A while ago, I had a few people who are close to me struggle to believe in God for a time. I have felt that way before, and so I wrote them a letter to hopefully give them a little strength. I don’t really know who will read this, but it’s my great hope that this could be meaningful to anyone else out there. If it is, please let me know by emailing me at emailharmer AT gmail.com.
I just wanted to write you a letter because I think I understand how you feel, and wanted to share a few thoughts.
In church, we often talk about what we believe, but we rarely talk about why we believe. I think that actually makes good sense, but I want to open up about my “why.”
The vast majority of the time, it seems that Heavenly Father does a good job of hiding His actions so that we can learn to walk by faith, but there have been several times in my life that I unquestionably saw His hand.
As a kid, I can remember sitting in Sacrament meeting and understanding little of what was being said, but feeling the warm presence of the Holy Ghost and asking my Mom what was happening. I can remember feeling the Holy Ghost while on a hike with my brothers up to Makapu’u lighthouse in Hawaii and suddenly having a private understanding in my heart that it was God who created the massive deep blue ocean under the cliff where I stood.
As a teenager, I made poor decisions and I felt what being apart from God felt like. I came to a point of never being able to doubt Christ, because I had felt for myself what forgiveness felt like.
Like anyone who served a mission, I also had several experiences that lead me to believe. My mission was really hard, but I know I was doing more than just selling religion. I had experiences that showed me that I was serving God.
But it was on my mission that I also learned that belief is always a choice. I could see things happening that could be explained as miracles. All the evidence could be there in front of me, but I still had to make a choice whether to write them off as crazy coincidences, or the work of God. No matter how much evidence you gather about anything, you must still make a choice as to what you believe the evidence means.
While in undergrad, I started studying for the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). I spent many hundreds of hours over a year and a half studying for that test, and it trained me to rely exclusively on logic to solve problems.
Unintentionally, I transferred that line of thinking into my spiritual walk. At the same time, I began to study the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which I’d attended all my life) and unearthed many confusing actions taken by early church leaders. All of the sudden, I realized that I was having a difficult time believing in the prophet and feeling a tough time even believing in God. The cloud of doubt came on me so suddenly that it scared me, but the thoughts didn’t go away even after weeks and months. Had I been fooled?
I spent a lot of time learning about the gospel, historical documents about Christ and the early church, and Joseph Smith. I spent months and months reading everything I could find. I was “ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of truth.”
In addition, logic made me question everything. Is prayer really effective because God helps us and listens to us, or is it just that spending a few moments in meditation each day is something that makes us more productive? Are the scriptures really the word of a God, or is it that they are books written by wise philosophers that have good life advice? Do the commandments make me happy because they are from God, or is it just written by people who found things that help us in life?
I needed more than a slight warm fuzzy feeling from time to time.
I spent a year or so feeling like I had no direction or answer to prayer. I was afraid of changing my life, but in need of knowing–for sure–that I wasn’t being fooled.
I was able to answer all of my questions. In fact, I learned that logic was actually a big key to answering the questions. But each person will have their own questions and must struggle through them. I can’t answer your questions for you, but I can be your ally and let you know that you can feel strong again.
One thing that helped me is that I kept attending the temple, reading the Book of Mormon and Bible, studying the words of the prophets, and keeping the commandments. I doubled down on my efforts to be righteous as an experiment to see if it would help me. It did. If I had gone the other way and experimented by seeing if I would feel the lack of goodness by ceasing to obey the gospel, I would have created a biased certainty that the experiment would fail, because God has told us that He will not give knowledge until after faith is shown.
Since then I’ve come to see so much more clearly. Although I was doing my best, I can see that my lapse in belief clouded me from seeing what was right in front of me. It all seems so much more clear now.
Life went on for several years with good experiences, but overall a very normal spiritual walk. Most of the time I lived the gospel out of habit and would still have to choose to see good things as blessings. I had to walk by faith and not by sight–just like everyone else. But every once in awhile, I’d see the curtain pulled back and catch God doing His work.
One such day, I rolled out of bed and plopped on my knees to say a sleepy morning prayer. The instant my prayer began, I received a flash of understanding that was unmistakable. Something very very bad was going to happen. I knew it was going to be a medical emergency in someone around me, that my family would be fine, and that I needed to review first aid. I can’t express in words how emphatic the thought was. A few other times in my life I’ve had experience like this where I just suddenly KNEW something, and I had learned that sometimes God communicated with me that way. There was zero question in my mind that this was not a thought that I had come up with on my own.
It was a crazy thought, but it was so absolutely clear that there was no possible way I could misunderstand it. I understood all of those thoughts in an instant. I reviewed CPR, what to do if someone has a stroke, heart attack, etc. I spent about an hour googling different things, and then I went about my day–knowing that something was to happen. The day went on uneventfully. I kneeled down to pray that night feeling puzzled.
The next morning, it was Sunday and church was first thing. I was frustrated as I tried to get the kids ready for church. Late–again! One kid threw up, the other lost his shoes. Couldn’t find the keys. It was that kind of day. We were going to be later to church than we’d ever been. It was CRAZY that so many things went wrong in a single morning. Just as I finally got my 5 year-old in the car, the neighbor’s front door burst open and a kid came out–screaming inconsolably–asking me if I knew CPR.
I ran across the street and sprinted into their home. I didn’t know them and had never been in their home. A tiny little 5 year-old girl lay unconscious on the floor in the living room. The girl had run inside the house and collapsed in front of her dad, who had been napping on the couch. He had no idea what was wrong. He woke up to the thud of her body hitting the ground in front of him. She was completely lifeless. My wife called 911, and we both assisted the dad with CPR.
Breath after breath and compression after compression, there was no change. Several minutes passed. She was so small. Her dirty blonde hair lay crumpled on the floor under her head and her body was flat and lifeless. A few minutes in, I felt her skin grow cold, and I was more afraid than I could ever remember being in my whole life. She was dead and I didn’t want to touch her for some reason. I was afraid. Her little lips turned blue, and then the color spread across her little body. Her stomach made a low gurgle which at first made me feel hopeful, but then I realized that I was hearing her body shut down–organ by organ. I was scared.
Many minutes past. She was cold, and I wanted that blue color to go away from her lips. She was dead. My wife, the little girl’s dad, and I were doing everything we could, but she was dead. I remembered one of the steps in CPR, which I’d studied for an hour the day before, was to sweep the victim’s mouth with a finger. I reached my fingers deep in her mouth and my forefinger touched something deep in her throat. I pulled, but it was so small. It came out from her lips in my finger–a tiny pink water balloon.
Not too long after, her stomach made sounds again, but this time blood and vomit came out of her mouth. This happened four or five more times, and then she took a tiny breath, and then another. Her eyes had no life in them, her skin was pale, but the blue began to recede, and then the ambulance arrived. Miraculously, she survived without any brain damage despite being without oxygen for what felt to me like an eternity.
I later learned that the little girl had been outside playing with a friend blowing up water balloons with their mouths when somehow she inhaled the balloon. She couldn’t breathe and ran inside with her last breath until her air ran out and she collapsed on the ground in front of her dad who had been sleeping on the couch and had no idea what was wrong.
I don’t believe in God just because of the experience of a sleepy Saturday morning prayer when I was told to study CPR. I made that determination long before. But because of that prayer, I can be certain that any thought that God does not exist or that he does not listen to my prayers is wrong. Someone–who I believe is God–did in fact guide me on that Saturday morning.
But despite that evidence, I can always find some possible logical explanation or chalk it up to a tremendously lucky circumstance. It is impossible to know anything. All you can really say is that there is evidence pointing toward a conclusion. You’ll always have to base your ultimate conclusion on what you feel is right. Even if your conclusion is that God doesn’t exist, you’re still basing your conclusion on a feeling–a feeling in your heart of what you think the evidence means or does not mean.
I have a testimony because I have seen the evidence and feel that it shows that God created me and the whole earth, that my family will be happier by serving Him and keeping His commandments, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that we have a living prophet today.
That basic belief has led me to try to develop a relationship with God. To know Him, and for Him to know me. That has been difficult, and I still feel like I fail more than I succeed. I get so distracted with worldly pursuits and meaningless distractions that it can make it difficult to feel a close connection with God. When that happens, I pick myself up again and immerse myself in sincere prayer and reading the scriptures. As I do so, I again feel the great purpose in my life–the connection between Heaven and Earth that makes my life meaningful.
None of that came easy. But each time I experiment with pushing myself harder to follow the prophet–even when I don’t understand all of it–I see what I choose to call blessings. And because of that choice, every once in a great while, God lets me catch Him doing His work.