Finding ways to make room for struggle and faith

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Professor Eric Huntsman addresses his audience at an August 8 devotional address in the de Jong concert hall. (Ty Mullen)

Eric Huntsman, a professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at BYU, discussed hard sayings and safe spaces during an August 8 devotional. In the address, he emphasized the importance of, “creating safe spaces where others — and often we ourselves — can struggle with the hard sayings in life.”

Huntsman began by introducing the expression of “a hard saying” by sharing a passage from John.

“The expression ‘a hard saying’ has become a trope for any doctrine or practice that is difficult to understand, accept, or follow,” he said.

Huntsman said he has asked his students over past years about what “hard sayings” meant to them. The answers have often involved faith issues arising from challenges that seem to call into question love and understanding from God or peers.

Some examples his students gave were gender disparities, sexual and other identities, racial and ethnic discrimination. He also mentioned struggles common to everyone — the pain of loss and disappointment; poor physical, mental, or emotional health; or lost dreams.

“These are challenges that do not go away easily. Rather they are often struggles that we must deal with throughout our lives,” said Huntsman.

He then shared Ether 12:6, where Moroni said “(we) receive no witness until after the trial of (our) faith.”  Huntsman said struggles are necessary to our progression, but not something that should be faced alone.

Huntsman said in facing struggles, there are safe spaces essential to finding peace. He also said Christ’s interactions with those in need were always tailored to the understanding and needs of the individual.

“Only by learning to follow the Lord’s example of testifying to, compassionately mourning with, and persistently loving people in a variety of circumstances can we effectively minister to the one,” said Huntsman.

To minister to the one, Huntsman explains that there must be a space for struggles.

“I am using it (spaces) to refer to creating environments that are, on the one hand, places of faith where we can seek and nurture testimony, but are also, on the other, places where our sisters and brothers can safely question, seek understanding, and share their pain,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman also shared a quote from President M. Russell Ballard, which said “we need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism. Let it be said that we truly believe the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are for every child of God.”

Huntsman said Tom Christofferson’s memoir, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family, is an example of love and testimony growth in the face of adversity.

“Accepting others does not mean that we condone, agree with, or conform to their beliefs or choices, but simply that we allow the realities of their lives to be different than our own,” Christofferson said in his book.

Huntsman also said even though different realities mean that they look, act, feel, or experience life differently, they are still children of loving Heavenly Parents and the same Jesus suffered and died for them.

“Without diluting the doctrine or compromising the standards of the Gospel, we must open our hearts wider, reach out farther, and love more fully. By so doing, we can create more space for love, testimony, mourning, and agency. We can then find not only peace but even joy in the midst of the struggle.” Huntsman said.

Huntsman concluded by saying anyone facing trials can still experience peace and joy.

“As we all wrestle together, may we truly make our families and friendships, our neighborhoods and wards, and our classrooms and offices spaces for love, spaces for testimony, spaces for mourning and understanding, spaces for agency, and spaces for joy,” he said.

The next devotional will be on August 21, 2018, by Sister Joy D. Jones, the Primary general president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She will address the BYU community at 11 a.m. in the Marriott Center.