Picture your childhood bedroom.
In your mind, look around that room. What do you see? What did you use or touch or see every day?
When I taught Relief Society last month, I started my lesson with that mental exercise.
When asked to share, the sisters in my ward offered interesting, specific details: yellow shag carpet, wallpaper they hated. One woman had plastered her bedroom with posters of Donny Osmond (and said she would still decorate that way if it were socially acceptable for a grown woman).
The concept of a childhood bedroom contains some standard features:
a bed, maybe a closet, window, and door.
But nobody grows up in just the concept of a bedroom.
I invited the sisters to consider how unique and concrete their childhood bedrooms were. Each held specific memories, specific experiences and details that were only theirs. They slept in their specific bed (not the abstract idea of a bed), with patterned sheets or a creak in the bed frame.
I invited them to apply the same idea to the lesson topic: faith.
In Mormon culture, the concept of faith contains some standard features:
We circle continuously around certain declarations of belief regarding divinity, authority, revelation, scripture.
I invited the sisters in my ward to consider that their experience with faith is not just a concept—that faith is not a monolithic, homogenous thing they’re trying to attain, but rather a unique experience that is only theirs. They experience their faith within their specific and concrete life, with their unique trials and triumphs and sins.
What use is there in making abstract principles more concrete?
That afternoon, when asked to consider what faith looked like in their individual lives, the women in my ward shared experiences—from the sister who grew up feeling like she always had faith, to the sister who felt like she wandered faithlessly for forty years.
In every story, I heard something honest and interesting and true.
Faith is a broad topic, a word that signifies trust in the infinite and universal. Like a variety of gospel principles, it can remain abstract in our discussions. But in our classroom that day, as I heard how faith applied to the personal and specific, I saw several women in that room in a more compassionate light. I became more receptive to stories that didn’t match my own.
The limits that each woman articulated about her faith expanded the boundaries of my understanding.
Something beautiful happens when we just say, “This is my experience.”
Like inviting someone into your actual home, we open the door to connect, to share, and even to be edified.
We can have faith in an infinite God and still acknowledge the individual boundaries of our experience. When we do, we may find that we are more honest about ourselves and see more of the divine in each other.
So spot on and beautiful. I would love it if our church rhetoric acknowledged the uniqueness of people’s faith experiences, and made room for all different sorts of faiths. Your lesson went a long way in making that sort of room for people. Thanks so much for sharing this.
I love this. Something I heave learned from doing a podcast about faith stories is that they are all unique, all beautiful, and all sacred, no matter where they start or where the end up.