By Aly H
I felt it again early this morning as my toddler slept, her growing little sister prodding me from the inside as I opened my worn, forest green quad to find yet another enthusiastic “Follow the Prophet!” in one of the margins, put there by a younger, less complicated version of myself.
I felt it last fast and testimony meeting as a member testified that Joseph Smith was, except for Christ, “as perfect a man as ever lived”—this the same week that my daughter had beggggged me all week to just take her to “nooshwee” already, where her sweet leaders have already taught her about following the Prophet.
And I felt it again near the beginning of this month, as some others did, as I heard President Nelson describe the collective wrestling before God, the compassion and awareness and faith that, he explained, led to confirmations of the Spirit and, subsequently, those policy changes.
I’m not sure how to describe the tension I feel in these moments—the complicated pain I’ve come to know so well the last few years in some critical interactions with my Mormon faith. I guess it’s a combination of feeling sick, and sad, and troubled and off kilter. And abandoned, in a way. Sometimes I feel angry, and sometimes I just feel angry at myself–at whatever personal badness must have muddied what was once so pure and simple for me… added such complexity to what was once unquestioning peace and testimony.
My reaction to this tension, too often, is to just shut down. That’s what I felt like doing when I heard President Nelson talk about the policy, but this time I stayed put: through his assurance that we all have the ability to know for ourselves the mind and the will of Heaven; through that Harold B. Lee quote that sort of makes sense but mostly just makes me uncomfortable; and then through his lovely concluding story about a time when following the Prophet—in this case, being willing to study the Mandarin language—blessed his life again and again in amazing, unexpected ways.
It was the Mandarin story that finally helped me sort through some of the tension I’ve been feeling.
First, because it reminded me of those formative years when I, again and again, gained a testimony of following the Prophet.
It began for me in college: on beautiful Cache Valley runs with my huge iPod turned to the latest General Conference addresses; on cold mornings on my apartment floor, a talk I’d printed off at the Merrill-Cazier the night before and my forest green quad sprawled out before me.
Inspiration and promise and a connection with God came to and flowed through me during times like these.
And again and again, what prophetic word gave me was the patience and courage to follow after the better angels of my nature… to be willing to hear God within me. As I listened, I started to better understand what sin and pride and numbness feel like, and what charity and grace feel like, and of how to sift through my intents with greater honesty and to deliberately, faithfully act on what is best within me. This was God working in me–quietly acquainting me with greater truth and goodness and beauty, helping me construct a more grown-up, personal sense of morality.
All that building up is sacred to me, especially now.
And so much of it began with following the Prophet.
So what happens when it seems that you must choose? When the choice is to follow a Prophet you’ve felt is called of God, or to be true to the moral compass you watched that same God place within you? What are we to do when what once felt synonymous now abruptly, confusingly seems to have split into two distinct paths? Which voice does one privilege?
As I listened a couple of weeks ago, I eventually had to conclude that a story, however lovely, about heeding a Prophet’s counsel when faced with two morally neutral choices doesn’t address those questions for me.
But as I’ve thought all of this over, I’ve wondered if another story might… the story of Eve.
The version I’m thinking of is the beautiful account Mormonism offers me, the one I choose to see and internalize, the one I want to tell my daughters over and over.
It matters very little to me whether or not this story actually happened, because either way, it is one of the truest stories I’ve ever heard; one that points me to a God who is familiar, who deeply understands and privileges true learning and all that it necessarily, perfectly entails; a God with the power and compassion to turn falls into beautiful Ascents.
Here is what I hope my daughters eventually learn from humanity’s brave first mother:
1) To listen: to hear me and their dad and each other and latter-day Prophets and to hear the voice of God within them. To listen to the lives and perspectives of others: people who love and respect them, people who feel differently than they do, people who might be hard to love and understand, people who are thoughtful and seeking and good. To pay attention to the tension within and around them.
2) To be willing to struggle: to think and to feel and to expand; to be vulnerable enough, still enough, humble enough, compassionate enough to wrestle with competing goods and complex moral questions and the everyday push and pull of the messages they will hear and the motives and intents within themselves.
and 3) To be courageous: to trust that their souls were made good and to act, true to the divinity within them. Even when doing so feels hard and lonely and complicated and uncertain.
Be brave, my girls. Follow always after the True, the Good and the Beautiful.
A Wyoming girl living in the Seattle area with her husband and their tornado toddler daughter. Aly loves teaching, writing, running in rainy/cloudy/gorgeous western Washington and eating gluten-free cinnamon rolls that someone else made.