I have taken advantage of 3 opportunities in my life. The opportunity to live with faith without realizing it, to live without faith, and to live again with faith. Let me tell you about each experience.
I was born into an active family with parents that were diligent in teaching the gospel to their children. I attended church every Sunday and was baptized when I was 8 years old. As a teenager I loved the church and the various activities that came with it. I attended as many Youth Conferences and EFY camps as I could during the summers. During the school year I was not ashamed at all of who I was. All of my friends knew of my standards and respected them and I gladly answered any of their questions. During my childhood and adolescence, I was blessed with sacred experiences and cool opportunities that I remember and cherish to this day. But what I remember most is how happy and kind I was.
I graduated high school and excitedly prepared for my mission. This is what I had been anticipating my whole life and I was going to crush it. I was called to the Utah, St. George mission and started my mission in Delta Utah. For the first 3 transfers I did just that; I crushed it. I was obedient, excited, hardworking, diligent in my studies, and above all else, I was happy. After 3 transfers I became a Zone Leader and was transferred south into the city of St. George.
My Zone Leader companion was an exceptional missionary. He was perfectly obedient and he loved the gospel. He was excited to be my companion and I was excited to be his. Unfortunately, before long, almost everything he did began to annoy me. He seemed so inefficient with his use of time, and I actually felt embarrassed when he interacted with members, taught the gospel or extended invitations to investigators.
As you can see, I had become a very prideful missionary.
This unrighteous pride grew into resentment. Resentment simmered into disobedience. Disobedience evolved into broken covenants. Broken covenants became a plane ride home at the end of only my 4th transfer.
I returned home filled with negative emotion. Broken, alone, filled with shame, depressed, embarrassed, directionless, hopeless, faithless and whatever other “less” you can think of. My life was ruined and beyond repair.
I floated through the next 4 years of my life unable to hold down a job or a living situation. I was off and on active in church but never fully participated and I actively avoided contact with others. I lived “in my weakness” and literally became molded by that weakness. My embarrassment turned into social anxiety and panic attacks. My depression became real and diagnosed. My lack of direction led to poor performance in school multiple times, tanking my GPA. My faithlessness became self-loathing. My shame became apathy and as we learn from Star Wars, apathy is death. Eventually I became numb, unable to feel any emotions at all. I felt quite literally hollow, a useless, empty husk.
Sometime in that 4th year my loving family paid for me to go to a therapist, and because it was being paid for by someone else and because they were insistent, I begrudgingly went. It was in the first 10 minutes of my first session that I had a paradigm shift regarding my situation. I was told that I was, in fact, NOT depressed but rather angry, angry for the wreck my life had become. I “knew” that anger was an inappropriate emotion, especially in “a situation like this,” so I was repressing it, refusing to acknowledge it, express it, or to even feel it.
If there was ever a lightbulb moment in my life, this was it; it made so much sense. That night I went home and asked my mother if it was ok for me to be angry. And she said, “yes.” This permission to recognize and “feel” my anger was the beginning of my recovery.
The next year was a whirlwind of all the emotions I had refused to feel for four years. I cried during every movie, laughed at every joke, and got angry at any inconvenience. I was a pendulum that was swinging too far, but eventually the pendulum began to even out. Finally, I could feel emotions in a healthy manner and I made some small changes to my life that led to large improvements in depressive symptoms.
One of these changes was church. I called my stake president and told him that I knew the church was true but that I was not ready to be active or anything close to it. I wasn’t going to be meeting with him or the branch president any more. No church, no activities, nothing; I wanted to completely focus on becoming a healthy “me.” My stake president responded with some pretty amazing, inspired advice, “Do not allow yourself to feel pressured by anyone other than yourself and the spirit to return to church. Not your parents, your family, your friends, me or your branch president.”
After that, my life improved pretty drastically. My depressive symptoms faded away. I was content with my life as it was. I had found an equilibrium. A year or 2 passed and I received a text from my stake president. The text was a simple question and I could not get the question out of my head. I thought about it for weeks, not able to figure out the answer to the question or even the purpose of the question.
I asked my mom, my dad, my sister, I even reached out to my branch president. All of them shared their thoughts, but none of them knew the answer. My mom suggested that I pray about it, but that seemed a little unsatisfying since I wasn’t going to receive an answer anyway.
I started reading my scriptures and praying. A few days into that I received a second text from the stake president telling me to read a talk and that if I read that talk, he would give me his thoughts on the question he had posed to me. I quickly read the talk and responded. The next morning, I received the text. I did NOT like that text. It bothered me. It frustrated me. I stewed over this text for most of the morning.
That afternoon I decided to vent some frustration to my dad. Two sentences into my venting and my dad overreacted. He angrily exploded on me; I angrily “exploded” back and the whole thing “exploded” into an angry argument. I decided not to confide in him after all; if he was going to react this way then he didn’t deserve my vulnerability, so I locked myself away. A few hours later my dad found me and told me that he was sorry and that he loved me. I refused to even look at him. He left but hours later, closer to midnight at this point, he returned again. He hugged me and apologized again and I began to talk. I cried, and talked . . . and cried and talked some more. My dad listened, and hugged and patted me. Eventually, I began praying in my heart and I was given a sacred spiritual experience.
After that night, my life changed. My greatest weaknesses didn’t go away completely, but they did become significantly easier. It was like riding a stationary bike with the resistance turned way up and then suddenly the resistance is gone. I still have to pedal the bike of course, but the struggle feels lighter. I continue reading my scriptures and praying daily. I began attending church and other church activities. A couple of weeks into this process I realized that the way I was feeling felt familiar; I felt like I did when I was a teenager. Not mentally or physically, but spiritually. I felt like I did during the first transfers of my mission. I had faith. I no longer hoped that the atonement would change my heart and desires, I just understood that it would if I did my best. I no longer worried about my next mistake because I knew that the atonement and the gospel “works if you work it”.
Faith is an incredible thing. It is hard to fully describe how I feel about having faith. The definition that has struck closest to what I’m feeling comes from the Bible Dictionary which states, “To have faith is to have confidence in someone or something.” I have confidence in my Savior and his ability to lift me higher than I can lift myself. I have confidence in who I am. I am a child of God and brother to the Savior. Faith is a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ and for me, it was and is the key.