1. An Inner Struggle: The Second Wavers
As I get older, I see more and more people fall away from their faith in God. It has happened in waves.
The first group to fall away was composed of those looking for a way out, those that for whatever reason disliked the culture or lifestyle faith promoted and willingly left.
The second wave, which has been more common as of late for my friends and associates, is composed of people who genuinely have fought to secure their faith, but feel unable to do so because of their prevailing doubts. These people want to believe in something bigger than themselves, but in spite of their sacrifices and painstaking efforts, still face a reality in which they feel more doubt than faith.
I have thought a lot about both of these groups. These are not bad people. In fact, the closer you get to these people and situations, the more I realize that I fundamentally do not believe that "bad people" exist. No one wakes up in the morning and immediately thinks, "Today, I'm going to be as violent, angry, stubborn, close-minded, immoral, impatient, and irreverent as humanly possible." People just aren't wired that way. Just like you and I, everyone wakes up and does his or her best to make sense of difficult questions and situations that frankly do not make sense.
Understanding people like this, we can sympathize with this first wave, that simply feels like a greater happiness is available outside of the realm of faith. The more interesting of the two groups is the second: if God exists and has answers, why does he let the drifting minds drift on?
This is an undeveloped thought. It is one I have thought a lot about in my life and likely one that will reoccur as long as I live. We know that God, even in his infinite wisdom, weeps because of his inability to curb the agency of men more fully. My mortal tears for these second wave friends and family members are far less perfect than Heavenly Father’s, but my heart goes out to these men and women who, like a young Joseph Smith, felt doubt in the knowledge they had and insufficient answers to their rapidly turning minds. I have learned that we are all vulnerable, and that faith is possible and real, but how we help those who have given their all is something I will continue to seek out.
2. Scripture, Personal and Powerful: Crying
I am not a crier. Movies, books, break-ups, and all variations of losses still have meaningful and lasting effects on me, but they are unable to ignite tears. There may be a blocked valve somewhere up in there. My mom calls me heartless. I’m not sure I have a lot of tangible evidence to refute their claim, but there is one instance I have to my aid. I was fairly deep into my mission in Rosario, Argentina, struggling in a new area and living with a companion who seemed to have been created with the sole purpose to disagree with everything I did and said. I had not cried, but I was tired. So mentally exhausted that my body would match it by falling asleep whenever it hit a solid surface on anything but my two feet.
As I was preparing for bed one night, I opened the New Testament. I happened upon a verse in Luke 9 that had new meaning to me. “And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” It dawned on me: Christ was tired. His exhaustion must have been almost unending. Even in death, he went immediately back to work. Thinking of how tired I was and how much more tired Christ must have been while being rejected of his own and living on the road, I started to cry; a temporary repair or malfunction to my valve, depending on how you look at it. But my appreciation was real, and it felt so good to be understood by anyone at that moment.
So I do have a heart, mom.
3. A Wilderness Quest: Painting Humans
My mom is a painter. She would be the first to tell you that she is not a very good painter, but she’s a good mom so I grew up thinking that she was a good painter, too. Painters know a great deal about meaning and categorizing things, and I think my mom did her best to help me. She would take me on long walks with her to scope out new things to paint in her tiny studio in the corner of our house. We would walk for what felt like hours at a time, and my mom would ask me to look for images in the trees or the sky for her next project. My mom would normally paint something other than the object I pointed out, but she had a way of thanking and validating my efforts. Once, I pointed out what I thought was the most handsome dead stump I had ever seen. It’s roots reached out of the ground like a rotten, aging fingers and were covered in a mold that was the kind of green that you avoid when shopping for sweaters. I cried out, “Mom! Mom! It’s a masterpiece!” My mother, the world’s most effective diplomat, kneeled down to my level and said, “You’re my masterpiece.” I was so flattered, I forgot about my idea all-together. I would come home and look at my mother’s art on the wall, proudly keeping her secret to myself that she was nothing without my obviously gifted pair of five-year-old eyes.
My mom’s paintings developed through the years. Sometimes she painted beautiful landscapes. Other weeks she would focus on small objects that people would never deem as aesthetically pleasing while passing them by in the wild. But my mom could make anything beautiful. Looking at my mom’s paintings, I noticed a consistency between how my mom treats her paintings and people. No scene my mother painted was perfect. She wouldn’t distort the scene to make the painting more picturesque, but she was forgiving in her renditions. That is also how my mom treats people. She can see the good in the bad, the light in the dark, and the hope in the hopeless.