When a challenge to read the Book of Mormon was issued at Stake Conference I shook my head and thought to myself, “Another Book of Mormon reading challenge? This is how we are to prepare our hearts for the temple? Not, help a neighbor or volunteer in a soup kitchen? Nope, we are to read a book we’ve probably all read nearly a million times.”
The more I thought about this the more my frustration grew. Before I even left the conference, my stomach was in knots. I decided then that I would NOT participate in the challenge and as soon as I did the terrible knot went away.
Over the next week, however, putting the challenge behind me was no so easy. Friends in the stake were updating their Facebook status with sentiments about how awesome the challenge was. We spent time talking about it at book club. I’m sure it came up at playgroup. Each time it was mentioned the frustration I had felt when the challenge was first extended, bubbled to the surface.
Why was I still letting myself get so worked up over this? Had I let pride get such a hold me? Was I worried that my friends would think that by willfully going against the call of a sustained leader I was either sabotaging the effort to have the temple built or that I was a substandard Mormon unqualified to mingle with the better part? Perhaps. However blaming my issue on pride would have been disingenuous. Pride was something that, sadly, I was a little too familiar with. The underpinnings to my concern were based in something else. Something that had to do with the increased intensity I had recently experienced on my personal faith journey.
No, my resistance to meet this challenge wasn’t about pride or open rebellion. It was about fear. Of everything I had lost in my attempt to hold on to the faith that was slipping through my fingers, somehow I had managed to hold onto a damaged testimony of the Book of Mormon. I was afraid that if I read the Book of Mormon I’d discover that I’d built up its goodness to be more than it really was and then the last shred of faith I was holding onto would disintegrate. I’d have nothing left and that terrified me.
“Please don’t make me do this,” I pleaded to no one in particular.
“I never would,” came an answer, softly but swiftly.
“I cannot do this,” I cried out.
“You don’t have to,” came the reply. Immediately, my fear vanished.
I no longer heard the chatter that surrounded the challenge. It either wasn’t happening or I didn’t care enough to notice. I had received the personal confirmation I needed and with gratitude and awe was moving on.
When my prayers are answered I notice that there are two miracles given: 1) I receive the blessings the answered prayer provides (i.e. healing, rest, knowledge, patience, joy, etc.), and, 2) I learn how mindful God is of who I am and where I am in my journey. While the benefits of the first are certainly great, it is the acknowledgment of the second that transforms. When we understand that God is ever with us, we are filled with love. That love then endows us with power and confidence to become as God is.
Love filled my heart and I began to feel that if God trusted me to make this decision, perhaps I could make it past my fear of life without a testimony of the Book of Mormon. This life was designed for me and the love I was feeling confirmed that I had the power to endure any storm that might gather regardless if I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon or not.
I decided to read the Book of Mormon.
The wounds from my faith journey however were still too new and raw too permit me to read the book from the innocent and positive angles I had in the past. I was jaded and wasn’t sure how to spin (or if I should spin) what I was reading to help me live the life I had been taught was the only true way to happiness. It was as if I was reading a book I’d never seen. Everything was new and unsettling and in the beginning, with each verse I read, my fear and panic escalated and eventually I had to stop.
“It’s too hard,” I sobbed. “I’m going to lose everything.”
The idea that followed was clear, “This will, undoubtedly, be the hardest thing you have done so far. Because of what you have been through and what you have learned it will challenge you in a way you have never known.”
I was filled with love and inspiration. “You can do this,” I resolved.
I continued, and as I did the panic attacks lessened in frequency and intensity. I became more comfortable with my questions and thoughts and I finished the Book of Mormon.
Had I listened to my leaders and ignored my initial prompting not to read the Book of Mormon, it’s possible that what I was meant to learn from this experience would have been lost. More valuable than being obedient was the reminder that I have a personal connection to the Divine, and while a third party’s interpretation may be useful, it is not necessary. Once we feel that connection and love, we can be transformed and trepidation is replaced with confidence. The power of God (I call it love) does not require a mediator and it can reach us even when we are going against the doctrine and counsel of the church or our sustained leaders.