Guest post by Holly Huff
Over the years, I’ve been told maybe a dozen times that when a Sacrament meeting talk isn’t working for you, take the topic and give yourself a talk. I present to you the sermon I would have given this week:
At some time in life, all of us will experience the feeling of being spiritually lost. It’s a rare person who makes it out of this life without brushing up against the big questions: who am I? what is my purpose? what should I do with my life?
Usually, the people who raise us pass their answers on to us. But even with life’s mysteries wrapped up neatly, we at some point have to take full ownership of our lives and discover if our parents’ answers are our own answers.
And sometimes, that process of questioning and discovery—crucial to becoming our own person and engaging an individual struggle with the infinite—sometimes, that process will leave us feeling lost. If it is legitimate inquiry, there is a possibility that the answer is no: no, those answers don’t work for me, and no, my life will not look exactly like my parents.
I’ve felt that in my life—the confusion of finding out that the beautiful answers I was taught growing up aren’t sufficient in the way I thought they were. It surprised me, yet in my earnest quest to take full ownership of my life and my faith, that’s where I found myself—very, very lost. I was searching for the truth, and suddenly, inexplicably, and cruelly, God was gone.
It wasn’t pride or temptation or laziness. I was stripped down, humbled and consumed by my desire to know God and truth, begging for some kind of light, direction, or comfort. And there was nothing. There was only silence in my honest moment of desperation. Just floating adrift on this rock we call Earth, with no idea where to look for meaning or salvation in a world as fraught with tragedy as ours.
In the version of this story that I heard growing up, in a thousand Fast and Testimony meetings, I humble myself, I dredge up more faith, and then I know what my parents know—it’s just a test, to see if I really want it. I hear the voice of God and all is well.
But that’s not what happened. I just was lost, alone and hurting. No voice crying from the wilderness, no internal sense of direction, nothing.
And I reject the explanations that blame this on me—this was as earnest and good-hearted a question as I’d ever asked! If you’re asserting or implying that no one should ever be lost, you’re missing something essential about the human condition, I think.
So if not in the familiar and comfortable tropes of my youth—am I allowed to talk about my youth yet?—how does this resolve for me? Well, I’m still finding out. I probably still look a little lost. I went for months with a horrific radio silence between me and the heavens, and everything hurt and only the friendship of good people helped. But I like to think I’m in good company on this one: Mother Teresa was left in darkness for the good part of her life, feeling cut off from God. Job had all of his ideas about how a loving God interacts with humankind shattered, and was left to suffer without answers. Jesus hung on the cross and cried, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
I don’t know why I was forsaken by God in my most desperate time. I struggle to reconcile such abandonment with the model of a divine loving Parent I was taught from birth. I can come up with no adequate reason. In place of the firm answers I began with, I now deal only in questions. Questions I’m always working on, questions that push me to consider the world and my place in it in new ways, questions about my duty to the people around me. I don’t expect to fully answer them, either: I’m terribly afraid that maturing means growing into new complexities that you don’t get to unsee.
Rainer Marie Rilke said, in his much beloved Letters to a Young Poet,
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I’ve been living the questions for a while now, and though I haven’t lived my way into any answers, I’m kind of pleased with that. I honestly didn’t think I could live with those questions. Unable to imagine a life where nothing is for sure, I fumbled for other sets of certainties, since the ones I’d inherited were no longer so simple. I consider the continued grappling with questions a victory in itself, as tempting as it is to fall into more rigid pronouncements of dogma.
So I’ve put the maps away and I’m still wandering off-trail, but I don’t feel like I’m lost anymore. (You can tell me I’m past feeling, but I’m not going to take that very seriously, I’m afraid.) I don’t expect to stumble onto a clear path anytime soon, and I’m skeptical of anyone who claims they’ve found the path I need to be on.
I like the image in Lehi’s dream of “numberless concourses of people…pressing forward through the mists of darkness.” We all have our separate journeys, but I’m reassured to know that we’re all groping blindly in the dark together, all of us a little bit lost, trying in earnest to make our way towards the beautiful and the true.