faced with a barrage of persecution, contradiction, and what I now call “scornography.” Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find my way. I’m sharing this link here because I feel prompted to share it. It might help someone who’s passing through the same fire.

Scornography

I see scornography—media that mocks, belittles, blames, slams, and tears down—the same way I see pornography. If you spend time with it, it’s venom will cross the blood-brain barrier and spread like black ink across your mind. It will bind you and block your ability to see and understand God’s hand in your life. There’s not much difference between the two when you consider the damage they cause.

A Mountain to Climb

We all have the same mountain to climb. We’ll climb different faces, hike trails of our choosing, meander from camp to camp at the base. That doesn’t matter much. What matters is that God our Father stands at the peak, offering His help. If we can manage to lift our eyes from the trail we’re on at the moment, we might just see Him there. He is always willing to help when we ask for it with all our hearts. This I know for certain.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11–13.)

In spite of grinding weakness, I keep looking for the top of the mountain. In tatters, bloodied knees, and a broken spirit, I intend to keep climbing. I don’t know if I’ll reach it in one piece or not, but for now, I’m taking one step, one confession, one slice of humble, and one prayer at a time.

The Six Destructive Ds

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/04/faith-in-the-lord-jesus-christ?lang=eng

Over the last few days, I’ve listened to Elder Kevin Pearson’s conference talk on faith in the Lord Christ (given in April 2009) several times. I was particularly fascinated by his “Six Destructive Ds.” I share them here (emphasis mine).

First is doubt. Doubt is not a principle of the gospel.It does not come from the Light of Christ or the influence of the Holy Ghost. Doubt is a negative emotion related to fear. It comes from a lack of confidence in one’s self or abilities. It is inconsistent with our divine identity as children of God.

Doubt leads to discouragement. Discouragement comes from missed expectations. Chronic discouragement leads to lower expectations, decreased effort, weakened desire, and greater difficulty feeling and following the Spirit (see Preach My Gospel [2004], 10). Discouragement and despair are the very antithesis of faith.

Discouragement leads to distraction, a lack of focus. Distraction eliminates the very focus the eye of faith requires. Discouragement and distraction are two of Satan’s most effective tools, but they are also bad habits.

Distraction leads to a lack of diligence,a reduced commitment to remain true and faithful and to carry on through despite hardship and disappointment. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, but it need not lead to doubt, discouragement, distraction, or lack of diligence.

If not reversed, this path ultimately leads to disobedience, which undermines the very basis of faith. So often the result is disbelief, the conscious or unconscious refusal to believe.

The scriptures describe disbelief as the state of having chosen to harden one’s heart. It is to be past feeling.

These Six Destructive Ds—doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief—all erode and destroy our faith. We can choose to avoid and overcome them.

I loved his statement, “Doubt is not a principle of the gospel.” If it is not a principle of the gospel, where does it come from? Four times in scripture we are commanded specifically to “doubt not” (Matthew 21:21; Mormon 9:27; Doctrine and Covenants 6:36; 8:8.) Because of these verses, I believe that not doubting is actually a principle of the gospel.

7 Classes of Doubt

Courtesy LDS Media LibraryDoubt is normal and common. We are not going to escape doubt any more than we are going to escape temptation or affliction in this life. But as we grow stronger spiritually, doubt loses its sticking power.

Here are 7 classes or flavors of doubt. Are there more? Probably. Are these based on a double-blind, peer-reviewed study? Nope. These are only my life observations. (If you have tweak or one to add, please drop me a comment. I’ll add it and credit you.)

1. Normal doubt

We all experience doubt at one time or another. It’s part of our human wiring for survival. It’s okay to experience doubt, but if doubt drives us away from the truth or from loved ones or common sense or peace of mind, it’s probably more than normal doubt. This kind of doubt is the most temporary.

2. Accidental doubt

You chance on a conversation or some written or visual material, without seeking it, that casts confusion and doubt upon something you have believed for many years, perhaps your whole life. It puts a knot in your tummy. But as you have time to consider it for a few days, the doubt dissipates and you integrate the new notions with your current beliefs or forget about them. It’s not hard to recover from this kind of doubt.

3. Careless doubt

You don’t keep your eyes and ears and heart within wise boundaries. As you sling your attention around Interwebical vastness, you find the unsavory, the dark, the bleak, the lurid, the accusatory. It makes you sick as much as it makes you wonder. You have a hard time filtering this version of doubt. It pummels you, and you may even seek it out for a season, but you eventually shake it off (though they haunt your thoughts from time to time). Or it may take you down a valley road.

4. Obsessive doubt

This doubt thumps you hard. It’s like a fish hook—hard to pull out without pain an injury. It is known by it’s most common name worry. It rolls around in your mind day and night. It won’t leave you alone. Normal relief does not come in a matter of days. It keeps pounding you, day in and day out. It takes you weeks, months, and perhaps years to shake this serpent off.

5. Intellectual doubt

This doubt comes as a result of intellectual inquiry while setting aside spiritual inquiry. It is a lopsided doubt that denies, then denies, and denies. In order for this kind of doubt to flourish, you have to shut 3/4 of the windows in your mind and pull the shades. It is marked by pride, argument, put downs, and a host of relationship killers. When the need to assert your intellect exceeds your need for human connection, especially with those you love and have made covenants with, the fangs have set in and you are taking on venom. You are spiritually poisoned under the guise of intellectual “purity.” This one takes time to sort out and recover from.

6. Wilful doubt

Wilful sin produces wilful doubt. Consciously and perhaps defiantly going against what you know is right produces this type of doubt. It drains the soul of memories or reconfigures them. It turns its back on good habits, common sense, virtue, friends, family, promises, covenants, and eventually, hope. This doubt takes root when sin takes charge and becomes anger driven. Stubborn addictions are often present. The natural man gorges on this kind of doubt. Survival and recovery rates are low and slow, but this is not a hopeless case. In my view, there are no hopeless cases.

7. Nefarious doubt

Finally, we have descended to nefarious doubt. This kinds of doubt drags the doubter, and all he or she can take along with them, down to hell. This doubt knowingly, willfully, and gleefully casts doubt on nearly everything. It has a mission call to the Hades South Mission. It is devil inspired and devil driven. It is the doubt of the spiritual sociopath. It leans on the doorbell of perdition. It’s bad news. Really bad. Survival and recovery rates are the lowest. Once again, as long as there is a God in heaven, there is hope.

Soon, I’ll post something on the remedies to doubt.