So, in reading my journal of elementary and middle school there are a couple things that stand out. First, I was a really serious-minded child (not that I didn’t goof around sometimes), but seriously, I was serious. And I obsessed over things–especially boys I liked, romance (you know, fantasizing about kissing at sunset type stuff), and everything related to church and family–(that probably hasn’t totally changed), even as early as 3rd grade! I guess I don’t really have a problem with the fact that I think about things pretty deeply, am kind of serious at times, and am sensitive emotionally. That’s just my personality. And I also have a good sense of humor and like to laugh about things, even serious things, too. So, I’m not wishing I was different, I just was surprised how serious I was at such a young age.
So the second interesting thing was that, when I was 11–I’m not sure what prompted me to write this–I wrote in my journal that I was worried about something my brothers had mentioned about the church and I needed to find out “if they were right, or if my parents and the rest of my family was right.” So, I suppose the first time I had questions about my religion was probably when I was 11. Then I continue, for about a year-and-a-half, to write that I am having doubts about the church. I don’t remember having doubts for such a long period of time (a fact which should not be surprising since it often mentioned by Atheist writers that people forget the negative and only remember the faith promoting experiences). In a couple journal entries I’ll mention below I talk about this doubt.
Here are some other interesting finds from my elementary school journal. I wrote about my brothers quite a bit. It seems apparent from reading my journal that I was worried about them because they didn’t want to be members of the LDS church. I suppose a lot of kids are concerned with keeping the rules, but I seemed particularly concerned about keeping all the commandments and I wrote about how sad it made me that my brother was drinking caffeine. Needless to say, I was a pretty straight arrow as a kid and fairly judgmental towards those around me as well.
I wrote about several answers to prayer that I had between the ages of 8-12. Twice I wrote about being scared about something, praying, and feeling peace. And once I prayed for safety before we went on a walk and our dog fell off this cliff but was okay even though it was quite a long fall. I also wrote about an experience where my father felt impressed that my brother shouldn’t go somewhere, and my brother decided to go anyway, and a very tragic situation occurred with another member in his group. I won’t give more details than that since I was only witnessing all this second hand. But that made a huge impression on me that my father had felt inspired that my brother shouldn’t go to this place and then something terrible had happened when he did actually go. I also wrote about some scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants (LDS modern scriptures) that gave me peace when my cat died. I wrote that I was glad that if my cat was dead she was at least in a happy place. This peace that comes from religion may still be for me one of the most valuable things in religion.
From ages 12-14 I wrote about several spiritual experiences. In July of 2000 I wrote, “we had a temple trip recently it was so great, you could feel the spirit a lot.” I also remember when I attended the open house for the Billings, MT temple, and I remember sitting outside and feeling so much peace (though I was younger than twelve when the temple was dedicated. While struggling through middle school on the typical new-teenager emotional roller-coaster I had a father’s priesthood blessing that helped me. The blessing told me I had talents with people, I was loved, that God was happy about my faithfulness, and that he would help me through my trials and meet my every need. I wrote that Heavenly Father, “knows me, and knows my life” after that blessing. That blessing built my confidence a lot at a very insecure time of life and brought me comfort knowing that there was a loving God there who was my friend helping me through my middle school problems. In my journal I mention some hymns that were very inspiring to me. Church music has always built my belief in the church because it fills me with hope and peace. I also talked about how I was struggling in middle school because I wanted a best friend who I could tell everything to and my cousin who I was close to had just moved, and I was praying for this, and right at that time I developed a pretty close friendship with the guy who I liked for several years after that. I also struggled for a while with a physical problem (maybe more a mental problem) where I couldn’t urinate when I was away from home (sounds strange, I know. I’ll just assume that those of you who are uncomfortable with TMI are just no longer reading, haha). This caused some major problems, as you can imagine (I once held it for 16 hours…not fun). I received a priesthood blessing and was told that “through time and faith”, among other things, I would overcome this. Each time I was away from home I would try to put my trust in God, and when things went well (meaning I could pee, lol), I thanked him. Long story short, within a couple years, after putting my trust in the Lord, I no longer had this problem. I certainly felt this was a blessing, but I can also see how the act of praying and “putting my trust in God” was very possibly the very thing that relaxed me enough to allow me to urinate (those who have had a baby and couldn’t urinate afterward may be able to understand this a little bit) and eventually I just learned this.
Between 6th and 8th grade it seems that I begin to make that transition, so often talked about in the church, from relying on my parent’s testimony, to having my own experiences testifying to me the truthfulness of the church and its teachings. I wrote that during a testimony meeting at girl’s camp between my 7th and 8th grade years that for the first time I knew the church was true. One journal entry in particular stands out to me during this time, both because of the strong feelings that I talk about that the church was true, and because I admit to having doubts. I almost hesitated to put it in this post because it is so easy for someone to pick apart my logic here and therefore discredit much of what I am saying. But, maybe for that very reason (and also because it shows my commitment), I think it is important that I post this entry that took place during a very crucial time of spiritual development for me.
On may 12, 2002, I wrote about a time when they set apart the class presidencies and in one of the blessings they had mentioned that this person had “been through many trials in her life–that now was a time of excitement in her life.” And due to my close relationship with her at the time, I knew she really had been through some very difficult trials. I was amazed also when my sister received her blessing for being set apart that it also fit her life situation so well. About this experience I wrote, “Satan can put doubts in my mind–he knows my weaknesses, but Bishop S. had revelation from Heavenly Father to his daughter _____ and there was nothing that could have made me happier than to realize that the church is true, the priesthood is true…If I ever let myself think that there’s a possibility that the church isn’t true, I am lying to myself, and I know it, I am only taking one step closer to that line of eternal death. I know in my soul that the only thing holding me back is myself, I need to open the door for Christ. I made a promise to myself that no man can marry me anywhere but the temple and I intend to keep that promise. There is a lot I need to do before I will be prepared to take that step of temple marriage–so let me not waste another day. Remember the testimony of Elder L., remember the feeling you get when a priesthood ordinance is performed–you know, and let that feeling overwhelm you. Read the scriptures–they are God’s word–until there’s no room left for doubt, and in the final day I pray I’ll be on the right hand of God.”
Sunday August 18th, 2002 I wrote, “Today we received our yearly priesthood blessings from dad…When I was young I had great faith, but I believe this is a spiritual gift and so exists today…Maybe my problem is not so much a lack of faith as it is the ability to be easily influenced and tempted. I know nearly as much as I know that tomorrow morning the sun will rise, that the blessing I just received came from my father in heaven. My eyes don’t need to behold him. He’s there…The spirit testifies this to my soul. And when Satan tempts me otherwise–I must not forget that I know, I felt it with 100% [certainty] that these blessings are from God. The world can deny it, but it would be lying for me to say I could deny it.”
Some of you I imagine are thinking that my logic is seriously flawed. Some of you aren’t worried about my logic at all and simply can’t believe I would question the church after feeling so strongly it is true. Either way, I think it’s important to be honest with myself and consider both perspectives.
I know I have been certain, many times, that the priesthood blessings I have received are from God. Sometimes, the man giving the blessing has started in the first person, “Alicia, I bless you with …” or sometimes my dad would say things like, “your mother and I love you and are grateful you are a part of our family” and then, like a light switch was turned on, their language, and even their posture, changes, and it’s like it’s no longer them talking. It seems almost like the person giving the blessing has entered a trance. Sometimes I would feel a warmth, peace, and joy wash over me at this moment. I remember someone once saying, “you know the priesthood blessing is done because the words coming to you just stop.” I had a couple great conversations with Ricardo after times he gave me priesthood blessings where he basically said he didn’t know where the words from the blessing came from. I guess, given all these amazing experiences I had with priesthood blessings, they became proof for me that the church was true because, if the priesthood power in the Mormon church was real (which I was certain it was), then, to me, that was evidence for the whole church being God’s church. To be honest, my belief in God probably became strong because of priesthood blessings. The priesthood has been a foundational part of my belief in God and in the Mormon church. It has been sacred to me and it has been a help and a guide to me in my life.
There are alternative explanations for priesthood blessings. Maybe the person knows enough about you to be able to say things that seem like things they wouldn’t know. Maybe the person can just guess things that might be going on based on your age and personality. Sometimes the things said in blessings are general enough that they could apply to just about anyone (horoscope syndrome you could call it). And if you say enough of those general things, something is bound to apply to the person receiving the blessing. Some things said in blessings that tell you what will happen in the future, may happen because the person then works to bring those things about.
Thinking about my own experiences with the priesthood, there is nothing that couldn’t have an alternative explanation. But at the time, the way I experienced it, the blessings came from God, I was certain of it. What to think…