We all have a story – some of us have many – that deal with less than perfect church members or leaders. When dealing with fallible humans you’re going to see or experience sorrow, offense, even abuse. So how do we build a testimony strong enough to withstand adversity?
I loved camping and all things outdoors as a kid but, due to a skin condition, I had to take precautions. One of these precautions was keeping my skin clean and hydrated- meaning I needed to use heavy creams to seal in moisture after any exposure to water.
While at girls camp my camp leader and some girls decided to play a prank on me. While showering they took my towel, my skin cream, my clothes, and shoes… leaving me nothing. When I got out of the shower to see my things missing, I was mortified! Camp was about a half a mile away and I needed to walk there completely exposed.
As I walked to camp the dirt and weeds stuck to my wet legs and feet, and by the time I made it there the sun had dried my skin. Without my creams and due to the irritation from the foliage, my skin was covered in painful sores and cracked skin.
As I sat in my tent I began to cry – not only because I was embarrassed but also my skin was itching horribly. I began to scratch so vigorously I caused myself to bleed. It was then the leader who participated in the prank poked her head in the tent and told me, verbatim, “you need to learn to take a joke.”
This is one of many stories I have that I could use to validate a faith crisis or leaving the church altogether. The church is full of members with similar stories. Is that because the church is false and all members are hateful? Short answer: no.
For a long time I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder. I was constantly generalizing the entire church based on experiences in my ward. I very much had the attitude of “I’m not one of those members” when talking to friends of other faiths. It wasn’t until I had a seminary teacher point something out to me that I had some self-reflection.
At this point I wasn’t going to Young Women’s at all – not on Sundays and not for activities – and feeling very justified. I didn’t love going to church much either. I’d been pretty vocal about my feelings in school, especially in my seminary classes. I really admired my teacher, however, and we got along great. So when he asked me, “whose salvation are you hindering by not going to church?” It struck me.
My initial reaction was to be mad he’d insinuate I was at fault. Seeing the emotions play out on my face he elaborated before I could answer, “the worst person on the planet is welcome to come to church. Whether you go or not has no bearing on their salvation – only yours.”
This wasn’t enough to prod me back to attending my Young Women’s meetings or activities, but the conversation did stick with me. I cannot use what happened to me as a reason to stay away from the church. I wasn’t punishing them by not attending… it was hurting me.
Too many of us are social members and not spiritual members. We come to church for the interactions and friends we make. What happens when you move into a ward where you have no friends and the interaction isn’t fulfilling? This is where we see activity and later faith dwindle.
Our testimonies have to be strong enough to withstand negative experiences, lazy ward members, and bad leadership. It has to be strong enough to bear grief, loneliness, and pain.
I was listening to a talk given by Elder Niel L. Anderson called “Spiritual Whirlwinds.” In this talk he explains how trees that are exposed to large gusts of wind grow stronger – their roots grow deeper, their bases thicker to withstand the next great whirlwind.
It hit me so strongly that we all need to be like a tree in a windstorm. To do this we have to change our perspectives; instead of using our negative experiences to justify our bad actions we should use them to strengthen our faith. We have to become resilient to the pressures of the adversary and look for opportunities to use our experiences as a way to feed our testimony rather than hinder it.
I let what happened to me keep me from achieving my Young Women’s medallion and probably more. Luckily, God made up for my lost time by calling me into Young Women’s twice – changing my perspective entirely. Not all wards are the same and not all girls are the same. There is a lot of good there and I’ve watched the program support and even nurture many young girls. Blessings came and were made all the sweeter because of the hardships I had experienced.
The most important tool for all of this was my testimony of The Book of Mormon. Once I received personal revelation that it’s a true testimony of Christ, I couldn’t shake it. If The Book of Mormon is true then Joseph Smith translated the plates, priesthood keys were restored, and Russell M. Nelson is a prophet of God today.
If you or a family member are struggling, start with the Book of Mormon, then look for opportunities, especially through adversity, to grow your roots in that testimony.
- “Spiritual Whirlwinds” -Elder Neil L. Andersen, April 2014
- “Roots and Branches” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, April 2004
- “Adversity” -President Henry B. Eyring, October 2009
You can follow Trina on Twitter at @TrinaFaye20.