Doubting Your Doubts

This talk was given at the 2019 stake women's conference.
by Ashley Simmons

I am honored to speak today. The topic I was given was doubting your doubts, taken from Elder Uchtdorf's General Conference address Come, Join with Us. I hope that my words will in some way lift the burden that doubt can place on hearts and shoulders.

One of the most powerful ways we can doubt our doubts is by changing the way we react to them. Specifically, we need to have less fear and shame about doubt. For example, a few years ago I read a moving history about a Jewish family in England and the struggles they faced during WWII. One day a teenage son came to his father, who was the rabbi of the community, with a confession that burdened his heart: "Dad," he said, "I don’t know if I believe there is a God!"

His father's reaction was extreme, as if he were Luke Skywalker and had just been told Darth Vader was really his father. The rabbi screamed with great passion, "NOOOO!!!" and wept and wailed at his son’s confession. The son was so freaked out by his father’s reaction that he actually ran away and joined an atheistic Communist party.

This father's fearful and shaming reactions to his sons doubt gave doubt so much power that it literally turned his son into an atheist. But what if he could have looked at doubt differently and feared it and shamed it less?

What if instead of screaming "No!" to his son saying "Dad, I don’t know if I believe there is a God," the father had said, "Son, I am glad you are pondering the existence of God. God has placed that question of His existence in every one of His son’s and daughter's hearts to make us wrestle, to make us ponder, to make us diligently search for Him! Son, I can promise you that if you will take your natural questions and search for Him, you will find Him!’’

Speaking of doubt, Elder Uchtdorf said, "It’s natural to have questions. The acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding." And so it did with me. When I was a teenager, I was like this boy in the story. I struggled so much with the doubtful question, "Is there really a God?" It haunted me; it wouldn’t go away. I heard people bear their testimony in church and say that they knew there was a God, and I was astounded by those words. I wanted that!

As a Laurel at my last girls' camp it came time for testimony meeting. When it was obviously my turn to go, I stood, and not knowing what to say, I chose to be honest about where I was with things. I said I didn’t know that God was real, that I didn’t know when I looked at the stars if I was alone, or if there was more, that my heart was burdened with this pain and I wept with this burden, and then I sat down. My marvelous leaders didn’t scream a tragic "Nooo" at me but told me that appreciated my honestly and that I should keep searching.

And so I did. Doubt made me so uncomfortable that I searched madly for God. It didn’t happen immediately, but I did find God. In fact I found Him everywhere. I found Him in science class, I found Him in art class, I found God Him on walks in nature, in my family, in the scriptures, at church: I found Him everywhere. I will never take my testimony of Him lightly or for granted.

If we can help ourselves and others remove fear and shame, we can make doubt into a tool that pushes to find answers.

Another way we can doubt our doubts is to know that sometimes experiencing doubt simply means we are doing something brave! Let me explain what I mean by that. We all know the story of Peter and his experience of walking on the water to the Savior at Galilee. Such a powerful story about faith and doubt. Every fear was present…the fear of the dark, sinking, the waves and the boisterous wind. But when the Savior spoke His powerful invitation, “Come,” Peter acted and overcame all of those fears and walked on the water to the Savior.

Peter was so faithful and brave, but the wind, waves, and darkness did not cease just because he was brave and faithful. Eventually, the persistent waves and wind and dark unnerved him, and he began to sink, only to be immediately saved by the Savior.

When we talk about this story, we often only think about how Peter doubted and began to sink, but what if we looked at it differently? What if we focused on the fact that Peter had bravely followed the Savior to a perilous situation? In that moment, he stepped out of his boat of safety. He could have stayed in the boat with the others, safe from doubt and fear. They did not experience his waves of doubt, they didn’t begin to sink, nor did they experience his faith, courage, and miracle.

And so it is with us. We each have been asked by Christ to “come” in ways that have felt as perilous to us as if we were stepping out of a boat into dark wind and waves. One way that we can doubt our doubts is to understand that sometimes we must endure the waves of doubt when we are being courageous and following the Lord. The waves and wind of doubt don’t always just go away because we are doing the right thing, but we must do it anyway.

Another example of experiencing doubt while being courageous is Mother Teresa. Three years ago, I was listening to the nightly news as I made dinner. A young reporter had written an opinion piece about the new Mother Teresa diaries that the Catholic church had printed years after she had passed away. In these diaries we discover that Mother Teresa experienced doubt that haunted her life. This reporter was aghast that Mother Teresa experienced doubt. He called her a fraud, he said she was a phony, and a fanatic, that if she didn’t fully believe, she had no business working that hard for this calling and serving God.

I have never hear a report about someone that was so incomplete and short-sided. This reporter had a child's understanding of doubt and faith. If he had looked closer before he struck Mother Teresa down with judgment, he would see how brave she was--how faithful this woman truly was. That her greatest doubts came in the face of human suffering, and yet she followed the Lord into the HEART of human suffering in Calcutta, India. Day after day she saw it, heard it, felt it, and mourned it. She could not have found a more challenging place to be. The waves of doubt were unending, but she never got back in the boat. She never let her doubt stop her or to lead her to abandon her calling.

For Mother Teresa, doubt was the symptom of living a faithful dedicated life. Her doubts were never eradicated, but she NEVER put up her hands and gave up because of them. We all face our own blind reporters--and often that person is ourselves--who tell us to abandon our path when we face doubt. To give up the cause we have been called to. We must not, but we must endure the waves of doubt that come even as we bravely follow Christ.

Elder Uchtdorf says it best: "We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Dear sisters, it is my prayer that you will see the courage you have in your life every day as you seek to follow the Savior. That you will endure the waves of doubt that may come your way and refuse to get back in the boat, and bravely live the life you know you were meant to live.

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