3 Considerations When You Have Spiritual Questions, Doubts, and Confusion

Sometimes in life, events happen that shake our spiritual foundation and leave us with questions, doubts, confusion, or unresolved feelings. We might find ourselves at a crossroads or a standstill, not sure of what to do next. Here are three questions to ask yourself that will help sustain you in a world where it is becoming more and more difficult to discern the darkness from the light.

1. How’s My Vision?

In July of 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California shore. This was not her first attempt at a long-distance swim in open water, as she had already swum the English Channel twice. Small boats surrounded her, keeping her safe from sharks and ready to offer aid if needed. After about 15 hours of swimming, a thick fog emerged. She could not see the coast, the water was chilly, and fatigue crept in. When she asked to be pulled out of the water, her mother, in a boat alongside her, tried to reassure Florence that the shore was near. Still, the physical and emotional exhaustion was too much and she stopped swimming. Sitting in the boat, she realized that the shore was less than a mile away. In a news conference the next day she said, “All I could see was the fog…I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.” Two months later she attempted to swim the same channel. Again, a thick fog set in, but this time she kept a mental image of the shoreline and she was able to succeed in reaching the shore.1

In a regional training, Sister Joy Jones of the General Young Women’s Presidency said, “Increased vision brings increased motivation.”2 Seeing beyond our current circumstances affects our choices and actions. Thinking in terms of the eternities and not just this earthly life will change our point of view as we work through problems and make decisions. Prophets and Apostles do this and we can trust in their guidance because their vision is much greater.

We are given tools and experiences in this life that will help us increase our spiritual vision. These include scriptures, prayer, temple worship, patriarchal blessings, personal priesthood blessings, personal revelation, ordinances, covenants, and Church leaders.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gives four steps to increase our light and vision: “First, you must search the word of God…Second, you must consider, ponder, fearlessly strive to believe, and be grateful for how merciful the Lord has been to His children from the time of Adam to our day by providing prophets, seers, and revelators to lead His church and help us find the way back to Him. Third, you must ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unto you…Fourth…when you are trying to verify the truth of gospel principles, you must first live them.”

Then he gives this promise, “If you will do all these things, you have a promise from God – who is bound by His word – that He will manifest the truth to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. He will grant you greater light that will allow you to look through the darkness and witness unimaginably glorious vistas incomprehensible to mortal sight.”3

sea, black-and-white, water

2. Did I Take It to the Lord?

Some of my most beloved sections of the Book of Mormon are found in 1 and 2 Nephi. I find myself continually seeking the inspiration that comes as I read about Nephi’s faith. As I have read and re-read these chapters, I began to notice patterns – patterns of behaviors from Nephi. No doubt about it, his family was asked to do many hard things and to consider many topics that were hard to understand. His father, Lehi, asked the family to leave Jerusalem to live in the wilderness on account of his vision of the destruction of Jerusalem. Twice, Nephi and his brothers were asked to return to Jerusalem (for the brass plates and later to persuade Ishmael’s family to join them). They needed faith to be guided by the Liahona, a type of compass described as “a round ball of curious workmanship.”4 Lehi had a dream about the Tree of Life that gave eternal insights and understanding. Later, Nephi was commanded to build a ship and sail with his family across the ocean to the Promised Land.

In all of these instances, Nephi sought his own witness about his father’s words and visions. He was given confirmation that these things were from the Lord. He continued to seek and follow the counsel of the Lord as he was asked to do these difficult and hard-to-understand things. He was able to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands and to make it possible for the Lord’s greater purposes to be brought forth. Because of Nephi’s continued faith and seeking of truth, he was blessed with an incredible vision of earth’s history that showed him the omniscience of God; the baptism, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ; the destruction of the Nephites; and the latter days.5

“I Nephi was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him…For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them…For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord…”6

As I sit and ponder life in my own heart and when I have concerns and questions, instead of turning to the internet or even friends sometimes, I remind myself of a quote from Elder Neil L. Anderson: “Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.”7

A painting by Arnold Friberg depicting Lehi kneeling on the ground and holding the Liahona, with Nephi and their family gathered around.

3. What Path Do I Want to Be On?

Lastly, it is fine and normal to have questions regarding commandments, policies, doctrine, principles, etc. In fact, the Church was restored because of a question – a question from a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith who understood this principle: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing waivering.”8

However, church leaders have warned us not to let our unanswered questions overcome us: “Stay on the path through your questions. Put your questions in a box. They are riddles that you will solve, but they’re no reason to stop your church work.”9

Evaluate yourself. What path are you on? What path do you want to be on? Are your questions hindering your spiritual progression? Are you getting caught up in your emotions? Dr. Ross Greene, an Associate Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School, brings attention to this when he says, “The emotions people feel in the midst of frustration can make rational thinking more difficult. It’s not that the emotions are all bad: they can be useful for mobilizing or energizing people to solve a problem. But the skill of putting one’s emotions aside so as to think through solutions to problems more objectively, rationally, and logically is really important.”10 I would add that emotions can cloud our spiritual judgments as well.

A story about my ancestor, John Taylor, illustrates the truth of these principles:

“The gospel was first introduced to Brother Taylor and his family in Toronto, Canada, by Elder Parley P. Pratt in April of 1836. At that time John Taylor was engaged as a minister and investigated very carefully the teachings of Elder Pratt. He wrote down eight sermons which Elder Pratt preached and compared them to the Bible to see if he could find anything that was contrary to the scriptures. He made his investigation of the Church a regular business for three weeks and then was satisfied and was baptized.

About a year later John Taylor visited Kirtland, Ohio. The gloom of apostasy was hanging over the city and, sadly, this dissension had affected Parley P. Pratt as he returned from his mission to Canada. Elder Pratt tried to show Brother Taylor why he thought the Prophet Joseph was in error. To this John Taylor steadfastly replied:

‘I am surprised to hear you speak so Brother Parley. Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God, and to the truth of the work he has inaugurated: and you said you knew those things by revelation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. You gave me a strict charge to the effect that though you or an angel from Heaven was to declare anything else, I was not to believe it.

Now, Brother Parley, it is not man I am following but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to Him; and I now have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.'"11

A detailed view of the yellow painted line running down the middle of an asphalt road, blurring out in the background toward a sunset on the horizon.
2. Sister Joy Jones, Regional Training; New York, New York, 5/14/16
3. Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf  
4. 1 Nephi 16:10
5. 1 Nephi chapters 11-14 
6. 1 Nephi chapters 10-11
7. Joseph Smith, by Elder Neil L. Anderson, October 2014
8. James 1:5-6
9. Elder S. Marc Clay Jr., Regional Training; New York, New York, 5/14/16
10. Ross W. Greene, Ph.D, The Explosive Child, Harper, 2014, pp. 27-28
11.  B.H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor, Bookcraft, 1963, pp. 39-40

 Jefra Rees is the wife of a loving husband and the mother of a young son with sensory processing challenges. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development and also has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Special Education, both from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked with children and families in a variety of settings, but her greatest work is that which is done in her own home.

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