Updated: Jun 8, 2022
Imagine if, for your entire life, you were told something was true, you followed it to a “T”, made major life decisions based on these teachings (such as serving a two-year mission away from your family proclaiming the truth of these teachings to many, many others, or having children, perhaps more than you could emotionally or financially handle based on what you’d been taught), and then one day, the walls of “truth” came tumbling down and you learned everything you thought to be true was in fact, false. How would you pick up the pieces and begin to believe again — or in the case of faith how would you go about sorting truth from fiction?
I wasn’t born into Mormonism, I was a convert, but there are days I struggle with these questions myself — I can only imagine the struggle for someone with a lifetime of years invested.
As a child, my family attended the Lutheran church most Sundays. We went for an hour, listened to the message, and then returned home, removed our Sunday best attire and went about our week. We didn’t discuss what was spoken and we didn’t open the Bible. When I was 24, my father died after a long illness. At the time I was newly engaged and trying to fill a void in my heart that was a mile wide.
A few years after we were married, and after some healing over the loss of my father, I began to look into the things I had learned as a child. I began to have questions about what happened to us after we died. Where did we go? Who was Jesus? I began visiting church after church in earnest but I wasn’t finding the answers I was searching for. And then I met Laurie.
Laurie was amazing. Laurie was married, had a twelve-year-old son, who I came to adore, and her family was close knit. They spent time together, attended church together, studied scriptures together. Laurie’s family was Mormon. I had no idea what that meant, but I was intrigued.
Over the next year, our friendship grew as did our discussions on all things religious. I started to realize somewhere along the line that Laurie was leaving our discussions feeling fine, I on the other hand was leaving with more questions and wanting the answers she had.
After a year or so of this dialogue, I invited myself to her church. And that was the beginning of a long, long journey into the Mormon religion.
After my second visit to Laurie’s church, she suggested I meet with the missionaries. Two young men/boys about 19’ish years old who had left home for a two-year period to teach others about theirs and their church’s beliefs.
I felt ill-prepared for this meeting. I didn’t know enough about the tenants of the church to have a serious discussion. When I told my friend how I felt, she chuckled. I didn’t understand it at that time, but have come to since know, most people entering those discussions are at the same place, often with less information than I had, but searching for something to believe in.
That night, I was handed several copies of the Book of Mormon (“BOM”). The revered guidebook of the Mormon religion. This book is held to be above the bible and is believed by their followers to be the most correct book of scriptures on earth. Though the Bible is part of their standard works, it is to be believed only “in so much as it has been translated correctly”. And so it goes. Carefully chosen wording would become a staple in my life for the next 17 years…
I spent the next three weeks pouring over the BOM. I kept a yellow legal pad by my side to record all my questions, and I nearly filled the pages by the end. I literally read day and night only pausing to feed and change my infant son and make dinner for my family. After three weeks we held our first missionary discussion in my home. Three weeks later, I was baptized.
It’s here I feel sadness for that young woman I was. I don’t know if anything could have stopped me from moving forward, but I had nothing to press what I was hearing against. I mentioned I had never opened the Bible. I wasn’t kidding. Any sound bites the missionaries shared with me I accepted, much like we accepted the pastor in my childhood church’s teachings. I was in no place to question because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had been asked to read the BOM and pray about it and see if I didn’t get a “feeling” it was true. I did. And it felt good to believe in something. To belong to something.
Here’s where I pause for a moment and wonder how things might have gone differently had I known the Bible better — or at all — two verses come to mind:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
~ Acts 17:11 (NLT)
Had I been more engaged in the Word – or engaged at all – I might have had some confidence to decline.
Fast forward a few years and we had moved to Colorado. A few years later new neighbors moved in across the street. One sunny day in the early summer, Alison stopped by to introduce herself and we clicked instantly.
From time to time my friend would begin conversations with me about faith-based things. She was deeply Christian and would ask me questions and sometimes she would try to help me see the error in my Mormon thinking, but friends, I was deep in my beliefs. Most often I would simply shut the conversation down. And often I’d walk away thinking how sad it was that she didn’t understand the “higher” truths I had in my life.
As often as I would shut her down, she would continue to try, not often, not all the time. I never felt peppered by her questions or comments but she would share her thoughts and feelings enough so that I always knew that though we believed something different, our friendship was based on real things. She was being authentic in her beliefs as I was in mine.
Over the years as I began to doubt what I was following; I was tired from the litany of “to do’s” being an active Mormon required. I held several callings in the church in addition to attending three hours each Sunday and ran myself ragged in service projects and requests in between all while trying to be a good wife and mother to my family.
I began to think more and more on things that my friend had shared with me. Her emphasis was so much more on her relationship with Jesus then on rules and laws, which is definitely more the Mormon approach. I started spending more time reading the New Testament that last part of the last year. And through it I was beginning to understand the gift that Grace is. it didn’t matter if I wasn’t perfect.
That is the point of Christ’s crucifixion. He bore my pain, my sadness, my failures on that Cross and when He rose again my salvation was set – not for any other reason than simply my belief in Him. The “works” Peter talks about in the bible are the fruits of that salvation — that because I am thankful for my salvation, I serve others — works is a show of my gratitude and faith — not that I preform works/deeds to gain something more than I have been given. There is nothing more to gain.
The further I go in my journey with God, the more I come to realize how massive His grace is and how massive a concept it is. Grace was both one of the most difficult concepts for me to understand leaving the Mormons and one of the most freeing.
Grace is not given "after all we can do". It is given INSTEAD of anything we can do.
In Romans 3:23-25 it reads:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life shedding his blood.
Romans 3:27-28 continues:
Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (emphasis added)
Ordinances, works, these things imply there is something we can do, or need to do, to earn a position, favor and love. Grace says there's nothing we can do.
We are not worthy of the gift we've been given, but we are so loved that He would give His only son, that He knows we would always fall short and so He gives us the gift of Grace. We are loved and beautiful and perfect in His sight.
I used to spend so much time working, and studying, and DOING that I often felt unworthy. Could I have done more? That was always a lingering question. When I would read scripture for five or 10 minutes, could I have given another five? Could I have made an extra meal tonight to give it to someone who needed it? I remember feeling like I was doing something wrong, not measuring up in some way when I would receive a calling that I knew didn't match my spiritual gifts. I thought maybe God was displeased and so I had to work harder. Work, work, work. I spent so many years feeling fear for my salvation. Feeling like if I didn't get my family on board my eternity would not be as glorious as it might be. I spent so many years missing the fullness my relationship with God could have been. And even for that, Grace covers me.
Salvation is a gift. It is not earned. It was provided for by Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. Is there a place for works when there is grace and salvation? Of course. But today I have it in perspective. I understand it is not to earn a place in His kingdom, it is not to earn good favor. I'll use Paul's words again, this time in Philippians 2:12 (NLT):
Work hard to show the results of your salvation.
Because I am already saved...nothing I can do will change it or better it. I am already counted for in Heaven. Anything I do on His behalf is only to show my love back and my gratitude for His great gift. When I love on my fellow man, when I make a meal for someone, when I offer a ride to someone who is otherwise stranded, I do this to show my appreciation for the times God has picked me up, fed me, loved on me. And I do it with thanksgiving in my heart. I'm far from perfect, but grace makes up the difference and, in His eyes, I am perfect.
Grace might just be my favorite ...