I know members who have lost enthusiasm for their Church membership because some of their expectations upon joining the Church were based on false assumptions. What might I say to help them replace unrealistic notions with a mature understanding of gospel principles?
The great challenge to all of us, no matter how long we have been in the Church, is to endure in faith to the end. As we strive to become like our Heavenly Father and acquire his divine attributes, it seems appropriate that we will make continual adjustments in our attitudes and behavior. These refinements reflect our deepening understanding of the gospel and our desire to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” ( , professor of statistics, Brigham Young University, and a member of the Lakeridge Sixth Ward, Orem Utah Lakeridge Stake.D&C 84:44.)
“Yield[ing] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” we “[put] off the natural man and [become Saints] through the atonement of Christ.” (Mosiah 3:19; see also Alma 5:14.) This refining process includes sloughing off our preconceptions and views that have no basis in revealed gospel truth.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve has said: “When the determination is first made to begin to be more spiritually settled, there is an initial vulnerability: it is hard to break with the past.” (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 66.)
Although this process can be painful, it is necessary. Along the way we can find solace and strength in the Lord’s assurances: “They that mourn … shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4), “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18), and “Come unto me, … and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), to mention a few.
As we reassure our friends whose enthusiasm has waned, we can help them understand the purposes of mortality and help them trust in the Lord and his promises to the faithful. We can encourage them to press on, reminding them that proffered blessings come after the trial of our faith. (See Ether 12:6.) Then we can talk with them about what they can expect from their membership in the Church.
What brought us to testimony and baptism in the first place? We had a good feeling about the Savior, the Book of Mormon, the missionaries, the members and the leaders, and the gospel in general. And most important, somewhere along the way we received a spiritual witness through the Holy Ghost of the divinity of Christ and the truthfulness of the restored gospel. This witness may be as varied as the people receiving it, but all who have testimonies have received it. Can our struggling friends lean on that witness, allowing it to rekindle their enthusiasm and commitment to endure in faith?
Because we come from different backgrounds and with varying degrees of spiritual maturity, our expectations upon embracing the restored gospel may differ as well. For example, converts who have received a powerful first spiritual witness may expect the same intensity as a daily occurrence. We can help them by discussing the role the “still small voice” of the Spirit plays in our lives. (1 Ne. 17:45; see also 3 Ne. 11:3; Hel. 5:30.) Do they understand the law of opposition (see 2 Ne. 2:14–25) or other doctrines and truths that are relevant to their situation?
Some new members may expect instant financial or health blessings because of promises associated with the law of tithing or the Word of Wisdom. Do they understand that such blessings are not always immediate? (See Mosiah 23:21–22; D&C 103:12.) Do they recognize that blessings aren’t always as tangible or as obvious as, or in form identical to, the blessings we might, with our limited understanding, expect or even prefer? Could it be that they are imposing their own wills, prejudices, or preferences rather than being open to what the Spirit would teach them and fully trusting in the Lord? (See Prov. 3:5; Jacob 4:10.)
Whatever the source of their confusion or disenchantment, we can promise them peace now and answers in season—through drawing close to the Lord in humble prayer, studying the scriptures and the teachings of Church leaders, full activity in the Church, and where appropriate, visits with their bishops. We can also pledge our continued support, friendship, and prayers in their behalf.
Nurturing our testimonies and growing in spirit require increased effort as we move up the spiritual ladder. This is hard work, and we are not always willing to pay the price of promised blessings. As we consider the atonement of Jesus Christ, which caused him, “even God, the greatest of all, to … suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:18), we can ask ourselves the sobering question, Can we expect to repent of sin, overcome faults, abandon cherished but false beliefs, and grow spiritually as we desire to do without effort commensurate with the growth and blessings we seek?
Perhaps a factor in our friends’ loss of enthusiasm is that they expect to grow and progress in the Church at the same rapid rate they experienced during the early months or first year of their membership. It is reasonable to expect that, as in any activity, there is a “learning curve” that tends to lessen slightly with time. A drop in the rate of progress is thus quite normal and does not necessarily mean something is awry. The important thing is that we do progress, however incrementally.
It is helpful to understand that the scriptures are partly a record of the high points in the lives of many great prophets of the past. Nephi was granted power over the elements as he sought to bring his people to repentance. (See Hel. 10:6–10.) Moses had great power as he worked to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s Egypt. Alma and Paul had angelic visitations. We may wonder why our works appear to pale in comparison. Do we have faith to believe that although such experiences are exceptional, we can, consistent with our need, faith, and the Lord’s expediency, see miracles in our own lives? If we believe that, can we be patient and not immediately expect miracles of the Lord nor be disappointed waiting for the “troubling of the water”? (John 5:4.)
It may be, if we are listening, that our experience will resemble that of Oliver Cowdery, when he was told, “Did I not speak peace to your mind … ? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23.) This is a basic gift if we compare it to the magnificent experiences recorded in scripture. Yet in the Lord’s view, there can be no greater witness than the peace we can feel through the Holy Ghost. It is well to remember that Laman and Lemuel had an angelic visitation and heard the voice of the Lord, yet their faith was not strengthened.
An aspiring young pianist is said to have told a famous virtuoso, “I’d give my life to play as you do,” to which the virtuoso replied, “I have.” It seems that many of us want the success without the effort, the harvest without the planting. Perhaps our unrealistic expectations are related to our unrealistic preparation, such as when Oliver Cowdery “took no thought [to translate the plates] save it was to ask [the Lord].” (D&C 9:7–9.) The processes of studying it out in our mind and learning to discern the Spirit require a spiritual maturity and experience that only come after considerable effort and faith on our part.
Personal righteousness is a prerequisite to personal revelation and continual spiritual growth. In our zeal to lay a figurative pipeline to heaven, do we sometimes forget the small daily things essential to our spiritual advancement, like prayer, scripture study, acts of service and charity? Can we not be content if our pathway to progress consists of small, almost imperceptible changes associated with regular repentance?
Another point to remember is that lack of gratitude is a serious sin. God is offended by “those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:21.) Do we consistently acknowledge the hand of the Lord in all aspects of our lives, the good and the challenging? Do we view our momentary setbacks as stepping-stones rather than stumbling blocks to progress?
No matter where we are in our spiritual progress, perhaps the best thing we can do is follow the counsel of Moroni: “Hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.” (Morm. 9:27.)
We should remember that the Savior has given us the gospel so that in him we might have peace. He taught, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33.) As we try to help our lost friends live the gospel and learn from the scriptures and present prophets, we can assure them:
(Hymns, 1985, no. 14.)