Next week, I’ll be turning 35. I’m practically middle-age. In some ways I can’t believe it, yet in other ways it really isn’t all that big of a deal. For all of these 35 years, I’ve been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was baptized when I was eight, participated in the youth programs of the church, I completed personal progress, and attended early morning seminary while in high school.
As an adult, my commitment to the church hasn’t changed. I have gone to the temple (and I go regularly), I have graduated from Institute, I have had children, and have held various callings in the church.
For 35 years, my life has been marked by consistent activity in the church and, for the most part, a thriving testimony.
There are many people like me. Who are born and raised in the church and who live lives of faith.
But the thing is, even with such faith and devotion to the church, there are no sure things, or at least it seems that way. Even if we’ve lived faithful lives, we still have to keep pushing forward. We can’t coast or become complacent. Not only that, but our faith is continually tested, and we can find that even after a lifetime of faith, we’re giving up.
Now, this is not me saying that I’m giving up. I’m just thinking about how it happens.
Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend. It went something like this:
Friend: I have a such a strong testimony of the church, I love it so much. I can’t imagine my life without it.
Me: I know what you mean. I feel the same way.
Friend: But sometimes I get afraid. What if I don’t keep the faith? What if something happens, and I stop going to church or forget my testimony?
Me: [I thought for a moment] You know, I’m not afraid of that.
Friend: Really? [I could tell that she thought I was being a little too self-assured.
Me: I think that I’m more afraid that there will be a time when I’m not working as hard. When I’m not praying like I should be praying. When I’m not feasting on the words of Christ. When I’m not attending the temple with clean hands and a pure heart. When I’m not serving in the church diligently and cheerfully. I’m afraid that there will be a time that these things start to “go”, and then I’ll be afraid that I leave the church.
We both agreed that the way to stay strong in the gospel is by doing the small things. But this conversation I had with my friend haunts me when I hear things like A general authority doubting the church. Or how I’ve recently had friends who, after decades of devotion to the church, decide to leave it. Somewhere along the line, for various reasons, people lose their faith, their commitment, or both.
Alma asks this question to disaffected church members:
“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” – Alma 5:26
It seems like this is a relatively common phenomenon, people have a change of heart, they feel the love of the redemption offered through the Atonement of the Savior. But the feeling fades away. This can lead to something as simple as inactivity in the church or perhaps even something more serious like apostasy and leaving the church altogether. In any case, the result is the same, we forget the witness we’ve had in the past, and fail to live up to the covenants we’ve made. This has serious consequences. And…above all…it defeats the purpose of everything we’re doing right now.
I’m not living faithfully now so I can give up later. I’m not spending countless hours serving at church, Driving hundreds of miles to attend the temple, donating thousands of dollars for tithing, attending 3 hour church services weekly, etc., etc., etc. –I’m not doing all of these things now to simply give up on them later!
I know that the decision to leave the church, or at least stop attending, isn’t made that way. No one thinks, Okay, I’ve dedicated my life to the Savior, but now I’m done. I understand that other things happen. We face hardship in our lives that test our faith. We may be hurt or offended by another in the church. For various reasons, commitment can be hard to maintain. Our faith is tested, and fear and doubt creep into the tiniest corners of our hearts.
My question..and, up to this point, my crappy answer
And it makes me wonder, how do we do it? how do we endure to the end? How do I make sure that I remain faithful? This seems like a hard thing to predict because I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know the trials of my faith that I’ll face in the future. I don’t know how I’ll react when I’m facing the trials that I can’t predict. I find myself asking, Will I remain faithful?…gee, I sure hope so. This answer is unsatisfactory. It seems so powerless. It’s as if I’m leaving my eternal salvation up to chance.
The thing is, I know that my salvation isn’t up to chance. It is up to me. We were sent to this earth to be agents to act, and not to be acted upon. We are free to choose our destiny: liberty and eternal life or captivity and death. Our salvation (or damnation) isn’t something that will just happen to us.
Developing an Eye of Faith to Ensure Continued Commitment
It seems that the key is to develop an eye of faith. Alma is a great example of this. When he is in his “comatose” state (after seeing an angel), he is in excruciating pain: caused by his many sins. He cries to God for mercy, and Jesus snatches him out of his agony. After this, but before regaining consciousness Alma has the following experience:
“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.” – Alma 36:22
Immediately after Alma sees this snapshot of Heaven, he awakens. And, I believe, that this vision pushes him forward in faith. Of course the harrowing and hallowing experience of redemption of sins is a major reason for His faithful service to God. But think about Alma, he did more than just remain a kind of faithful guy. He served missions, was hated and persecuted, was put in jail. He was tested – and probably in more ways than we can understand. It had to be more than feeling the joy of redeeming love that motivated him to stay faithful. I think that the joy of redemption coupled with his faithful goal: he longed to be in the presence of the Lord. He could see what he wanted.
I don’t think that Alma said, “Gee, I hope that one day I’ll be able to experience Heaven…Gee, I wonder if this will happen to me…I sure hope so.” This is, obviously, speculation. But I’m inclined to believe that Alma said to himself, “I will be with the Lord one day…It will happen to me…I will remain faithful.”
There are other examples, too. Imagine Nephi or Lehi after witnessing the vision of the fruit of the tree of life. Do you think that after this vision, they woke up and said, “Gee, I sure hope that I really do partake of the fruit of the tree of life one day? or did they say, “I will partake of that fruit. I will remain faithful to the end.”
Making A Declaration or A Choice
While I’ve been supposing that these prophets made declarations of faith and commitment to themselves, there is an instance of a prophet declaring his intentions of sustained faith and endurance.
“…till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” – Job 27:5
Often, I’ve thought about this scripture as being about integrity or the strength of Job. But perhaps it was more than that, and I think it is the answer to my aforementioned question. Job’s declaration is an expression of his eye of faith.
Job refused to remove his integrity. Job refused to give up his faith. Job would receive the blessings of salvation. This isn’t a brazen or proud statement. Job is confident in his own ability and in the Lord’s mercy. Job refuses to see anything else happen. He will not deviate.
I know that this seems simplified, but I really think that is the key. If I make the decision right now to always remain faithful, then I will. If I choose right now to refuse to remove my integrity, then I will do exactly that.
I have a testimony of the gospel. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I know that He loves me. I know that I’m a daughter of God, and that He loves me, too. I know that God wants us to be happy, and that He has given us a way to accomplish this–through the Savior. I don’t want to forget what I know. I don’t want to let doubt or fear creep into my heart and dash my testimony to pieces. I want these first 35 years of my life to be relevant and worthwhile, not a waste of time. I want to experience the blessings and happiness that the Lord has in store for me. I also want to please Him through my own actions and choices. I want, like Alma, to be in the presence of the Lord, one day.
And so, I’m committing not to remove my integrity from me. I will not lose faith. I will stay true to the gospel and to the covenants that I’ve made. I know that there will be more trials that I face in my life–until the day that I die. But I will not let them get in the way of my ultimate goal.
Have you developed an eye of faith? What is it that you “see” for yourself? Have you made any declarations concerning your intentions for this life? What is it? If you have made covenants with the Lord, how will you remain faithful to them–even when they are severely tried?