I have thought of my “exit” story as boring. Boring, but different. Rather than a narrative of the Once-Happy-TBM who unwittingly came across a troublesome theological or historical issue and lamented as it gobbled a once easy faith, my story has from early on featured something amiss…but what I’ve thought to be amiss was something about me.
And so, my story was not finding some troubling history or troubling scripture. Even when younger, I looked at odd parts of history or scripture with incredulity. Instead, my story was discovering that I didn’t have to beat myself up for my doubting nature. And until I looked carefully, I had failed to realize that it was the church that had given me values that enabled me to take a step away.
How could I come to realize the church’s goodness and truth? Years ago, I began to feel the source of my faithlessness was complacency. It was complacency since I had lived a good life with good parents. Since I was one of the 13 million individuals on the face of the earth who was born with knowledge of the gospel.
So, I needed to be humbled. If only the Lord would provide reformative adversity.
I needed a trial of faith. Ether 12: 6 clarified.
I could receive no witness until after the trial of my faith…and so, it was obvious why I lacked amazing spiritual experiences: no trials of faith.
Feeling defective, I welcomed subjugation to the worst trials in life. From the experience of the worst things in life, I would either perish to weakness or become renewed through faith.
I became obsessed with such a concept…in the back of my mind, I planned to postpone university and go to some third-world country. I’d beckon the world to come at me. If I were mugged or killed…so be it. But I could hope that God would never give me a trial I could not handle.
On Easter a few years back (I don’t remember the year, but it certainly was Easter Sunday), I had a conversation with my father about this. He was in the Young Men’s Presidency, so he taught my third-hour class (for Priests, I believe)…none of the other young men were there that day (which wasn’t surprising…these guys were often truant), so it was just my father and I.
I shared my ideas and plans with him about how I should be struck down that I may experience the worst things in life in a trial of faith.
I thought my father would be proud of my maturity…but he denounced my ideas as destructive and silly. He told me something that pacified me for a time: “If you know that evil exists…and it is obvious, then do you need to experience it to learn good exists? Good is the opposite of evil, so if evil is obvious, good is subtle.” So what if I couldn’t find reason to believe in God? God did not operate like the adversary and give reasons.
I saw some of the older guys (once as unrepentant as my quorum) repent and serve missions. When they came back home…they were reformed.
So my gears began to turn…missions were the trial of faith that I should’ve focused on! My father had denounced my plans for good cause — I had been like Naaman, still proud and desirous of a great task to complete despite desperation.
I didn’t tell my father (I wanted it to be a surprise), but I prayed…I came to the conclusion that while I was on this spiritual high, I should speak with the Bishop, insisting that when it came time, he should make me fill out the mission papers no matter what. I had to do it now before I developed doubts.
…yet…I never made the contract. I asked others — was a mission a good place to develop faith?
I thought the others would be proud of my maturity…but they denounced my ideas as destructive and selfish. And they told me, “A mission is not for the missionary. It is for someone truly converted to the Gospel who wants to place God before himself.”
I was crushed. I realized I couldn’t, in good faith, go on a mission. Sure, I could pass every technical question of worthiness better than most of my peers did, but they could just repent and become fit to serve. I could not even believe.
I went off to university and put things aside. I remembered things I had read about agency and choice, and began to see things, especially Helaman 14:30 and words from Joseph B. Wirthlin, in different contexts.
You are free to choose (see 2 Ne. 2:27) and are permitted to act (see 2 Ne. 10:23; Hel. 14:30), but you are not free to choose the consequences. With absolute certainty, choices of good and right lead to happiness and peace, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to unhappiness, sorrow, and misery.
I wondered. If I was racking myself to unhappiness and misery over lack of testimony, what if I stopped? I could keep my lifestyle but stop worrying about belief. I could recognize I do not believe. And if things soured, I’d have my trial. But if things turned for the better, then I’d know my choice was good and right, and I’d have happiness and peace.
And with that, I had courage to leave. At first, I was simply willing to accept whatever ill consequences that came (even eternal ones), but soon I realized that not even temporal ill consequences were forthcoming.