Friday, December 12, 2008

When Spiritual Leaders Aren't

Due to some of the advice in my previous post, I thought it might be appropriate to follow up with a post I've been struggling with for some time. Again, I don't want to disparage or criticize anyone. At the same time, a failure to find appropriate and authoritative spiritual guidance when you need it most is not an uncommon situation. Especially in a Church where ecclesiastical leadership is untrained and uncompensated, and isn't even the primary concern of those who lead, it will come sooner or later that most members find themselves with no official spiritual leadership. What do you do when those who should spiritually lead do not? How do you cope with needing spiritual guidance and not finding it in those with the authority to help? Where do you turn for counsel?

First, I think it is important to understand why the Lord might have instituted a lay priesthood. There doesn't seem to be much clear commentary on the matter, so my thoughts are mostly conjecture based on what I understand of the gospel and priesthood. I feel that, as it is God's will that we should make good choices and come back to Him, the opportunity for all men to participate in priesthood leadership gives them the chance to learn what leadership is. Rather than restricting that learning experience to those who choose it by making it their vocation, He asks that men learn to balance Church, family and personal life, learning to put service as a priority and learning empathy for those they lead. Additionally, they can taste a small measure of divinity when they stand as if they were Christ, intercessors in some way between us and God. In short, it is a chance for them to learn to judge wisely and exercise charity. This principle must work with agency to create some less-than-ideal circumstances. Sometimes, other children of God have to suffer because of the learning process. This doesn't make such leaders bad or wrong, just imperfect. It also gives those without good leadership a chance to learn forgiveness and patience for imperfection.

This is all well and good in thought, but what happens when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and you desperately need spiritual guidance which just isn't there? What happens when you find yourself struggling under the influence of Satan's power and there are no home teachers, no bishopric member, no father or husband or brother to turn to? (As a side note, this may seem to be a uniquely female conundrum, but I'd like to point out that men must also turn to another for spiritual leadership. They cannot do it for themselves.)

There, the beauty of the Gospel truly manifests. Although the Lord has set up the Priesthood to bless the children of Adam and Eve, He has not left us comfortless when we cannot turn to another mortal for such help. He has blessed us with the Spirit of God. This Spirit can not only comfort us, but can call forth His servants to help in times of trouble when one of His children cannot ask for it. I have experienced this in my life multiple times, particularly in the last year or so. Disciples of Christ, thankfully in tune with the Spirit, have come to me and ministered to me when I didn't know how to ask for help. (Many of whom read this blog.) Angels, both mortal and immortal, have surrounded me to bear me up.

However, even in those dark times when I haven't been able to feel or recognize heavenly help, I have been able to cling to the knowledge of my redemption. Gaining a testimony of Christ's Atonement has, at times, been the only lifeline I had. Despite the structure of God's Priesthood, the line between each individual and divinity is unbroken and unbreakable by any other. A lack of mortal spiritual leadership when needed is sometimes only an opportunity to deepen the spiritual bonds between yourself and God. When there is no one else, He is always there.

So, where do you turn for counsel? To Jesus Christ, whose life and death was dedicated to our welfare, who knows us better and more deeply than we know ourselves, whose faithfulness was stronger than Death and Hell. When our faithfulness to Him becomes just as strong, we will be able to ensure that when another of God's children needs spiritual guidance, we will be there, ready to answer the call of the Spirit.


  1. SilverRain, thank you for sharing this. I enjoy your blog and learn a lot from you.

    As I was reading I was reminded of Elder Holland's talk about angels- and then you mentioned receiving strength from mortal and immortal angels.

    Reading your testimony here reminds me of the importance of having Christ and the Atonement as my foundation. I also see that I need to be more fluent in the language of the Spirit. These are good reminders for me.

    Although my life is not trouble free, I believe that my relatively comfortable life is my biggest challenge. Comfort often leads to complacency and even stagnation. Whatever challenge you may face, you seem to have used it to develop a strength and a "spiritual bond" that you may not have in the absence of adversity.

    Finally, your post reminds me of Francis Webster, a pioneer that travelled with the Martin handcart company. If you aren't familiar with it (and even if you are), it is worth reading:

  2. Silver Rain, I know I am probably a thorn in your side but you must have some reason for making your blog public and allowing people like me to read it. We experience our difficulties with Mormonism in such different ways and my comments probably do you little good but you are a such smart writer and gifted communicator that I continue to follow your blog. Your struggles are so palpably authentic. I respect the way you grapple with and try to understand your religious existence. I have absolutely no advice for but I do admire your tenacity and straight shooting.

  3. SliverRain, the following a while ago on another blog - and I thought of it immediately as I read the first paragraphs of this post:

    "I believe that one of the most inspired aspects of the organizational restoration is that 'we, the people' run the Church at the local level - and that one of the most dangerous aspects of the organizational restoration is that 'we, the people' run the Church at the local level."

    I agree that all of us will experience a lack of spiritual leadership at some level, to some degree and at some time in our lives. I agree with your solution, but I would add the following:

    "The ideal is to become the spiritual leader you need, not only (or even primarily) for yourself but also so others in your sphere of influence will not have to experience the lack you did."

  4. Some of this feeling you have I think comes from maturity. That's how I see it through my own experiences anyway.

    In my younger days leaders were near God-like, at a distance they seemed to know everything and do it. Especially coming from a home where my Dad never went to church and was a harsh man, I dreamed of associating with such greatness. As I have aged, and hopefully matured, my church leaders are now my peers. I know their lives, their families and their service well. Well enough to see the flaws of the natural man in what they do. I know they are called of God and in that I support them. But I also struggle with how their imperfections effect me and my family.

    This is yet another opportunity in which to grow- to learn that, as you said, our true strength comes from the Savior. And an opportunity to give our priesthood leaders the same charity we hope others have for us.

    We should all prepare ourselves spiritually to stand alone but be grateful when we've got 'mortal' support. I can see patterns in the scriptures where God slowly moves away to test someone's faith and increase their personal strength. If he is always near why would we learn to walk on our own? Isn't that a small part of why we are on earth? To see what we would do while a little further away from His influence.

  5. SilverRain

    Brilliant stuff.

    I would add that although those given positions of responsibility in the church don't have degrees in psychology etc, that can be an advantage. Psych courses teach such things as that it is good to be angry. Contrary to what Christ taught.

    They teach that you shouldn't be agressive, but be assertive. Have you ever watched two assertive people having a debate with each other?

    And I could go on. So I'm quite happy with hearing from those who are trained by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, in spite of the personal failings (which professionals also have in major ways).

    Good post.

  6. You hit what Christ meant when he said he would have to go away, but that he would not leave us comfortless.

  7. Doug, Being a member of the psychological community I just have to say I disagree with your comment. There are exceptions to everything but psychology does not teach us to be angry. It teaches us to recognize our emotions and then deal with them appropriately. As for assertiveness- I value it, without it I would not and could not live a life of faith but would wilt under the pressure of the world.

  8. Thank you, everyone for your comments.

    Jim—Thank you for your link. Elder Holland has long been an example to me. I think it safe to say I would not now be a member were it not for His testimony.

    Sanford—You are no thorn in my side. Contrariwise, I treasure your outlook and opinion. You have never failed to be respectful, even in disagreement, and I feel I've learned a lot from you.

    Ray—I would agree with your addition.

    Jendoop—You are right, and the illusion is hard-shattered, I think. I still long for the company of faithful devotees to Christ, even in their imperfection, however. The world can feel a cold place when many of those around you judge you harshly for your attempts to serve God. It is nice to have friends in Christ.

    Doug—I think the problem comes when leaders believe that their calling qualifies them to make decisions in the sense that therefore their decisions must be right, and they then "poison the well" against any more charitable opinion. Despite their good intentions, it can be harsh for the recipients. Although, I am a firm believe that man is responsible for their own salvation, and will not be able to lay the blame at any other's feet.

    Stephen—I had not thought of that application, but I think you're right. Thank you for that.


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