This is part two of Elisabeth’s post “Why I Left the Church — and Why I Came Back Again.” To read the first part, click here.
In July of 2019, I was officially bored of being angry all of the time. It was so old. I had a whole life to live and I was exhausted of hating. I knew I was missing out on extraordinary friendships and family relationships and it was entirely my fault for missing out on them. I was even less inspired in all of my writing ventures. All of the wisdom I once had was gone, and I was a far more bitter and immature person. The place I knew I needed to start was the deep-rooted anger I had towards some individuals who’d come into my life and had been nothing but disrespectful to me.
Recognizing all of this, I decided to pray as an experiment for help to forgive these people. Kneeling, I began my prayer: “Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I’ve neglected and abused the mercy You’d extended to me before. But if You are still there, I’d like some help to turn over this anger and frustration to Christ. I’m so frustrated that anyone would feel free to be so awful to me after I’d done all that I could do to be kind to them.” Then, maybe a bit indulgently, I asked, “Also, God… If You’re there… If You could help me understand why I’d had such a hard time in the temple, why I felt so alone… I’d appreciate that help. If not, that’s okay.”
What I felt after the prayer was nothing short of a miracle. With warmth in my heart, I felt a gentle joy, recalling the past when I heard the Lord say “I’m here.” A series of clarity surrounding the people I’d been angry with and what I can and should do to bring peace to our relationship came like water bursting from a dam (because I was ready for it to and willing to put in the work). Furthermore, an answer concerning my temple experience came in the form of a memory of something an extraordinary man of God I’d once worked with said: “Three socks.” While the connection to this phrase and my experience is not something I think I should explain, I can tell you that God had once inspired this man to impart some great wisdom to me, and I immediately felt I was clear on why it all had happened, and that Heavenly Father did still love me. (A note about this man and the “three socks”: I believe, firmly, that were it not for him and his sweetness, I might have been fully swallowed up by the bitter waters the “ex-mo” community was drowning me in. He’d once been helped in a great way by personal revelation, and I had nothing but love and respect for him. I could never bring myself to discount or explain away his experience that he’d shared with me. He’d become my tether back to strait and narrow path in a very profound way.)
In addition to this, I’d never stopped questioning an experience I’d had years prior that was a very personal, extraordinary, sacred experience. I will not publicly share the details of what I’d seen and felt, suffice it to say that I received remarkable heavenly help from people who love me very much. I could not forget or explain away this experience, try as I might. I knew in my heart that night that I’d be making my return to the Church. I reached out to the sister missionaries in my area and began reading the Book of Mormon all over again. I felt the scales being lifted from my eyes. I informed loved ones that I was going to go back to the Church, that there was no discouraging me from it, and they could take it or leave me. I deleted any and all ties I had to hostile influences who would disrespect my progress. I have not left since.
Heavenly Helpers and a Divine Heritage
Looking back at my life, I’m filled with gratitude as I recognize the hard work Heaven has put into preserving me. I’ve been blessed with a spirit that responds to divine guidance. I’ve been blessed to have a heart full of integrity because of the examples that have gone before me. My pioneer ancestors, my great-grandmother Elda who faithfully and kindly raised 6 large boys on a small farm faithfully with my great-grandpa Levi, my Irish ancestors who fought for their new home, my father… All of these people have left a strong impression on me from a young age. I credit all of them for my development into a person who does what she knows is right the second she gets the opportunity to do it.
Heaven has always reached out to me. No matter where I stray, Christ always comes to shepherd me home. I sometimes feel like I’m getting off easy, like I was getting all of this help as a reward to my ancestors for having honored their covenants. I can’t tell you how much the Lord has intervened in my life, only that I’m deeply humbled because of it.
Reading and listening to my family’s history, I’m moved by the remarkable experiences they’ve each had as well. While I again can not share these beautiful and sacred experiences out of respect to them, I can say that heavenly helpers have walked beside my family for generations. I know that everyone has access to this same source of help, too. I’m sure if I asked, a number of people would have multiple stories to share. Many more would tell me that they believe, but still desire to feel an undeniable, sacred experience.
I want to address those who are wondering, “When will I get my extraordinary experience?” Many mistakenly believe that God reaching out to us so boldly is a sign of favor (or more accurately, favoritism). They ask what they’ve been doing wrong and others so right. I want you all to know that heaven only extends these sorts of experiences to people who need them to continue on their path of righteousness, either physically or spiritually (or because their experience will help to convert someone else in their life). Moreover, we often tend to recognize them only after some time has passed. If you have not felt that heaven has done big things to help you, it may be because you’ve been doing a great job without requiring such boldness to continue. Furthermore, sometimes when heaven is moving large things for our good, it seems like everyday life, or we dodge a potential tragedy so well that we’d never know there was one to begin with! Again, this is a sign that you are already perfectly responsive as you are. Please don’t feel that you are unloved or abandoned simply because you don’t have huge, biblical spiritual experiences on a daily basis.
The Power of Prayer
Something we can all learn from my experiences is the power of prayer. It was only when I was ready to see and hear what was right in front of me that I was blessed with peace and help. I demonstrated my readiness via prayer. Prayer was my way of exercising my free agency for the better. Without my choosing to pray, to approach Heavenly Father, I would not have made the progress I did because I wouldn’t have known what to do in the first place. We absolutely must pray if we want any improvement to happen in our lives. Please bring your troubles, hopes, dreams, deepest emotions, and most secret thoughts to the Lord. It is the only way you can come out triumphant.
My experience with prayer has taught me a lot about the Restoration. I’ve learned that God still answers us just as He answered Joseph in the sacred grove. My experiences have strengthened my testimony of the Restoration. I believe that Joseph did, by the mighty power of prayer, in humility, seek God’s will as to which of the existing churches he should join. I believe that Joseph was answered in a bold, moving way. I believe that Satan tried to interfere with Joseph’s reception of this answer, as he has interfered with mine personally. I believe that Joseph heard Christ, that he found ancient scripture hidden away to be brought forth to serve our days and convert us to Christ. I believe that because of Joseph’s desire, my life, the lives of my ancestors, and the lives of my children will all have been greatly blessed. I am so grateful for prayer. Prayer truly brings about mighty works.
I want you all to know that you will never stray so far that God would not have you sit at His table again. You are never so far gone that repentance isn’t an option. If you have left, you can come back. If you have never believed, you are welcome to ask for help to believe. I ask you all to pray for your testimonies to be strengthened. Seek the Lord in all things. Be willing to go and do the things the Lord commands.
I hope that my experience and testimony can be a comfort to those who love someone who’s left the Church. Today, they may hold nothing but seething anger towards God and His Church. They may be more interested in things of the world or feel that they’d have to give up precious vices in order to come back. They may have left due to hurt or misunderstanding. No matter the circumstance, have hope. Give them your unconditional love while the Lord works on them. Be an example of a loving, faithful follower of Christ. Be a safe, nonjudgmental person they can turn to with questions, concerns, and even confessions. Your gentle ear could be the key to retrieving them. Allow them to come to know God’s never-ending love for them through you.
Let my experience be a lesson to you. God will test each and every single one of us in many ways. These trials will hurt — a lot. There will be an abundance of doubt, suffering, and loneliness. There will come times where we feel abandoned and unheard. God doesn’t allow us to feel these things for His own sick, sadistic entertainment. Rather, He allows these things to happen for our own growth and benefit, much like how He allowed Christ to be brutalized and crucified for all our sakes.
Please do not allow hard times or difficult challenges to have more power and influence in your life than the teachings of Christ. Do not stray away from the iron rod in belief that those in the great and spacious building are somehow wiser and more enlightened or having more fun or living with more purpose than you can by traveling toward the tree of life. If you are considering leaving the Church for any reason, let this be your sign that you need to stay. We know that these latter days are the days of immense trials, where the wheat will be separated from the tares. Do not mistake a lack of comfort or ease for a sign that God isn’t there and does not care for you.