So you don’t really care about Mormon history. “People are people and the gospel is the gospel,” you say. What’s the point? You have a lot of things on your plate. And whether Joseph Smith used a rock, some plates, or a pink kangaroo to translate the Book of Mormon, you read them, you love them, and you live by them. What’s the point?
I sympathize with you. You’ve got mouths to feed, diapers to change, and school administration to haggle with about your son’s lacking math scores. I get it.
But I guarantee that you have at least one friend–a person that you love and adore–who is wading through a faith crisis right now. They’re probably not drinking, smoking, having an affair, looking at porn, or planning on doing any of the above. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that that’s the underlying reason, but there’s at least an even chance that their gravest sin is, um, reading.
So what can a person do?
Lots. In fact, I would suggest that you–yes, you with the spit-up on your shirt–are better disposed than anyone to help. You’ll just need to put at least as much work into helping your friend as you would into moving a family or making a Relief Society centerpiece.
While I refer to this as a five-step model, it’s a little like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–they’re pretty interchangeable. You’ll be doing all of them at various times during your friendship with this person.
Step One: Pray. Then listen. No, seriously. Please listen.
They pose no threat to you. If you go in expecting to convince them of anything–at least during the first go-around, you’ll not likely receive a welcoming reception. With a few exceptions, they’re probably scared to death that they’re facing these questions at all. They feel that the questions they pose could threaten not only their theology but also their social network, their family, their friends, their marriages, their sex life, the very meaning of their existence.
During the first conversation (and hopefully, there will be others), don’t even try to answer their questions. Unless you’re a Mormon history freak, you probably won’t know what they’re talking about. And that’s ok. Remember all those tips you learned in that Preparation for Marriage class? Active listening? Validation? It all works here too. Remember how when you were on a date with that guy/girl you really liked? And you took note of things they liked so you could remember it the next time? Or the things they hated?
And yes, prayer will help you clear your thoughts, and more importantly, center your focus on their needs, not yours.
Step Two: Read from “the best books/articles/blog sites”
Yes, you’ll have to read up. For every controversy in Mormon history, there is a faithful take on it. While I support using the Church History in the Fullness of Times manual, I can tell you with certainty that the manual only goes so far. It wasn’t written to help you handle faith crises. It was written to give the Saints a quick overview of their people. Using the CES manual during a faith crisis is like giving them a Tylenol when they complain of a migraine. It’s fine as a routine remedy. But when you’re laying on your bed, lights out, and your eyes are on the verge of implosion? It does nothing. In another post, I’ll give you my recommendations for where to start (including your scriptures, obviously).
Step Three: Good conversations lead to good conversations. So converse–where they are.
Remember this scene from Good Will Hunting? You know, the one where Matt Damon owns the liberal jerkface at the bar? It’s great film and a fun spectacle, but even if you can do that, don’t. Your friend is not a liberal jerkface, and “one of them” that you need to convert to be “one of us.” They’re one person who needs to revisit what faith means. And as with any personal transformation, they’re not likely to come out the same person they were (and that’s probably a good thing!). They don’t need you to demolish their arguments with a pile of documentation. They need a friend committed to talking to them in an informed way.
Step Four: Be prepared to change your opinion.
Doctrine and Covenants 50 teaches us that in spirit-led conversations, both parties are edified. And that doesn’t just mean in the “Yes, I’m really as right as I thought I was.” You can’t have serious conversations like this without you adding at least a little to your own understanding of church history. If you find out that their concern is well-foounded, work through it with them together. And if you possibly can, don’t use the “faith shelf” analogy.” If you’re suffering from a faith crisis, the wall holding up the shelf has collapsed.
Step Five: Be good.
Even people suffering from faith crises enjoy your amazing brownies, a good pick-up game of basketball, or even going to an art exhibit. They might not want to be invited to church events any more, but don’t assume that they want to cut themselves off from all things Mormon (some might–rare!). But when Joseph Smith said that our relationships will continue into the next life, he didn’t say that it was contingent upon their membership in the Church. Relationships built on faith, hope, and mutual concern are the stuff of the eternal network; the Church is a provisional holding cell to serve those ends.
Your friend is probably a good person with a burden to bear. The Mormon social network is renowned for circling the wagons and protecting its own. And your friend needs that now more than ever.
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