Everyone has probably experienced a moment of despair or doubt; perhaps even a crisis of faith.
For some a testimony of the gospel comes as naturally as walking. Others, however, seem to struggle with the gospel, and a testimony does not come without a great deal of effort.
I fit into the former category, but I have experienced my own doubts and crisis of faith.
My crisis of faith came after returning from my mission. I came home early due to long-term illness.
I developed pneumonia in my first area, and it got worse from there. After a deluge of antibiotics to treat my pneumonia and another infection, my stomach and intestines were not working as they should. I had severe stomach and intestinal cramping and quickly dropped from 135lbs to 105lbs. I was a mess.
My Mission President was beside himself, not knowing what to do. He made sure I went to the doctor for the pneumonia, but became concerned when I reported the stomach and intestinal problems. At the next transfer, I was sent to the city of Salvador–the location of the mission office.
Throughout the course of my illness, I received priesthood blessings from other missionaries and even one from my Mission President. When my condition worsened, the President had me spend the day with him at his home. He even spoke of having me live in his home so that I could properly recuperate, but this would never happen.
Salt Lake took an active interest in my case and someone from the Missionary Department was in regular contact with my Mission President, getting updates and offering advice on the course of treatment to pursue. Their final recommendation? Send me home.
Even before the Mission President gave me the news, the Spirit told me that I would be going home the next day. I began to pack my bags, not wishing to alert my companion and the other missionaries living in the apartment. Of course, missionaries are already half-packed and ready for transfers, so packing didn’t take too long.
When I left Brazil, I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind. Although I had only been in the country for two and a half months, I had grown to love the people, the language, and the country of Brazil. I wept as the plane took off.
Upon arriving home, I was greeted by my parents who were understandably worried about my health. They were in shock when they saw an extremely gaunt and lethargic Elder walk up the ramp. My parents knew I had lost weight, but I was thinner than they expected me to be.
The ensuing months were torturous. I was a set-apart missionary, living at home, exposed to everything a missionary was told to avoid. My girlfriend was three miles down the road from my house; the television was downstairs; CNN was showing 24-hour coverage of the first Gulf War; and Brazil was miles away.
My friends were initially understanding of my return, but soon the prodding questions came. Don’t you have enough faith to be made whole? Were you really sent home because of an illness? Shouldn’t you go back on your mission?
My heart ached at night and I frequently poured my heart out to the Lord. I longed to be back in Brazil. Sadly, that opportunity would not come. My Stake President and the Missionary Department determined that I should be released.
Upon my release as a missionary, I presented myself to the Stake President and High Council. I don’t recall being given much time to give a report of my missionary labors. Even though my mission spanned less than three months in Brazil, I participated in a handful of baptisms and felt my faith had grown immensely. I felt cheated by not having the chance to say more about my mission.
Returned missionaries normally travel with a High Councilman and speak to the wards in the stake, but I was not extended the invitation to do so. I began to wonder if I had done something to offend God. I wondered if my illness was a result of something I had done, or perhaps not done.
Life slowly returned to normal and I commenced my college education at a local community college. I loved institute, but soon learned that missions were the favorite topic of discussion at fraternity night, casual social encounters, dates, and other activities around the institute. When the topic of missions came up, I quickly changed the subject, or walked away.
Before my mission I served as a youth guide at the Mesa Temple, conducting tours in the surrounding gardens, sharing information about the Church. Many of my friends from this program also attended the local community college, so I never seemed to escape the topic of my mission.
I began to retreat from the institute, from the Church, my family, my friends, and finally from God. Even though I was the one who withdrew, I felt like I had been abandoned by everyone– especially by God.
A testimony that once burned bright in my soul quietly extinguished and died. I became bitter towards the Church, and in a moment of rage and anger, nearly left the Church to fight against it. I felt like Alma the Younger on steroids.
My close friends noticed the change and I’m certain my parents did, too. I retreated to worldly pleasures and focused on doing what I wanted to do. My motto was: And if thou hurt none, do what thou wilt.
I quit attending Church and finally felt free to do what I wanted to do. God didn’t care. Right?
My conscience was slowly pricked and I began to feel the separation from God, and the lack of the Spirit soon took its toll. I was a sinner and was lost in a field darkness.
For reasons that I cannot explain, I went for a walk around the Mesa Temple grounds. I suppose I yearned for the familiar solace of the temple and its grounds.
As I walked around the temple, I saw someone I used to work with. He remembered me and spoke to me. “Hey, I think you are in my ward. They read your name in at Church last week.”
“Oh, really?” I asked, trying to pretend that I did not care. “Who knows? You might see me there someday,” I lied as I walked away.
We parted ways and I returned to my spiritual stupor.
Weeks passed and I remembered the chance encounter with my former co-worker. I resolved to return to Church that next Sunday.
Returning to Church
My return to Church was largely uneventful, except for a man who approached me, extended his hand, and welcomed me to church. I later learned that he was the Stake Mission President. (This man was to be instrumental in helping me rebuild my testimony). I wondered to myself, do people really care? The Spirit whispered to my heart, “Yes, they do.” I knew the Savior loved me and that God loved me.
When I met with the Bishop of the ward, he thought it would be a quick, informal meeting and he would extend a calling to me. Instead, I opened up and told him the following:
“I don’t know why I am here, but I know I need to change. I want to come back to Church.”
As I slowly returned to activity, I worked to restore my testimony and faith. I spent long hours reading scriptures, praying, and searching for acceptance from my Heavenly Father.
Like Alma the Younger, I had descended into the depths of Hell, and it was as if I were dead. Thanks to a loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, I once again found the light.
A New Day
When I had reached my darkest moment and yearned for the light, I discovered a song written by Michael McLean, Hold On.
Michael McLean’s song filled me with hope and helped me to hold on and exercise faith.
Today, I again have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, of His atoning sacrifice, and of His love for me.
For those who struggle to find the light and wonder if God loves you–I testify to you that He does indeed love you! He wants you to draw near to Him and His son, Jesus Christ (D&C 88:63).
It is my hope and prayer that those who feel lost will seek for Him and His light. Like the words of the song, “Hold On. Hold On. The light will come.”