I have a family member who seems to be in the process of leaving the Church (maybe already left.) And as most of you who read this blog know, I used to participate quite a bit in online intellectual discussions about the gospel and about the Church. I still comment here and there, but I don't participate the way I did. Mostly because I've heard, studied, and pondered most of the things discussed and come to form understanding or opinions about them already. Not being naturally inclined to nonproductive confrontation, I've lost interest in fighting about the things I believe with people. With that in mind, I use a very light hand with this person.
Increasingly, it just feels unwise to defend the Church much beyond bearing testimony. I have learned so much by the hardships of my life, and the emotional and spiritual struggles I have survived. It's like I have this deep, lasting fire inside my heart. I sometimes just want to shake people and say, "can't you see?!" "Can't you feel how much God loves you?" "Can't you open your heart to truth?!" But I don't, of course. And because the passion burns so bright and hot in me, I often hold my tongue. Not because I'm afraid of what will happen to me, but because I'm afraid that by opening my mouth, I'll do more harm to their search for truth than good. Though I so badly want to help.
I wish I could explain this feeling better.
The drive to protect people, to help them heal and find peace is so powerful. And yet, ultimately, every person must work out salvation on their own. Most people who are in the process of disbelieving in the Church or the gospel don't want to be brought back. Maybe there is a part of them that regrets the loss of their security blanket of faith, but I find they almost never truly desire replacing that security blanket with the real thing. And I can't blame them, really. Real faith comes with a very heavy price tag, in my experience. It is far easier to let go and do what feels good, or to discount divine truth because of mortal error, than to continually struggle with oneself, denying oneself any gratification in order to keep a clear mind and heart.
So many people get tangled up in inconsistencies, comparing the "science" of history or archaeology to the scriptures. I don't discard any of those sources of truth. I think they can be powerful ways to frame our understanding of scripture. But they aren't "it." They aren't the sole way to understanding. Alone, they cannot answer all of the questions about Joseph Smith's wives, or whether or not ancient Americans could make swords or if they used elephants. This is, in part, why online arguments about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, or of Joseph Smith's call to be a Prophet and restore the gospel almost always fall in favor of the critical. There just simply aren't words to describe how someone with faith in the Restoration and the Gospel can know. It simply cannot be reached by logic alone.
It is impossible to entirely rely on logic or reason to teach the whats and whys of history or doctrine. Reason and logic are important tools, but only two of many. Imperfection, for example, in the ways that people in the Church both past and present have conducted the affairs of the Church is so often used to destroy a testimony. Yet, that same imperfection is an underpinning of the entire Plan of Salvation, including the Gospel. By our experiences we can learn to distinguish between good and evil. NOT by logic: by experience! Our own, personal experience on this earth and with our God. I have found that His deepest mysteries are revealed in the simplest of doctrine. It is just understood on a deeper level. There really isn't language to teach it any other way other than to live it. Again, logic falls short. Reason can only point so far.
This raw and simple truth infuriates people who demand understanding by logic. They believe that everyone who has navigated the choppy waters of history and survived with faith are deceiving or deceived, simply because those with faith can't explain it to them in a way they can understand. But I have found that unfolding the mysteries of God cannot be taught to others without their own experiences, no matter how much someone who has found that slim, narrow path may wish to share their map.
Honestly, it doesn't matter to me what my family member eventually chooses. The journey belongs to that family member. I just don't want the choice to be made out of anger, betrayal, or fear. I want them to find forgiveness and peace, to clarify emotions, deal with the inner issues that make those emotions burn so brightly, learn from them, and then make a decision that comes from love and forgiveness rather than anger and betrayal. And I want this person to know how my heart burns alongside them, how watching them struggle through this, I just want to pick up the other half of the yoke and pull alongside them, whichever way they choose to go.
But I don't have the words for that, either. Especially since I doubt they want my help in any sense.
So I'll pray for them. Not that they necessarily make the same decisions I've made, even though I (of course) feel they are best. But I'll pray that their heart can be healed, that they can forgive themselves and others, and that they can feel the love of their family and their God. Because that is the key to all the rest, the beginning of wisdom. That is the beginning of the path to Truth.