On September 2, 2015, I entered the Los Angeles temple to take out my endowment in preparation to be sealed to my husband. The ceremony didn’t meet the expectations I’d been given after being taught about the temple in my 21 years of life. I ended up leaving the temple not feeling closer to my Heavenly Parents, but in a full-blown faith crisis that has lasted these last 6 years.
As I’ve faced this unexpected journey, I’ve learned about what we can do as Latter-day Saints to help those in our community who struggle.
What is a faith crisis?
It’s important to acknowledge that a faith crisis looks different for everyone who experiences it. Some manage to overcome their struggles and find their testimony strengthened by the experience, some cannot reconcile their concerns and doubts and step away from the church, and others are somewhere in the middle – like me.
A faith crisis is an experience in which one starts to have questions or doubts about the church, the gospel, or both. A faith crisis can be short-lived, or last for years. It can be a painful process questioning your faith, especially if you’re a long-time Latter-day Saint. A faith crisis can be sparked by an event (like myself), learning of new uncomfortable knowledge (for example church history), actions of church leaders, or it can even be lots of small things, like unanswered questions that add up over time and come to a head. To note – this is not an exhaustive list but in talking with others who have struggled with their faith these seem to be the top reasons.
If you’ve never experienced a faith crisis yourself, it can be hard to understand how someone who is may be feeling. In Moroni 18:9, we are commanded to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” To me, it means we are commanded to offer empathy, validation, and respect for anyone that is struggling with any sort of trial. How can we best minister to our loved ones who are questioning their faith? As someone going through a faith crisis and has commiserated with many others who are doing the same, these are things that are generally helpful, and a few things that are not:
This sounds pretty obvious, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to just listen. When a loved one expresses concerns and questions about the church, it can be easy to go into “fix-it mode” in an attempt to make their problems go away and ensure they stay in the church. In a BYU devotional, when asked how to bring back loved ones to the church, President M. Russell Ballard stated, “Please don’t preach to them. Your family member or friend already knows the Church’s teachings. They don’t need another lecture! What they need, what we all need, is love and understanding, not judging.” Another common response is bearing your testimony. While well-meaning, it can often just serve as a reminder to the person you’re speaking to that they don’t have the strong testimony that you do, and that’s why they are struggling. Richard Ostler once stated on his podcast Listen, Learn, and Love, “…this idea of bearing testimony to solve a faith crisis can be just exactly the wrong thing to do, because it doesn’t involve any listening, and it doesn’t involve any validating.” Open your ears and heart to the struggles of your loved one.
Validate and Respect
Even if you haven’t experienced a faith crisis yourself, you can offer empathy and validation to your loved one. You don’t even have to agree with the concerns they have, agreeing is not the same as validating! Try to look at the issue from their perspective, ask sincere questions, and do your best to understand why they are troubled by the issue. When I’ve come to a loved one about a concern, the most comforting phrase I’ve received in response wasn’t “I agree,” but it was “Wow, that must be so hard. I can see why that would be difficult for you.”
Don’t be quick to shut down concerns. I’ve been asked questions like “Why does that even bother you?” and “Why does it matter?” Those questions didn’t offer validation, respect, or even do anything to strengthen my faith. If anything, they only made me feel worse about having doubts and sent me further into my faith crisis, because I felt like there was something wrong with me. Remember your baptismal covenant previously mentioned, to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Have an open mind, pray for understanding, and show them the Christ-like love that we all deserve.
Don’t Try to Fix Anything, Unless They Ask You To
Faith crises are different for everyone who experiences them, so of course what is helpful will be different for different people. Ask your friend or relative how you can best help them. Don’t be quick to give them the Primary answers to building faith, they already know them! And I can guarantee they’ve already been reading scriptures and praying for insight into their doubts. It can be hard to see our friends or family struggling so of course our go-to is to try to fix it. It’s natural to want our loved ones to be happy, and to be happy in the gospel – but they will be the best guide on how you can help and minister to them. When in doubt, just remember the words of our Savior in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” How would Jesus Christ minister to them?
Find more inspiration and insights on going through a faith crisis here at my Instagram account @brennabelieves.