Zelophehad’s Daughters

Going Nowhere, Fast: Two Decades of Religious Crisis, and Counting

Posted by Eve

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Late this afternoon I sat down to feed my seven-month-old daughter dinner. She quickly tires of solid food; she’ll accept a few spoonfuls, but then she wants to bang her fists on her tray and throw Cheerios on the floor, so I keep my laptop on the table to entertain myself in between offering bites of cereal or strained peas. In my browsing I came across a presentation on Mormonism and feminism I gave sixteen years ago, the summer I was twenty-one. I clicked on the file with trepidation, sure I’d be dismayed at how young and naïve and foolish I sounded. But what I found was far worse: I was dismayed at how familiar I sounded. Sixteen years ago I was dealing with almost exactly the same issues in Mormonism that I am now.

A lot has happened in my life in the last sixteen years. Shortly after I gave that presentation, I graduated from college, went through the temple, and went on a mission. Then I got married and started graduate school at BYU. Since then I’ve lived in several different states, held (and demanded to be released from) various callings, nearly completed the coursework for my Ph.D., and had a baby. In the trivial sense that a resume or list of externally verifiable achievements measures, I have “gotten somewhere”: I have family, a husband and a child, and I’ve made substantial progress toward my educational goals. I’ve had a varied set of church experiences: I’ve been a full-time missionary, taught Relief Society and gospel doctrine and nursery, served in Relief Society and Young Women’s presidencies and as a Young Women’s president, and as branch and primary pianist.

But in other, more important senses I’ve gotten nowhere at all. If someone had asked me, when I was twenty-one, where I would be with Mormonism when I was thirty-seven, I don’t know how I would have answered, but I never would have expected to be more or less in exactly the same place. In the course of sixteen years I would have expected a conclusive arrival, a resolution, a revelation, something. I guess I’ve always implicitly expected one of two outcomes: either I would leave the church, informally or formally, or I would come to some kind of peace within the church.

What I can’t decide is to what extent my expectation is an artifact of our stories about religious crisis, which tend to culminate in either embrace or abandonment of the institution. We narrate from beyond the moment of resolution. There are, broadly speaking, two stories: the crisis over [obedience and authoritarianism/Mormon history/Mormon culture/science/ race/feminism/homosexuality/boring meetings] becomes insurmountable, the person leaves the church, and at long last she finds peace and happiness. Or: the crisis over [ibid.] is resolved through [fasting and prayer/judicious use of the shelf/the patient, loving attention of visiting teachers/a direct revelation from God], the person stays in the church, and at long last she finds peace and happiness.

I guess I just want to find peace and happiness, too. But although I long for closure, even my hardest-won moments of resolution keep unraveling. Lately—yet again—I’ve found both personal sins and vexing trials I’d thought long since resolved have come raining back down on me from wherever I shoved them away. Someone I thought I’d forgiven years ago, I’m finding I have to forgive all over again. Temptations I thought I had long since surmounted have returned to haunt me. I console myself in my backsliding with the image of the spiral; I’m circling back to my sins, but each time I face them in lesser forms and at greater depths, with greater experience of resistance and repentance and greater powers of grace.

But when it comes to my issues with the institution I can’t decide if the spiral applies. Over the past ten or twelve years, my crises have waxed, waned during a period of great acceptance by the church community, and then in the withdrawal of that acceptance, waxed again. I’m more comfortable with my issues than I used to be, more courageous and honest about expressing my views, more willing to disagree publicly and risk censure, but as a result of arguing I’m also more arrogant about the rightness of my position, more cynical about the institution, and generally less open to persuasion.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways for me to think about my ongoing doctrinal issues: (1) I need to fast and pray harder and cultivate a more mature spirituality in order to resolve my concerns; (2) I need to make peace with the fact that in this life I will not be able to make peace. And although I do undoubtedly need to fast and pray harder and cultivate a more mature spirituality, I tend to think that doing so in order to resolve concerns eviscerates the very point of the process; I need to cultivate these things for their own sake, not for any answers that may come. It’s the familiar God-as-vending-machine problem; D&C 82:10 and various exuberant missionary programs notwithstanding, I find it blasphemous to speak of binding God. (And anyway, in my case, God has never been very forthcoming with doctrinal resolutions. To some these may be given. To me they don’t seem to be.)

Do I have to accept where I am as, in all likelihood, more or less where I’ll be for the rest of my life—keeping a difficult faith with the church in the same way one keeps faith in a difficult marriage, committed even though the same issues come up over and over and over again?

Do we ever really get anywhere in this life?

28 Responses to “Going Nowhere, Fast: Two Decades of Religious Crisis, and Counting”

  1. 1.

    No one binds God unilaterally – God binds himself as a matter of honor, through covenantal invitiation on his part and acceptance and participation on ours.

  2. 2.

    I’m also more arrogant about the rightness of my position, more cynical about the institution, and generally less open to persuasion.

    That is an interesting observation.

  3. 3.

    Nicely said, Eve. This all rings true for me. My earliest verifiable period of deep concern related to Mormon issues was when I was 7. How often, subsequently, have I felt at peace in my religious life? I think there was a period around when I was 11-13. By the time I was 14, I had become deeply concerned about questions regarding women’s place in the church — which fit nicely with my older, and very persistent, concerns about whether God as described in our scriptures and our theology is actually morally good. I don’t think I can rightly claim any subsequent period of non-tension or, I guess, non-crisis.

    This is all harder to deal with than it looks to outsiders on either front (ex-Mormons, non-conflicted Mormons). I can’t just leave, because the Mormon community means too much. I also can’t just fast and pray, receive a peaceful feeling, and get over it; I like peace, true enough, but the difficulties in my connection with Mormonism aren’t strictly about my personal emotional life. The prescription simply doesn’t fit the diagnosis.

    One plausible response is to say that the feeling of peace, when it comes, speaks as information regarding the broader issues. Problematically enough, I’ve had Holy Ghost experiences in conjunction with thoughts pointing in all directions on the issues here.

    One resolution, in keeping with your proposal to accept that this may not be resolved before we die, is to think in terms of different spiritual gifts. Some are given the gift of easy confidence, while others are given the gift of being denied that easy confidence. From a social perspective, both sets of gifts are good for our community. Without those of easy confidence, the community would not cohere. Yet without those denied the confidence, the community would be far less likely to face the difficult questions about itself and might well wither and die.

  4. 4.

    I was struck by your stated concern about “acceptance by the community,” when the general tone of your post also seems to be as much about your acceptance of the community. Just like a marriage, there are some things about the other half of the relationship that may never get resolved. For example, my wife has a large collection of Barry Manilow CDs. I will listen while she plays them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. And it doesn’t mean I don’t still love her when she plays them.

    If the reasons for keeping the faith, no matter how difficult, are still important to you, then keep that faith.

  5. 5.

    Finding peace is a lifelong process, one that often yields glimpses but never the whole picture–that’s the nature of the time we spend in mortality. We DO, and can, “get somewhere” in this life, however intangibly, as you mentioned. In a sphere so focused on measurable results, even gospel “progress” can be seen that way.
    But we always know what we personally need to do to progress, for God will always show us and tell us just as much as we need.

    We don’t have to make peace with not having peace. God has promised us more than that. It’s not a vending machine relationship–it is based on our efforts, yes, but moreso a grace that we can never totally comprehend while in this life. We can have peace when we seek it from Him, and not any other source, including ourselves or our own reasoning.

    He’s given us our sound minds to study things out, to question and to wonder–but always to lead us to Him for the real, lasting answers, whenever and however they may come.

  6. 6.

    Hope it’s okay for me to comment.
    I agree with your quote from Edna. I have a couple of different thoughts.

    First, you’re human and I’m human. I have definitely made mistakes – it’s part of being human. I work every day on being a good person, making amends where/when I need to (when the situation presents itself).

    And sometimes life reminds us of looking at something we did in the past in a new way. It certainly has for me. So in my own life, some things are circular. The thing is, for me, it’s more like a spiral (like a spiral in a parking garage). It’s the same place – but it’s on a different level, because *I’m* different and have a different perspective.

    Second, what would life look like if you weren’t struggling with this? Would you be who you are? Is it possible to let it (the struggle) go? Why is the idea that you might struggle with this for the next two or three decades difficult to deal with? I don’t have any answers. I feel like this sounds like one of Cary Tennis’ columns, but that’s where I’m at. Sometimes he has a great deal of wisdom.

    I’m just mentioning this as there are lots of things (not with mormonism) that I struggle with. The more I let go of the struggle, the obsessive thinking, the easier it gets (for me). This is also an interesting post by chanson about the idea “if there’s no solution, there’s no problem”.

    So, identifying the things I can control and separating those from what I’m can’t has been critical (for me). And on any given day, I have a lot of control, some control or no control on many things. Identifying which things fall where is the tricky part. Good luck!

  7. 7.

    You raise some really good questions, ones I’ve often struggled with as well. I don’t know what to make of the scriptural passages that seem to place people clearly in one camp or the other—believers or non-believers; sheep or goats; in sin or in grace. It doesn’t match my experience, which I think is somewhat similar to yours; I have a faith that very much waxes and wanes. In a way, I guess, that makes sense, in that a living faith isn’t going to remain static. But I’m not sure that the traditional explanation, one that posits a clear correlation between those phases of waxing and waning and righteous or unrighteous living–in other words, one that places the process entirely in our control–adequately accounts for the dynamic. Sometimes I’m able to believe in a good God, and sometimes I’m unable to get there; I periodically decide to give the Church another chance, and just as frequently decide that I need some distance. I get frustrated at times with my own indecision, but I remain a revolving-door Mormon.

    I was recently talking to a friend about the ongoing challenge of negotiating the two worlds in which I live—the LDS one, and the world of academic religious studies. It’s a tension that at times has made me more than a little crazy. But I’d hit a point where I felt like I was dealing with it okay, that maybe I’d found a way to exist in both worlds. And then recently it all blew up again, and I started to ask myself those kinds of questions about progress. I wish I could say that it’s gotten easier over time, but I’m not sure that I can. The best I can say is that the craziness has gotten more familiar. And as you point out, that doesn’t really fit with a narrative in which crises of faith and questions are get fixed, resolved, as the person opts for one direction or another.

    I especially appreciated your observation about moments of resolution that then unravel. That’s been a huge challenge for me, because I’ve had those moments, those experiences of peace and hope and a belief that I’d worked through some issue. And then in a few months (if not weeks or days), the turmoil is all back. I don’t know what to make of that. I’ve tended to blame myself, I think—wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t live up to the experience, or feeling embarrassingly naïve for having believed in that moment in the first place. I think I need a different way to think about those times. But at least for me, that’s one reason why the standard “pray and get an answer” response isn’t always helpful, despite my belief in prayer.

    I also really liked JNS’s comment:

    I also can’t just fast and pray, receive a peaceful feeling, and get over it; I like peace, true enough, but the difficulties in my connection with Mormonism aren’t strictly about my personal emotional life. The prescription simply doesn’t fit the diagnosis.

    Exactly. Thanks for articulating that so nicely.

  8. 8.

    I remember my sister and I talking when I was a young teen. I was struggling to with constantly or consistantly feeling the church was for me. She told me to make a decision and then when I have doubts think back on that moment I made my decision and poof problem solved. She was definitely not that flippant and the idea did help some with my slightly OCD nature, but it did not help in the long run.

    I to find issues that I thought I could deal with are now not so easy. New life circumstances raise new questions, or I love the idea of the spiral raise questions to a new level where the old answers do not fit.

    Very well written

  9. 9.

    Oops pushed the wrong button and posted to soon.

    Thanks for the post and the questions for thought.

  10. 10.

    Eve, well said. I feel just the same way about my “issues.”

    I used to think that if I could just pick the right people’s brains, I’d be able to make sense of everything and be at peace. Not so.

    I used to think that if I prayed sincerely enough God would give me what I wanted. Not necessarily so.

    I think you and I and the other troubled souls are just going to have to get used to being troubled.

  11. 11.

    Excellent post, Eve. In many ways, I feel like I’m running to stand still (or is that standing still running?). Other times, I’m just comfortably numb to my intractable, painful, inner conflicts. I don’t have answers, but it does make me feel better that I’m not the only one struggling to understand how/if we can measure our progress. Thanks for this post.

  12. 12.

    Great post, Eve. Sometimes I wonder if I ever resolve my issues with the Church or just make a choice not to think about them because they do often seem the same when they resurface years later.

    And, keeping your laptop near while feeding your baby–what a good idea!

  13. 13.

    And, keeping your laptop near while feeding your baby–what a good idea!

    Sounds like a potential recipe for disaster to me, particularly when said child is fond of flinging items of food around at the slightest whim.

  14. 14.

    The part about discovering that you haven’t overcome temptations to the extent you previously thought you had is the part that interests me the most. The stories I could tell.

    I’ve concluded that most of the new problems I face are just old ones, repackaged, and most of them are at least partly a function of my own personality and character. I have certain gifts as well as certain limitations and the combination of these characteristics produces some interesting results, again and again and again.

  15. 15.

    Eve–

    I’ve pretty much been a lurker on this blog for a while, but this post really struck home for me, so I wanted to say thank you for writing it.

    I’ve been struggling with the “Mormon stories” for the past seven years or so, trying to figure out how MY life works with them. And I’ve found that these story structures are good for sharing inspirational ideas during a church meeting, or for writing articles in church magazines, but that really, the essential struggle of the spirit is pretty much left out of these stories.

    Even when Joseph Smith’s story is told (one of the strongest stories in the church, both doctrinally and culturally), it is fit very cleanly and evenly into the mold. Which gyps us, I think. Because then we don’t get to see the real trials and struggles of the soul. We only get to see what fits into the story–the acceptable struggles.

    So, thank you for writing this post where you decisively step outside the “kosher” stories. I think we are well-served by telling new stories that don’t fit the mold.

  16. 16.

    Thanks for this post, Eve. I definitely share some of your experiences. I particularly like the point you made about sins and trials you thought you had moved past coming up again. I find that over and over again too.

    I also really like your point about how our religious crisis stories are narrated from the point of resolution. This is such a pernicious bias, because as you’re getting at with your questions, it can lead us to expect, while we’re struggling in the middle of crises, that we will see what lies ahead. Because of course it’s always possible after the fact to construct a compelling narrative into which all the twists and turns fit neatly. But that doesn’t mean that this is at all clear when we’re in the midst of it. That’s my experience, anyway.

    Emily U.

    I used to think that if I could just pick the right people’s brains, I’d be able to make sense of everything and be at peace. Not so.

    I really like this point. I’m sure if this idea has any merit it’s because I’m borrowing it from someone else, but it seems clear that a crisis of faith based on feeling a particular way about something (e.g., feeling betrayed about learning about this or that practice of the Church) is not going to be resolved by information. If crises were based on a lack of knowledge, this approach might work, but as long as it’s a feeling issue, no amount or type of information will solve it.

    Also, JNS, I really like your framing of it as types of gifts–the gift of easy confidence and the gift of lack of easy confidence.

  17. 17.

    Maybe you’re someone with many, many talents – someone who is very useful to God’s work and His kingdom. And because of your talents and gifts, some things come more easily for you. For example, it’s easier for you to succeed in school than someone with a learning disability. But no-one has a problem-free life, so your struggle is with religion.

    Obviously, I don’t know enough about you to say if the above opinion is correct, but it did make sense to me.

  18. 18.

    To answer your question: No, we don’t.

    Turn back now. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

    Too late. You should have asked that question prior to your arrival.

  19. 19.

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. I especially appreciate those of you who’ve shared your own experiences in this regard. They’re illuminating.

    I too like JNS’s suggestion that spiritual gifts can be a productive way to understand this kind of pattern, and I also like his point about the limitations of personal emotional (or perhaps spiritual?) experience in confronting these issues. (And seven is precocious! I didn’t have my first spiritual crisis until I was at least nine.)

    CS Eric puts his finger on the role that community interactions play in my personal spiritual life (and, I suspect, in the spiritual lives of others as well). Personally I find that when I feel a sense of connection and belonging to the community, when I have a contribution to make and friends there, my religious life is simply easier. When I feel on the margins, I’m cast back on my own resources, and I find it harder to believe in a loving God when I’m finding church painful and difficult. This may be an inevitability of belonging to a church that claims divine authority.

    And to go back to something JNS said:

    By the time I was 14, I had become deeply concerned about questions regarding women’s place in the church — which fit nicely with my older, and very persistent, concerns about whether God as described in our scriptures and our theology is actually morally good.

    If I had to articulate my single most significant point of religious crisis, the issue that in some ways underlies all other issues, this would be it.

    Lynnette, thanks especially for your observations about the tendency to blame yourself when the resolution or spiritual experience fades and you’re back to struggling with the same issues. To pick up on Sybil’s fine observation about making space for other kinds of stories, I agree that we’re well served by a greater variety of experiences for precisely this reason–then I don’t find myself wondering why everyone else seems to have such a linear narrative, and mine is so circular.

  20. 20.

    I’ll respond to other comments later–my daughter is paging me and I must run.

  21. 21.

    miles, Emily U, ECS, EmilyCC, thanks for your kind words.

    Mark N., no doubt it won’t be possible to keep my laptop by my child much longer, but at the moment her range is still quite limited. Food and other items generally go straight over the tray’s edge to the floor.

    I really liked what Mark said:

    I’ve concluded that most of the new problems I face are just old ones, repackaged, and most of them are at least partly a function of my own personality and character. I have certain gifts as well as certain limitations and the combination of these characteristics produces some interesting results, again and again and again.

    That’s what I keep finding as well.

    Sybil, thanks–and good point about Joseph Smith. I think your model of acceptable/traditional stories versus unacceptable/non-traditional ones also applies to church history, for example. (I’m thinking here of someone in my life who is really upset over Rough Stone Rolling and feels that that dicey stuff about Joseph Smith shouldn’t have been included, especially not by an active faithful believing member. One way to look at this is that Bushman didn’t tell the right kind of story.)

    Ziff’, very good points about bias and the expectations that these stories set us up for. That’s part of what I’m struggling with here–to what extent can I expect to achieve the resolution of peace and happiness (it sounds so good!), and to what extent do I need to make peace with my lack of peace? I’m inclining more and more toward the latter.

    Angie, thanks for stopping by. Your explanation is certainly flattering, although I don’t feel particularly talented at most things! I guess where I’m stymied, though, is at the point of accessing the divine calculus. God gave me these goods, and so had to give me these evils to balance it out? We often talk that way in church, but I’m just not sure how we can ever know that’s the case. I confess ‘m particularly reluctant to think in terms of balance given the overwhelming evils that some face.

    But in any case, I appreciate your comments and hope you’ll stop by again.

    Too late. You should have asked that question prior to your arrival.

    Mike, indeed I should have. You remind me of that old social-science joke about how God’s experiment upon humanity wouldn’t have a prayer (as it were) of getting past the human-subjects committee (no informed consent for us, that’s for sure!)

    Stephen/Ethesis puts his finger on the part of this that bothers me the most. All of this cycling and struggle may indeed be inevitable–that’s the view I’m leaning toward at the moment–but I don’t want to be arrogant and cynical and disengaged. To some extent it seems an inevitable result of bringing up in issues in church that I’ve thought about for years, only to have them dismissed with platitudes by people who, in some cases, don’t seem to have thought about them for five minutes.

    Being a Christian in a Christian community is an ongoing challenge for me.

  22. 22.

    I need to make peace with the fact that in this life I will not be able to make peace.

    I think that it is making peace and nurturing patience and love that leads us closer to resolutions than any other thing.

    To the extent what we are doing takes us away from that, we are headed in directions that don’t resolve us in the long run.

    My thoughts.

  23. 23.

    I would like to comment on something Ziff said:

    “I also really like your point about how our religious crisis stories are narrated from the point of resolution. This is such a pernicious bias, because as you’re getting at with your questions, it can lead us to expect, while we’re struggling in the middle of crises, that we will see what lies ahead. Because of course it’s always possible after the fact to construct a compelling narrative into which all the twists and turns fit neatly. But that doesn’t mean that this is at all clear when we’re in the midst of it. That’s my experience, anyway.”

    Maybe we only tell linear narratives about spiritual crises because that is the scriptural model. I have been feeling frustrated with the scriptures because they almost never narrate the in-between anguish of a spiritual crisis. Alma the Elder must have (sometimes) felt bitter, angry, and guilty in the years that he prayed for his son’s welfare. So many parents in the scriptures wait lifetimes for children, yet the stories begin at the child’s birth or at the miraculous portent heralding the birth and all the years of personal pain and social ostracization disappear. Or, what was Abraham feeling on his journey up Mount Moriah (Kierkegaard barely scratches the surface of possible scenarios)? The few stories in which the characters express negative emotions generally have become “bad” or “problematic” examples of a “faithful” person. Is Sariah really a “murmurer” because she is a mother panicking in the desert? I don’t need to loose my children, my livelihood, my health, and have all my former friends be convinced that I committed a serious sin as Job suffered before I ask God “why me?”

    So when we “liken the scriptures unto ourselves” are we supposed to imagine the narrative gaps even though the inevitable complicated negative emotions of the characters in these gaps have not been acknowledged or even validated in the conventions of scriptural discourse, the very discourse that is supposed to shape the horizons of our spirituality and document God’s relationship with His children?

  24. 24.

    So when we “liken the scriptures unto ourselves” are we supposed to imagine the narrative gaps even though the inevitable complicated negative emotions of the characters in these gaps have not been acknowledged or even validated in the conventions of scriptural discourse, the very discourse that is supposed to shape the horizons of our spirituality and document God’s relationship with His children?

    I really like this suggestion, Fideline.

  25. 25.

    Sory to be so late to the conversation on this.

    One of the thing i think can frustrate us with the scriptures is the way that we have to deal with the changing expectation of how stories are told.

    For example the modern standard of realism in characterization in a novel was basically invented by jJane Austin 200 years ago and was still not required in a novel as late as The Lord of the Rings. In ancient times it was standard practice that if you new X person had given a rousing speech to whip up the troops for Y battle, as no one had usually bothered to wright it down you just wrote your own. And this happened as late as Shakespeare.

    There is a lot of clues to the gaps in the emotional narrative (Paul’s letters are full of them) showing that things used to be there but I would bet “corrupt Priests, and careless transcribers” left the open acknowledgment of them out because they made pushing their agendas a lot more complicated.

    Regarding the cyclical nature of our trials, here are three statements by the Savior, some current research on learning, and a thought.

    Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.

    The fundimental principle on which everything else that the curch teaches is based is that the purpose of this existence is to make us in to beings like our Father in Hevean and his son Jesus Christ. This means tht we are going to hve to develop the same qualityies of love, mercy, patience, endurance and forgivnes that they have.

    The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

    In developing the atributes of Goddliness we will have to go through the struggles nessasary to get them.

    Just like Christ did.

    Here is the bit of reasearch

    “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

    Basicly getting good at some thing takes practice.

    Now the doctrinren of the church is that we are here on Earth to learn things that we didn’t learn in the Pre-existance and can’t learn any other way.

    Now for the last scripture.

    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

    One of the things that Heavanly Father and Jesus
    have to put up with is that no mater how often the reveal the Gospel and Plan of Salvation, put our hand on the Iron Rod, lift us when we fall and call call to us with both blessing and chastisment, we still go running off through the mist toward the great and spacious building every chance we get.

    one of the things I get from reading the scriptures is that God experinces trials and heartache if any thing MORE than we do.

    Consider the tone of the Loard of the vinyard as he prunes and digs and grafts all day long and still can’t get his trees to grow good fruit consistantly. Or consider the Lord weeping in Moses 7 because of the wickedness of his children.

    He has to put up with us making the same mistakes day after day year after year 6 billion + people at a time.

    From all this it follows that one of the skills that we will need to develop in this life is how to handel comming up against the same trials over, and over, and over, and over……

    Eternaty, after all, is one eternal round and etrnal things are there for cyclical and repeating.

    Even trials.

    (over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over……)

  26. 26.

    “Do we ever really get anywhere in this life?”

    Yes. ~

  27. 27.

    I can’t imagine stasis. When I read what you’ve written,Eve, the thing that troubles me isn’t your problems with the institutional church nearly as much as your stasis. I find it horrifying in the extreme.

    For most of my life, I’ve handled my revulsion at stasis by breaking things. As I’ve come to see that damage that my walking away, running away, etc. has caused other people, I’ve tried to stop breaking things and acquiesce to the reality that some things about me and others are not likely to change quickly and that I may as well stick it out.

    I do, however, let things that can break break. I give up labels that I’ve put on myself. I quit jobs. I move. I withdraw from some people’s company. I quit posting to blogs. I come to the conclusion that on many things it’s me that is full of horse pucky. Whatever. Goodness. ~

  28. 28.

    This is my first time here (other than perhaps a quick click-past some time ago); I followed the link from your name on a Segullah blog comment. I hope I’m not being too audacious by commenting before I’m familiar with you or this site.

    At least one scriptural example of someone being pretty honest about their personal struggles springs to mind: 2nd Nephi 4 ( http://scriptures.lds.org/en/2_ne/4/17#17 ) in which Nephi describes himself as a “wretched man” whose soul “droops in sin.”

    For me the question of whether people really change has always been a compelling one. I think American art and culture tends to believe in unrealistically drastic and easy transformations, (reality shows like the Biggest Loser are one pop culture example of this,) whereas other cultures take a different approach–Western Europeans, for example, currently seem to be much more cynical about the possibility for real change, at least if you go by the evidence that their movies tend not to have happy endings. I prefer and relate to the American redemptive view, but, besides substituting all kinds of alternate atoning agents in place of the Savior, Americans also tend, as I said above, to greatly oversimplify and overstate the easiness of the transformation, which cheapens and falsifies it.

    So do I believe that people really get anywhere in this life? My short answer is yes; my longer answer is that sometimes I do think I’m moving a lot more slowly than I’d like to, or not at all, or going backwards. It’s frustrating. But I do like to frame my personal narrative in terms of spiritual (and other) achievements and remind myself of all the times I’ve felt my prayers answered or been saved from peril. I think the chapter of Nephi that I cited expresses that approach very eloquently. “I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my asupport,” etc.We need to remember and give validity to the times when we’ve been carried by the Spirit and have been helped. I think the principle of opposition in all things means we can’t expect to always be in the high places of our spiritual lives; peaks are meaningless without intermittent valleys. And I think another way to frame your question is: Which is real; which should you give credibility to, the peaks or the valleys? And if you’re really going to end up in the same valley over and over again, were you really ever up on that peak or were you just kidding yourself? My only answer to this (for you and for me) is that that’s exactly where faith comes into play. Faith is many things and a whole huge topic unto itself, but I think that at least one aspect of it is choosing to believe that our past times of spiritual enlightenment–of being carried by the Spirit–were real, and will come again.

    In the particular case you described, maybe you could accept that you feel like you haven’t gotten anywhere with specific questions or concerns you had back in the day, but also remind yourself of all the progress you’ve made with other spiritual gifts or in developing skills, or of times you’ve felt the Spirit, etc., and exercise faith that those things count, even if one big hurdle remains unpassed and even seems impassable. Maybe this is a facile/naive/American approach to the problem, but I guess I’m at heart an optimist–at least where it comes to our ability to be saved and helped by Christ.

    I have one other side-observation. You said:

    “You remind me of that old social-science joke about how God’s experiment upon humanity wouldn’t have a prayer (as it were) of getting past the human-subjects committee (no informed consent for us, that’s for sure!)” Funny joke–but contradicted by the teaching that we indeed chose to come here during the spirit war in the premortal existence. (Maybe you were acknowledging that when you said “Too late.”)

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