Monday, October 31, 2005

I need advice, I need advice...

A hypothetical situation presented to you, my devoted readers.

Let's say that you are a returned missionary with a somewhat shaky testimony (some days it has stopped shaking and completely fallen down). You haven't seriously attended church in years and probably won't ever be a General Authority, a Seventy of any Quorum, or even the guy asked to bring bread for the sacrament.

Let us further posit that you have recently regained contact with a family you baptized during your mission. The family has now been sealed in the temple, both parents have stake callings and one of the kids has served a mission. What do you tell them about your activity in the Church?

If you say that you don't go anymore, might not their testimony be shaken? On the other hand, shouldn't you always be open and honest with life-long friends like this? Which is worse, lying or hurting them spiritually?

Should we feign testimony to help those who have yet to struggle with theirs? This is a very uncomfortable situation; any counsel would be greatly appreciated.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't feign anything Ned. If I were you I would just talk to them-and only talk about my own life situation if they asked. What to say? You could tell them the truth-that you are struggling with certain aspects of the church right now. This might disturb them, but such matters are a fact of life.

Or you could tell them that this area of your life is personal and you would rather not discuss it.

Life is not static and this family surely must understand this concept if they themselves are converts.

I'm sure their gratitude for your service and love will not be dampered by the fact that you have chosen not to be active or involved in the church at this time.

Kurt said...

Ned,

Tell them the truth. You have been attending church some, just not actively. Be honest with whatever question they ask. You dont have to completely self-disclose right off the bat. They might not even ask you about the Church at all. Dont fret. Be honest. Hey, you never know, they might start working on reactivating you and be succesful.

Crystal said...

You've already been given good advice.

Honesty is the best option.

The missionary who taught me went inactive a bit after returning from his mission. He told me about it and it didn't affect my testimony.

If they've been sealed in the temple, their testimonies are probably their own and your activity (or lack of) may not hurt them spiritually.

Besides, do you really want to lie to your friends?

Bryce said...

Didn't you learn anything about adopting a fake persona last week?

Anonymous said...

I dunno. I guess I like honestly, but I have been devastated after finding out people whom I relied on for my testimony (i.e., YW leaders) do not and never had a testimony. It's tricky, Ned. Good luck.

Last Lemming said...

They have their own testimonies now. After all these years, they are not leaning on you.

I saw a sister I baptized on my mission for the first time in 27 years this summer. I could have been Ed Decker and it wouldn't have affected her testimony.

Susan M said...

I don't remember the missionaries that taught me. Because they were just a formality--it was my husband (then just a boyfriend) who shared the gospel with me.

He went inactive for years, and I survived it. :)

Anonymous said...

Ned,

That's a toughie. But I side with those who favor disclosing where you're at in life.

Davis

Anonymous said...

One question, was your testimony stronger when you were a missionary?

Davis

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, I agree with the advice you've been given. Let me further suggest that you think carefully about what it would mean to hurt this family spiritually. I suppose it's faintly possible that this family has built its life in the church around the idea that you are a living example of Mormonism that they can follow. If so, they might abandon the church if they learn that you're now more comfortable at the periphery than at the center of the community. But, if that's the case, could their Ned-based religiosity possibly be of much spiritual value to them? It's hard to imagine that you could harm them spiritually, for that reason.

A further point is that, whatever has made you less comfortable with the church, they're quite likely to eventually run into similar issues. Knowing that you've been there before can only make that kind of process easier.

Anonymous said...

I would encourage honesty as well. But, from dealing with my own family, there are a lot of ways to honestly discuss the issue. I would make sure to be respectful of them completely.

When I first started talking to my friends and family about certain issues, I naively expected them to agree with me. I wasn't cocky about it, but to me, my new found paradigm made sense. I learned that on a lot of issues, it would be an 'agree to disagree' outcome.

Basically, then, I would be honest, but speak respectfully about issues if they come up.

I think, if it does come up, it would be in slightly bad taste to avoid the issue, given the trust that you had shared with them at one time. But who knows

Anonymous said...

I echo the advice to be honest. Another reason for you to share where you are in life right now is because convert zeal can sometimes lead to a lack of understanding of how anyone who has ever had a testimony could possibly ever become less gung-ho about church than the convert is right now.

On one hand, this may make the family less likely to be understanding and accepting towards you. On the other hand, if they can learn to be accepting of you where you are in life, then once they see that wonderful people such as their own dear Elder Flanders can go through times of inactivity, and still be wonderful people, this may help them build bridges of kindness and understanding with other inactives they know.

Zerin Hood said...

Aren't you really just trying to protect an image of yourself in the eyes of these people with whom you had a special relationship based on the gospel that you may no longer be living? (How's that for a smug and wordy beginning? I'll try to continue on in the same manner.)

The pattern is that people fall into inactivity, perhaps because of some slight, real or imagined, or just because they want some rest from the high demands of activity in the church. Then they get comfortable in inactivity. They no longer do the things that activity demands. Then they decide that they have a problem with the church or some aspects of the church-- naturally they are no longer living the principles and so they now have no testimony of those principles and the accompanying doctrine -- they state that they can't come back (or feel comfortable about coming back) unless they first resolve their "issues" -- and yet they still don't live the princples and thus can't resolve them by living them and regaining the testimony -- a nice little niche they carve for themselves -- and it keeps them from coming back. The more energetic start blogs where they can whine and moan to the unknown but sympathetic.

So my suggestion (and this is where my self-righteous ardor waxes hottest) is that you deal with the real problem -- decide whether the gospel is true and if so, live it; if not, forget it. Then your hypothetical will answer itself.

Ann said...

Tell them, but don't make a big deal of it. Above all, listen to what they have to say.

annegb said...

Yeah, I'm with Ann. You have to tell the truth.

But if I were a convert and the missionary who converted me which is it--you became inactive for cause or you left the church?--well, that would bother me. It would depend on the way you present it to them.

Actually anonymous said it best. Glad I'm not you. In this case, in all others, of course, I covet you.

lchan said...

You already have plenty of good advice here. Mine is to be honest, but don't get into details. Unless, of course, you want to.

manaen said...

I agree with the other comments that honesty is best (always). This Church claims truth and invites each person to test its claims for himself. A simple admission that you're now in the same process of testing the claims that you invited this family to follow would be honest about where you are now and what you told them as a missionary.

a random John said...

Tell them to read your blog!

JKS said...

I probably wouldn't make a huge deal in telling them. "Hi, good to see you again. By the way, I don't go to church much anymore" isn't really the way to go.
But, if you are spending a lot of time, and conversation heads that way, I would share what was appropriate to the conversation. If they are waxing about how much the gospel is blessing their lives, tell them you are happy for them, and then say "I'm having some struggles right now with my testimony" so you clue them in to your feelings.
Realize that they might be a little shocked or feel awkward. So, as any polite person, help them out a little. Statements like "These things happen sometimes." or "I've just got to work through this on my own" are much better than "The church sucks."
Letting them know, while you reminisce, that your mission was such a good experience, and that you are glad you worked with them, and that you are excited about what they've been up to, etc. will reassure them that you are comfortable being friends with them.

NFlanders said...

Thanks for all the advice, everyone. I'm glad there is a consensus (it's kind of like the "ask the audience" lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).

Obviously, I wouldn't bring up the topic myself, it's just that I can see them asking me what my calling is or asking which temple I got married in. And I definitely would never bring up the aspects of the Church that bother me.

A lot of people have brought up the fact that they already have their own testimonies. I agree. I am sure they will be fine regardless of my belief, I just think it's never easy to find out that the missionary who baptized you no longer goes to church (assuming that you assign some special significance to the missionaries who found you).

RT-- I agree that a Ned-based religiosity would help no one, not even hamsters or small insects. I don't think they have ever based anything just on me.

As an aside, I should mention that the mother (who took the discussions first) was definitely the best investigator I ever had. She had the best questions. She was very concerned that all the apostles were American (now, so am I (except for the German)). When we told her the Book of Mormon story, she told us, "Hmmm, Jews came over from Jerusalem? It just sounds so improbable."

Davis asks, "was your testimony stronger when you were a missionary?"

That's a tough one, Davis. It was, but at the same time, I never felt the same certainty as everyone else. It was more like a closing my eyes and blindly jumping forward kind of faith.

Zerin-- I think you are trying to make it all about me, but I don't think it is. Am I trying to protect my image to them? It's an interesting theory, but if I am, it is completely on a subconscious level. I will most likely never meet these people again in real life, and I know how many missionaries pass through an area. They probably only have a faint memory of me and a baptismal photo. This isn't about me and my belief, it's about wanting to leave this family feeling good about our interaction. Maybe I'm afraid they'll feel duped.

Anonymous said...

Ned,

The reason I ask is this: it seems that you were acting in good faith as a missionary, even though you have doubts now. I think that counts for something.

Davis

Scott said...

Wow, Zerin, it must be nice to have the whole world in a box like that, but it sounds like you're suffering from a severe lack of empathy. Until you've walked in Ned's mocassins for a mile...

Anonymous said...

By the way,

I know you said this is a hypothetical situation...but if it is real, are you going to let us know how it turns out? Just curious. I'd like to know

Bryce said...

I agree with a random John -- If the issue comes up, you should point them to your blog, if you're comfortable doing so.

NFlanders said...

Davis-- Thanks for that. Unfortunately, my conscience isn't exactly clear on this front (that would be a whole other post). The missionary discussions are all about testifying that you know these things are true, and in many cases, I just had to say it. Does that make me a bad person? Yes, yes it does. I may work up a whole post exploring this if I am feeling particularly masochistic.

aRJ and Bryce-- I don't know whether I'd feel comfortable sending them to this site. At any rate, it is a moot point as none of them speak English (at least, they didn't ten years ago).

Maybe I should start a mirror-site in Spanish so I can keep my language skills up to date. I wouldn't even have to change the name!

And yes, Anonymous, I will blog about how this unfolds (unless it casts a bad light on me!).

Capt Jack said...

Will their testimonies be shaken? Probably not.

Will they be disappointed?
Probably, particularly considering how Latin Americans think of the missionaries that taught and baptized them.

Should you lie?
No, what you should do is put a positive spin on what you do have. While they might wish you went to church more often, they will quickly get over it when they hear you are legally married to a beautiful woman who is an attorney with a job. And that you are happy and healthy.

Being Argentines, in the last few years I can guarantee that they have close relatives who have none of those things and who are living with and probably have children with losers they have no intention of marrying, so they'll be thrilled to hear you have so much going for you.

Plus, you always have the nuclear option. Argentines love talking about themselves, so if the questioning gets too personal just ask them an open ended personal question back, and regroup while they babble on.

Or throw in a few slang words in a cute North American accent. For some reason, they really think that's funny. For a big laugh, try spicing up the conversation with a few 'pelotudos' 'putos' 'boludos' and such.

annegb said...

Ned, will you let us know how it works out? I will pray for you.

D-Train said...

Ned,

I honestly agree with what everyone's said, but I also see the appeal of just lying. The only situation in which I would even consider lying is one in which you're not excited about having a real relationship with these people.

Example: I see an old friend that I haven't talked to in three years. He asks "so how's your ward?" If I want to make old friend a new friend, I tell the truth because that's what you do with friends. If I just want to be polite and not really renew this relationship, it's probably best to just say "hey, it's great. So you're driving a Hummer?"

Anyway, that's my brief take. If you think this will be more than a one-off discussion, probably ought to be honest with them. Maybe it might do you some good, too.....

NFlanders said...

Capt. Jack-- I think the economic disparity is the other mine field in the conversation. I can't exactly brag about my sugar-momma lawyer wife when they are probably struggling to put food on the table for all their kids (and they've got a lot). Especially with economic conditions barely creeping towards what used to be normal (but you know a lot more about this than me).

Anne-- Thank you. I will never turn down anyone's prayers, but if anyone needs them, it's probably this family, not me. You are too kind.

D-Train-- I agree that in some scenarios, a little white lie can grease the social wheels (no matter what the Mormon-Ad might say).

A while ago I ended up talking to some church friends of my parents for quite a while (long story) and I went the, "Oh yeah, I go every week" route. Not that they believed me, but social lies often get us through situations more pleasantly than brutal honesty.

But, as I hope is obvious, I owe this family a lot and would like to have more than a passing relationship with them. They opened up their lives and home to me for no good reason, and I'd like to at least try to recompense them.

Capt Jack said...

Ned:

I wouldn't look on your current situation as a minefield to avoid. If they care about you, as I'm sure they do, they'll be happy for you. You're a diplomatic guy, I'm sure you can come up with a way to let them know you're OK without making it sound like you're bragging.

I'm still sticking with my theory that their happiness for your success on the temporal front will more than outweigh any disappointment they might feel over your current church situation.

One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post is that most Latin American members, even leaders, have gone through periods of inactivity. That means these people will probably be more understanding than you think.