A couple of years ago, I asked a question in Sunday School about why we need the priesthood to do things like healings if such miracles can also be performed by faith. I brought it up because I think it’s an interesting issue, and I wanted to hear how other people thought about it. A few people shared their take on the subject, and then the discussion moved on. Nothing out of the ordinary. But the reason I remember this incident is because after class, the bishop came over to me and expressed his hope that my concern had been successfully resolved. I was a bit taken aback, as I hadn’t really expected to hear a definitive answer in the course of a five or ten minute discussion in Gospel Doctrine; I’d simply been curious about how other people saw the issue.
I’m not sure that “resolving concerns” is always the most helpful approach to take when people have questions and difficulties. For one thing, I think that when you’re out to resolve someone’s concern, it’s all too easy to jump the gun and not take the time to first really hear and understand the concern. More than once I’ve tentatively mentioned to someone that I wasn’t completely okay with the Church and gender, and before I could say much else they’ve responded with a barrage of GA quotes or anecdotes (which I’ve almost always already heard) about how special women are. This leaves me feeling frustrated and un-heard, and very unlikely to raise the issue again with that particular person.
Ziff (I think) once told me of a study which found that one difference between people who managed to remain in the Church despite difficulties and those who left was that the former group felt like they had someone to talk to. I suspect that it does more harm than good when people bring up questions that are seriously bothering them and our immediate response is to frantically search for ways to “fix” the problem. The question I asked in Sunday School that day wasn’t a life-and-death spiritual issue for me; I was just interested. But I find that especially when I’m struggling with questions which do seriously impact my faith, I need more than prepackaged answers aimed at neatly resolving things.
It’s not that I don’t think it’s ever helpful or important for others to share their views or how they’ve worked through their own difficulties. Quite the reverse; hearing how other people have made sense of various issues has often helped me a great deal. However, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that ultimately none of us can resolve the concerns of someone else–in the end, each person has to find her own way of making sense of things. We can certainly offer each other alternate perspectives, insights, and experinces. But perhaps the most valuable thing we have to give is simple companionship, and willingness to listen even when we don’t really understand. I’m immensely appreciative of those in my life who, rather than attempting to resolve my concerns, have been willing to join me in wrestling with them.
- 24 July 2006