I Know … I’m Sorry

The other day, a relative posted their testimony of the LDS gospel to social media, and they used the words, “I know.” I got a bit triggered by this statement because in recent years, those words have come to mean an expression of extreme arrogance. What sounds good and beautiful to the speaker sounds like, “I know I’m right, and you’re wrong,” to me. It sounds like, “no matter what you think you’ve learned, experienced, or discovered in your life, you’re on the wrong path because I know the truth.” It sounds like an impenetrable wall being built up. It sounds like the worst kind of arrogance.

At the same time, I’m going through some difficult times with my wife and our divorce proceedings. I’ve been reading some of the emails we exchanged in the early days of our marriage. In one of the first, I bear my testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wrote, 

“I have a strong testimony of the church and of my savior Jesus Christ. I know the church is true. … I am determined to [stay on] the path that leads to my Heavenly Father. I have felt His love strongly in my life and I know that … His love is unconditional … . I have faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that He suffered and died so that I can repent and find happiness … .”

I used the same absolute terms as my dear relative. Was I being arrogant? If not, then what is the difference? Why does one feel like arrogance and the other not? I thought about this for a while, and decided to go back to my journals to find more instances of the same. I found the first evidence that I believed the LDS gospel in 1990. As a 12 year old, I wrote, “[The bishop] asked if I believed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I happily responded, ‘I do.’ The best thing about that is, I could honestly say it.”

In the following years, those instances of private testimony multiply greatly. By the time I turned 16, I was absolutely certain that the church was true. Every other page of journal writing talks about spiritual experiences, reading the scriptures, and prayer. I wanted nothing more than to please my Heavenly Father and to return to Him one day. At the age of 17, I wrote the following:

“I went out in the rain and sang into the darkness. I feel the Spirit most readily through music, so often I’ll sing my prayers if I feel no one is within listening distance. This night, I stopped singing, being overcome with the Spirit. I felt His presence so strongly around me like a warm embrace. I made a promise at that time to my Heavenly Father that no matter how difficult things got, I would return to him in the Celestial Kingdom. I promised never to give up. If I fell, I would get up again.”

That promise defined me for the next two decades and is still with me in my thought processes, and my journals attest to that fact. At the same time though, my depression never let up. As a missionary in Hungary, I wrote, 

“I was feeling so depressed.  Sitting on my bed, close to tears, I cried out in my heart, ‘Father, hold me.’ The Spirit was instantly all around me as though he were giving me a hug, and I believe, in a way, that’s what it was.  I know He loves me in spite of me. The tears are still flowing though. Despite my prayers, I’m still me. I’m wishing right now that I had never been. I wish I could just cease to exist, both body and spirit.  God Help me!”

Several months later, I also write,

“Help!!! Sinking, ever sinking, the lights are growing dim.  I almost welcome the enclosing darkness, being nearly smothered in a familiar blanket of depression.  As I’m about to be swallowed up, voices call out and give me further desire to struggle and not surrender to the powers of hell.  O great, merciful God! Hear my voice from the great abyss!”

I have no written record of it, but I remember a particularly bad depression when I was 15 years old. I was seriously contemplating suicide and went to my Heavenly Father in prayer. I believed the church and gospel were true, but I was still not absolutely certain, and I needed an answer. If the church was true, I would keep on living because suicide wouldn’t free me from anything. If the church wasn’t true, then I … I don’t know what I would have done. I remember I didn’t want to think about it. I wish I had written more about this time of my life.

One week before my 16th birthday, I made a list of goals to accomplish. Among them is to “Find out for myself whether or not the church is true.” In one week, I finished reading the latter half of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon to its conclusion. Each day of that week I recorded my progress through these books. 

On my actual birthday, there was a situation with my dad where my birthday gifts were somehow locked in the trunk of the car, and he couldn’t get them out. He wanted me to help him figure out how to open the trunk. I had no clue, and I didn’t really care either. I had other things on my mind. I overheard someone asking my Dad why I seemed unhappy, and my Dad told them that I was disappointed that I might not get my birthday gifts. “If only my problems were that simple,” I wrote. I didn’t care at all for presents. I had more important matters on my mind… Like, would God answer my prayer about the church? I felt that if I could just finish the Book of Mormon that day, there might be some chance to turn my life around. All I actually write though is, “I read in the Book of Mormon until I finished it for the first time in my life.  And minutes after I finished came the call for supper. We had hot dogs.”

Despite not writing it, I remember feeling good about my accomplishment, and I took that good feeling to mean that the book was true. From there on, there was no looking back. I would accept that the church was true, and I would live on. Even though I often felt depressed, I put suicide out of my mind. It wasn’t a viable option anymore. I would just have to endure the pain and live on, though I often cried out to God to please just end my existence altogether.

I wasn’t happy, but I knew the church was true. It had to be. The alternatives just seemed too terrible to imagine. Although part of me wanted to die, another part of me was deeply afraid. I needed the church to be true, and I could not afford to doubt. For the next 20 years, I continued to pray regularly. I had countless spiritual experiences that confirmed my knowledge that the church was true. I was incapable of doubt. … 

And when I said, “I know the church is true,” it wasn’t arrogance; it was survival. 

And so, when I thought again about my relative’s declaration of sure knowledge, I decided that there may be other reasons besides sheer arrogance. I still don’t like certainty of any sort, and especially in religion, but I can see how it may feel necessary at a personal level. And though a person may believe that they are being open-minded, I think there are layers of consciousness or subconsciousness that may disallow doubt in order to preserve well-being. 

I guess I should get to the point now or risk rambling on and on without end. I forgive my family and friends for their certainty. I forgive them for seeming arrogant and closed-minded. I’m sorry for being arrogant myself when I’ve looked down on those expressing certainty in their positions. I’m sorry for thinking I was right and they were wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about right and wrong. These things can go deeper.

“I have a testimony that will never be shaken. I know who I follow. I know my master. As I try and live the way He would want me to, I come to know Him. God isn’t some distant force in the universe somewhere, but He’s my Father, my Heavenly Father, who stands here beside me, teaching me and leading me, holding my hand and He is showing me the way. I love Him.” – November 11, 1997

Early Experience With Faith – Praying For a Friend

(This is an adapted segment of a letter I wrote to my family on June 20, 2009. I will share other parts of this letter in the near future.)

I can no longer remember the order of the events I want to share, but each of them contributed in an important way to the testimony I have now. One such event involved my relationship with my siblings as a teenager. Prior to this experience, I had been quite the family bully. I hated myself and I took out my anger on all those around me, mostly my siblings. The older half of the family will remember this. I was lonely and miserable and wanted a friend above all else in the world – someone that would listen to me without judging me.

One evening, I took a walk down to the junior high school to express my feelings to the God I sincerely hoped at that time was there. The moon was full and I watched it as I prayed with real intent. I wanted a friend. I told God how lonely and depressed I was and asked fervently that He would grant me this one desire. In return, I promised God that I would not hurt my family anymore, that I would improve my relationship with each one of my ten siblings. I didn’t understand the feeling at the time, but I felt prompted during my prayer to add that regardless of whether or not God gave me the friend I was asking for, I would still keep my side of the promise. I returned home with a feeling of joy that I had not experienced in a long while. I don’t think I was aware at the time that this joy was a direct result of the Spirit.

I returned home to find one of my siblings working alone in the kitchen to clean up from dinner. Without thinking much, I started to help clean up. During the next few days, I helped as much as I could. I had positive conversations and played games, non-competitively. Overnight, my desire to hurt and lash out at my family had disappeared. I was repulsed by the person I had been and strove to rectify my family life as much as possible. By Sunday, I had forgotten what I had requested in my prayer; I was too busy enjoying my family. Still, God knew what I needed and He chose to give me what I had asked for.

Despite being quite shy outside of the home, the new boy at church and I somehow connected without any difficulty at all. We exchanged addresses after our class and found out that we lived basically around the corner from one another. He was exactly the friend I had asked for. It annoyed me later that he was so good at getting me to talk about anything while he would say so little about himself. He was the perfect listener and never judgmental. So, did this experience mean I had gained a testimony? Of course not. It was good evidence in favor of the possibility of God, but it could just as easily have been a coincidence.. right?