My Testimony is My Life
Updated: Jan 12, 2020
When Fast and Testimony meeting rolls around each month, I always know ahead of time that I will not be getting up. I know this for a couple of reasons. First is because on my mission, it was a rule that we had to bear our testimony each month in the wards we were serving in. I also discovered on my mission that I have authority issues so I was perpetually bothered that my testimony was something I was obligated to share. When I came home, I knew I probably would never get up in testimony meeting again to bear my testimony. I’ve been home a number of years and I’m proud to say haven’t yet broken my streak.
The second reason I don’t get up to bear my testimony is because an “acceptable” testimony in the Church usually sounds like, “I know that the Church is true. I know Joseph Smith to be a Prophet of God, etc.” You can fill in the propositional blank but the given form is, “I know this, I know that, and because I know this thing I know this other thing as well.” The second reason is because I don't know anymore. And I haven’t known for a long, long time.
I know there are many in the Church, maybe even some here, who live in a state of doubt, uncertainty, and perpetual spiritual unease. I know there are members who, when testimony meeting comes around, also feel anxiety and isolation because their testimony, the thing that symbolizes their relationship with the one true Church on the face of the Earth, is in flux and they don’t feel as though they belong. I wanted to talk about this because I have been there, I am there, and I see you.
Growing up in Provo, everyone was Mormon, which according to The Incredibles means no one was. In high school, I had a hard time finding the niche that I fit into. I wasn’t a jock, goth, popular, a cheerleader, band geek, theater kid, or anything. I was just Madison. But when you’re a teenager, your identity is forming so, among other things, I latched on to the thing everyone else seemed to be ignoring — Mormonism.
Around 15 or so, I picked up Jesus the Christ and didn’t stop reading the infamous and sometimes unfortunate “classics” of Mormonism like Mormon Doctrine and Miracle of Forgiveness until I left on my mission. I was the Hermione Granger of my seminary. Mine was always the first hand up and always would I quote some General Authority or some book.
Then I went on a mission. My dreams of being AP, converting the unconvertable, and preaching the good word were dashed within the first week. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of the shadow that had followed me around since I was 15. For all of my righteous zeal, I was ignorantly and blindly caught up in a system of self-righteousness — unaware of the judgment I was leveraging onto my friends and family. What followed were the worst two years.
Not only was I wrestling with my own self-righteous shadow, but my relationship with the Church had also been deeply wounded. I had been wounded. I struggled against arbitrary and extra rules. I struggled against a system that rewarded brown-nosing and navel-gazing. I struggled against a mission president who smacked of arrogance and couldn’t see the wounded boy behind the name-tag. And when I came home I was bitter and angry towards the Church and didn’t realize it.
While my relationship with the Church had been wounded, my relationship with God blossomed for the first time. Previous to my mission, I had accidentally conflated God and the Church. This was my ignorant sin I was guilty of and I suspect a lot of us in the Church are guilty of. Anything that is beyond criticism is God to you and the Church had been my God. But now that my relationship with the Church was in flux, my natural hunger and passion for spiritual things led me on. And it was like having my feet on solid ground for the first time.
I no longer had a stomach for the words of prophets, Deseret Book, or scripture. It was as though I had developed an allergy to everything I had previously loved. So I unhesitatingly turned to the best books and works of the best of humanity. I read from the classics of Western literature, pondered Nietzche, Freud, and Derrida. I studied Heisenberg, Einstein, and Bohr, the fathers of modern scientific theory. I layed down my certainties, my hard-won knowledge, and saw that God sowed truth into the Earth itself. What did I find through all of this? What happened to my testimony?
I found God in the words and stories of CS Lewis. I found God in movies and music. I found God in Indian and Chinese spirituality. I found God in art and the philosophies of men. I found God in the dirt under my feet, the food I ate, the mountains and deserts I camped in, and the vast cosmos over my head. I found God in my nieces and nephews, in my sisters and my parents, and my friends. And I even found God in people I didn't agree with or even like very much.
I’m sorry to say that all of this, my journey, did not rid me of my doubts and answer any of my questions. They’re still here. Instead, I was taught how to hold my doubting uncertainty with a calm and curious mind. Often, if we listen well, our doubts can teach us things we didn’t know about ourselves and God. And sometimes our sure knowledge can blind us to deeper realities and truths that lie just below the surface. Making decisions and living in the face of uncertainty is the stuff of life. It’s the air we breathe. In fact, uncertainty is woven into the universe and world that hold us.
When attempting to detect electrons around the nucleus of an atom, scientists discovered something quite strange about the nature of reality. Something they did not expect. In order to measure or know anything about the momentum of the electron in its orbit, they could not measure its position. In fact, the more certain they knew they were about the electron’s momentum, the more uncertain they had to be about its position. The problem worked in reverse as well. The more certain their knowledge was about the electron’s position, the less certain they had to be about its momentum. This is called Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and is one of the most mysterious aspects of reality. In order to learn the truth of an electron, scientists must utilize both knowledge and uncertainty.
This is not a trick of the eye or failure of measurement. Uncertainty is baked into the very fabric of the universe we live in. That some real phenomena are taking place is not in doubt. Electrons are real things. But to learn anything about them, we must hold truth loosely in our hands instead of clinging to our knowledge of one thing or another. I believe very strongly that God had a hand in creating this universe. And it seems that God encoded a message for us. If the entirety of reality rests fundamentally on uncertain particles, then maybe it’s ok that doubt and uncertainty have entered your spiritual life right now.
So where does that leave me? What is the nature of my testimony now? Knowledge and certainty no longer serve as the foundation of my spirituality. Much in the same way that Heisenberg learned to hold truth loosely, I have learned to hold spiritual truth, and all of life really, with open hands, an open mind, and a grateful heart. I have grown increasingly comfortable and even fond of doubt and uncertainties. This may have been foolhardy of me, but rather than doubt my doubts I invited them in and broke bread with them. I made friends with my shadow and learned how to love what seemed unlovable. My spiritual life is healthy, dynamic, always flowing, and alive.
I am a committed and dedicated learner. I believe in the power of information and knowledge. But I’ve learned that the more I know about something, the more I will be blind to my own ignorance and cut off from true encounters with absolute reality. So I am constantly asking new questions, challenging my preconceptions and biases, and keeping the soil of my heart and spirit freshly fertilized and tilled.
What is my testimony then? My testimony is the way I treat people I love. My testimony, for better or worse, is how I treat people I dislike. My testimony is as imperfect and flawed as I am. My testimony is the way I eat. My testimony is the way I hike and engage with the Earth. My testimony is the passion I have for all things spiritual. My testimony is the manifestation of all that I love, fear, and believe. In short, my testimony is my life.
And while my whole life can’t be shared in a blog post, what I can share is the one thing I have come to know with some experiential certitude. A powerful, all-accepting, wildly compassionate, and universally given love is at the core of this universe. This love is beautifully embodied by the life and death of Jesus Christ. Beyond knowing this, I believe in it, I trust in it, and I will follow this love forever.