When I first joined the Church as a high school junior, fast and testimony meetings were my favorite. I loved the stream of affirmation that flowed down from the pulpit, assuring me that the tiny seed that had been planted in my heart was known to be true by so many. Early on, I was admiringly jealous that God had revealed himself in such a profound way to nearly every person in my little southern Missouri ward. I desperately thirsted for that knowledge for myself.
The following year, I was accepted to Brigham Young University. I was convinced that BYU would affirm everything I believed and ensure that I stayed active in the church, which was a deep fear I held as a result from my family being so against my new religion. I loved attending General Conference in person and volunteering at the TRC. I was relieved to be in a place where everyone followed the honor code and had exactly the same standards as me. I was humbled to be called as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in my student ward. I thrived on preparing lessons and soaking up knowledge from returned missionaries and fellow Mormons who had been raised in the Church. BYU lived up to my expectations in nearly every way.
And then I took a couple of advanced theory classes within my major, where we spent a lot of time discussing the nature of truth and how each of us only comprehends our own lived experience. It forced me to question everything I thought I believed. I also began delving more deeply into church history in sources besides my Doctrine & Covenants student manual. The combination began the unraveling of my testimony. I felt betrayed, but I was too fearful of the stigma of becoming an “apostate” to confess my disbelief, and too embarrassed to pack up my bags and move home. The only alternative seemed to be to force myself to pretend and live a lie.
I experienced extreme highs and lows throughout this period of my life. Frequently my doubts felt overwhelming and paralyzing, yet sometimes I felt the Spirit and thought I could let everything go and just believe again. But there was no grey area for me: either the Church, its history, its prophets, and all of its teachings were true, or they weren’t. I couldn’t seem to break through that wall—I didn’t even realize there was a wall.
About two and a half years ago, I bore what I’ve since called my “un-testimony” in a Provo married student ward. It was one of the most terrifying and empowering things
I have ever done. My beliefs, or lack thereof, were drastically different from the image I felt compelled to convey and it was exhausting. My soul needed a rest.
Our stake president was in attendance that Sunday, which only increased my nervousness. My husband was home sick, however, and I think that’s what got me off my pew. My faith crisis wasn’t a secret from him—he was surprisingly loving and supportive—but I felt a sort of freedom to share my thoughts with the ward that morning in his absence. Midway through the meeting, with a heavy heart, I approached the pulpit. I began with the customary “Good morning, Brothers and Sisters,” and then I turned my head to make quick eye-contact with the bishop and stake president and joked that I hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble for what I was about to say. After quietly looking back over the congregation for a moment, I plunged in.
“I joined the Church about seven years ago and many times I have come up to bear my testimony. I’ve said the words: “I know this Church is true” countless times. I was taught that you gain a testimony through the sharing of it, but it hasn’t happened that way for me. I don’t know the church is true. I’m not even sure what that means. I’ve always been envious of the confidence and knowledge that everyone else seems to have. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I missed out because I’m a convert. I have often felt like a second-class Mormon. Sometimes I wonder if God even hears my prayers. But I once had a bishop who told me, ‘I don’t let the things I don’t know get in the way of the things that I do.’ I can say that I know that my life is better when I live the gospel than when I don’t, and I hope that as I continue to do so that I will be blessed to know the Church is true. I’m sorry for breaking out of the mold this morning, but I felt like I needed to be honest about how I really felt. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
I made my way back to my seat with burning cheeks, purposefully staring down at the carpet to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. But after the meeting, I couldn’t have been more stunned. People pulled me aside and thanked me for being so candid, for voicing thoughts they’d kept secret and had been too afraid to share themselves. Up to that point, I’d honestly believed I was the only person in the whole church with doubts who had any desire to remain active. Speaking up made me understand that I wasn’t alone.
For the first time, I realized that maybe there was a middle ground, that perhaps there was a place in the Church for people like me, who wanted so much for the doubts and questions to go away, who wished for the Church to be as simple and true as we’d been taught in our missionary discussions or Primary classes. For better or worse, that hasn’t happened—at least not for me. But Mormonism is my home. The place I have discovered isn’t perfect. It is constantly evolving, and sometimes I still feel confused and overwhelmed, but I have found a way to live with the questions and purposefully seek the answers while remaining a committed and faithful member of the Church.