I have no idea if anyone will be interested in this, but my faith is something that has become a much deeper interest to me over the past few months. This is the one thing that I feel most compelled to share with the world, and although the writing isn't the best or the most compelling, its what I feel like sharing. And screw it, that's what this is for!
It has been about 8 months since I began this journey. 8 months since I gingerly dipped my toe into the pool of Mormonism (to use an awful methaphor). And it’s a shade under 3 months since the night (April 19-20) when this suddenly became an extraordinarily question; the night where this became more than an interest.
Of course, this interest began only because of Ann. Like so many things, my religious beliefs would be completely different if I had walked past her that day on the 3rd floor of West Hall. After we figured out we liked each other, she made it very clear that she wouldn’t date me since I wasn’t a Mormon. And I figured, why not at least check it out?
And such began the journey. Solely an academic pursuit, nothing I expected to change my life. At the most, I figured that I could somehow reconcile “orthodox” Christianity with Mormonism, and thus come to some kind of conclusion. At the least, and much more commonly, I thought that it would merely be something I learned a little bit about and scoffed at. Perhaps I could even convince Ann to reject Mormonism, and we'd both be Baptist.
So went the first few months of my Mormon journey; a pursuit of the understanding of a fellow Christian denomination. Most of what I did was spent simply talking to Ann about Mormonism and trying to read the book of Mormon straight through with her. We got through 1st Nephi, and then gave up somewhere in 2nd Nephi. In hindsight, it was a horribly inefficient way of investigating Mormonism, although it did give me a few insights into the daily workings of the religion.
Unfortunately, I have very few real insights as to my thoughts at this point of my journey. I do have the running log of my life that I update all too rarely. Here’s one relevant section, from February 17 of 2010:
“The main change in me is that Ann and I are really serious and that I think this could be it. And have told her. And she’s told me. The Mormon thing still stands in the way, but I already have decided that if we get to that point, I will become Mormon. Gave up on that fight. However, the bigger question is whether or not I will still be interested at that point.”
That was a shock to find. I had completely forgotten that I felt that way at any point, and is totally contrary to my current state of mind.
And then, to greatly simplify the story, senior prom came. And was wonderful. Lots of quality time with Ann, lots of wonderful memories. But anyway, part of the experience was my first trip to a Mormon church. And for the most part, at the time it seemed fairly unremarkable. First came Sacrament, which I remember comparatively little of. My first Mormon Communion, a talk about mothers and daughters, something about something that happened at a Temple, the odd feeling of NOT standing for a hymn, and Ann and Amber both leaning up against me to warm up. Overall, a comparatively similar service to the Baptist services I was and still am used to.
And then, Sunday School. Which was a very different story than Sacrament. Whereas Sacrament mainly concerned things that were comfortable for me, Sunday School was a completely different take on life than I was used to. One of the first signs that this might be a different perspective than I was used to came within the first minute of the lesson. I remember the teacher asking if Heavenly Father had a purpose in keeping the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. I remember thinking it was an open question, and thinking “Of course not! They just hadn’t left yet.” And suddenly a handful of people roared in unison “Of course He did!” And mentally, I made a note of the fact that I had my first serious disagreement with something I’d heard in Mormonism (well, second. Homosexuality. No, third. Women not holding the Priesthood.). Later on, the teacher made the point that the Israelites had to be humbled before they could leave Egypt. Immediately, I resolved that she was wrong, and developed a bit of a dismissive view of her. Soon, it ended, and I made a point of telling Ann that I disagreed with most of the lesson.
And then, Priesthood. Ann’s grandfather gave a well thought out, interesting, and compelling account of the use and importance of prayer. And I agreed with all of it. It wasn’t a horribly strange or controversial subject, and thus I didn’t have any trouble with it.
I left with roughly the same opinion I came in with; that I needed to study a lot more, but that Mormonism is certainly something I could convert to. Could in the sense that if I needed to, I could. As in, it wasn’t horribly offensive, and I could live with it.
However, this mindset ran through the shredder within the next two days. Literally the next day (19th), I was reflecting on a website I saw that claimed that Mormons were not Christian, and decided that I needed to ascertain if Mormons thought other Christians were truly Christians. In my nightly conversation with Ann, I brought up the subject, and soon realized that the answer was going to be more complicated than I thought it would be. After roughly 15 minutes of kicking the nuances of the question around, Ann’s mother finally told me that, to paraphrase, that non-Mormons (or those who didn’t belong to its predecessor churches) weren’t going to “Heaven” (which in her mind meant the Celestial Kingdom. I interpreted as all non-Mormons were going to Hell).
And suddenly, my cozy religious question exploded into a much bigger, nastier, and more important question. I remember suppressing my tears as I told Ann that that might be the death knell for the chance I would convert to Mormonism, and then hanging up. I climbed into my shower, started the water, and cried. Or more accurately, moaned, wept, and wailed. Along the way, I chastised Heavenly Father (although I called Him “God”) for putting me in this untenable situation, where my heart was pulling me into the crossfire of religion. For leading me to a situation where my heart lay in a religion that I couldn’t accept.
After 10 or 15 minutes of that, I drew a hot bath, and my thoughts turned to “what now”. First, I resolved that I had to continue on. The raising of stakes did not constitute an excuse to quit now. And next, I prayed. I prayed harder than I ever have in my life. I prayed for answers, for guidance, even for some kind of divine sign to point me the right way. I also wept. I wept bitter, frustrated tears; the painful tears of a teen in torment.
Finally, I clambered out of the tub, and called Ann back. We talked for a while about the implications of it all, and I ended with a request for her to pray for me. I “needed it more than I ever had before”. And I did, truly need it more than ever before.
Finally, at 2 AM, I rolled over and slept. I slept the sleep of the exhausted, those who are worn out and have nothing left to give. The sleep of the dead.
My alarm went off at 6 the next morning. Through breakfast at Waffle House with my parents, I held back tears. Barely, and not always succesfully. At times, the dam burst, and I went outside to “blow my nose.” Finally, it ended and I went downtown to my interview with the Art evaluator. But I was early for my appointment, and the interviewer was late, so I waited. While I waited, I spent time walking around the building, and took a minute or two to call Ann. I remember telling her I was “much better” that morning. And then, I rode back to school with Jennifer. I vaguely remember mentioning it with her, but I don’t think I really went into any detail.
Anyway, as that week went by, I found myself falling back on prayer a lot more than I ever had before. While some of the credit for this development falls on the situation itself, most of it goes back to the talk prepared by Ann’s grandfather. Never before I had I ever heard such a clear and thorough explanation of why I needed to pray. Or, more cynically, perhaps I had never listened before. And gradually, I felt my burden being lifted. That Tuesday (the 20th), I stumbled across the official LDS website for the first time, which has proven to be an invaluable aid to me in my study of Mormonism. And not surprisingly, the first topic I educated myself on was the Mormon concepts of the afterlife. Here, I discovered the full teachings of the Kingdoms of Glory, which helped elucidate the nuances that the Smiths had struggled in vain to tell me.
And as the week progressed, I started to notice some odd parallels between the Mormon service I attended and the feelings I was struggling through. First and most obvious, was the renewed emphasis on prayer. However, it was also the least compelling, after all, everyone would tell me I had to pray. That was hardly an exclusively Mormon thing, even if it did come through a Mormon talk and church.
More compelling was the concept of being humbled. Never before had I experienced the crippling grief that I felt that night. Never before had I ever been that crippled, that injured. Never before had I been knocked off my high perch of intellectualism and rationalizing. Never before had I been humbled. And never before had I ever come to Heavenly Father with a problem I knew I could not solve on my own.
I had always tried to sort things out my own way, with the backing of whatever group of friends I counted closest at the time. Never before had I thrown myself at Heavenly Father with the intention of him carrying me through the problem. After all, all this time I believed in a distant God who was more interested in me solving my own problems than in supporting and carrying me. A God who gave us the tools and the blueprints and told us to build the building. Never before had I believed in a God who would provide more than simple moral support; let alone thrown myself at Him with the full intention of him carrying me through my problem.
And I began to feel that maybe, just maybe, that service was written specifically for me. After all, that’s a lot of compelling similarities. Its almost as if that visit was intended to prepare myself for the trial of fire I was to go through the next day. While I obviously can’t confirm this to anyone else, its something I feel very strongly about.
After my trial by fire, I threw myself back into studying about Mormonism with a much more intense focus. As part of this, I scrapped the read throughs of the Book of Mormon that I had been conducting with Ann, and started spending my time exploring the LDS website. Unsurprisingly, I went straight for the controversial topics: homosexuality, the Kingdoms of Glory, the Great Apostasy, etc. And I learned much, and I felt myself change. Suddenly, my stance on homosexuality, which was always of blind acceptance, began to shift a bit. I realized that this was an issue I didn’t fully understand, and quite possibly couldn’t understand, and that thus it was arrogant of me to dismiss all opinions other than mine. And the Great Apostasy suddenly made an enormous amount of sense. This article surely did an immense amount to help me, as it breaks down the coming of the Great Apostasy as it is chronicled in the New Testament. I also consulted some secular and anti-LDS sources, with the interest of seeing what they could point out. And very little of it was meaningful at all. At most, they would point to topics that I was unaware of, and then I would explore them in depth on the LDS website, and my questions would be cleared up. All of this was extremely important to the progress of my journey.
But at some point, I decided I needed to go back through the Scriptures. But where to start? After a few minutes of pondering, it hit me, the Gospels! After all, what better way is there to discover which church truly represents Jesus than to study His words, His actions, and His teachings? This is the stage where I am currently. I’ve read all of Matthew, and half of Mark, and so far what I’ve found is a large number of correlations between Mormonism and the Gospels. Some of the best examples are Matthew 13:43, Matthew 18:18, & Matthew 21:42-44. There are also a few topics I don’t understand, but certainly nothing that seriously hinders my study of Mormonism.
Originally this started off as something that was simply a curiosity. It was certainly not anything that would change the way I lived my life. However, obviously that has changed. Mormonism carries with it a strong personal code, which for the most part, was easy for me to adapt to. I hate tea, hate coffee, and have never been a drug, alcohol, or tobacco user.
So, I’m good with the stuff I can’t eat, drink, smoke, or inject. The stuff I can’t do… that was a little bit harder. The main thing I’ve had to deal with is porn/masturbation. Seeing as I’m a teenage guy, this was a bit of a hurdle to clear… for that matter is still is. This month in particular has been a bad one, as I’ve been dealing with the implications of Ann “breaking up” with me. I’m sure that had some kind of trigger effect.
But the point is that I’ve gone from a habitual user to someone who is almost out. Indeed, I’ve pretty much been clean of porn for the last 2 months, although I have stumbled across a bit with varying levels of intending to find it. Further, I’ve almost curbed my masturbatory tendencies, although I still stuggle a bit with that. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I needed to stop, and it pretty directly coincided with my trial of fire (of the 19th and the 20th). I always had justified it by claiming that it only affected myself, but over the past few months I have realized that it affected the way I approached life and the relationships I form with others. That, and it was a colossal time waster.
And the other thing I’ve had to modify is my language. That one is something I’m still working on, but I’ve toned down my cursing a lot. I doubt I’ll ever completely eradicate it from my vocabulary, but I don’t have to. I think curse words have their place, although they should be used sparingly.
And to the grand finale… the question remains, Am I Mormon? And as I can best answer it now, not yet but I think I will be soon. I feel something growing inside of me that, in my opinion, can only be a sign of being converted. When I read the Gospels, the parallels between Jesus’ words, thoughts, and actions and the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church jump off the page at me, in such a convincing manner that I can’t help but be moved. The same holds for my life in general, I find myself falling in line with the beliefs of the LDS Church without any effort to conform. There are also a number of strong similarities between what I believed even before this and the beliefs of the Mormon Church that have made this transition much easier. First of all, I don’t have to throw out what I believed for my whole life; Mormons believe in the Bible also. And more specifically, they hold a lot of the same beliefs as I do as to the importance of doing good deeds, and the importance of free will (or “Free Agency”). And quite simply, I don’t think Heavenly Father would have led me here if I wasn’t supposed to be here. I don’t think He’d allow a weed to grow in my heart when I cry to Him for guidance and wisdom. Mormonism has grown so deeply in me that I can’t fathom not following what my heart is bringing me to.