It had been a miserable five years.
I’d returned home from my mission in July 2004. My mission was a furnace: white-hot anxiety and hungry, red zeal drew me into a desperate blaze of obedience and fervor. Like all zeal, mine was born of fear–fear that what I believed wasn’t true, that I was on the wrong track, that the tremendous efforts I’d made my entire life to control my actions and monitor my thoughts were in vain.
I couldn’t face the possibilty.
So I thrust in my sickle with my might. I hoped that if I could just use that phrase enough — “I know” — I would finally convince myself that I did.
I obeyed every rule. Knocked thousands of doors. Taught hundreds of discussions. Memorized dozens of scriptures. And day after day, contact after contact, the words fell out of my mouth in a downpour of piety: I know, I know, I know.
“I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.”
“I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.”
“I know that if you stop drinking coffee, you will be happier and healthier than you are today.”
It almost worked. I returned home, almost sure. The nagging doubts that had driven me into the mission field now hummed quietly below the surface, unacknowledged, neglected — strange thoughts I could not explain but vowed never again to entertain seriously. It was Satan’s influence, I reasoned, one of the devil’s dirty tricks. It was an odd thing to take comfort in, but I did: the devil is inside my mind.
I must never let him out.
But keeping Satan at bay was easier on the mission than it was in real life. On the mission, you had one focus: teach the gospel. You locked your life to anything else. You opened your mouth and it was filled with reassuring platitudes, safely scripted replies, even the ocassional flash of insight that felt as if it couldn’t possibly have come from you.
At home you were surrounded by distractions. Books, school, friends, boyfriends — then eventually husband, work, mortgage, child. The safety died.
Five years had passed since my mission, and slowy but surely, Satan had weaseled his way back to the forefront of my mind. Doubt swirled around me like a country twister, snippets of questions hurtling past too quickly to see or grasp. I could make out just one question in the storm, over and over, in a million different varieties: What if? What if? What if what if what if what if what if…
Until tonight, the night I found myself in the kitchen, alone–again–long after the family had gone to bed. The refrigerator hummed meancingly, and I kicked it in a vain attempt to silence it. Then I opened it, searching for comfort, and snapped it closed, unfulfilled.
Exhausted, I sank to my knees by the sink.
“Dear God,” I prayed, “I don’t know what more you want from me, but I’m SO DAMNED SICK of this.”
The ice maker gurgled.
“What else am I supposed to do, God? I’ve done everything–everything–you wanted! I’ve fasted. I’ve prayed. I served a mission. I married in the temple. And still I doubt! Either take these doubts away from me, or I’m done. Do you hear me, God? I’M DONE!”
Silence descended. As if in deference to my agony, the refrigerator stopped its incessant hum. It was just enough time for me to whisper the words I had never dared admit to anyone, especially myself, “I don’t know if any of this is real. Including You.”
As soon as the confession left my lips, warmth radiated through my body. Just like I’d promised every investigator on my mission. Just like I’d asked for a million times in desperate, tear-filled prayers.
“I doubt, God! I doubt! I don’t know a damn thing!”
Now I was laughing, giddy with freedom. “I don’t know if You’re there! I don’t know what any of this means!” The more I said it, the more it filled me, that burning in the bosom, that unbridled peace.
It had been a miserable five years. There was more misery to come. You don’t tear apart your worldview without consequence. But looking back on it, I say that was the day I really met God, a God of love, a loyal God, a God who is more interested in my truth–not the truth I expected to learn.
–Katie Langston (see all of Katie’s guest posts here)