I’m not a fan of negative titles, but in this case it is the only way to give you an idea of the point of this blog post. I call myself the Doctrine Lady because I’m all about doctrine. And doctrine is fundamental unchanging truth. So, I could call myself “the Fundamental, Unchanging Truth Lady”, but Doctrine Lady seems to be a tad bit more concise, and if I do say so: catchy.

This week my co-host Tawnee Saunders and I did a podcast titled: The Stuff We Need To Do But Struggle To Do. And in the limited experience my life can claim, I have found that the primary inhibitor of personal progression is a false belief. A false belief may also be called a limiting belief or a false doctrine. But, the everyday term is simply: a lie.

If there is something, anything, in our life that we know we need to do, but struggle to do, it is nearly always going to be because we are inhibited by a false belief, or a lie. And false beliefs and lies create fear, justification, procrastination, and other symptoms that significantly and consistently inhibit our ability to do the stuff we know we need to do.

We Know What We Need To Do

It’s very important that you take note of an important part of this topic. We are talking about things “you know you need to do.” These are things you are already aware of. Now, there may be very many things you are unaware of that you also need to do, but since you are not yet aware of those things it would be counterproductive to fret over them until you have first succeeded in accomplishing those that you already know about.

What do you know you need to do? Well, that’s entirely personal. You may know you need to repent (make a significant course change in some aspect, or many aspects of your life or behavior). You may know you need to eat better. You may know that you need to learn to control your reactions to the actions of others. You may know that you need to learn to “hold your tongue” or learn to be less sarcastic or to learn to stop insulting others—out of habit. You may know that you need to change jobs, work on your marriage, read your scriptures, pray more, do a better job at focusing on and keeping your religious covenants (or making them to begin with). You may know you need to exercise more, spend more time with your family, gossip less. You may know you need to make heart-wrenching, severe, or bittersweet but eventually positive choices in your life. But that’s the key, isn’t it? YOU KNOW what you need to do.

But We Struggle To Do It

The real puzzle in any type of lasting and positive self-progression is in figuring out the lie(s) that is keeping you from doing what you need to do.

Since I’m a religious blogger I am going to use religious examples. But make no mistake, all of life is about God and His plan for you, and so even the things you need to do that you consider temporal, regular, or outside of religion really aren’t outside of religion at all. God doesn’t offer any blessings that aren’t ultimately about propelling us closer to Him and making us more like He is. Thus, my examples may be universally applied to whatever it is you are struggling to do.

Repentance—Or the lies people believe that keep them from repenting

The world repentance has a negative connotation, and who is surprised about that? Nobody likes to be told what to do, and for certain, nobody likes to find out that the person who has been trying to tell them what to do is ultimately right. And, oftentimes we become even more reticent about making changes in the course of our lives, even turning around completely, if it means succumbing to the fact that someone else figured out it was the best way before we did. We humans have a very bad habit about thinking that we can only change if it’s our idea first. We want ownership in the eternal patent of “choosing the right.” To give in to someone else’s idea, no matter how right it may be, always seems to be sort of a concession on our part. And, it is. What we have to learn to do is to simply be happy about the concession. We have to overcome the lie that giving way to the wisdom of others, or of God, (or being wrong, or having been wrong) is worse than repenting.

There is an extreme amount of power in owning up to the fact and even learning to love the fact that there are all sorts of people who know more than you and have figured it out before you. Power? Yes. Because the great thing about humility and meekness (a willingness to give up the idea of power residing solely in us) is that it exponentially increases our power to do—everything. How? When we finally give up on the idea that the only power we can rely on is ours (which is of course a limited amount of power), we suddenly open ourselves up to other sources of power. And, if the power source you choose to open yourself up to is that of God, then you get the beautiful grace equation: you + God = nearly unlimited power.

The other equation: you + you = you, rather falls short to all other equations for power. However, you must take note of the fact that even though God knows everything and has figured it all out before you, your concession does in fact make you part of the patent equation. You do get the credit you wanted, but you don’t get it in the way that you wanted originally (which was to get the credit by yourself). Your agency (or free will) gives you credit for choosing to repent, or to do what’s right, to make major course corrections in your life by putting you in an equation of power with someone who actually has the power to make your concession powerful enough to change you fundamentally…meaning long-term. You can’t ever get the credit solely by yourself. You can’t even breathe without the light of Christ (Mosiah 2:21, John 1:9). Any progression you make is by the grace of God. But, you can get credit by adding God in.

The thing about repentance is that we can’t do it without God. And, this is the first lie that most of us are inhibited by from a very young age, that repentance is separate from God and that we can’t come unto Him until we’ve repented first. We say things to ourselves like: “Well, I’ll repent, but not until I’ve completely figured out how to change my life on my own,” or “Once I’ve changed on my own, then I’ll go to God and get myself right with Him and others…” Little do we realize that true repentance isn’t possible without God’s help. Oh sure, we can make some few little changes on our own power (which isn’t very much, you remember). But, those changes often are not sufficiently significant to alter our life’s course. They often fail after a time because the power we’ve used to make them (our power) has proven insufficient, or it has run out—we have gotten tired of carrying the weight of the change all on our own. Thus, we continue to fail. It makes it very hard for us to want to start again.

C.S. Lewis says beautifully in Mere Christianity that, more or less, only a good man can repent. And since all of us fall short of goodness (since no one is good but God, Matthew 19:17), we can’t repent unless God helps us. His goodness enables us to repent. So the longer we think that we can’t change until we’ve already changed on our own we will continue to struggle to change in the ways we know we need to.

Another lie, or limiting belief, that keeps us from repenting is the idea that it’s harder to do things God’s way than it is to do them our way. Nothing could be further from the truth, unless you were to say that God’s way is harder initially than our own way. This statement is true. God’s way is often harder initially because it requires integrity, humility, self-restraint, self-discipline, charity, gratitude, meekness, and a multitude of other godly attributes to be assimilated into our character as fast as we are able. Such virtues demand personal sacrifice and a large portion of hope and trust in God’s promises. And yet, God’s way is easier in the long run, and, more importantly, it is sustainable. This is something many people can’t comprehend because they’ve always subsisted primarily on their own power, and it has often failed them. They have trouble imagining how God’s power, added to theirs, can actually make change real and eventually permanent.

Our way, which is often much easier in the initial moments and days, even weeks, of our lives is easier because it allows us to put off assimilating all those godly traits. However, in the long run our own way leads to a halt in personal progression and leads us to develop traits that do not—and will not ever—lead to sustainable happiness. These traits include: dishonesty (with self and others), pride, gluttony, excess and immodesty, hatred, entitlement, impertinence, etc.

These words are harsh to the modern mind who believes that there is still a right way to do something wrong; which of course, there is not. This is yet another false belief that inhibits successful repentance. There is simply no way to get around God’s way which is the right way. Anyone who believes they can hoodwink God’s system somehow will waste their energy in futility.

Another lie the unrepentant often believe is that God’s way robs us of happiness and so they struggle to repent because they can’t seem to give up the idea that adhering to God’s commandments and entering into His covenants and ordinances will somehow cause them to miss out on something wonderful. So, they procrastinate repenting to be sure they’ve checked out all other viable options for happiness. Or, until they learn that they’ve been believing something false. It’s the opposite that’s true. That procrastinating repentance is actually what is causing them to miss out on peace, joy, and true, sustainable, and lasting happiness.

Forgiving—or the lies that people believe that keep them from forgiving

Forgiveness. It’s something we need to do but struggle to do. But, you have to ask, “Why do I believe that it’s better to hold a grudge, or to enact revenge, than to forgive?” Because ultimately that is the primary lie that keeps people from forgiving. They really do believe that holding a grudge is going to make them happier, or that getting revenge is going to satiate their anger and hurt. Often, this belief takes years to be undone. And in those years, people try over and over again to be hateful, to hurt the person that hurt them, to hold onto that grudge and to get revenge. And only after continuous and repeated attempts that result in very temporary, or most likely failed satisfaction, do they begin to learn that forgiveness is the only option for happiness. Only then do they begin the journey to forgive.

Another lie people believe that prevents them from forgiving is this; they don’t trust the atonement of Jesus Christ and the justice of God to be applied accurately. So, they refuse to forgive in an attempt to help an all-knowing God do His job of justice and punishment correctly. It’s no mistake that the New Testament makes it very clear that Christ is the only one with the authority to forgive sin. To try to usurp that authority by holding a grudge or enacting revenge damages only us. No matter how justified our feelings we will never have the authority to forgive sin, and especially not to withhold forgiveness from anyone.

Sometimes we see it in the reverse, but it is actually the same lie. We feel we can’t forgive because to forgive seems to feel like we are condoning the hurt and offense that has been given. After all, if they can’t feel and see our hurt then they’ll never change, and we most certainly don’t want to be responsible for allowing them to stay as they are.

These perspectives on forgiveness are, of course, false. Forgiveness has never been condoning sin. When Christ spoke to the woman taken in adultery, He didn’t say, “What you did was ok.” He said, “Go and sin no more.” Holding a grudge also doesn’t help others see that they need to change. Using pity as a weapon is in some ways incredibly vicious. It is no more justifiable than the hurt which was originally given, and is a type of revenge.

Thus, the truth is that in order to forgive we must learn to believe the opposite of all these lies. We must come to believe the truth. Holding grudges and seeking revenge only make us like Satan—empty, unhappy, and spiritually sick. We must learn to trust that the Almighty has not only taken care of justice, but also forgiveness and repentance in a past tense. The atonement of Jesus Christ is past and done. And, it’s effects and grace spread backward and forward throughout history. God has got it in hand. Finally, we have to understand and come to believe that we are not responsible to force, coerce, shame, or guilt others into change. And to try to do so is simply a form of manipulation and unrighteous dominion.

We Don’t Have To Struggle Anymore

If you have tried a million times to do anything YOU KNOW you need to do but just can’t seem to do, then you have to sit down and think. It’s going to take time, thought, and reflection. Ask yourself questions like:

  1. Why don’t I start? Why do I keep putting this off?
  2. Why have I quit repeatedly—after beginning—in the past?
  3. What do I keep telling myself that makes me justify putting this off?
  4. What do I tell myself each time, just before I quit?
  5. What do I think about others who seem to have been able to do this?
  6. Have I made excuses for myself, or excuses for why others succeed, that are preventing me from accomplishing this, or even beginning?
  7. Have I asked for help and willingly accepted it? (from others, God)
  8. Have I been meek enough to accept the power offered to me by others and God? If not, why?

These questions, and others like it, will (if you’re sincere) help you to identify the false doctrines—or lies—that are holding you back from doing the things you need to do but struggle to do. It’s amazing how much more possible something becomes, and how much more positive life becomes, when you remove the barriers of false doctrines and limiting beliefs from in front of you. Truth is power. Truth gives power to act—and to succeed.

BT

When I was younger, I remember getting the idea (whether or not it was actually verbally taught to me that way) that if I kept God’s commandments, life would go fairly smoothly, according to plan, and that I’d have little trouble. I’m quite certain that in some way, some church leader or other said to me, “If you get married in the temple, everything will work out great,” and other such generalizations, when what they likely meant was, “If you keep the commandments, you’ll have the comfort and peace you need to get through all of life’s struggles.” But that’s not how I interpreted whatever it was they did say. I do not fault them. But twenty+ years ago, gospel generalizations were exceedingly common, and they are still more common than they should be today.

Now, realistically, if I’d taken the time to listen to my parents (who I’m fairly certain never taught me any such generalizations), paid closer attention to the examples all around me, measured what I’d heard to my experiences in reading the stories in the scriptures, I would never have allowed such a ridiculous notion to take root in my brain. Does not the story of Job clearly illustrate that the most righteous often suffer the most trial and struggles? To say nothing of Christ. Yet, somehow I failed to grasp the incongruous nature of something I was beginning to believe (and expect) versus what I was actually being exposed to. I was creating a belief framework that wasn’t accurate.

Despite the evidence all around me, I think my youth and youthful blindness allowed me to create an expectation for life and religion based on very cursory, and certainly not realistic, sentiments.

Common Faulty Religious Beliefs and Expectations

Many other such false expectations/beliefs plague many a religious soul. Though we are taught the scriptures and read them, in part, we somehow also fail to miss the fact that everyone the Lord calls to help Him is flawed, often has to repent, and often makes mistakes. We get the idea that God’s people, or at least minimally the leadership, are flawless and know and understand everything. We may also get the idea that since God has all the answers He will give them to us (and to church leadership) without any effort or seeking on our part (or their part). We believe, incorrectly, that we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge simply because He has it.

We may get the idea that the people that go to church and sit so neatly dressed in the pews never have problems. We may assume that those who seem to be most spiritually and doctrinally in tune have never made grave mistakes. We may form the incorrect notion that at a certain age doctrinal wisdom and ease of keeping the commandments will simply happen to us. We may form the silly idea that after a certain amount of time or trials that we will arrive spiritually and not have to work at it anymore. We may assume that studying the scriptures is something we have done (past tense) and that moving forward we will retain all the power and doctrine it once imparted to us. We may think that serving a mission will ensure we never fall away from the truth. We may assume that getting married in the temple will ensure we never divorce. We may think…and expect…many incorrect and false things that never have been true and never will be. But, for a time, we feel they are.

Coping Frameworks

When we have an expectation we then often naturally form a psychological coping framework. This framework is a system of relating to our environment that we lean upon. We use it to make sense of our world. It defines how we relate to our family, friends, acquaintances, members, non-members, kids, co-workers, etc. It defines how we approach, plan, and execute our lives. We expect things to happen a certain way or to exist in a specific way. And thus we define our lives around these expectations (whether false or true).

The foundation of our coping framework is the expectation or belief. This foundation may or may not be solid (or true). If our expectation or belief is untrue, and ultimately weak or unstable, then it will eventually crumble. It cannot stand because it is not true.

For example, when we get married we make the assumption that our spouse has committed to us and therefore will remain faithful to us. We may expect some troubles, but that covenant and commitment creates a safety net around our fears. We stop worrying that we may lose someone. We begin to form even more specified frameworks around the larger one. We begin to develop natural ways of communicating with our committed spouse. We learn how to compromise and live with this other individual. We develop a framework for juggling work, hobbies, and other pursuits in relation to this larger marriage framework. And, we base our framework on a fixed picture of our life. It does not usually have a lot of room for change. When changes happen, we have to break down pieces of our coping frameworks and replace them with new ones.

Imagine now that your spouse cheats on you and/or asks for an unexpected divorce when you thought everything was reasonably okay, or at least workable. This causes a complete demolition of your main coping framework. Your belief that marriage would ensure a commitment, that you wouldn’t lose this person from your life, has been completely demolished (from the foundation). Nothing in your life is left standing (or at least that’s how it feels), because you developed all of your other coping frameworks on top of and around this main one. It changes how you relate to your friends and family. It changes how you relate to romantic relationships. It changes (or has the potential to change) every other framework, because it is such a fundamental one.

When a framework is demolished, we lose the ability to trust ourselves, our environment, and others. Everything we thought we once knew (about ourselves, love, relationships, marriage, and this other person) is thrown into question. “Did he/she ever love me?” “Am I lovable?” “What did I do to make them stop loving me?” “Where did I go wrong?” “Is love a real thing?” “Is what I thought was love actually something else?”

The list of questions is endless. The reality is that very little has actually changed, but because our foundational expectations have been thrown out the window…expectations built upon false ideas…we begin to think everything is false. We begin to doubt everything because something we thought was true, or expected to be true, has ended up to not be true. This, is how a crisis of faith begins. Our false expectations and beliefs are NOT sufficient to withstand the drastic change because they were never correct to begin with.

When our foundational expectations and beliefs are true, drastic changes will certainly impact us deeply, and we’ll have struggles; but rarely does it result in a crisis of faith because our entire framework has not crumbled. Only some pieces of it waver, but not the solid, strong, bottom foundation.

Asian man and woman playing wood jenga game.

Crisis of Faith

A crisis of faith happens when something we thought was true appears to not be true for a time, or fails to be true, thus throwing into question our coping frameworks. And religious frameworks are incredibly foundational to personal identity, morality, goals, etc. When they seem to falter, we lose trust in past true experiences. We lose trust in our ability to tell what is true and what is false. We lose trust in others who may have influenced our beliefs, and so forth. We may often get angry at, denounce, or lose trust in God.

Religion, which is such a powerful, fundamental feeling and belief system, is particularly prone to what we call crises of faith. But, it usually has little to do with the actual religion itself and its doctrines, and far more with our incorrect perceptions, beliefs, and expectations formed in previous years or passed onto us incorrectly by other church-goers whom we have trusted. The doctrine itself is usually not the actual culprit. Sadly, it’s us. We have formed an incorrect expectation or belief in our minds and when it proves incorrect, and our coping framework crumbles, we no longer know what to do. We no longer know how to cope or relate to our world.

Crises of faith can also be caused by our own actions, or by mortality and mortal weakness itself. We stray morally and end up in a situation we never saw ourselves in. Our framework hadn’t planned for it. A natural disaster wipes out our home or brings death into our family. Another person(s) who we have had absolute trust and vulnerability with betrays us. We may begin to struggle with desires and inclinations that we never planned on having that have crumbled our spiritual/life “plans.” Suddenly, life is turned on its head and we, in spiritual vertigo, can’t seem to find right-side-up.

How to Get Through a Crisis of Faith

I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago. But, now, I can. A crisis of faith is a good thing. Yes, a good thing. Why? Because it gives us a chance to correct our fundamental beliefs and expectations. It helps us to fix what is actually preventing us from spiritual progression. If we never come to a crisis, then we will never have the impetus to learn what we need to get straightened out so that we can become more like God and to understand His plan better. If we never came to a crisis, then we could never create a solid foundation upon which to endure all that life throws at us. We would simply continue to struggle, suffer, and drop into despair. We need such a crisis to fix our foundation.

We need not feel sheepish, ashamed, or even guilty at having a crisis of faith. We should own our crisis. “Hey, I’m in a crisis of faith right now!” We need to tell God about it. Not because He doesn’t already know, but because when we approach Him with it, He can comfort us, give us peace, and help us to feel loved even as we are still trying to put ourselves back together.

Once we own our crisis, we need to figure out what fundamental expectations/beliefs we have that have been turned on their head. What did we believe about God that has proven temporarily, or most certainly, to be untrue—or minimally that we have failed to understand correctly? What did we believe about members of the church that has proven temporarily, or certainly, to be untrue—or that we have failed to understand correctly? Church leadership? A certain prophet? The scriptures? Our family? A particular person in our lives? Temple covenants? Our weakness? Etc. ( I certainly cannot list them all.)

Remember, the crisis of faith serves a purpose. Its purpose is for you to correct, ultimately change, and strengthen your coping framework. Its purpose is to help you find the truth that you’re missing that’s ultimately preventing you from becoming like God, from spiritually progressing. It is a necessary piece of your spiritual journey. It is a spiritual mountain you have to climb before you can press onward.

After you identify the expectation/beliefs that have contributed to this crumbling of your critical coping framework, you can at last begin the healing process—the process of putting yourself back together—and creating a solid, firm, foundation. Seeking God, and using His process of finding truth, you can begin to re-evaluate your expectations and beliefs. You can heal what has previously alluded you and weakened your coping frameworks. You can assess the truth you’ve always known that’s still true and replace what you falsely believed with the correct knowledge. Truth is light and light chases away darkness (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-25). I know it’s cliché, but the truth will set you free.

Don’t Abandon Anything Until You Know What to Abandon

Now, when we’re afraid and our life appears to be in complete disarray, there is a tendency to want to abandon everything and rebuild from scratch. With few exceptions, this is an incredibly unwise thing to do. If it’s only the plumbing infrastructure on your house that needs revamping, it makes little sense to take a wrecking ball to the entire edifice. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and mental cost does not heal the crisis damage, and will likely only make it worse. If it’s only one relationship that needs salvation or pruning, it makes little sense to burn the bridges all around you to everyone else. If it’s only one truth that you twisted, it makes little sense to discard all truth, simply because you’re afraid an in panic. Rash actions nearly always create more pain than peace.

Spiritual suicide is hardly more practical than physical suicide. To metaphorically slit your wrists and spiritually die in a dramatic display will no more help you than actual death. And trust me, I know how it feels to wish you could die—literally. But, the reality is, that feeling passes. You feel like you want to die only because you’ve put your trust and faith in false doctrines and you feel stupid, foolish. None of us like to feel the fool. But remember, your life is in shambles not because you’ve failed, but because at last you’ve come to a crossroads and a loving God wants you to build with a solid foundation.

You don’t need to divorce everything in your life in order to rebuild anew. You need to visit each piece of your life and belief systems, one at a time, and carefully educate yourself on where the incorrect expectations and beliefs are. Many of our false religious beliefs/expectations are interconnected with other very true ones. We must carefully extract the “spiritual tumors” from the very good spiritual tissue.

The reality is that most of what we feel to be true and have focused our life on is true. We need to realize that. If a few misunderstandings and false beliefs led us to places and problems we now feel ridiculous about or concerned about, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. We should be grateful that this crossroads has finally come. We finally get to set ourselves straight and have a greater capacity to have joy, happiness, and peace in the future ahead of us.

So, here are the steps to getting through your crisis of faith:

  1. Own your crisis of faith
  2. Take your crisis of faith to God
  3. Remember the purpose of a crisis of faith is to replace false beliefs/expectations with true ones
  4. Identify the false beliefs/expectations that led to your crisis of faith
  5. Don’t abandon anything until you have carefully found the “spiritual tumors” and know what to let go
  6. Use God’s process for truth seeking to replace your false beliefs/expectations with true ones

Conclusion

God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Mormon 9:9). His truths never change. His doctrines never change. The only change is in us, or in the way we hear, learn, or interpret His truths. Others may unwittingly lead us astray. We may fail to give heed and to truly listen or observe truth. In the end, it matters very little where the inconsistencies, misbeliefs, and incorrect expectations originated. What truly matters, in the end, is if we use our crisis of faith to build a coping framework whose foundations are unshakeable. We do that by building upon true doctrine, true beliefs, and accurate expectations.

A crisis of faith is a good thing. It’s the beginning of a new day, a stronger foundation, and a life full of peace and joy.