Pressing the Testimony Reset Button

(Disclaimer: This is merely my experience. I do not wish to project that it should be yours, but I believe that there is much we can glean from sharing authentic experiences with each other and so I attempt to do that here, and hope you will share with me your experiences.)

(A few buzz words to understand if you don’t know them already:
Church– In context here is referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Bishop – Essentially, your church leader for the particular ward that you attend.
Ward – Essentially, a synonym for congregation)

In May 2015 I walked into my Bishop’s Office, sat down, and basically told him that this was my last attempt at staying active in the church.

You see, unbeknownst to all but some close confidants I had been struggling with my activity at church for a year or so. I mean, I would attend each Sunday, but mostly out of habit, for social reasons, and guilt/paranoia of what would happen if I stopped attending.

For the sake of my experience, I think it’s important you know why I was ready to be out.  I was completely and utterly exhausted. I was exhausted by my interpretation of the gospel, as well as, my practice of it. Basically, I was living what I now see as a skewed interpretation of the gospel.

At this time in my life I was feeling the need to be perfect.  Since I could never attain what I thought “perfection” looked like, I would get discouraged and think why even try? Because of my imperfections, I was certain God would never bless me, or never answer any of my prayers  because those are only things he does for righteous people. And since I was so imperfect, there was no way that could happen for me.

On top of that, I would constantly feel guilty for the fact that I wasn’t doing all of the things I had been taught my whole life to do – reading my scriptures daily, attending every meeting, praying, having faith, etc. And when I would do any of these things they were done out of guilt.

Basically, somewhere along the way in life my discipleship had turned into one where my actions were based on a foundation of guilt and the idea that God was disappointed in me because I was never doing enough, but at the same time, I was too exhausted to do more than I already was.

I proceeded to tell my Bishop that it was up to him to convince me to stay.

No pressure, right?

Looking back, I see the millions of ways this was wrong and the millions of ways that it could have gone south very quickly. And you know what? Sometimes it does. And I don’t fault those people. We are all on our own journey.

Thankfully for me, I had a Bishop that knew me well, understood my needs, and listened to The Spirit.

He gently looked at me, listened to me speak for about 40 minutes straight, and then kindly said,

“Katie, I’m going to tell you something that might sound a little unconventional. I don’t care if you attend church. I don’t care if you read your scriptures or pray.  Do I want you to? Yes. Would I miss seeing you at church? Absolutely.  But I don’t care about any of those things.  I only care that you have a personal relationship with your Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Let’s get you back to that.”

Not the answer I was expecting. And yet, it was the perfect answer for me.

He then shared the following verses with me:


 

Mark 12: 30 – 31

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.


He went on to explain how in the grand scheme of things, these two greatest commandments were all that really mattered. Everything else was just additional.

He gave me counsel to not feel pressured to attend my church meetings, reading my scriptures, praying, etc.

The only thing he asked of me was to practice and implement these two verses in my life and to do it in whatever way I could. He didn’t place parameters as to what the practice of it should look like. He allowed me to discover what it would look like for myself.

I’d like to say that I left his office that day and a week later everything was fine. In all reality, it took months. Months of literally thinking of these verses and trying to implement them in everything I saw and did.

However, slowly yet surely I began to rebuild my testimony and church experience.  This time, however, it wasn’t built on a foundation of anxiety, perfectionism, guilt or fear. Instead, it was being built (and still is) upon these two commandments – love thy neighbor as thyself (“Thyself” being a key part to this that we shouldn’t overlook) and loving God with all my heart.

As I focused on these two things, and pretty much only these two things, for several months I started noticing a few things:

  1. I had a desire to read, search and study my scriptures because I wanted to know more about God’s love for me and my fellow men. I didn’t read them every day, but I read them when I wanted to because I wanted to see and feel more of God’s love. Over time, the frequency of my scripture study increased, but this time not out of guilt or feeling like I “should” be reading them.
  2.  I felt God’s love for me. Sometimes, I would literally sit down in silence, eyes shut, and I would just try to feel God’s love for me.  It worked. I would feel a warmth inside of my heart that began to grow stronger over time.  For this first time in several years, I felt like I was enough in God’s eyes. Not because I was trying to do everything perfectly, but because I spent time just feeling His love.
  3. As I felt God’s love for me, my love for Him also continued to grow.
  4. I became happier and more hopeful. My Faith increased.
  5. My prayers became personal and meaningful again. I wanted to pray and speak with Him because I loved Him and no longer felt like He must constantly be disappointed in my lack of perfection.
  6. I wanted to attend Church – not always all 3 hours of it, but I think that can come with more time.

At the end of the day, it essentially took pressing the restart button on my testimony and beginning with the basics for me to see what this gospel is really about.

It’s not about completing a checklist of all the things we are “supposed” to be doing, or even understanding everything in the gospel at this time in our lives.

To me, it’s about loving God, loving ourselves and fellow men the way God loves us, seeing God’s love for us individually and then allowing everything else to just grow from there.

 

30 Cardinal Life Rules…As Defined by Someone Who Is Still Figuring It Out

I’ve decided my childhood was a bit of a lie. (insert dramatics here)

Growing up, I’d look at my older and wiser cousins, siblings, grandparents, teachers, parents and think, “Wow. They know everything about life.”

That it legitimately did get easier as you got older and all life’s answers perfectly unfolded themselves before your eyes.

You see, the thing is, they never did anything that lead me to believe anything to the contrary.

(So maybe they’re the liars here. It’s hard to say. It’s a chicken or the egg situation, you know?)

As I approach the age of 30 in just a few short weeks (gasp) I’ve been freaking out.  Just a bit.  I mean, it’s cool. It’s just another number. Whatever.

BUT

I can no longer use excuses like, “oh I’ll figure it out when I’m 30” or “I don’t have to know that yet, I’m still in my 20’s.”

Insert wise friend who gave me a new perspective. (Her name might be Julie Allen. She is in her 30s – so maybe there is hope for figuring out this life thing after all. In fact, maybe it happens AT 30!) Anyway, Julie pointed out that now I can use the excuse “oh, well that’s something I would have done in my 20s but I don’t because I’m too wise and mature now.”

And so, as I approach the BIG 3-0 I’ve thought about all the lessons I’ve learned in my 20’s and the mistakes I hope not to make (again) in my 30s.

For what it’s worth, here are my personal 30 cardinal rules I’ve learned (in my almost 30 years of life) to navigate this crazy, beautiful world of ours:

  1. Don’t say “sorry” unless you’ve legitimately hurt someone else or wronged them. Otherwise, be unapologetic for who you are right now. (For those of you who know me well, you know I overuse the word. Not anymore! or at least…not as much. Shaking off years of Catholic guilt doesn’t happen overnight, people.)
  2. Talk less, listen more. (Adapted from talk less, smile more.  You Hamiltones know what I’m talking about!)
  3. Don’t act out of insecurity. If you’re acting out of fear or anxiousness that usually comes from insecurity. Instead, refocus and act out of confidence and love.
  4. If you’re uncomfortable…Leave. You’re an adult now. You don’t have to stick around and please everyone.  If you don’t want to be somewhere…Leave.
  5. Develop a good poker face.  (And I’m not referring to playing poker here. I’m talking about when your boss does something insane or someone says something stupid. It happens. Trust me.)
  6. Own your decisions. It doesn’t matter if they were good or bad, but own them. Own up to them, learn from them.
  7. Stop trying to fit in. You will LITERALLY never be anyone else, but yourself. Own it.
  8. Do something that terrifies you. (I mean, within reason. You will never find me scuba diving 50 ft. in the ocean bc that’s something only crazy people dying to get eaten alive by a shark do).  When you do something that terrifies you, you see just how bold and brave you are. More often than not, things are alright and (some) fears are unfounded.
  9. Tell people how you feel about them.  Tell your family you love them (assuming you do). Tell your friends how important they are to you (assuming they are or I can’t imagine they’d be your friend).  You get the point.
  10. Embrace your awkward.  Because basically, everyone is awkward in their own way. Literally EVERYONE. (Yes, even Leo and especially Taylor).
  11. Anticipating what will happen is USUALLY worse than what will actually happen.  Stop worrying about what MAY happen, just do it and see what actually happens. And then, once again, own your decisions.
  12. Exercise for mental health and clarity. It’s amazing what a quick run or long walk outside does for the soul.
  13. In life, it usually won’t be the best case scenario or the worst case scenario. It will usually be somewhere in the middle. So stop fretting. (Thanks, Mom)
  14. Be grateful for life TODAY – no matter what it looks like. It won’t always look like this. Tomorrow will undoubtedly be different.
  15. Ask questions before assuming. Miscommunication is too common.
  16. Always be kind to others. (If you treat everyone with kindness, those haters won’t have anything bad to say about you.)
  17. Never define yourself by another person. Relationships are wonderful, but only if you don’t lose yourself in it. You’re still you.
  18. Wherever you go, walk in with reckless abandon.
  19. “I’m fine. You have to stay positive.” (Thank you to my lovely friend who passed away recently. Even until the very end you set an example of positive thinking for those around you. When asked how she was doing she would respond “I’m fine. You have to stay positive.” What a gift of perspective.) STAY POSITIVE. (as much as humanly possible)
  20. You can literally do anything you want. ANYTHING.  It may take time and creativity, but if you want it, it’s yours. I really believe that.
  21. Love yourself at a 10. Every. Single. Day. (Rachel – thanks for imparting your wisdom)
  22. Choose not to be slaves to gravity. (interpret as you wish. I know what it means to me)
  23. We teach people how they are allowed to treat us. Know how you want to be treated.
  24. You can’t get anywhere with your head down. Look up.
  25. If you ask a question and someone says “that’s a good question” 9 times out of 10 they are buying time to make up an answer. (Trust me. I used to be a teacher)
  26. Sometimes there is no saving face in relationships and that’s ok. This life isn’t about who can look like they care less.  Sometimes things happen. Allow those vulnerable moments.
  27. There is power in just letting things go. (I used to battle with my dad constantly when he’d tell me to “not sweat the small stuff.” The annoying thing…he’s right.  Most of it is small stuff).
  28. Care about someone without knowing whether or not they will care back. (You’re a beautiful human with feelings.)
  29. Don’t play the victim. You get to be the hero in your life story.
  30. If you believe in something – religion, philosophy, etc. Believe it and don’t be ashamed about it.

Ok, 30, we’ve got this! (Fingers crossed)