Going through a faith crisis felt, in a way, pretty similar to having a pebble inside my shoe.
I was fully aware it was there, but it wasn’t visible to other people around me. I could feel it as I walked to Church, as I went to the temple, and especially as I hung out with other friends who shared the same faith as I, who would discuss more often than not, various religious topics and experiences.
Having the “faith crisis pebble” inside my shoe also made me feel embarrassed and cautious whenever I chose to speak about the Church. I feared that talking openly to others about my religious questions and concerns would result in them having the same doubts, and I didn’t want anybody dear to me to have to go through the loneliness and confusion I was feeling.
Even though I knew nobody could see inside my shoe and point out that I had a pebble, I felt like everybody knew about it. No matter how hard I would try to walk as if the pebble wasn’t hurting me with every step I took, I was still certain that my slight “faith limp” was noticeable to my family, friends, Church leaders and college professors.
Even though I was able to receive answers to my questions and religious concerns which led to eventually overcoming my faith crisis, the experience showed me many of the misunderstandings that some of us are taught regarding faith crises.
Many of the fears related to my faith crisis being noticed were built because of what I was taught and what I heard growing up. I learned at a young age that I shouldn’t talk or ask about the faith questions of those less active because they could lead me astray. I learned that if a person wasn’t showing up to church, didn’t have a temple recommend, swore or had multiple piercings in their ears, they were probably struggling with their testimony.
The truth is that there is not one standard way or time at which people experience faith crises, just like there is not a designated list of personalized steps to overcome the crisis itself. There is also no “limp” or outside characteristics from which others may be able to tell a person is questioning their faith. There is not a “less active” look or a “nuanced member” default behavior.
There are, however, multiple reasons why questions, worries and doubts may arise during the course of somebody’s life.
For some, it is gaining new knowledge or feeling dissatisfaction with certain Church leaders. For others, it can be a mix of small things that spark questions and worries.
I have learned that there is more than one group or community of students at BYU who may feel isolated, confused and hurt, and I know that students experiencing a faith crisis are a part of this collective.
It is hard to talk about your questions and disconformities regarding the Church, when the institution you have chosen to attend is sponsored by it, and is compounded by a member majority. Yet, especially because of the university we choose to attend, students struggling with a faith crisis should feel more love and support than they would anywhere else.
BYU students must understand that it is always up to the other person whether they want to share their experience and thoughts or not. On the other hand, it is not students’ duty to lecture, preach or try to fix somebody else’s crisis. However, it is always commanded of us to love, as true disciples of Christ.
A memory that always uplifted me as I questioned my faith was the time I attended a random family ward and an 86-year-old man got up to bear his testimony during the Sunday meeting. He talked about loving without judgement and then he sang the lyrics to the “Love One Another” hymn, but replaced the chorus by singing, “as I have fixed you, fix one another.”
All the members in the audience burst out laughing because of how little sense the hymn made as he replaced the word “love” with the word “fix.”
God doesn’t want to and will not fix us. His desire for us to reach our full and divine potential will not translate into fixing us when we are going through a challenge, but into even more love. Although it is such an easy lesson to implement, I have noticed how I tend to justify my need to “fix” others by saying that I love them and only want the best for them.
People going through a faith crisis don’t need you to fix them. In fact, even if you tried, gaining a testimony back is something only the individual can do.
For some BYU students, especially those who have served successful missions, it might be too tempting to preach and try to provide answers to the questions of those going through a faith crisis or those thinking about walking away from the Church. This does not usually work.
President M. Russell Ballard spoke about those in faith crises and those asking questions about the Church during a BYU devotional in 2017.
“Please don’t preach to them. Your family member or friend already knows the Church’s teachings. They don’t need another lecture!” he said. “What they need, what we all need, is love and understanding, not judging. Share your positive experiences of living the gospel. The most powerful thing you can do is share your spiritual experiences with family and friends in a non-preachy way. Also, be genuinely interested in their lives — their successes and challenges. Always be warm, gentle, loving and kind.”
Another thing that brought me peace during my journey was remembering that not only did Jesus Christ suffer and pay for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also felt our sadness, confusion, fear, guilt and loneliness. Even though I don’t understand Isaiah most of the time, it was hard to miss the meaning of his words in Isaiah 53:4 when he wrote, “surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”
Jesus Christ knows and has personally felt what the confusion of having a faith crisis is like.
Not everybody will be able to understand what going through a faith crisis feels like, but everyone can to try to empathize like Jesus did and validate a person’s feelings of confusion, sadness and loneliness.
I have learned that by listening to, validating and loving those going through a faith crisis, I am not going to directly make their doubts disappear or be resolved. Yet I can show them and remind them of Jesus’ love for them in spite of whatever challenge they are facing.
– Andrea Zapata
Editor in Chief